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If there is no physical contact or actual sex, is it still an affair?“It’s not just that you’re communicating with someone online but that there is a sexual or emotional nature,” says Katherine Hertlein, Ph D, an associate professor at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas who studies online affairs.While men traditionally have been the more unfaithful sex, gender roles are reversing in some cases as more women experience cybersex.“I think there is this bias that women don’t cheat for sexual reasons at all,” Hertlein says.“It’s really difficult to track what your partner is doing,” Hertlein says.“There aren’t receipts for hotels or dinners or excursions.” With the faceless nature of the Internet, anonymity also is easy to come by.It starts right under your roof,” says Elaine Ducharme, Ph D, a psychologist in Glastonbury, Conn., who specializes in cybersex addictions.“You can’t usually get rid of your computer in the house.
While TV viewing has remained fairly constant, time spent surfing the Web has increased more than 120 percent over the last five years.The cool thing about fantasy relationships is they don’t require any work.” Therapy is similar for online or traditional affairs, with couples working on issues of trust, betrayal and forgiveness.Hertlein also encourages couples to use the Internet to strengthen their relationships by enjoying pornography sites together or visiting websites for ideas about romantic dates or new sexual skills.The typical affair used to start in the office and move to a seedy motel room, but the vast reach of the Internet has brought infidelity into many couples’ homes over the past decade.The growth in steamy chat room conversations and cybersex also has triggered a rethinking of the meaning of infidelity.
“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.