More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Sex and Instant Messages
By Chris Jozefowicz, Psychology Today

Summary: Does flirting through instant messaging count as cheating?

Geri posts a note at least once a day to the chat group. “Popping in to say hi,” the 52-year-old married grandmother recently typed in cheery all-caps, “Hugs and kisses.” Psychotony777 seemed equally cheerful, but was writing for different reasons. “Looking for ‘safe’ erotic fun,” the self-described “always horny, but always tasteful” married 37-year-old wrote.

So goes a typical morning on Yahoo!’s Married_Flirting e-mail group, just one of the scores of Web resources set up expressly to help everyone from the very lonely to the very amorous make passes at people who aren’t their spouses.

Beatriz Avila Mileham, who studied online infidelity at the University of Florida, thinks the convenience of computers has changed the way people cheat. The interactive nature of chat rooms makes participation more serious than simple escapist fantasy, Mileham says. She recently conducted a qualitative study over the course of one year, recruiting subjects from chat rooms such as Yahoo!’s and Microsoft’s Married but Flirting. In all, 76 men and 10 women participated.

Initial online flirtation doesn’t count as cheating, the subjects told Mileham. More than 80 percent felt it was just “talking with a computer.” But online dalliances have a tendency to escalate, Mileham found: 30 percent of those she spoke with—26 people—went on to a face-to-face meeting with someone they met online. And all but two ended up having an old-fashioned affair.

Despite the aggressive, sex-drenched atmosphere of these chat rooms—Mileham herself had to deal with persistent suitors—it remains unclear if online flirtation is leading more people to cheat. Jennifer P. Schneider, a Tucson, Arizona, doctor specializing in addiction medicine and co-author of Cybersex Exposed: Simple Fantasy or Obsession?, said there have been no studies to demonstrate that chat-room use leads to more affairs.

Schneider did warn, however, that the Web can normalize taboo behaviors. “On the Internet you can find a group of like-minded people who are attracted to anything,” she said.


Sex and IMs


Um... I find the numbers on that report to be a little out of the Internet league.

It's hard for me to believe that you can shape the net's biodiversity of behaviors and have a slightly accurate sample of what goes on in terms of online communication while only interviewing 100 people or so.

I happen to have true friends whom I've met online - no sex involved. Really, true friends. Likewise, when one's too lonely or horny, they can always find someone to masturbate with, which is pretty cool, as well. Better than cheating in 3D or building up unreleased sexual energy that might just explode in acts of violence.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I agree that this shouldn't be taken as implying that all internet friendships are sexual in nature -- in fact, I suspect that most are not -- or that the behaviors described in this article are representative of internet behavior in general.

However, I don't think the authors are suggesting anything more than that the internet provides an opportunity and a medium for this for people who seek it, and that this may be worrisome to some because it represents a form of infidelity, even if it's only or primarily virtual infidelity.

The issue (which isn't fundamentally one of morality or of right-wrong but of personal values and choice) is whether there is any difference between real-life cheating and cyber-cheating.
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