Who Is He Cheating With Online?

Michael, 32, six years into a marriage gone stale, waits for his wife to turn in so he can turn on -- to women whose pictures litter the cyberporn sites he's bookmarked. He'll spend hours, he admits, drooling, and then some, over all manner of leggy girls. He imagines the gals talking to him and more. "It relaxes me," says Michael, of Sacramento, California. "I gotta have it. I gotta have them." His wife, he concedes, doesn't know.

Meanwhile, Bob, 39, a freelance writer in Boston, who works at home, grabs lunch, slides into a recliner, then logs in to a private chat room. Rushing to meet him, at her lawyer's desk in Baltimore, 360 miles away, is Sarah, 43, married with three kids. "Sorry for delay, hot guy," she purrs in her instant message. "All ready now. Time to play?" First in a flirtatious code all their own, then in graphic come-on language, they nurse each other's egos, then turn up the volume on their sexual fantasies. Strangers vowing they'll never meet, Bob and Sarah nonetheless make plans to hook up again: same place, same time, next week. Sooner, if necessary.

Regular guys and gals. Or are they? Harmless activity. Or is it? A sweet touch of spice to any love life. Or infidelity in a new guise?

At a minimum, participation in cyberporn is growing rapidly, with one-quarter of all Internet surfing devoted to porn, reports Nielsen/NetRatings. And porn represents the largest share of online e-commerce activity by far -- $1.7 billion in annual expenditures, more than eight times the spending on the next most popular category, games, research firm Data Monitor notes.

Think it's an all-male bastion? Consider this. In October 2003, 30 percent of porn surfers were women, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

"We've never seen anything like this in history," says Debra Moore, a Sacramento, California, psychologist who treats people with addictive behaviors. "It's so accessible, so easy to come by. The barriers that existed to accessing porn in decades past are just gone."

Cyber Straying: Is Online Sex Cheating?

Q: I made the mistake of clicking on a little email window that popped up on my husband's computer. I discovered that he's been surfing porn sites and going to chat rooms to have sex with other women online. When I confronted him, he didn't understand why I was upset. He said that having sex online was harmless and a way to "get off" without breaking his marriage vows (we've been married 10 years). What can I do?

A: This is a situation I see more and more often as the Internet becomes a staple in homes.

The Next Step

Sit down with your husband to have this discussion. If he has sexual desires that he talks about with women online, then ask him to tell you what those are. That way you have the opportunity to say, "Yes, I'll do that," or, "No, I won't." You can also ask what prompted him to think that he was doing right by you in this marriage by finding sexual satisfaction online.

Evaluate yourself as well: Have you been shutting him out sexually? Are you enjoying yourself when you have sex? Do you have fantasies of your own? Is it a time of connection between you? Are there risks that you might be willing to take in terms of new behavior?

Your husband may have sincerely thought that he was not straying from your marital vows, or he may be using the technicality that there was no physical contact to dodge the issue that he feels sexually dissatisfied in the marriage. In either case, talk about what sexual fulfillment means to both of you.

Married couples walk a fine line between cooperation with each other and control of each other when it comes to sex. You may want the help of a sex therapist to unravel this tangled situation and reassemble a situation that works for both of you.