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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.
Unlike some fatal attractions, a simple click of a mouse button ends contact – should the person want to break it off – without any explanations or apologies, she said.
Mileham conducted in-depth online interviews with 76 men and 10 women, ages 25 to 66, who used Yahoo's "Married and Flirting" or Microsoft's "Married But Flirting," Internet chat rooms geared specifically for married people.
I've read some of the teen conversations on the sites my daughter wants to visit, and they seem relatively harmless. While the Internet can be a wonderful educational and communication tool, it can also be a dangerous place for unsuspecting young teens.
"We started chatting about life, our marriage, what we like to eat, what sexual positions we like the best," wrote one man to Mileham."Many of them said their wife was so involved in childrearing that she wasn't interested in having sex." Because there is no touching involved in online chat conversations, married people often rationalize their behavior as harmless fun, Mileham said.Eighty-three percent of the study's participants said they did not consider themselves to be cheating, and the remaining 17 percent deemed it a "weak" form of infidelity that was easily justifiable, 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.