Online infidelity — married people creating intimate relationships through chatting online — is a growing phenomenon, in part because many who participate in virtual dalliances don’t regard it as cheating, experts say.
“THERE IS GREAT debate whether this is infidelity or not,” said Dr. Beatriz Mileham, who conducted an in-depth study of married people who go online in search of a romantic connection.
“It gives people a license to be sexual with strangers while still maintaining their vows — at least they think they’re maintaining their marital vows,” Mileham said.
You can find all kinds of people at any time of the day logged into “married and flirting” chat rooms.
In a joint investigation, NBC11 and MSNBC.com examined online infidelity and found it to be a quietly booming Internet niche. On one recent morning, for instance, 1,006 people were logged into a “married and flirting” chat room.
Most people use screen names in order to remain anonymous, but many also post pictures, including photos taken with their kids.
Mileham said some think that it is not cheating because there is no physical contact with that person.
“The number one justification is: ‘I’m not touching anybody,’” she said.
‘IT CAN BREAK MARRIAGES’ Mileham said her study found that 30 percent of online chatting relationships ended up in a real world affair with their online partners.
“It can break marriages actually. I found a source that said one-third of divorce litigation is due to online affairs. ... It starts as innocently as ‘how are you?’ and escalates from there,” Mileham said.
Mileham showed NBC11 and MSNBC.com that it doesn’t take long to find a partner and for the conversation to quickly turn sexual.
Within minutes, anyone who’s bored with their marriage, or just curious, can find themselves intimately involved with a complete stranger.
One man who didn’t want his name used because he was concerned his real-life girlfriend would see this story said he’s currently involved in several virtual affairs with married women. He simply fills “an emotional deficit” in women’s marriages, he said. Their husbands have no idea he exists.
InsertArt(2061269)Big-name Internet companies don’t care whether it’s cheating or not, because the more people looking for love means more eyeballs for online advertisers.
But spouses who discover a loved one engaged in such behavior are nowhere near as ambivalent.
“If it’s found out, people tend to feel very betrayed. Even if the contact is restricted to the computer only, because you are channeling sexual energy. You are channeling emotional energy. You are flirting and creating a little bit of an emotional bond here that people (feel) is reserved for them,” Mileham said.