Yesterday, I received a call from a friend who lives in a small Wyoming town. She asked if I ever heard of couples whose marriage fell apart because the husband was addicted to Internet sex.
My answer was yes. It’s a problem that’s sweeping the nation, ripping couples apart.
In the past several months, I’ve written about the Internet’s impact on our lives. While the Internet is a force that has the capacity to enrich, it also has the capacity to destroy. One area that’s particularly vulnerable is our romantic relationships and marriages. Since our families and marriages are the backbone of our mental health, we must work diligently to protect them.
A recent study that looked at the impact of online sexual activity found that women and men hold different opinions on this topic (Grov, Gillespie, Royce & Lever, 2011). Not surprisingly, the men in the study felt their online sexual activities were no big deal and enhanced their relationships with their partners. In contrast, the woman in the study felt their sex lives and relationships were damaged as a result of them.
This is certainly consistent with my friend’s experience. The husband was no longer interested in having “live” sex with his wife. Over the course of a year, he had become so stimulated by the “virtual sex” he was having online that sex with his wife no longer appealed to him. In addition, he fell in love with a virtual woman who he refused to give up.
After confronting her husband about his online sexual activities, he refused to give them up. Finally, my friend said enough and filed for divorce. It’s a sad ending to an otherwise happy 17-year marriage.
What can you do if you discover your spouse or romantic partner has an online sexual mate? The following five steps will enable you to sort things out:
1. Don’t be afraid to confront the issue. If you find out your partner is having sex online, address it directly. Tell them you know what they are doing and that it makes you feel violated.
2. It’s okay to think it’s not okay! You don’t have to go along with it. Sex involves your body, mind and spirit. Protect and care for them diligently.
3. Be clear that Internet sex is infidelity and a breach of trust.
4. Find a supportive person who you can trust to talk about it. You don’t need to keep your partner’s infidelity to yourself.
5. Set up a boundary around your partner’s Internet sex that involves consequences if the boundary is violated.
Above all else, remain true to your thoughts and feelings. If something feels “creepy,” it’s because it violates an important part of you. Never jump on a bandwagon if you feel the wagon is heading in the wrong direction. Your self-esteem and integrity are too valuable to let slip away.