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.Women usually feel more threatened by the emotional betrayal of a partner’s online affair, while men are more concerned about physical encounters, Hertlein says, but the gender differences are lessening.“That is starting to even out in part because of the equality of opportunity that the Internet brings to everybody,” she says.Several studies have focused on the “AAA engine” that drives online affairs, namely accessibility, affordability and anonymity.“The Internet is extremely accessible no matter where you are,” Hertlein says.
The growth in steamy chat room conversations and cybersex also has triggered a rethinking of the meaning of infidelity.
“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.
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.