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An amazing number of people love for love (or just sex) on the Internet. A study by Dr. Michael Rosenfeld, then an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University, found that between 2007 and 2009, 21 percent of heterosexual couples and 61 percent of same-sex couples met on line. The Internet can be a relatively safe place to find people with whom to pursue relationships in the 3-D world.

Unfortunately, some people come to prefer online interactions to real world interactions, and when they are already in real-world relationships, havoc results. Up to one third of all visits to the Internet are directed to sexually oriented chat rooms, news sites,and porn sites. Internet users view recorded or live images of people having sex or masturbating and masturbate during the viewing. Sometimes relationships progress to real-world sex with the person on the screen, usually in a pay for sex arrangement. The cost of cybersex is much lower than the cost of in-person sex, although instead of being one of many people viewing a sex act on line one would, presumably, have the sex worker's undivided physical attention.

With most activities of this sort, the judgment of whether there's a psychiatric issue depends on the answer to the question "How much?" Someone who does this occasionally may be a less than desirable husband or wife, but someone who does it 18 hours a day suffers a psychological addiction. If you are the partner who is being cheated on, your possibilities run something like this:

  • Your partner is in the 1 percent or so of the population (mostly male, but some female) who is addicted to cybersex. These are people who spend lots of money on website memberships, who take sick days so they can masturbate to images on line, or who fail to eat, sleep, exercise, bathe, or groom so they can spend more time on cybersex. While one may not want to continue a relationship with such a person, they actually need psychiatric help.
  • Your partner is in the 65 percent of men or 20 percent of women who view pornography on line at least once a week. In the United States, men who identify themselves as Christian are, according to a study conducted by the Barna Group for Proven Men, are more than twice as likely as non-religious men to view pornography several times a day, and only half as likely never to view pornography at all. These individuals do not need psychiatric help for an addiction, but they are likely to have unrealistic views of what real-world sex partners can do and how real-world sex partners appear.

Among American men, only about 25 percent of self-reported Christian men and 12 percent of self-reported non-Christian men, according to the Barna study, view pornography once a year or less. Only 3 percent of religious men and 6 percent of non-religious men never view pornography at all. All of this is to say that if you catch your man viewing porn, it actually is possible it is a once-in-a-great-while thing, but it's more likely something he does relatively often. However, the question when your spouse is viewing porn is, how does he (or she) treat you?

For a few, the problem with porn is it's addicting. For most, the problem with porn is that it sets up unrealistic expectations. Instead of finding ways to make sex more interesting with the real-world partner to whom he's made a commitment, he gets off on images of actors and sex workers. That's the cheating. It's not so much that there is a relationship with the sex worker, although there can be. The problem is not putting energy into the relationship, and overcoming those unrealistic expectations.

Most couples reach a resolution of this issue by:

  • Separation or divorce,
  • Agreement to accept so-so sex and allow measured amounts of online excitement, or
  • Mutual commitment to having a great sex life without ever resorting to pornography ever again.

The third option is the most satisfying, but it also is the most work. It's not enough to turn off the porn. It's also necessary to turn on a sex life to replace it, or to realize all the other benefits that come from the marriage are worth giving online porn up for good.

 

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