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Is Online Infidelity Really Cheating?

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Updated May 24, 2010

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Question: Is Online Infidelity Really Cheating?
You may have discovered your partner has had an online affair, or you may be considering connecting with someone online as a sexual outlet, without actually meeting to have sex. If your bodies don't touch, is it really cheating?
Answer:

Online infidelity is a kind of emotional affair in which the people involved develop a sexually intimate relationship without actually meeting. In fact, they may have never seen each other's faces, or heard one another's voices. So without any real human contact, it may not seem like a real affair.

However, there are many elements that online infidelity shares with a real-life affair that can be destructive to an existing real life relationship, and in those respects, online infidelity is cheating.

Online infidelity can distract the unfaithful partner's attention from their real-life partner and children, robbing them of the time and attention that nurtures existing relationships. Taking your real relationships for granted can actually cause them a great deal of harm, and those close to you miss you and feel neglected of your affection. As cybersex can be addictive, it may take up more and more of your free time.

Online infidelity, like real-life affairs, tends to create secrecy, lies, and covering up, that has the potential to destroy the trust that hold the relationship together. Even if your real-life partner does not discover the affair, there is a bond of trust that is broken when one partner is unfaithful. People having affairs also tend to get angry with their real-life partner, and can emotionally abuse them, often without meaning to, which causes further hurt.

Cybersex happens so quickly and easily that there can be a tendency to get carried away. Sometimes cybersex can lead to meeting online sex partners in person, even if this was not the original intention. Then the online infidelity can become physical infidelity, which takes cheating to a different level.

Even when the online infidelity is disclosed to the real life partner, or in some cases, both partners engage in online infidelity, it has the potential to damage the relationship. One partner is typically more enthusiastic about the arrangement than the other, and one partner may feel compelled to engage in cybersex in order to keep the other happy. This is not a strong basis for a relationship.

Online infidelity, like real-life infidelity, is usually a sign that there are problems in the relationship, so if you or your partner have had an online affair, or are engaging in other types of cybersex or sexually compulsive behavior, seek couples counseling.

Sources

Carnes, P., Delmonico, D., Griffin, E. & Moriarity, J. In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free of Compulsive Online Sexual Behavior. Second edition. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Young, K., Cooper, A., O'Mara, J. & Buchanan, J. "Online Infidelity: A New Dimension in Couple Relationships with Implications for Evaluation and Treatment." Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 7:59-74. 2000.

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