Ardeana Kirkland

Emotional Adultery



April 29, 2000



While emotional adultery is considered a sin historically, cybersex relationships that stay in cyberspace could enhance the relationship or marriage of an insecure, heterosexual female, as long as the cybersex relationship is never downloaded. In this paper, emotional adultery is defined as a woman in a committed relationship having romantic feelings, or thinking of or discussing having sex with another man. An insecure female is defined as a female not sure about her sexuality because she does not achieve orgasm. The sex between her and her partner is mediocre, and she wants to learn what she can do to make sex better for him and her. The female is unsure about how to make her man aware of her lack of orgasms, and how she could be more assertive to make him aware of what satisfies her and how she wants to be pleasured.

This paper focuses on females instead of males because a large amount of women do not achieve orgasm during traditional vaginal sex. "A substantial proportion of heterosexual females, perhaps over half or more do not regularly have orgasms through intercourse alone" (Kirkpatrick 34). Because of this, many women feel pressure to produce orgasms, faking it to please or impress their partners. This lack of orgasm could make them feel insecure, that they are not doing something right in their sexual relationship, and can affect her psychologically. "Sexual acts are the means to gain or maintain important psychological feelings," such as self-esteem, closeness, feelings of competence and well-being (Tavris 56). For many women, if a sexual relationship is not completely satisfying, the relationship becomes a source of negative self-esteem. Many women are prone to search for fault in themselves for any disappointments in a sexual relationship and may feel a sense of failure of their own sexuality.

Many women inquire about sexual pleasure, and want to know how it can be attained. The current inundation of questions about sex "reflects…an epidemic of insecurity and worry generated by a new emphasis on sexual functioning as a central, if not the central, aspect of a modern relationship" (Tavris 57). A major issue with numerous women is the normalcy of orgasms, and what can be done to achieve them. Perhaps the reason women stress the importance of sexual normality is to be regarded socially as "okay." However, the basic truth is that how we feel about ourselves depends to an enormous degree on whom we compare ourselves to and how we stack up in that comparison. In the area of sexuality, social comparisons are difficult because people have no way to really know what other people are doing and how they are doing it. Many women allow soap operas, nighttime TV dramas, and movies to influence their ideas of what is true, and often end up suspecting that incredible passionate sex is an immensely important part of many people’s lives and perhaps should be of hers.

Female writers and researchers (Sherfey, Seaman and Hite) generally agree that "intercourse is highly valued by many women as an emotional and physical experience" (Kirkpatrick 35). Even though some sex stereotypes are less prevalent than they were 40 years ago, emotion is still portrayed as a female quality. A recent study found that while few sex-stereotypic behaviors characterize male and female characters on prime-time television, women reveal more emotional distress than men do. On TV, female characters are more likely to deal with the problems of others or require assistance from others to deal with their own problems. Although most people think of emotion in negative terms, such as the opposite of reason, emotion is a natural and valuable process. It has great power to motivate, whether to run in fear to reach safety or reaching out to be closer to someone we love.

Up until the early 20th century, not much attention was given to the physical and sexual needs of women because they were always thought to be passive, and were there just to satisfy her partner sexually. One of the first individuals to bring about major changes in public thinking about female sexuality was Havelock Ellis, an English psychologist and author who later became a physician. Ellis introduced the revolutionary idea that women were as interested in sex as men and, in his opinion, had a "more complex and all inclusive sexuality." Ellis believed that women might be more psychologically interested in sex because of their greater physiological response (arousal of the clitoris, breasts, vagina, and uterus), but they were still passive by nature, requiring men to take the initiative.

Today women are no longer exclusively defined by men. They don’t have to find somebody to be somebody, yet women still are considered the "heavyweights" when it comes to developing and maintaining intimate relationships. Many social changes have taken place for women, but much of a woman’s success still depends on her ability to please men. However, a women may feel if she is not pleased sexually, she, in turn, cannot please her man, and therefore, the relationship will be a failure.

A woman who is content in her relationship, except sexually, may want to find ways to make it better sexually. Although the first suggestion to her would be to discuss the problems with her partner, some women find this difficult. "There is a common inhibition from talking about what is sexually exciting or fulfilling" (Kirkpatrick 275). Sheila Kitzinger stated, "More than a quarter of the women with whom I have discussed the subject say they never talk to their partners about things they might do to improve lovemaking" (117). Sometimes they feel it cannot do any good or because it is their "fault." Sometimes a woman’s own reservation about what is suitable behavior for a woman make it almost impossible for her to start talking about sex.

Therefore, it could be helpful to a sexual relationship if a woman engages in cybersex relationships due to the anonymity provided by the Internet to discuss her sexual problems and ability to get information on how to improve her sexual relationship. In these cybersex relationships, the female is not seeking a new partner, is not looking to replace the sexual relationship she has with her partner, nor to tease another man, but looking to communicate sexually with a man to preserve and improve her relationship. These cybersex relationships are sustained only for a brief amount of time (days, weeks or perhaps a few months). These "brief encounters…make a marked impression on our lives" (Coleman 37).

