- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2011

If you are still glowing from a romantic Valentine’s Day last month, maybe you should skip this column. I hate to rain on people’s parades.

On the other hand, if you are one of the 27 million people using an online dating site to find a long-term relationship or marriage partner, this might be valuable information.

I recently spoke with author Michael Leahy, who founded bravehearts.net to address the issues of pornography, sex addiction and the hypersexualization of America’s (and other countries’) cultures. He explained how online dating sites are “hunting grounds” for sex addicts: This was his personal experience in the early 2000s, and he sees it today in the hundreds of men he meets or mentors as part of his organization.

Mr. Leahy is not opposed to online dating sites — he knows many successful “matches” — but he wants to strip away the rose-colored glasses about these sites.

“Most women are looking for relationships, but I would say most of the guys are looking for sex,” says Mr. Leahy.

Stipulating that that may indeed be the case, I asked Mr. Leahy for his advice. For instance, what if a young man genuinely wants to meet a nice young woman, or vice versa? How do they accomplish that on an online dating site?

Women should choose their photos carefully, and upload ones in which they are dressed modestly or “classy,” and in settings where their true characters come out, he says. Photos should also be taken within the past month, “not a high school yearbook or from five years ago.”

Women may be tempted to use photos of themselves in a “skimpy bathing suit, stretched out on a boat,” but that “tells everything to the guys,” he says. “Men who are really serious about a relationship are going to blow right past you,” while the men primarily interested in sex, including sex addicts, will jump at such a profile.

Another photo faux pas for women is to put up too many photos.

“If you put up 20, 30, 40 pictures, to a guy, that says you’re kind of desperate,” says Mr. Leahy. Just put up a few good ones and save the albums for (much) later.

He also advises women to not fall for men who seem to have a knack for prose.

Sex addicts live in a “vivid fantasy world,” he says, and it is not uncommon for them to be able to produce poetry or write flowery e-mails, aimed at a romantic’s heart. Sadly, though, the sex addict has one goal, and it’s not an exclusive love relationship with one woman.

How does Mr. Leahy know all this? Before his epiphany about his pornography and sex addiction, he spent several years trolling online dating sites, paid and unpaid, for sex partners.

“I am speaking from first-hand experience,” he says, adding that visiting certain large dating sites was like being an alcoholic in a wall-to-wall bar.

“I would spend hours on [a site] looking for someone to have sex with, and it would not be hard to find someone who would [do it] on a first date,” he says. A rule of thumb for women was that “the more skin you bare, the further you are moving the meter into the range of sex addicts.”

Mr. Leahy started his recovery from sex addiction more than a decade ago; he happily remarried about three years ago. Sobriety means no contact with pornography and no unhealthy sex activities like voyeurism or prostitution.

One of the first things Mr. Leahy tells men who are trying to escape this all-consuming sexual behavior is they must exit online dating sites and even social networking sites, like Facebook.

“Those sites are totally off-limits,” he says.

As for the men and women who are sincerely hoping to have a happy ending to their online meetings, like the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan characters in “You’ve Got Mail,” Mr. Leahy urges them to operate with modesty, honesty and caution.

“Just like anything in dating, you’re going to have to go through lot of chaff to get to the wheat,” he says.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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