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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.
After an Internet affair, couples often need to move the home computer to a public space, such as the living room, and install tracking or blocking software, Ducharme says.
But to build lasting trust, couples must dig deeper in therapy.
While men traditionally have been the more unfaithful sex, gender roles are reversing in some cases as more women experience cybersex.
“I think there is this bias that women don’t cheat for sexual reasons at all,” Hertlein says.
“Women are supposed to be the nurturers and the matriarchs in our society.” Due to the secretive nature of online affairs, reliable statistics are hard to find, but a 2005 study of 1,828 Web users in Sweden offers evidence about the prevalence of cybersex and online affairs. A 2008 Australian study offers more insight into Internet affairs. More than half of the respondents believed an online relationship constituted unfaithfulness, with the numbers climbing to 71 percent for cybersex and 82 percent for in-person meetings.
“There aren’t receipts for hotels or dinners or excursions.” With the faceless nature of the Internet, anonymity also is easy to come by.
The cool thing about fantasy relationships is they don’t require any work.” Therapy is similar for online or traditional affairs, with couples working on issues of trust, betrayal and forgiveness.
Hertlein also encourages couples to use the Internet to strengthen their relationships by enjoying pornography sites together or visiting websites for ideas about romantic dates or new sexual skills.
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.