Is you spouse spending more time with the computer? Is he/she staying late at night online? Have you noticed more lies, requests for more privacy, personality changes, loss of interest in sex? Could your partner be engaging in an online affair? Based on studies and recent publications of the The Center for Internet Addiction Recovery, cybersex is more common than you think. Pathological internet use can have significant impact on social, academic, and occupational roles. Internet dependent users gradually spent less time with real people in their lives in exchange for solitary time in front of a computer. In one of the first studies of online abuse, Young (1996) found marital problems were reported among 53% of 396 cases of internet addicts, with intimacy, trust, and relational commitment most disrupted due to online infidelities.

Online affair is defines as a romantic and/or sexual relationship that is initiated via online contact and maintained predominantly through electronic conversations that occur through virtual communities such as chat rooms, interactive games, or newsgroups. It appears that once you start engaging in such a relationship the next step is to engage in cybersex. Cybersex involves two online users engaging in private discourse about sexual fantasies. The dialogue is typically accompanied by sexual self-stimulation and can sometimes lead to emotional intimacy. This seems to be the new way to cheat. It’s accessible, affordable (many times free) and anonymous. And, of course, you can hide it pretty well.

Some would ask, is it really cheating? Regardless, it is likely to significantly affect your relationship. Cybersex and online affairs among couples leaves partners feeling hurt, betrayed, rejected, abandoned, devastated, shameful, isolated, humiliated, and angry. Being lied to repeatedly is a major source of distress. Studies have shown that online affairs are as emotionally painful to partners as live, or offline, affairs, and many people subsequently believe that virtual affairs are just as much adultery, or “cheating,” as live affairs. Online affairs and cybersex activities can also impact children by exposure to computer-based pornography, involvement in parental conflicts, and neglect due to one parent’s involvement with the computer.

Researchers have found that people who engage in cybersex or online affairs may be internet addicts and/or have underlying sexual compulsivity issues. They may have problems with intimacy and/or fear vulnerability and experience intimacy problems or communication difficulties in the relationship.

Since many times couples who go through this already have communication problems, it seems obvious to start with improving communication. Both sides should be committed and willing to address the affair and acknowledge the impact it had on the relationship. Many times it is important for the one who has engaged in online affair to go through his/her own individual therapy to address compulsive internet use, sexual compulsion, underlying issues such as fear, shame, low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.

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