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“Women are supposed to be the nurturers and the matriarchs in our society.” Due to the secretive nature of online affairs, reliable statistics are hard to find, but a 2005 study of 1,828 Web users in Sweden offers evidence about the prevalence of cybersex and online affairs. A 2008 Australian study offers more insight into Internet affairs. More than half of the respondents believed an online relationship constituted unfaithfulness, with the numbers climbing to 71 percent for cybersex and 82 percent for in-person meetings.

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“Your primary partner will never be able to compare with the fantasy partner,” Hertlein says.

“They will never win.” According to Young, people with low self-esteem, a distorted body image, an untreated sexual dysfunction or a prior sexual addiction are more at risk to develop addictions to cybersex or online pornography.

Young sees more women who are online cheaters, in part, she says, because women gravitate toward erotic chats and webcam sessions while men often are drawn to pornography.

“The Internet is opening up these new ways of exploring your sexuality and that includes infidelity,” she says.

“You could be at home or at work or sitting on the couch with your partner chatting to someone online.” As costs for Internet access have dropped, online affairs are also very affordable.

They can be easy to conceal, as long as the cheating partner deletes the Web browser history and any incriminating e-mails.

If there is no physical contact or actual sex, is it still an affair?

“It’s not just that you’re communicating with someone online but that there is a sexual or emotional nature,” says Katherine Hertlein, Ph D, an associate professor at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas who studies online affairs.

Americans now spend as much time online as they do watching TV — about 13 hours a week.

While TV viewing has remained fairly constant, time spent surfing the Web has increased more than 120 percent over the last five years.

Women usually feel more threatened by the emotional betrayal of a partner’s online affair, while men are more concerned about physical encounters, Hertlein says, but the gender differences are lessening.