“It’s not cheating when it’s online, is it?” This question is commonly asked on forums as internet affairs are becoming more frequent as research projects suggest that between 20 to 70% of partners have committed adultery, and the internet has made this all too easy. The internet has given us unprecedented access to almost everything we desire, testing our loyalties in ways we never imagined.
Digital dating seems like an innocent business enterprise, bringing the traditional person–to–person experience online. This is innocent enough, but also forms the basis of something less socially sanctioned. For example, recently in France online dating website Gleeden was sued for its marketing. Why? Because the campaign strongly focused on married women.
Websites that promote infidelity have been an invention of the last decade or so. Websites such as ashleymadison.com that exist to enable those currently in relationships to cheat has been going strong since 2001, fifteen years after the first regular dating website matchmaker.com. The slogans of those who compel to cheat leave little room for interpretation:
Second Love: Flirting is not just for singles.
Gleeden: The premier international dating website for married people.
Marital Affair: Have an affair today.
Ashley Madison: Live is short. Have an affair.
The websites leave no doubt about their business. But the effect of technology on infidelity goes further than widening the scope of adultery. It also has allowed for a change in the cheating demographic. Whereas traditionally men have been the sex more likely to commit adultery, Swedish research found that over a third of women aged 37-39 admitted to having had online sexual experiences. Compare that to only a quarter of men who said the same.
In general the majority of cheating is still done by men. On the web several magazines have had journalists undercover, such as in , to find those cheating and have them explain their reasons. Men like Robert have admitted that they cheat because, in his words: “It’s in our human nature to want more. I don’t get enough sex if I’m honest.” Another man, James, explains why he prefers sites that focus specifically on married people: “It’s important I find someone who’s already married so they understand the limitations.” For some women it’s not that different. On GQ Magazine several women admitted to similar experiences. Gloria explains her reasons: “I don’t believe any one person ever fulfills a person’s needs.” These people have used the cheating sites to success.
The point of cheating websites is to turn online interaction into one in real life. Though large numbers of people have registered on these sites — AshleyMadison boasts 36 million members — according to research only about half of those active in online cheating go as far as translating it into real life. People participate online much more easily than in real life, as the internet still has this feel of not being real. Online, they can mean anonymous.
The Internet reality however is so ingrained to contemporary society that it can no longer be disregarded as unreal. With new inventions such as the Oculus Rift and the Google Glass, reality can be copied and simulated to unprecedented detail, blurring the line that separates digital from real. The online debate about digital cheating not being real cheating is a lively topic, and something everyone has an opinion about. But in our current society in which so much, from our money to our social interactions, takes place online, the digital world is as good as real.
By Jeroen de Vries