Couples do not make a distinction between online or offline infidelity because the emotions, and the sense of betrayal, are the same
Though porn use can create all sorts of tensions, arguably it is the interactive sex websites that pose the biggest threat to long term relationships. Anonymity and convenience encourage dis-inhibition and accelerated intimacy and studies show that hypersexual behaviour online is a pretty accurate predictor of real-world transgressions. In the last twelve months there has been a 30% increase in women using the net for sex and it is largely related chatrooms which offer the promise of a ‘relationship’ rather than the straightforward sex on porn sites. The mushrooming of sites such as marital affair which make it easier for men and women to hook up for casual sex are another disturbing development.
Ellen Helsper, research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, says: “Couples do not make a distinction between online or offline infidelity because the emotions, and the sense of betrayal, are the same.” Helsper recently collaborated with William Dutton and Monica Whitty on an international investigation into the impact of the internet on marital relationships. The results of “Me, My Spouse and the Internet: Meeting, Dating and Marriage in the Digital Age” show that 90% of married internet users disapprove of any online interaction that would constitute emotional or physical infidelity, however wives are far more likely to have concerns about their partner’s online behaviour than vice versa. Monica Whitty, who is based at Nottingham Trent University, and is the co-author of Truth, Lies and Trust on the Internet and Cyberspace Romance: The Psychology of Online Relationships, also says that “participants who engage in cybersex and erotic talk online are clear that their behaviour constitutes an act of betrayal”.
One of the most galling things about infidelity, whether on or offline, is that the person who feels wronged, does not get to decide whether they want to make things right. No matter how hurt, humiliated and betrayed they feel, they do not have the power to control the eventual outcome of the situation. Their partner does. It is the partner who gets to choose whether they are willing to acknowledge that the behaviour is a problem, and if they can be bothered to change it.