Infidelity In the Technological Age


While the subject of infidelity has always been of interest, modern changes in technology and social arrangements have made the issue more complicated than ever.

One prominent change, of course, is that almost all environments in America are now mixed-gender: workplaces, shopping malls, gyms, cultural and social institutions.

In addition, technology has given us many new ways of communicating and connecting erotically with others, such as the telephone, VCR, computer, Internet and digital camera. Thus, questions such as “is it an affair?” and “is it infidelity?” are no longer easily answered.

For example, say you’re having phone sex with a paid stranger, or cyber sex with someone you just “met” online. Your mate walks in, sees this, and becomes hurt or angry, accusing you of infidelity. In the hundreds of stories I’ve heard like this, responses range from “it isn’t sex, so I wasn’t unfaithful” to “since it didn’t involve touching, don’t be upset.”

When couples bring such a dilemma to me, I never define whether one of them has been unfaithful. Such a judgment can only be made in the context of an agreement. Clearly, some couples have a contract in which even looking at a Victoria’s Secret catalog is a violation. Other relationships tolerate even erotic touching of others, as long as there is no emotional involvement. So the first — and scariest — question is how each partner interprets the couple’s fundamental agreement.

Couples in distress frequently ask me what kind of arrangement I think they should have: strictly monogamous, slightly open, technologically open (cyber-sex OK, neighbor-sex forbidden), etc. This is another question I rarely answer, although I encourage people to talk about what they really want, as opposed to what they’re willing to settle for.

Ultimately, the actual agreement couples reach is less important than the fact that both partners agree to it enthusiastically, and feel optimistic about keeping it. People who feel pushed into accepting a relationship that’s either more or less restrictive than they want often find themselves undermining the agreement, consciously or not.

Couples who have the courage to face their disagreements in this area eventually end up with a stronger relationship — whether with each other or with someone else.

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