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Perhaps you're a parent who has heard the term cybersex, but you aren't quite sure what that involves … or how your daughter could be at risk. Cybersex is when people engage in sexual conversation and activity with one another via a computer. It has been defined as "the consensual sexual discussion online for the purpose of achieving arousal or orgasm."

Until recently, men dominated the Internet world of cybersex. Now women and teen girls are online as much as men. Why? Whereas men more commonly seek pornography, women are drawn to relationships. Chat rooms and social networks provide an outlet for the teenage girl who needs someone who will listen and make her feel important. At first glance, this behavior seems safe. There's no risk of sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancy or AIDS—very tempting for a lonely adolescent with her own computer. She's not giving up her virginity, and no one has to know.

It's easy for a teen girl to rationalize engaging in cybersex. "After all," she reasons, "it's not real sex." The sad news is that many of those girls quickly become addicted, even though most still consider themselves sexually pure because they haven't had intercourse.

Take "Brooke", for example. Her parents are missionaries, and she eagerly talked about her relationship with Christ during a missions trip I chaperoned. Because she could tell that we loved and accepted her, Brooke was also willing to confess her sexual addiction.

"I can't help it," she said through broken sobs. "I got into cybersex through my computer, and I'm addicted. I feel desired when I'm doing it. But afterward, I always feel dirty."

Brooke was genuinely repentant, and confessed to our counseling team that she desperately wanted to break free of her cycle of sin. We prayed with her, held her and mapped out a plan for her to follow. Of course, part of any plan for teens to gain victory over addiction involves revealing the secret to their parents.

Fortunately, Brooke's parents reacted as Jesus would. They enveloped her in love and forgiveness, then set up concrete boundaries for very limited computer use in an open area of their home. They developed a process for accountability.

Even as a Christian sincere about her relationship with God—and with missionary parents—Brooke wasn't exempt from sexual temptation and enslavement. It may be hard to accept, but your daughter isn't exempt either. Will you be proactive? Instead of hearing about her addiction after she has confessed it to others, would you talk to your teen and set boundaries in place right now?

Granted, your control over her online activity is limited. You can't oversee her computer use at school, the library or a friend's house. But by establishing solid guidelines and explaining the reasons behind them, you can take preventive measures against negative Internet activity. By talking openly with your daughter about this area of temptation, you'll also signal that it's OK to discuss sensitive subjects with you. Furthermore:

• Don't allow her to have a computer in her bedroom. Keep it out in the open for greater accountability.

• Invest in protective software. A free service called ChatChecker captures and records both sides of instant messages and chat room conversations. Other great tools are available from Bsecure and Netsmartz.

• Establish ground rules and regulate the amount of time spent on the computer each day. Limit computer usage to homework needs if necessary.

• Remind your daughter about the dangers of Internet surfing. It's not uncommon for teens to stumble into dark places when looking for something else entirely. Perhaps that has happened already. Don't wait for her to tell you about it. Ask.

• If necessary, review her Internet history and temporary files on her computer to see where she's been browsing.

It only takes one accidental detour to pull a curious teenage girl into the web of cybersex. Be prayerful and proactive in defending your daughter against a lifetime of sexual addiction. You can determine right now to protect her from that painful trap.

Kathy Gowler served as the Youth Outreach events coordinator at Focus on the Family, as well as editorial assistant with Brio magazine. This article was adapted with permission from the book What Your Daughter Isn't Telling You by Kathy Gowler and Susie Shellenberger, published by Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright © 2007

Published April 2012