Published in Uncategorised by Dr Naomi Moller of The Open University on October 14th 2021
Cheating online – also referred to as an online affair or internet infidelity – is any behaviour conducted through any digital communication device (e.g. phone, tablet, laptop) that someone believes betrays their relationship.
Research shows that definitions of online affairs vary from person to person – just as people vary in what they think is and isn’t OK in terms of face-to-face (non-online) behaviour in a relationship. What’s acceptable behaviour for one person might not be for another and it’s important for people in a relationship to have a conversation about what they’re allowed to do online.
Research suggests that the following online behaviours might be considered cheating:
This might seem like a straightforward list but what counts as online flirting? Do you have a clear definition? Would you feel differently if your partner was talking online to an attractive person of a similar age versus someone who seems like an unlikely sexual partner (e.g. too old or wrong gender)? The point here is that it can be hard to know what’s OK or not because it partly depends on the exact behaviour and the context in which it occurs.
It can be hard to know what’s OK or not because it partly depends on the exact behaviour and the context in which it occurs
Research suggests that some people see viewing pornography as cheating, whereas some people don’t. Some examples of when a person can object to viewing pornography are when their partner:
Research also suggests that non-sexual online behaviours for some people (but not everyone) can also feel like cheating. This might include:
Cheating online and cheating offline are very similar, but one way in which they are different is that people are more likely to be confused about whether cheating behaviours online are ‘real’ or not. For some people having sex with someone other than a partner is cheating, however what happens if the sex is virtual? Does that mean the same thing? Does that count as cheating?
For more on this see our ‘why is it easy to cheat online’ page.
To see the full list of research references which have informed the content on this page, please see our research references section.