Studies universally suggest that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of people in committed relationships sexually cheat on their spouse or significant other. Of course, in today’s world of chat rooms, webcams, instant messaging, and instant pornography, the concept of cheating is somewhat malleable and easier to deny than in the past, when cheating meant actual live physical contact.
That said, after working with hundreds of betrayed spouses and their ultimately remorseful mates, the answer to the question of what defines infidelity remains as clear to me today as it was when Monica Lewinsky first stored away that stained blue dress. Infidelity is the breaking of trust caused by keeping secrets in an intimate partnership.
In other words, with sexual infidelity, it’s more than the cheating itself or any specific sexual act that causes the deepest pain to a betrayed spouse or partner. It’s the betrayal of relationship trust caused by consistent lying that causes intimacy to crack wide open.
No Strings Attached
It’s likely that even before humans had permanent dwellings or owned property, men and women were seeking out anonymous sexual hook-ups – no strings attached (NSA) encounters to get off, get out, and get on with their day.
Until recently, gay men sought such encounters in public parks, restrooms and bathhouses, while straight men found them in singles bars, strip clubs, swingers clubs and brothels. Today, the Internet, social media, and the related proliferation of sex-locater smart-phone apps have rapidly, drastically, and permanently altered the anonymous sex landscape. And considering humanity’s spotty track record with impulsive and addictive pleasure seeking, the horizon is darkening in relation to sexual addiction, sexual compulsivity, anonymous infidelity and disease transmission as people mindlessly, albeit briefly, place their health and intimate lives in the hands of complete strangers.
Today’s geo-located, readily accessible anonymous sexual encounters, while intoxicating play for some, are already taking their toll on others, leading them into health, career, and relationship crises.
Prior to 1994, if you wanted to view pornography, you had to get dressed, get in your car, drive to a seedy shop in a bad part of town, and fork over hard-earned cash for an overpriced magazine – all the while hoping not to be seen by the neighbor’s teenage kid, your boss, the police, or your spouse.
Today, thanks to streaming video over the Internet and smart-phones, finding porn doesn’t even require getting out of bed. In the digital age, access to stimulating sexual imagery of every ilk imaginable is virtually unlimited – easily and instantly downloaded. And most often it’s free.
For the average person, porn provides a quick and convenient means to a pleasurable end, typically turned to when an emotional or a close physical connection is either not available or not desired. However, current research tells us that for approximately 5 to 8 percent of the adult population, porn use can evolve into an addictive behavior, quickly escalating from a pleasurable distraction to a behavioral compulsion that leads to depression, isolation, loneliness, shame, and negative life consequences.
In the world of addiction treatment, there are two major areas of concern: addiction to substances, and addiction to patterns of behavior. Substance addictions involve abuse of and dependency upon chemicals such as alcohol, nicotine, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine.
Behavioral addictions, often called “process” addictions, involve problematic repetitive behavior patterns involving potentially pleasurable or compulsive activities such as gambling, sex, working, spending, eating, etc. Some individuals struggle with both types of addiction simultaneously.
Sadly, the general public often mistakenly views process addictions as “moral flaws” or as “less serious” than substance addictions, yet those of us who treat these concerns directly witness firsthand the countless ways in which out-of-control impulsive, compulsive, and addictive behaviors wreak as much havoc on families, careers, and lives as drug addiction and alcoholism.
We also see that process addictions often contribute significantly to substance abuse relapse.