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Help! My ex prefers cybersex ... with me!

Maintaining a fantasy relationship with ex-husband is keeping divorcee from looking for something, and someone, real.  Dr. Gail Saltz has advice.

Q. Last year, after two years without sex or any intimate contact, I divorced my husband. It was a friendly divorce and we have managed to stay friends. But now that we're divorced, he wants to have computer sex all the time.

He doesn't understand why. I don't understand why. I still love him and would never have divorced him if he had participated in our marriage physically. I love the attention but somehow feel cheap by this. What gives?

A. The quick answer: Some people prefer cybersex to real sex. Though I cannot diagnose someone I have not evaluated, here are a few possibilities.

First, your ex-husband might have a sexual problem he finds so humiliating he doesn’t want you to know about it. Though he has desire, having actual sex is problematic, so he avoids it.

As you know, this does not prevent him from having computer sex. But he will never have a solution until he seeks treatment.

More likely, he is turned on by what he can’t have. In a case like this, his fantasy is about conquest. This is a tough problem to treat. It’s actually not that unusual, however. We all know people who woo someone like mad, dropping their object of desire as soon as they win them over. The thrill is in the chase. This is not necessarily about a fear of commitment, though the same person could have that, too. If this kind of person, like your husband, does marry, he feels smothered and trapped. This robs him of desire. Sometimes couples spend years in a yo-yo cycle of splitting up and reuniting.

As for why you feel cheap: Perhaps it’s because you think you are selling out and getting little in return. You want a real relationship with real intimacy and real sex — not this game, where he prefers the cyber version of you to the flesh and blood one. For him, the cyber version has no downside. As you know, real relationships include downs as well as ups.

I have no problem with games. Games are fun — as long as both people want to play. But some people prefer a computer relationship because it is not a real one. It doesn’t sound like you do, but rather that you are settling for this while hoping to get back together.

In many ways, computer sex is like intense flirting in the days before e-mail. It’s a way to dabble without investing. The computer enables extra fantasy and also acts as a disinhibitor, where he is more bold because he is unseen. You’re left with a fantasy that never pans out into reality.

It sounds as though this computer fantasy works for him. Ask yourself whether it works for you. Feel free to e-mail your ex-husband to suggest what is really going on, and ask him whether he honestly wants to deal with it. If he doesn’t, there’s a low probability this will evolve back into a real marriage.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: If you want a relationship that stays at arm’s length behind a computer screen, that’s fine. If you feel diminished by this, move on to someone who is capable of a real relationship.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book, "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts" (Penguin), helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .