These days, it is nearly impossible to go a full week without reading stories about people getting caught cheating on their partners and spouses. Famous people are either making headlines on celebrity gossip blogs and entertainment magazines or non-celebrity folks are being “exposed” on social media like Twitter and Facebook. We see screenshots of “evidence,” usually typed conversations and photos. Or in some instances, videos are leaked and we bear witness to relationships falling apart in real time.
What is really going on? One might argue that the value of committed, monogamous relationships is declining, and people are simply not as interested in monogamy as they once were. As societal norms evolve to embrace more liberal interpretations, and we begin to reject more traditions and standards as “oppressive,” our collective views on institutions like marriage have certainly changed.
Perhaps people involved in “committed” relationships have always cheated, but because of advances in technology, it has become easier to not only catch people in the act but share it with everyone else. Maybe it’s simply that technology has made it much easier to cheat on one’s partner, and more people are taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by these digital advances.
According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 81% of their cases involve using social media evidence in divorce proceedings, with Facebook taking the lead as the top source of evidence of inappropriate behavior. One in five people admit to using Facebook to flirt with others, be it with people they already know or new people. The argument for access is strong here; if you log onto Facebook on a daily basis, you’re given instant access to people’s thoughts, photos, life events, and inboxes. Social media provides far more opportunities to connect with several people at once than we have in real time offline. A few clicks, a few messages sent, and you can initiate conversations with five people in five minutes!
“I feel like social media is only tempting to the weak. If they aren’t strong enough to resist temptation, it can cause infidelity,” says Lashay S., who doesn’t buy into the idea that social media causes cheating. Joshua L. agrees, saying, “People use the Internet as an excuse to cheat, but you have to take responsibility for your own actions. Chances are, if [someone] cheats using social media, [he or she] would have cheated without it.”
While I’ve heard people say this often, I’m not convinced it’s that simple.
Tara Fritsch, a marriage therapist, spoke to NPR and made comparisons between our access and thought processes now and 20 years ago. She pointed out that before having increased access via texts, email, and social media, people thought twice (or three times) before taking that leap towards risking outreach. How likely were we to call a co-worker late in the evening with our partners able to overhear the conversation? Today, however, you can sit right next to your lover and send naughty texts, direct messages via Twitter, or emails and never be discovered. This absolutely makes access, a key indicator in infidelity, much easier, and facilitates interactions that probably shouldn’t happen.
Lashay raised another point, saying that “it also depends on the person and what they consider cheating: flirting, exchanging numbers, or other things of that nature.” Robert Weiss, a clinical social worker who has written about the impact of technology on our sex lives, defines sexual infidelity as “the breaking of trust that occurs when sexual secrets are kept from an intimate partner.” If we go with this definition, it covers not just sexual intercourse or physical activity, but also discussions of a sexual nature that are not acceptable or approved by your partner.
This is when communication becomes essential; you and your partner must agree on boundaries and decide what parameters are comfortable for your relationship. While signing up for Ashley Madison, a dating site that facilitates extramarital affairs, might seem like an obvious deal-breaker, the lines become blurred when it comes to flirtatious tweets or comments on Facebook statuses.
We’re in a new era of information access, and the impact of digital communication on how we navigate personal relationships is significant, to say the least. I maintain that we have a personal responsibility to conduct ourselves with maturity and behave in ways that respect whatever agreements we make with our partners. We can’t use social media as an excuse for hurting other people. We also can’t ignore that temptation increases with greater exposure to what’s out there.
Before, we weren’t aware there was such a thriving swinger’s community for people of color, or that there are dating sites for businessmen and -women seeking travel escorts. The more we become globally connected, the greater the opportunity to become more interested in who else is out there. There’s nothing wrong with exploring beyond your comfort zone; just be mindful to save your exploration for a time when you are “free” to do so. Trust me, you’ll feel better about it in the end, and you’ll definitely have more fun without the stress and worry about getting caught.
Feminista Jones is a sex-positive Black feminist, social worker and blogger from New York City. She writes about gender, race, politics, mental health and sexuality at FeministaJones.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones.