From time to time, by following the sexual and emotional escapades of married celebrities, we are reminded of how common and frequent extra-marital affairs are. So much so that latest statistics indicate that in this country 45-55% of all married women and 50-60% of all married men had an affair while in a committed primary relationship (Atwood & Schwartz, 2002.) If we consider unlikely for all cheating people to be married to one another, then we can infer that cheating affects approximately 80% of all marriages in the U.S.! Additionally, recent trends indicate that, under the age of 40, women’s rates of affairs are getting very close to men’s, closing the gender gap.
This is a departure from a more traditional profile of the cheater as typically male, middle age, sex-starved, looking for excitement and adventure and needing to be made to feel young and attractive again, preferably by a much younger woman than his marital partner. Not that this profile does not exist any more, but it does neither exhaustively describe nor explain why people cheat in a society where sexual mores have become more relaxed and open, and where women are as likely as men to act out their emotional and sexual fantasies .
Other changes in patterns of affairs have to do with the way in which today people connect with one another. The increasing use of the Internet as a social network creates a whole new set of opportunities, and threats. The fact that about 35% of all divorce litigations cite internet affairs as the cause of them attests to the widespread use of the Internet for this purpose. People get in touch with one another after years of disconnection, or they anonymously connect with others in ways that create new virtual networks. About 70% of the time people spend on line is allegedly used to visit “chat rooms” or sending/receiving e-mails. The vast majority of interactions in chat rooms are of a romantic nature (Adamse & Motta, 2000.) Because all this was unheard of just a decade ago, we are just beginning to grasp its importance and its effects on intimacy and love.
One of the astonishing differences between romance and sex in cyberspace and in real time is that more than half of all men and women who engage in cyberspace romance and sex believe what they do is not adultery. I believe this contributes to lowering the threshold between thinking and wishing to have an affair on the one hand, and carrying it out on the other. This belief, in fact, by lowering one’s inhibitions and reducing guilt, increases acting out emotionally and sexually.