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They develop this intimacy and fantasy relationship.

People often feel more comfortable revealing intimate details of their lives to relative strangers because the relationship exists only in cyberspace, Ducharme says. “Some people really begin to think the other person is in love with them.“But the other partner often feels such an emotional betrayal that they are going through the same feelings as if their partner was having a real affair.” Online affairs can contribute to divorce and child custody fights as the involved partner becomes more enmeshed in the online relationship. Almost two-thirds of the participants in one study reported they had met and had sex with their Internet partners; only 44 percent of them reported using condoms.Several studies have focused on the “AAA engine” that drives online affairs, namely accessibility, affordability and anonymity.“The Internet is extremely accessible no matter where you are,” Hertlein says.“You could be at home or at work or sitting on the couch with your partner chatting to someone online.” As costs for Internet access have dropped, online affairs are also very affordable.“I think there is this bias that women don’t cheat for sexual reasons at all,” Hertlein says.

“Women are supposed to be the nurturers and the matriarchs in our society.” Due to the secretive nature of online affairs, reliable statistics are hard to find, but a 2005 study of 1,828 Web users in Sweden offers evidence about the prevalence of cybersex and online affairs. A 2008 Australian study offers more insight into Internet affairs. More than half of the respondents believed an online relationship constituted unfaithfulness, with the numbers climbing to 71 percent for cybersex and 82 percent for in-person meetings.

“It’s not just that you’re communicating with someone online but that there is a sexual or emotional nature,” says Katherine Hertlein, Ph D, an associate professor at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas who studies online affairs.

“With the Internet, we’re moving away from just physical ideas about infidelity and acknowledging emotional infidelity.” While there is no universally accepted definition, an Internet affair frequently involves intimate chat sessions and sexually stimulating conversation or cybersex, which may include filming mutual masturbation with a Web camera.

“The excuses are, ‘I didn’t have sex with this person.

I didn’t go out and see anybody or catch any diseases,’” she says. 4) by Hertlein and a colleague reviewed eight studies of Internet affairs and documented many negative effects from online romances, including less interest in sex in the committed relationship and neglect of work and time with children.

They can be easy to conceal, as long as the cheating partner deletes the Web browser history and any incriminating e-mails.