An on-line sexual relationship a woman may have with another man actually enhances her well being. "A woman’s emotional well-being depends on her being able to convince others of the seriousness of her words, her wishes and her intentions–whether she is expressing them calmly or with passion" (Tavris 146). The emotions a woman feels can have long-term consequences for health and psychological well-being. Pat O’Connor notes: "There is an increasing volume of evidence to suggest that married women’s friendships make an important contribution to their psychological well-being–in the sense that their absence is associated with psychiatric ill health and/or that their presence is the source of positive life-enhancing feelings" (88). These relationships allow women "to compare notes about life with another person" (Coleman 37). Some women feel that discussing their sexual feelings with someone provides them with a critical perspective of their own desires, and allow them to reflect on what they truly want, and that these sexual experiences on-line empower them to behave differently in real life. They can help us to "better understand our own needs and values" which can be used to "nurture and enliven" a relationship. Such relationships can "add a touch of excitement and help to enrich our lives" (35). Psychologist Albert Bandura said: "Some fortuitous encounters touch only lightly, others leave more lasting effects, and still others branch people into new trajectories of life" (qtd. in Coleman 35).

The reactions of a man in a cybersex relationship can make a woman more aggressive and confident in her sexual activity with her partner, and can even heighten the intimacy in her relationship. This was true in my case study of a married woman who had a cybersex relationship with a Marine. His emails to her were explicit, telling her that he wants to give her 12 inches of pleasure; i.e. "9 inches of dick and 3 inches of tongue." His emails were always imaginative and descriptive, and almost every day he would have a new sexual adventure prepared for them. Their adventures included having sex on a beach, in an alley in New York, in the woods, on a train, in a church, and also having a threesome with him and another male Marine. He told her he would be her drill instructor giving her orders to fulfill all of his fantasies. She said whenever she read his emails, they would turn her on, and she would call her husband to tell him how much she loved him and wanted to be with him. Sometimes she was so aroused, she would tell her husband to make sure he was naked and ready for her when she got home. She also discussed with her husband about different "adventures" they should have and what she wanted him to do to her, which she was not doing prior to this cybersex relationship.

Another person might suggest that a woman seek professional help rather than engage in a cybersex relationship. National surveys indicate that most people turn to close associates rather than to professionals for help with their problems. Friends help to restore self-esteem. Some experiences may involve the need for information about how to respond to the problem and how others feel and change. Karen Rook states, "Sometimes those who have personally experienced the problem are best equipped to provide information we seek" (Tavris 114). According to Robert Weiss, a pioneer in the study of loneliness, "No one friend or lover alone could perform all of the social functions that are essential to well-being." He believed that everyone should have both "an attachment figure" such as a spouse or romantic partner, and ties to a social group, such as a network of friends (116). A woman might have a very satisfying relationship, but may still feel lonely if she lacked social ties or outside friendships.

Christians believe that any sexual communication between unmarried people is inappropriate, and that sex, both physical and emotional, is only morally permissible within marriage. Emotional adultery is a form of sexual betrayal and emotional infidelity, according to the Bible. The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures says at Matthew chapter 5 verse 28: "Everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Sex is an emotional and physical fusion of the man and wife only. "The married couple who engage in sexual intercourse are giving their bodies; the most intimate physical expression of themselves to the other…Their union is not simply a union of organs, but is as intimate and as total a physical union of two selves as is possible of achievement" (Collins 263). Sex should be learned and preserved as a special avenue for expressing emotional bonds between adults. It is a special act for married people, people who have strong feelings for one another and is a connection to one’s sense of self. Sex carries expressive meaning of affection and trust. Sexual activity is performed to show affection and trust, and is not to be "casual" or taken lightly.

One argument could be that sexual conversations on-line are not really sex, because there is no physical or genital contact. Sexual writing cannot be equated with sexual activity. Writing about having sex can be sensual, but it isn’t sex. Conversation on-line is just a fabricated description of sex between two fictitious characters. Because there is no intention of meeting this person in real life and having sex, there is no betrayal.

Barbara De Angelis believes that married couples should share their sexual feelings and experiences only with each other, and that "having an intimate relationship" with another besides your mate "qualifies as an emotional affair" (223). Communication about sexual desires in a relationship is very important. "Talking about it might spoil the spontaneity, people think, but it is unrealistic to expect one's lover to read one's mind" (Kirkpatrick 275). The couple should explore each other’s bodies and communicate to each other what feels good and what does not. This exploration should continue throughout a sexual relationship to keep the relationship "fresh and honest" and continuously growing and deepening (276).

A couple who is not good at communicating with each other should perhaps seek professional help, instead of a cybersex relationship. Marriage counselors and therapists say that sexual dissatisfaction is often a consequence of marital troubles rather than a cause. A 1978 study of 100 self-defined "happy" couples published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that there was some sort of arousal or orgasm dysfunction in the majority of cases, but that the couples considered themselves happy both sexually and nonsexually nonetheless. This is not to suggest that sexual problems or incompatibilities are trivial, but only that they are rarely the "linchpin of relationships" (Tavris 65).

