A new form of cheating: Online Infidelity

Before the existence of a new virtual world online, people had to look around in the ‘wild’ if they desired to be unfaithful. However, the internet has definitely created easier access to many different services. In many parts of the world, it is possible to order a variety of foods online, which will ultimately be delivered to our doorsteps. But Maslow’s Pyramid contains more needs and wants that we feel we require. Other needs can also be requested or bought online, affection, attention, or sex. One could argue that this also opens the doors to cheating, due to the availability.

Why do people use the internet to cheat?
Researchers have looked at online infidelity by examining it using the ACE model. ACE being anonymity, convenience, and escape. People can remain anonymous while using chat rooms or apps to look for potential affairs. It has become quite convenient to look for cheating partners. Right now, websites exist specifically for the purpose to find an illicit relationship. And last, several studies have found that people engaging in such activities experience their ‘escape‘ as some kind of “high”.1
Another important aspect of anonymity is that people can make themselves more desirable. Online users can spend more time thinking about their responses and how they want to represent themselves. And in terms of rationalizing ‘cheating behavior’, users often feel as if they are not actually cheating when talking to others online, even if when the conversation contains sexual undertones. Many people seem to draw the line at physical contact, only 17% regarded their behavior in chat rooms as infidelity.2

Who is cheating online?
Cheating can be defined in different terms: emotional vs. sexual cheating. In one study, sexual infidelity online as ‘hot chatting’ and cybersex. Emotional infidelity online as having formed a deep bond or fallen in love with someone else on the internet. Males were more likely than females to engage in sexual infidelity online. This was also found to be true for people who score high on extraversion. Those who score high on narcissism are more likely to be involved in emotional infidelity online.3

Cheating using social media?
Social media has made it easier to connect with others. Although sites exist specifically designed for the purpose of having affairs, social media seems to ‘fulfill’ this motivation as well. It seems that impulsivity predicts attempting to engage in cheating through social media.4
A study looked at Facebook use and jealousy among young adults. The researchers found that males experienced more jealousy when their romantic partner used the winking emoticon. Females were more jealous when their partners didn’t use any emoticons.5
60% of people have witnessed a relationship break-up caused by emotional infidelity on Facebook.6
Moreover, Facebook is used to look for romantic connections by people both single and in relationships.7

A new problem?
It seems as if we have established clear rules on what constitutes as cheating outside of the internet. But engaging in certain behaviors online tend to still fall in a gray area. As was pointed out by one of the participants in one of the cited studies: “there is nothing physical going on, so I’m not cheating on my spouse”. However, partners do get jealous when their significant other undertakes in romantic behaviors online.
Therefore it is only a matter of time before people establish clearer boundaries what entails as cheating in an online setting. It should also be noted that the internet doesn’t just cause relationship problems, it can also be a place for relationship formation.
1. Kimberly, S. Y., O’Mara, J., & Buchanan, J. (2000). Cybersex and infidelity online: Implications for evaluation and treatment. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 7(10), 59-74.
2. Mileham, B. L. A. (2007). Online infidelity in Internet chat rooms: An ethnographic exploration. Computers in Human Behavior, 23(1), 11-31.
3. Browne, A. (2015). Online Infidelity; Gender, narcissism and extraversion as predictors of behaviour and jealousy responses.
4. Adams, A. N. (2017). Social Networking Sites and Online Infidelity (Doctoral dissertation, Walden University).
5. Hudson, M. B., Nicolas, S. C., Howser, M. E., Lipsett, K. E., Robinson, I. W., Pope, L. J., … & Friedman, D. R. (2015). Examining how gender and emoticons influence Facebook jealousy. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18(2), 87-92.
6. Nelson, O., & Salawu, A. (2017). Can my Wife be Virtual-Adulterous? An Experiential Study on Facebook, Emotional Infidelity and Self-Disclosure. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 18(2), 166.
7. Drouin, M., Miller, D. A., & Dibble, J. L. (2014). Ignore your partners’ current Facebook friends; beware the ones they add!. Computers in Human Behavior, 35, 483-488.

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