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Therapy can be more complicated if the cheating partner doesn’t believe his or her online activities qualify as an affair, Ducharme says.“The excuses are, ‘I didn’t have sex with this person.Every time you walk by, you’re asking yourself if he or she is using it for an affair.” While most relationships are hampered by such workday realities as household chores and paying the bills, online relationships exist in an electronic nether world where strangers can construct their own identities, Hertlein says.“On the Internet, you can be whoever you want to be. You don’t have to be this constrained person you think you should be.” Fantasy also is a huge factor in online affairs, and fantasy always trumps reality.People often feel more comfortable revealing intimate details of their lives to relative strangers because the relationship exists only in cyberspace, Ducharme says. “Some people really begin to think the other person is in love with them.They develop this intimacy and fantasy relationship.“With the Internet, we’re moving away from just physical ideas about infidelity and acknowledging emotional infidelity.” While there is no universally accepted definition, an Internet affair frequently involves intimate chat sessions and sexually stimulating conversation or cybersex, which may include filming mutual masturbation with a Web camera.Several studies suggest that even when there is no in-person contact, online affairs can be just as devastating as the real-world variety, triggering feelings of insecurity, anger and jealousy.
“I think there is this bias that women don’t cheat for sexual reasons at all,” Hertlein says.
“Women are supposed to be the nurturers and the matriarchs in our society.” Due to the secretive nature of online affairs, reliable statistics are hard to find, but a 2005 study of 1,828 Web users in Sweden offers evidence about the prevalence of cybersex and online affairs. A 2008 Australian study offers more insight into Internet affairs. More than half of the respondents believed an online relationship constituted unfaithfulness, with the numbers climbing to 71 percent for cybersex and 82 percent for in-person meetings.
Almost a third of the participants reported cybersexual experiences, and people in committed relationships were just as likely to engage in cybersex as those who were single. While men’s interest in cybersex decreased with age, women’s interest increased slightly, with 37 percent of women age 35 to 49 reporting cybersexual experiences compared with only a quarter of men in the same age group (, Vol. It found that of 183 adults who were currently or recently in a relationship, more than 10 percent had formed intimate online relationships, 8 percent had experienced cybersex and 6 percent had met their Internet partners in person (, Vol. Kimberly Young, Ph D, who directs the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery in Bradford, Pa., says about half of the couples in her practice are seeking counseling because of online affairs or excessive use of online pornography.
“You could be at home or at work or sitting on the couch with your partner chatting to someone online.” As costs for Internet access have dropped, online affairs are also very affordable.
They can be easy to conceal, as long as the cheating partner deletes the Web browser history and any incriminating e-mails.
After an Internet affair, couples often need to move the home computer to a public space, such as the living room, and install tracking or blocking software, Ducharme says.