By Naseem S. Miller
The recent Ashley Madison leak may have exposed its millions of users, but it also highlighted how prevalent online cheating has become, local experts say.
The leak has prompted calls and visits to the offices of local counselors, but none have been strangers to counseling couples who are in crisis because of modern technology, be it Facebook, Craigslist, Ashley Madison or text messages.
“I can literally work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the volume is that great,” said Michael Rothenberg, a board-certified clinical sexologist in Winter Park. “It’s becoming easier and easier to find a sexual partner. If you want to have sex with somebody, you can have sex with stranger in Orlando within 20 minutes. It’s ramped in Orlando because of all the tourism.”
Affairs are nothing new to the human experience, but it’s easier than ever to “cheat” without ever even meeting the other person.
“Way before technology, to have an affair it meant that you had to get into a car, go somewhere and hopefully you wouldn’t run into someone who knew you. And now, it’s just waiting to be apart from your spouse and getting on your smartphone and going online and hooking up with someone,” said Tim Tedders, a relationship counselor at Currents Counseling in Orlando, who runs the online community affairhealing.com.
There’s no single answer as to why men and women join services such as Ashley Madison. For some, it could be just straightforward cheating.
“Some people are on there because they’re curious, or curious to see if there are people on there that they know. Some people have been in sexless marriages and decide to go on there. I’ve had people who have had sexual difficulty and wanted their partner to go on there to have a sexual outlet, and I’ve had closeted gay men go on there,” said Rothenberg, who runs the Web site onlinesexualaddiction.com
Many times the lack of intimacy and communication drives people to affairs, and sometimes it’s the rush of a new relationship that becomes addictive.
“Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that looks at the pleasure and reward system of the brain, and it also plays a role in sexual gratification,” Rothenberg explained. “And you get a greater hit of dopamine when you are interacting with a new person rather than with a partner you’ve been with for 20 years. So the brain takes you in that direction.”
And sometimes people turn to affairs to manage stress and anxiety.
“This is one more avenue to take the pressure off,” said Cathy Bronza, a relationship counselor at Orlando Relationship Institute. “It’s just easier. Lose yourself online. It feels somewhat unreal.”
But while online sexual encounters can offer what some call the three As — affordability, anonymity and accessibility — the results are often devastating for the betrayed partner and to the relationship.
“It’s really difficult for a partner to understand why their mate would reach out like that,” said Bronza. “Everybody has relationship issues, and instead of turning into the marriage to see what’s wrong, they reach out. It’s a quick fix, but ultimately won’t help the relationship.”
And looking at the trends in their practices, local counselors say that they don’t see a decrease in infidelity cases that are made easier by technology.
“There’s a sense of everybody is doing this, so it legitimizes it … and I don’t see signs of it lessening. I think it’s going to get worse,” said Rothenberg.
“But I’m hoping that this will give people a little pause before they hook up on the Internet,” said Bronza. “Because everything is accessible and discoverable.”