Family Matters

Online Cheaters Still Prefer Real-World Infidelity

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Anthony Weiner, take note: according to a new study about cyberinfidelity, sexting with people you meet online is a really poor substitute for sex. New research shows that the majority of people who first cheat online end up cheating with their Internet lovers in real life.

Evolving technology means that people find paramours in very different ways than they used to. In fact, the popularity of the Internet and the anonymity it affords has catapulted it to No. 1 on the list of top places to go looking for love. Assuming you don’t commit a Wiener-like flub and send a mass tweet of your jersey-clad groin to all your Twitter followers, digital romance has the potential to be quite discreet. Just ask the nearly 10 million anonymous members of Ashley Madison, which bills itself as the world’s leading married dating service. Its tagline? “Life is short. Have an affair.”

Researchers at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, got permission from Ashley Madison to offer users the opportunity to participate in a survey as they were about to log off the dating site. In three months, researchers got 8,800 hits. Of those, they zeroed in on 5,187 adults who answered questions about Internet use, sexual behaviors and attitudes about online sexual behaviors, with a focus on cheating.

Here’s what they learned: women are more likely than men to sext. More than two-thirds of the participants had cheated online while committed to someone else; more than three-quarters had cheated in real life. More than 66% said they had met someone in real life for a hook-up after first meeting them online; this finding applied to 83% of the women, according to the research, which is published online in the journal Sexuality & Culture.

LIST: Top Online Dating Sites

So much for family values, observes Diane Kholos Wysocki, professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

“The real question for me is what’s happening in our relationships,” says Kholos Wysocki. “I think everyone starts out in love and plans to live happily ever after. But then life happens. We have children, we have bills, we have drama, the toilet seat’s left up, everyone’s tired, and the two things I hear from people that are lost are communication and sexual passion.”

Online dalliances are free of all that tiresome baggage. “Survey respondents said cyberspace infidelity is quick, they feel appreciated, it’s easy, it’s a fantasy world,” says Kholos Wysocki.

Online dalliances have become so popular for the exact same reason that online shopping has boomed: it’s so much easier to find exactly what you want by typing your specs into a search field and clicking “go” than by sifting through the social jungle.

“You can’t go to your friends and say, By the way, can I wear pink panties and will you spank me?” says Kholos Wysocki. “A man will not ask his wife that because the risk is too high. It’s easier to go to someone who is already into that than take the risk of going to someone you are living with.”

MORE: The Weiner Case: When Is Tweeting Cheating?

It’s not news that many people prefer to live virtual lives nowadays, communicating via Facebook instead of socializing with friends and texting rather than calling. But computers can go only so far when it comes to the need for physical contact. Regardless of age, survey respondents indicated they would rather cheat in person than online. “You crave the touch,” says Kholos Wysocki.

As for the uncanny timing of her study’s publication with Wiener’s online faux pas, Kholos Wysocki takes none of the credit. “I couldn’t have planned that,” she insists. “It just kind of happened.”