Cyber-Cheating, Etc.
> 5/1/2006 3:35:59 PM

As long as there have been relationships there has been infidelity. Over time, the shape that infidelity has taken has changed and evolved. Recently, much of this evolution has come in the form of societal and technological innovations, and the most recent of these has been the move into the virtual realm of the internet.

As evidenced by the outrageous growth of social networking and dating sites, blogs, chat boards and so on, our social lives have been moving in large part onto the web. This virtual space offers many venues for meeting and interacting with new people, and indeed forming lasting relationships. But of course the downside of all of this is that unfaithfulness has limitless new ways to rear its ugly head.

Dr. Mada Hapworth, a psychologist in New York City and a contributor to Anxiety, Addiction and Depression Treatments, deals with relationship issues in her daily practice. The key she said, to defining what is and what isn’t cheating, is in the intention. “Anytime you have a sexual interest in someone else, that you make a move on, that’s cheating. Even if you’re having highly sexualized conversation at work, that’s cheating. Ask yourself the question: ‘How would your mate feel if he knew what your intentions were?’”

From her experiences, Dr. Hapworth hasn’t seen any change in the amount of cheating because of new technologies. “When people want to cheat, they want to cheat. That hasn’t changed. It’s not that there’s any more desire to cheat, it’s that it’s more anonymous. You can justify it a little better because you don’t have to do the act, you can just chat about it online,” she said.

In the past a spouse or partner who strayed probably didn’t have many options. But as clinician Ivan Spielberg notes, technology has changed all of that. “Where you used to have to sleep with someone you worked with or go to a bar to pick someone up, now you can just order in with access to a full menu of options,” he said. “There’s an instant gratification aspect to it.”

If you troll around on Craigslist for about ten minutes, you’ll see exactly what Spielberg is referencing. The “casual encounters” section in particular literally offers something for everyone. Some of my favorites I pulled off today’s postings, although I stress that this is simply a sampling, and because posting to the site is free, everyday provides a different “menu.”

Playful Couple looking for Playful/Sexy/Experienced Male - mw4m – 35
Cuties Getting off in Front of Each Other This Afternoon - m4w - 29
Married Man Seeking Something Discreet - m4w – 36

“I have clients that do [use sites like Craigslist], and they can have someone over in 15 minutes,” Spielberg said. With that type of response, it isn’t difficult to see how temptation has been changed by technology.

If in the past work, bars and even classified ads served as popular outlets for those who cheat, the immediacy and connectivity of the web has eliminated much of the down time in the process. Other sites like allow users to peruse a searchable database of members who are interested in everything from companionship to casual sex. Beyond that, those interested in straying can use even traditional dating sites like or to find partners, whether the new person is in on it or not.

While the web has increased the ease and speed of finding a hook-up buddy, it has also helped increase the methods and means of those looking to explore sexual encounters beyond their relationship. It probably wasn’t long after that first-ever email was sent out, that someone decided it would be fun to send a sexually explicit email. And not long after the first website was created, someone decided that they should put pornography on a page. Advancements like instant messaging, bluetooth and web-cams have also had their own push toward sexuality. Instant messaging allows two or more parties to simply use text to communicate using screennames. Because of the potential for anonymity and the detached feeling of merely typing your thoughts instead of verbalizing, many users feel more comfortable to share and explore topics that they might not over the phone or in face-to-face contact. Likewise, even Bluetooth technology, which connects portable electronic devices to one another via a local area network, is now being used to chat with and pick-up random strangers for sex. The process is called toothing.

Web-cams have allowed those who could be on different continents to see and talk with one another in real time. This has led to a proliferation of individuals who broadcast web-based strip teases and sex shows, sometimes for a fee, and sometimes just for fun. Some very enterprising companies are even moving into the world of teledildonics, which would give someone of your choosing the ability to sexual stimulate you by way of an electronic dildo (male or female) that is connected to the web. With cameras and even video coming standard now on many cell phones, there are unlimited possibilities for sexual encounters outside of a relationship.

Interestingly though, any of these new technologies can help those who want to be faithful by bringing them closer together even when they may be far apart. Military personnel, those who travel frequently for business or college students separated during the school year have all benefited from the ability to cheaply and confidentially share chat, voice or video over the web. Unfortunately, there is very little to assure them that they are the only ones with whom their significant other might be sharing these things.

The next frontier of cyber-cheating has already begun to take shape. Highly interactive, online role-playing games that allow players to live out their sexual fantasies in real-time have already hit the web, and more won’t be far behind. (For those who aren’t up to speed, read this excellent article.) Games like Naughty America allow users to meet and chat in the virtual realm much like the immensely popular Sims franchise. But in this game space, you can take the party to a more private location and get a lot more intimate. The software even supports web cam technology so that you can see and talk to your online partner while your avatars are getting busy.

While cyber-cheating or anonymous affairs with random partners may seem more innocuous to some, the repercussions are often just as harsh. Ivan Spielberg noted that most partners would feel slighted by any sharing of intimacy outside the relationship. “The impact is equivalent to cheating because it’s damaging whenever someone finds out that his or her partner is being intimate with someone, whether it’s chat or over email or on a web cam.”

The fact remains though that often cyber-cheating will not destroy relationships in the same way that a long-term extra-marital affair can destroy it. “Affairs where a relationship develops are ultimately more devastating to the marriage, in my experience, than this anonymous internet cheating,” said Dr. Willam Hapworth, founder of this blog. “And while short term effects are just as disastrous to the spouse, they seem to be more absorbable in the long run.”

As all three of the professional therapists noted, very rarely does the cheating party’s behavior have anything to do with sex or even a third person. In virtually every case a difficulty within the existing relationship has led one party to act out. Dr. Mada Hapworth sees this in her practice all the time.

“The worst is when you deliberately tell your spouse. I always hear, ‘I just wanted to be truthful.’ It’s got nothing to do with truth or being a good person—it’s about pure revenge. Sometimes it’s revenge for [the partner’s] cheating, but it’s often times about unfulfilled needs. There’s trouble in the relationship; it has nothing to do with a third party.”

New communication technologies will continue to bring the universe to our homes. By connecting us that much more closely, the web has allowed many people to find that true love, or maybe just connect with that foot fetishist they’ve been looking for. And while there may now be more ways to be unfaithful, the lack of worthwhile excuses remains. Being part of a relationship can be difficult work, and for some individuals, it just may never be the right fit. But for those who can make it work, the benefits of finding a partner with whom you can share your life are enormous.

5/2/06 UPDATE:In today's Escapist Magazine there is a great story on the "Evolution of Cybersex."

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