What The Wild Things Are

Understandings of Self, Awareness, and Mental Health in an Ever-Changing World

Infidelity in Cyberspace

What are we really looking for?

Recently, in order to explore infidelity on the internet, Kholos Wysocki and Childers placed a survey on a website aimed at married people looking for sexual partners outside their marriage. A total of 5,187 adults answered questions about internet use, sexual behaviors, and feelings about sexual behaviors on the internet. The authors were particularly interested in aspects of sexting, infidelity online, and infidelity in real-life.

 

The survey posted on the "infidelity" website revealed a wide range of results on sexting and infidelity.  For example, they found that women were more likely than men to engage in sexting behaviors, and over two-thirds of the respondents had engaged in sexual behavior online while in a serious relationship. Over three-quarters of them had engaged in infidelity in real-life, and both women and men were just as likely to have engaged in sexual behavior with someone other than their partner while in a serious real-life relationship.

Of particular interest was that Kholos Wysocki and Childers found that respondents were more interested in finding real-life partners, both for dating and for sexual encounters, than online-only partners.  The authors concluded that while the internet and social networking sites are increasingly used for social and sexual contact, our need for physical contact has not lessened.  They state, "While social networking sites are increasingly being used for social contact, people continue to be more interested in real-life partners, rather than online partners. It seems that, at some point in a relationship, we need the physical, face-to-face contact."

While the authors of this study did not suggest it, one could argue that it's possible that it may be that not only were people more interested, ultimately, in real-life sexual encounters than online encounters, but perhaps the sexual encounters themselves were simply a stand-in for even deeper yearnings.  In other words: perhaps the extra-marital online sex is a poor substitute for real-life sex, but that real-life sex itself may be a poor substitute for other, deeper needs that aren't getting met.

 

Photo Illustration by Scott Barbour/Getty Images

 

Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D., is a clinical and forensic psychologist and co-founder of the Pathways Institute for Impulse Control in San Francisco.

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