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Other research has shown, however, that most spouses feel as betrayed, angry and hurt by online infidelity as they would if skin-to-skin adultery had taken place, she said.
The UF study found an escalating quality to these online contacts.
Much of the Internet's appeal to married people is the anonymity it guarantees, coupled with the no-touching aspect, which they view as a license to be sexual, Mileham said.
One can reveal the most intimate emotional and sexual details to an unseen stranger at any time of the day or night, she said.
"We are hearing from therapists around the country reporting online sexual activity to be a major cause of marital problems," Cooper said.
"We need to better understand the contributing factors if we are going to be able to warn people about the slippery slope that starts with online flirting and too often ends in divorce." With the exception of two of the study's participants, all hid their online activities from their spouses, often "chatting" after their husbands or wives had gone to sleep, Mileham said.
The study's participants, who represented every state, included stay-at-home mothers, construction workers, engineers, nurses and presidents of large corporations.
Some went online for a quick "sex fix," while others established more meaningful connections where they talked about personal problems and marital issues, Mileham said. Still others wanted to engage in cybersex, exchanging sexual fantasies with someone while masturbating, she said.
Cybersex Personal Health: First Step Is Recognizing the Signs of Internet Abuse (May 16, 2000) Related Articles Health: Behavior Health Columns The New York Times on the Web: Science/Health Forum Join a Discussion on Mental Health and Treatment ex is the hottest topic among adult users of the Internet, with studies showing that fully a third of all visits directed to sexually oriented Web sites, chat rooms and news groups. And it's very difficult to treat because the people affected don't want to give it up." Those most strongly hooked on Internet sex are likely to spend hours each day masturbating to pornographic images or having "mutual" online sex with someone contacted through a chat room."Sex on the Net is just so seductive and it's so easy to stumble upon it," she said.