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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.
Every time you walk by, you’re asking yourself if he or she is using it for an affair.” While most relationships are hampered by such workday realities as household chores and paying the bills, online relationships exist in an electronic nether world where strangers can construct their own identities, Hertlein says.
“On the Internet, you can be whoever you want to be. You don’t have to be this constrained person you think you should be.” Fantasy also is a huge factor in online affairs, and fantasy always trumps reality.
The cool thing about fantasy relationships is they don’t require any work.” Therapy is similar for online or traditional affairs, with couples working on issues of trust, betrayal and forgiveness.
Hertlein also encourages couples to use the Internet to strengthen their relationships by enjoying pornography sites together or visiting websites for ideas about romantic dates or new sexual skills.
“The Internet is opening up these new ways of exploring your sexuality and that includes infidelity,” she 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.They can be easy to conceal, as long as the cheating partner deletes the Web browser history and any incriminating e-mails.Women usually feel more threatened by the emotional betrayal of a partner’s online affair, while men are more concerned about physical encounters, Hertlein says, but the gender differences are lessening.
“That is starting to even out in part because of the equality of opportunity that the Internet brings to everybody,” she says.The typical affair used to start in the office and move to a seedy motel room, but the vast reach of the Internet has brought infidelity into many couples’ homes over the past decade.