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Faithful, but not online

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dilim's picture

“___________ (Insert name of person) will you have this wo(man) to be your husband/wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him/her, comfort him/her, honor and keep him/her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him/her as long as you both shall live?”

Declaration of Consent
wedding If you aren’t familiar with what that statement/question is, it is known as a Declaration of Consent administered by a priest/pastor typically in a Christian (Catholic) wedding ceremony. The typical ‘Yes’ will be echoed by both individuals getting married in response to that it. This is in mutual response and consent that they agree to abide by it. But of course there is the occasional ‘No’. Perhaps, this is in realisation that they’ve made a total mistake and don’t consent to the marriage. By now you are probably wondering what all this has to do with anything.

Almost as long as Homo sapiens have existed infidelity has been around. The Bible gives some earliest accounts of infidelity such as the Parable of the Two Sisters. Infidelity or adultery has occurred in marriages or in any relationship for that matter. But is online interaction (where people don’t have physical contact with each other) such as supposedly harmless flirtation, watching porn, sexting considered as infidelity? Or real infidelity? When a person who consented to a relationship (marriage) partakes in such online interaction are they being unfaithful to their spouse?

Technology enables infidelity
Unfortunately, the proliferation of technology, such as the Internet and mobile tools, has played its role in enabling and facilitating infidelity. As Andrew Sullivan, a political writer wrote, “With countless interactive hook-up sites, and ever more apps that combine sexting with GPS, a huge proportion of the current and future generations will have sent pictures of their boobs or butts or junk as a form of sexual play, fantasy, virtual interactive pornography, and, to a lesser extent, getting laid.” For a number of people, online presents a field for sexual flirtation, sex talk, fantasy, desire and commonly actual sex. Such online and virtual interactions are private and masturbatory interactions, especially where people are indisputably involved or in a committed relationship.

In her ACE (Anonymity, Convenience, Escape) model, Kimberly Young, a psychologist, specifies three factors underlying the Internet's unique appeal to users who commit online infidelity:

  • Anonymity - it allows users to cheat with reduced risk of social sanctions.
  • Convenience of chatrooms and instant messaging -  permits cheaters to easily find an online partner with same social interests as them.
  • Escape – online presents a unique opportunity to escape to peoples fantasies.

A Love, Lust and Loyalty survey by MSNBC.com/iVillage suggests that 57 percent of men and 77 percent of women consider online flirting in chats and webcamming as being unfaithful. Whilst a minority don’t consider online flirting as infidelity or who explicitly allow for it as the '-ish' in monogram-ish.

According to a 2005 study, findings suggest that the reasons for online infidelity (cases of consented extra-marital flirtations were not considered) are different from those of real life, physical cheating. The findings in the study suggest that Internet infidelity isn’t intended as a substitute to a real life relationship but is merely used as an experimental arena to fulfil hidden desires. That being said, Texas Tech University researchers carried out a study that found that online infidelity hurts just as much as in-person fornication.

Chatting is not cheating
On the contrary, such online interaction has its own philosophical supporters.  In his book, Chatting is not cheating, John Portmann,  writes, “The Internet has not given us a new way to have sex but rather an absorbing new way to talk about sex.” Portman argues, “Making room for chatting in a monogamous relationship honors but the promise of sexual exclusivity and the titanic power of the imagination.”

Although there is no reliable estimation of the prevalence of this phenomenon mainly because of the exclusive anonymity, the widespread existence of ‘taken but looking’ or ‘married but looking’ chat rooms and groups shows that infidelity does exists in the cyber world.

In biblical terms, Jesus said that a man who lusted for a woman in his heart had already committed adultery (Mathew 19:9) and even as part of the Ten Commandments it states “Thou shalt not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14). Therefore, in a Christian perspective as well as perhaps a consensus of people who might have defined the boundaries of their relationships, online infidelity constitutes as cheating or being unfaithful even where physicality was not involved. 

*Image: Sarah Ackerman (Flickr)