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What Counts as Cheating Online?

Have you ever contacted an ex-boyfriend on Facebook or sent a flirtatious e-mail? If so, did you tell your spouse about it? And do you consider it cheating?

In Babble’s recent infidelity survey, 69% of respondents believe that flirtatious emails count as cheating. About half of the people who responded (who were overwhelmingly female) said they have contacted an ex via Facebook. And about half of them didn’t tell their partners about it.

The overwhelming majority of respondents felt that both flirtatious e-mail exchanges and intimate “chat roulette” sessions constituted cheating.

Sometimes virtual cheating can be more hurtful than in-person, according to the respondents who said that a long term romantic e-mail exchange would be “worse” than “a kiss with a real person.” 

In Lynn Harris’ story about online infidelity, she cites research which supports the results of Babble’s poll — spouses generally feel as hurt by online-only infidelity as they would by its motel-room counterpart.

For many, as Harris points out, “it’s the emotional intimacy that hurts just as much as, if not more than, the prospect of a wham-bam roll in the hay.”

Harris interviews several parents who found themselves straying online as an escape from the stresses and drudgery of parenting. One woman reconnected with an old flame during a difficult pregnancy. Another new mom visited AshleyMadison.com, the dating site for marrieds, seeking validation of her sex appeal after having kids.

“Experts agree that even if nothing happens face to face, intimacy plus secrecy usually equals betrayal,” writes Harris.

The reasons for cheating are the same as before the internet — boredom, frustration, loneliness. But with the advent of technology, there are many more opportunities to cheat — both online and off-line. Of course, couples need to decide for themselves what constitutes crossing the line. And experts advise discussing expectations and setting guidelines about infidelity before problems arise.

The lure of connecting via technology doesn’t have to damage a relationship. In fact, couples can use video chatting and other virtual spaces to spice up their marriages. Couples therapist Esther Perel suggests that couples set up a private e-mail account with each other so they can exchange spicy messages. “This becomes erotic space where they’re just a man and a woman,” says Perel.

No, it’s not cheating if you’re sexting with your partner.

As Harris points out, “while technology can bring temptation into a strained marriage, it can also open up new sexual frontiers. When the kids are in bed and it’s just you and your iBook, there’s a limitless fantasy world you can explore — together.”

What do you think? What do you consider cheating online?

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/taminator/

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