The Internet is altering patterns of Social Communication and Interpersonal Relationships. Whitty (2005) looked at the impact Cyber Cheating had on Couple Relationships and found many partners felt that online infidelity contributed to the break-up of their relationship. It is suggested that couples be clearer about the rules in their relationship, and not to keep online activities a secret. Some research suggest that ‘Men like the Internet for the experience of cybersex’ while ’Women like it for the interaction chat rooms’. Whitty (2004) found that men were more likely to initiate contact offline with women they were attracted to online. Impressions formed online are very different to those offline.
Impact on Couples
Research has found that ‘sexual intimacy’ among couples is greatly affected by the use of Cybersex by a partner. Some described their’ Relationship was falling apart’. Many partners expressed concern being exposed to Cybersex by coming across links to ’Pornography’ on the Internet. Some partners expressed a loss of respect for the user and a change in their feelings towards him, ’The user is less of a man in their eyes’. Some partners talked about a lack of trust and unreliability. According to Whitty (2005) she argues that although the actual physical self is not present in Cybersex online Cybersex activity can have a real impact on the Couples offline Relationship. The partner of a Cybersex user goes through a sequence of responses to the users ongoing involvement with Cybersex Activity. Some researchers would argue that some partners feel that Cybersex is ‘Real Sex’ and have the same impact on an offline Relationship, as if one’s partner is having sex with someone else in reality.
Sexual Addiction and the Couple Relationship
One study demonstrated how Sexual Addiction affects the Couple Relationship, by interviewing partners of users of Cybersex. All Partners interviewed had mixed views about Sexual Addiction describing some partners concerns that user is spending many hours a day looking at Cybersex and is angry that the time spent on Cybersex Activity is time taken from partner and children, another worried that the user’s behaviour was leading towards Sexual Addiction, if not already Addicted. There was some reluctance on the part of some aggrieved partners to accept that Cybersex user may be Sexually Addicted.
Behaviours that can lead to a concept of Addiction
- Hiding the behaviour
- Lack of Acceptance
- Increased time spent engaging in the behaviour
- Reduced contact hours with the family
- The experience of fear of Addiction on behalf of the partner
- Denial of Addiction on behalf of user
- Confusion about what denotes Sexual Addiction
However many excessive users of Cybersex are not necessarily Cybersex Addicted. Some research suggests that Sexual Addiction can be a symptom of other problems eg Depression.
How some partners feel about the Cybersex user
- Some partners feel that Cybersex Activity constitutes ‘Real Sex’ and regards it as Infidelity. Others described being ‘Horrified at Cybersex users Activity’.
- Other aggrieved partners feel ‘Low Self Esteem’ and’ Low Self Worth’ and a feeling of not being ‘Good Enough’.
- A number of partners reported that they could not remain in the relationship and it is additionally complicated by their fear of their children coming across ‘Pornography’ on the Internet.
Counsellors Approach to working with Cybersex Activity
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Reality Therapy, and Motivational Interviewing are the Models used in working with this activity. Experience and skill are extremely important while working with couples who present with Cybersex Issues. Communication is paramount so that both Counsellor and Couple can understand each other and can develop a’ Therapeutic Relationship’ based on good Communication, so that a working relationship is established and Positive Change can come about.
As with any Complex Phenomena, online Sexual Activity is neither good nor bad. Cooper et al (1999) suggests that it is the way that people use it that determines whether it will enhance peoples lives, or result in serious adverse consequences.