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Cybersex Makes Cheating Easy
Infidelity: Online Affairs Are Fantasy for Cheating Spouses, Can Lead to Divorce
Psychologists call it the final frontier. It’s Cybersex, and it has become the easiest way to cheat on your spouse. “Thirty years ago it was much harder to get sex. You had to sneak around and really look for it. Cybersex brings it right into the house. It is just so easy now,” says Tina B. Tessina, 64, a Long Beach, California-based psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media 2008). “Cybersex is also easier to hide and it usually doesn’t cost money.”
With the internet’s coming of age, so have multiple opportunities to meet someone online and get romantically involved. Chat rooms, interactive websites, blogging and public networking forums like Facebook have inadvertently invited strangers into many bedrooms. In fact, the Internet hookup has become so commonplace, it’s now considered as viable as any other venue to meet someone. OkCupid, Tinder, and a plethora of other dating sites are more prevalent than ever, and the stigma of online romance is slowly but surely diminishing.
“I suppose it’s as good as a bar,” said Alice Aspen March, Los Angeles-based author of The Attention Factor. “The only difference is at a bar you actually see and talk to a person in the flesh. When you go on the Internet, you are getting a connection with a person in the machine. And it’s really a fantasy to have an affair on a machine. It is not real.”
“That aspect fantasy might be why so many married people get lured into affairs online when that was not their original intent. You could enter it innocently, not really looking for an affair. But it’s very seductive so even a little curiosity can get you hooked. While the fantasy aspect is alluring, it can also lead to misrepresentation even without intent,” said LeslieBeth Wish, 60, a psychologist and social worker based in Sarasota, Florida, who has been counseling couples in relationships for over 30 years.
“The introduction of the Internet,” she adds, “has changed the face of what had been the traditional affair. Namely, a sexual relationship between two people that happens in person with an element of physicality. The absence of that somehow allows for a big degree of denial about the relationship even being an affair in the first place.”
“Online affairs represent safety, fantasy, and a big escape tunnel. They don’t count because there is no one-to-one contact. Because they are viewed as a so-called emotional timeout. It’s like the guys who go online for pornography. The Internet has created a powerful outlet for an already existing problem. People think it’s safer. It’s very easy to fool yourself by fooling your spouse. ‘Honey, it’s not like I am meeting him. It’s only online. What is the big deal?” Wish says.
Boredom, curiosity and lack of communication with a spouse — all these have been blamed for online affairs blooming in the first place. While some argue how you get to investigating online sex options is important, others point to what happens once you get there as being what matters. It can create a real problem in your relationship at home.
“If a man is curious about threesomes, for instance, and doesn’t talk to his wife about it because he thinks she wouldn’t handle it well, he may go on one of the alternative sex sites where he will find a chat room that is free or low fee. In his mind, this is a safe, cheap alternative. He doesn’t know these people. He will never meet them. And there he can connect up with people and talk about his fantasies,” Tessina says. “But pretty soon, he finds someone he really connects with and off they go from the group on their own. It just moves like that.”
“The fact that there is never an actual meeting between the two and no face-to-face connection naturally lays the proving ground for fantasy and even lies. What you see is not necessarily what you are getting,” Wish says.
“People misrepresent themselves more online because they can. And sometimes they misrepresent themselves without knowing it. It’s called ‘unconscious misrepresentation.’ They actually do believe they look like Robert Redford. Think of the people who try out for American Idol. They really believe they have talent, and they clearly don’t. People have a lot of trouble assessing their own abilities and appearance. That is why we are so prone to flattery,” she said.
“The online thing is really pure fantasy. You are fleshing out whatever skeleton they are giving you. Fleshing it out from your own imagination,” Tessina says. “You don’t think of it as lying. We all want to be liked. We have a tendency — even the most honest of us — still have the tendency to play up the things that other people respond to. It’s human nature, and that gets exaggerated in this thing when your ego is at stake. You have a tendency to respond to this other person in whatever way they are reacting to and a lot of dishonesty starts happening.”
“Most people don’t set out to be dishonest. They don’t set out to cheat on their spouses, but they get caught up in it, they are not emotionally mature enough to have the self-control to see it and to stop it,” she adds.
This was the case for Rich Mullikin from Galveston, Texas. “I was involved in an online affair for about 18 months which culminated in me buying a plane ticket to see the woman,” wrote the 39-year old public relations consultant in an e-mail interview. “I am married, and she was married. We chatted off and on for many months, but then it progressed faster and faster, sharing personal feelings, then sharing sexual fantasies.”
In Mullikin’s case, he didn’t want an affair, but little things snowball so fast — which the experts say is typical in a virtual affair. “Pretty soon, you go from being online for 20 minutes a day, then to an hour,” says Wish. “It becomes addicting, and then you are staying up until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. online. It becomes like your virtual friend. And the problem is, that creates a level of emotional distance in your marriage, whether you acknowledge it or not.”
“And just like an addiction, it rewards you every time,” she says. “You feel good each time you talk to this person online. It reinforces itself. Which is precisely what makes it so very dangerous,” adds Tessina. “It’s a very seductive thing. But if you have your priorities straight, you are not going to fall for it. It’s just like drugs. People can try cocaine and not become cocaine addicts,” she says. “As I often hear in counseling, clients will say, ‘I had to stop. I liked it too much.’ A warning will come up. People who have the emotional maturity to stop doing what they are doing are usually fine. It’s the ones who don’t know how to self-regulate. They can be sucked right into it.”
And being drawn into a cyber affair can be as destructive to a marriage as a physical affair, she adds. “If anything, it is taking something away from your marriage,” she says. “First, there is a kind of neglect — neglect in terms of what you could be doing with your spouse and are not. And then lying, because you are not talking to your spouse about what is going on. And then that moves into cheating. When is the precise moment when you are actually cheating? When you feel like you are transferring your affection. And it doesn’t have be physical.”
For Mullikin, it never became physical. He never acted on his sexual fantasies with his cyber-mistress and wrote that his online trysts were a case of the grass always being greener. “But it was addictive. I was addicted to the rush I felt when I chatted with her and spoke to her on the phone and even when I texted her back and forth. It was a high that felt good, made me feel invincible, and more like a man,” he wrote.
When his wife found his e-mails, he came clean and told her the truth. But the road back to a functional marriage isn’t easy. “Virtual relationships are real relationships that involve emotional bonding, and can drastically damage a marriage as much as a real affair,” Tessina says. “The biggest problem is the betrayal of trust which takes a long time to rebuild. But it can be done.”
In the case of Mullikin, he showed it indeed can be done — with “lots of counseling, attending a sex addicts program for about a year, and much self-reflection,” he wrote. “I’m luckily still together with my wife who is my perfect soul mate. I’m in love more than ever with my wife who chose to give me a second chance. That’s not a road I’ll ever go down again.”