The goal of a sex therapist is not to remove some obstacle so a couple can return to their previous level of functioning, but to teach a whole new way of being sensual. The therapist is usually less intercourse- and goal-oriented, but more sensual, more playful, more experimental. Sometimes this lesson is resisted by the couple and the therapist has "to convince the couple that the new way will be pleasurable, facilitate a closer bond, and reduce the history of negativism, antagonism, and anxiety that usually exists" (Tavris 85). The therapist assigns exercises to be practiced at home and discussed during the therapy sessions to address limitations and deficits he/she has perceived in the couple’s previous sex habits and serve to shape a new physical relationship. The couple and therapist discuss the homework assignments focusing on the positive and negative experiences and outcomes for each partner until (hopefully) the couple has reestablished mutually pleasurable sexual activities. These emotional and intense discussions often bring up non-sexual issues which allows the therapist to make useful observations about the couple’s style of interaction and problem solving, and help create a greater understanding between the sex partners. These homework assignments have been reported to improve the couple’s relationship both sexually and non-sexually. Often the specific problem (e.g., absence of orgasm for female) that was their original reason for therapy has changed little, but the therapist has helped them to create a new intimacy, which is ultimately more important than the frequency of sex, his erection or her orgasm.

Leonore Tiefer believes these sex therapists are not as helpful as people assume, and would probably support the idea of a cybersex relationship to enhance a relationship. Tiefer believes the media have created a class of sex "experts" who write magazine columns, give radio advice, talk to TV viewers, and constantly produce an endless number of question-and-answer books. Most media people feel that someone who has an M.D. or Ph.D. after his or her name is "qualified" to speak about physiology and medicine, normal and abnormal psychology, couple interaction, etc. The audience often has absolutely no idea where the "expert’s" information comes from, and the audience really doesn’t know what qualifies as valid research (Tavris 66).

Fantasizing about having sex with someone else could lead your partner to feeling rejected and betrayed. De Angelis compares relationships to a bank and says that partners "owe" each other the investment of sexual and emotional energy in the relationship and that directing energies elsewhere depletes the bank’s deposits (162-164). Many people feel that partners in a relationship should lean more towards "investing" themselves in their relationship, adopt a "committed" and "restricted" orientation toward engaging in casual sexual relations with different partners.

The National Center for Women & Retirement Research (NCWRR) reports that "35% of women, but only 15% of men, said that relationships with a spouse or partner produced low self-esteem. And 27% of women, but only 11% of men, reacted negatively to the experience of living together or marriage. Forty-three percent of women felt that they had been in destructive relationships; only 29% of men felt this way" (Anderson 177). These findings suggest that when a woman invests too heavily in a relationship as a primary source of self-esteem, adverse consequences often result.

Although a mate may consider adultery or discuss having sex with someone else, marriage is still shown to be "a powerful social institution…More than 80% of women and 65 to 85% of men…report that they had no partners other than their spouse while they were married" (qtd. in Collins, 258). In marriages where both partners are "satisfied," it would take more than a cybersex relationship to break the bond.

A cybersex relationship is not the same as an intimate relationship shared by married people. Psychologist George Leonard states that "intimate relationships have three essential ingredients: strong feelings of communality or interdependence, a heavy emotional investment and a definitive structure. An intimate relationship is one involving frequent interaction between physically near partners who have significant goals in common, who share personal disclosures, and who care deeply about each other" (Coleman 69). A sexual relationship doesn't have any of those "ingredients." There are no feelings of communality or caring deeply, but only of lust and arousal, and there is no physical interaction on the Internet, so there is no intimacy in a cyberspace sexual relationship.

There are certain characteristics exhibited in intimate marital relationships that help one to grow as a person as well as a couple, which are missing from cybersex relationships: (1) commitment; and (2) awareness: having a realistic view of oneself, of each other and of the relationship; clear sense of self-identity. In cybersex relationships: (1) there is no commitment. A person can have many sexual relationships at the same time; and (2) you can be anything you want to be, look the way you want to look. Your identity can be whatever you make it to be.

Cybersex relationships can enhance the relationship of a committed woman. It could actually increase a woman’s sexual drive and make her more aggressive and confident. Women as the initiator of sex may improve satisfaction for her man. Hatfield, Traupmann, Greenberger and Wexler surveyed a large number of men and women regarding the dimensions of love, affection and sexual interaction. With respect to the topics of power and dominance, the males expressed interest in greater assertiveness by their female partners. Many of the men requested instruction as to how to make their sexual activities more pleasurable, how to encourage more frequent requests for sex from females, as well as guidelines on how to increase "arousingness" using different techniques (Perlman 80).

A cybersex relationship could also lead a woman to being more open in her discussions of sex with her partner, and could lead to better communication. The conflict of a woman’s cybersex relationship can play a constructive role in the marriage. The wife openly communicating and expressing her feelings and emotions can promote a spirit of trust and mutuality that increases intimacy.



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