I am a very happily married man in my 40s. In the past few years, I have been drawn into cybersex with women I meet in chatrooms. All of this happens under an assumed identity, with fake email accounts and incognito browsing. These started as random, one-off encounters, but more recently I have had repeated contact, first with a single mum and then, more recently, with a woman in her 20s. Our online encounters involve sex talk, masturbation and exchanging pictures. I often feel dreadful for days after these experiences, but I can’t stop going back.
My wife and I still have sex, although nowhere near as often as we used to (her libido has dropped since we had children over the past 10 years). She would be horrified if she knew what I was doing. I worry that at some point my family life will come crashing down because of this. The guilt is huge, but it has not been enough for me not to go back. I also feel I would be letting the other women down if I stop. I want to stop, but the sexual thrill is intense. I love and still hugely desire my wife, but I wish we had sex more and were as adventurous as we used to be. I even fantasise about her doing the same thing.
You are a man with a healthy sex drive. You have written to me for help, but as far as I can see you do not have a sexual problem. The problem is simply one of conscience, as you feel you are probably breaking a spoken or unspoken agreement you have with your wife regarding monogamy. Many people throughout the world have been struggling with how to characterise non-contact, internet sex. They ask: “Is it ‘cheating’?” “Does it contravene marriage vows?” and so on. There is no absolute answer to this because, quite apart from religious or societal norms, it really depends on understandings between each individual couple.
Many people believe that if internet sex is anonymous – and is not obsessive to the point of interfering with work, relationships or general functioning – then where is the harm? They wrestle less with the guilt of that than if they were to have a physical affair with a known person. In your case, besides the sex, you have formed extramarital personal bonds that make you feel you would betray the women if you exited – and this is the most dangerous element. But these are human challenges of our time, and you already know the risks.
Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.
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