Internet chat rooms have introduced the thrills of the dating scene seeking computer contemporary, interactive contact with opposite-sex members. It lures individuals from all walks of life, which renders the cultural scene of cyber-space rich and complex. At the click of a button, thousands of potentially desirable individuals instantly become available. The medium offers an unparalleled opportunity to browse through names and profiles, start conversations, enter and exit interactions with no effort or second thought at all, and choose those that seem worthy of one’s attention. No doubt, millions of such users are married individuals who use the internet to meet strangers, flirt, and many times engages in highly sexualized conversations. Sometimes, this “cyber-affair” may blossom into a real-life affair.
There will be so many questions why contemporary interactive dating exists. What dynamics and elements online infidelity involves and how it happens? What leads individuals to search for a “relationship” specifically to the computer? Whether individual considers online contacts as infidelity? These are but questions answered before and still lingering in our minds, the real reasons need to be determined. Probably, the allure of anonymity gains extra importance for married individuals, who can enjoy relative safety to express fantasies and desires without being known or exposed.
Concepts that are crucial for understanding online infidelity are the anonymous and interactive expressions of sexuality that occur within these virtual spaces. A sense of interactional togetherness is felt as individuals enter a virtual room and co-create communicative interchanges with others. Persons enter into intimate chat because they think it’s the complete freedom to explore and yet safe. This is an outlet to be younger and have fun, like reading a book or watching a porn movie.
Being fundamentally unknown while interacting with someone online is exhilarating partly because of its freeing aspect: one is free from bodily existence, free from having to interact in actuality, free from ‘‘losing face’’ in front of another, free from the often self-imposed duty to hide selected emotions. Anonymity carries with it an inherent element of ‘‘freedom’’ to express oneself while remaining unexposed and even to experiment with facets of the self that ordinarily remain hidden.
Another element inherent in anonymity that heavily contributes to its allure is fantasy: one can project onto the screen one’s wildest imaginings. The conversation is limited only by the very limits of one’s imagination. The lack of identifying information, of visual input, in some cases, of a real body next to one’s own leads individuals to co-create an imaginative fantasy ambiance whose magnetism can be very strong. The discourse leading to fantasy imaginings varies, depending on the disposition of the virtual partners. It can vary from partners describing erotic scenarios to each other, to the interactive telling of romantic ‘‘novels,’’ to graphic sexual descriptions.
Many rationalized that since there is no physical contact, online-only liaisons are not a form of infidelity. The contacts take place via a computer: evidently, there is no face-to-face interaction with the opposite sex, no touching, no kissing, no secretive escapades, no worry about being seen by neighbors, friends, or co-workers.
Several elements spring that chat room contacts are only fantasy/illusion (i.e., not real), mere communication (i.e., ‘‘just talk’’), and only virtual (i.e., not body-involving). However, it is safe to state that channeling energy online involves allocation of mental resources, time, and conscious choices. It involves actively seeking out people in chat rooms; sharing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of a sexual and/or emotional nature; devoting attention to, learning about, and appraising personal characteristics of another person; and co-creating, developing, and nurturing an attractive magnetism with another virtual party. It requires allocating time for and channeling one’s energies towards such pursuits and subtracting that very time and energy from nurturing a connection with one’s primary partner.
Translating this to the online realm, it becomes clear that, when individuals invest their mental, emotional, and sexual energy in online liaisons, they are investing their own mind-body systems. They are literally creating hormones and other chemicals that originate and maintain not only physical but emotional arousal as well. Eroticism and sexuality permeate their mind-body systems: they speak to each other in erotic ways, describe their heightened sexual sensations, tease each other with sexual innuendos, reveal their fantasies, and many times share personal problems, wishes, and dreams. Thus, in a very real sense, individuals do share their mind-body systems with each other as they create and experience the other in an involving, engulfing flow of sexual and/or emotional energy.
Recent research on infidelity has repeatedly claimed that one does not have to touch the physical body for infidelity to occur. When there is sharing of emotions in chat rooms, that is usually experienced as unfaithfulness. Thus, sharing emotional and/or sexual energy in chat rooms is typically experienced as betrayal by unsuspecting spouses who remain ignorant of their partners’ chat room activities until the moment of discovery.
‘‘Just chatting’’ in general is said not to be infidelity, even if the chat revolves around sexual content, but engaging in cybersex is infidelity. Once more it becomes clear that touching the physical body is of primary importance for a conceptualization of infidelity in participants’ minds. If one is not touching oneself while chatting, then the contact is not classified as infidelity – even though sexual content is an integral part of the conversation, and this may lead to psychological intimacy as well. This depicts how important involvement of the physical body is for matters of infidelity.
The most commonly heard justification for affairs are ‘‘pain and emptiness in the marriage and anger at the spouse’s lack of sexual or emotional responsiveness.’’ A partner perceives a deficiency or insufficiency within the marriage and, instead of engaging in the arduous task of determining what has gone awry, chooses to partially avoid and escape the entire system. However, not all infidelity occurs because of problems in one’s marriage: people in marriages that are perceived as satisfactory/happy also stray.
It is not surprising that people in sex-deprived marriages are turning to chat rooms for a ‘‘fix’’: these rooms provide optimal environments for men and women to re-imagine themselves as attractive and sexual, to feel desired, wanted, validated. The chat room environment offers acceptance, sexual connection, sexual arousal, authentication that one is desirable, fun to be around, tempting in sum, someone who can entice and capture another person’s sexual desire and/or emotional attention. It is intensely delightful and pleasurable to be perceived in these ways, which fuels the continuous seeking of online encounters.
There is a commonly held, yet mistaken belief that only troubled, unhappy, and/or sex-deprived marriages are vulnerable to traditional affairs. The same myth holds true for online liaisons as well. There is a clear trend where individuals who describe themselves as ‘‘happily married’’ also enjoy being online interacting with members of the opposite sex. Motivations vary from person to person, but one typical theme is a desire to recapture the profound exhilaration felt when one first meets a potential mate.
They craved excitement, fun, and the taste of some ‘‘forbidden fruit’’ although the love for their spouses stood strong. Despite the professed love, these individuals did not appear to consider the possibility of engaging the spouse in an attempt to enhance sexuality and exhilaration within the marriage. Rather, the answer to a stale marital bedroom or to the craving for ‘‘fun’’ was an electronic bedroom.