Once a cheater, always a cheater. You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it way more often now that 21st century relationships are being inundated by Internet infidelity. That’s because online cheating is addictive, according to research from The Open University in the UK.

“An estimated 20 to 33 percent of Internet users go online for sexual purposes; most are male, about 35 years old, married with children, and well educated,” according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. And as many as 17 percent of these users become addicted to online sexual activity. The AAMFT defines online infidelity as behaviors that were once off limits in a face-to-face situation with strangers are suddenly available through the Internet like cybersex chatting and/or pornography viewing—so not necessarily any physical contact or interaction.

Researchers gave an anonymous survey to men and women ages 20 to 73 who have either cheated online themselves or found out their partner had indulged, and they found some discrepancies among couples regarding how they define online infidelity. On average, women classify more Internet activities as infidelity and perceive them as more distressing. 

The results showed that men and women believe the Internet increases the likelihood of infidelity because it makes the covert act of cheating so easy. It’s easier to engage in a taboo behavior and fall into a situation that might be avoided person-to-person because of the relative “safety” of being hidden online. But, that doesn’t make it any less damaging. The researchers found this type of cheating is just as traumatic and wounding as face-to-face adultery.

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One survey respondent wrote, ‘I have a deep mistrust in the Internet, and feel it massively facilitates infidelity. My ex-husband is inherently a very shy man, but online he is able to act much more confidently and attract the attention of other women. I strongly believe he would not have had so many affairs without the Internet.’

Another admitted, ‘I tried to stop but neither of us could, it would start again and since so easy, with all the technology we carry around it was an amazingly comforting and sexy thing to have. With long working hours an online relationship is like fast food, ready when we are, naughty, cheap, very often eaten alone without the exhaustion of social niceties.’

And a third said, ‘…if we hadn’t have established & maintained any sort of contact online—the affair would not have started—as we very rarely bumped into each other.’ 

With Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and dating apps playing such integral roles in our everyday lives, there are ever-growing opportunities to engage in activities that are less than okay in our partner’s eyes. Especially now that research shows online cheating is convenient, easy, and worst of all, addictive. It begs the question: Should you ever take back a cheater? Or, better yet: Can you ever truly regain trust in a cheater?

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