Alusine M. Kanu DA
Several questions come to mind about cheating in cyberspace. What’s your view of cyber sex? Is it a breach of faith or just simple, harmless “exploration”? Should someone who is in a monogamous, committed, face-to-face relationship be seeking sexual liaisons over the internet? The downsides of cyber sex (online infidelity) are obvious, but do you agree that there are upsides to such activity? Should cyber-infidelity effect a committed relationship as much as in-person infidelity, or is it somehow different? Research reveals that the primary use for the home computer is keeping in touch with family members and friends. Another, less mainstream, use is to establish “liaisons” outside one’s primary relationships. They may begin through common interests, such as those you share with someone who posts frequently in a chat room; after awhile, you decide to begin exchanging comments with only that person in a private chat room. Since these exchanges are anonymous (chatters most often use pseudonyms), a private exchange between two chatters seems harmless, but this form of cyber relationship can escalate and take on another level of intimacy and meaning.
You’ve probably heard of cyber-sexual activity that occurs online, but without any physical contact between participants—but you may not have thought about the damage cyber sex can to do a monogamous, committed relationship. Most people have negative reactions to marital infidelity, whether they have experienced it themselves or know someone who has. Even those who haven’t experienced it may say that they would respond negatively to a partner’s infidelity if it were to happen. But few people in committed monogamous relationships think much about cyber-infidelity—until it happens to them. No physical contact has taken place; the sexual activity is accomplished through verbal exchanges within virtual reality—so how real is a virtual reality?
Putting a positive spin on this situation, some research suggests that people who form sexual liaisons online are able to explore their sexuality with little concern that friends, co-workers, and spouses will discover their activities. People may feel sexuality hindered in their face-to-face relationships, so in a sense, the internet becomes the arena in which their “true’ sexual selves find expression. They may come to understand themselves better sexually because they feel under less pressure, and the benefits of such discovery can carry over into their face-to-face relationships. Some are drawn to the internet for sexual gratification if their in-person relationships are in turmoil or decline and their opportunities for sexual expression and gratification are limited. In addition, since online intimacy exchanges don’t occur in person, the eroticism is based on other factors such as emotional intimacy and verbal expressiveness, rather than on physical attractiveness. Concerns about STDs or unwanted pregnancies disappear. A final benefit cited in research relates to the fact that if a virtual sexual liaison goes awry, participants don’t suffer such consequences as in-person retribution or confrontation since online exchanges, for the most part; remain anonymous, with true identities withheld.
One study asked participants about their online intimacy activity, including what initially motivated them to engage in cybersex, why they continued to engage in it, the role it played in their lives, and the effects it had on them. Interestingly enough, 41 percent of subjects revealed that they did not believe that online intimacy activity constituted cheating on a partner under any circumstances. Fourteen percent believed it to be cheating if a person engaged in cyber sex repeatedly with the same person. Smaller percentages of participants believed that online infidelity was cheating only if interactive video cameras were used or if the online encounters led to explicit phone sex. Thirty-three percent of subjects believed that cheating on cyberspace is just as much an act of infidelity as in-person encounters with someone other than one’s partner.
Cyberspace relationships are becoming more and more common. There was a time when people gasped in shock when a couple would say they had met on the internet, but nowadays, it is becoming the norm. Even when people don’t meet through the internet, it seems a good portion of our communication is via electronic means – phone, text messages, email, blogs, and instant messengers. For many, cyber relationships have granted the web surfer a group of friends and acquaintances that the person might never have had otherwise, taking shy, reclusive, homebound, ill or otherwise unsociable people and giving them an outlet to surround themselves with cyber friends. For some, these relationships can be very real, rewarding and fulfilling.
There is nothing wrong with cyber friendships and relationships as long as no one is getting hurt and everyone is aware of what is taking place and approves. However, as much fun and as comforting as cyber relationships can be, they can never truly take the place of the comfort of a warm body next to you at night, the touch of a hand from someone who knows you in real life, or the intimate conversation between two people face to face. When your cyber relationships begin to affect your real life relationships in such a way that you risk losing those things, it’s time to really reevaluate priorities.