I had the pleasure of hanging out with the famous Dr Marlene Wasserman, better known as Dr Eve, to discuss her book – Cyber Infidelity, The New Seduction.
Dr. Marlene Wasserman is a clinician in private practice, couple and sex therapist, clinical sexologist, sexual medicine therapist, sexual rights activist and founder of the Dr Eve brand.
Aside from the fact that she has attained all the right belts to be the master of this kind of conversation, I had such a ball hanging out with her… from her sassy nature, to the interesting wall art and fun little toys I got to inspect.
When I first heard about the title of Dr Eve’s book, I was mostly intrigued by how she was going to define and introduce this new, untouched aspect of relationships- “Cyber Infidelity”.
Pondering about relationships and technology, I thought back to the very first time I chatted via SMS to a guy. I was about 13 years old… and I recall the excitement I felt waiting for that Nokia 3210 to play that Beep-Beep ; Beep-Beep monotone every time he replied. It was exciting and immediate.
This excitement was the beginning of the dating world for a bunch of us 20-somethings, and as we matured in to teenagers, the tools at our disposal evolved too – WinWap, MXit, chatrooms, Facebook, Twitter. We developed an unquenchable thirst for more and the more connections we made, messages we received, likes we got, the better we felt about ourselves.
Progressively today, the less in touch we are, the more anxious we become until we are back online in the cyber world – sharing our lives, watching others, nurturing our online credibility with filters and attention outside of our real-worlds.
With this said the rules have been very different for us as opposed to traditional dating- most conversations are initiated online, we sext first, then date. We end up in relationships and then the first few “who is this girl that you’re chatting to”…”You spend so much time on your phone”…”Give me your password”…”Why are you following her”…”Why did you use this emoticon”…”I saw your browser history, I feel like I don’t even know you anymore”…”You said you deleted her!”, begins.
We’ve grown up in this cyber space, and we’re now adults trying to have traditionally monogamous relationships in a world of constant connection, with our entire adolescent lives documented online (yes this is code for “a buncha exes” stored on pretty much every platform).
Singing songs of feminism and martyrism I was on a mission to learn more about how Dr Eve’s new book can help us Tech Girls make sense of sextech and relationships in the online world with the Sex Doctor herself:
What do you define as cyber infidelity and how do we know when we’re doing it?
The definition that I use is— When two people who are involved with another person in the form of a relationship, commitment or attachment of some sort and their online activity is violating the vows of their traditional relationships which are – expectations of fidelity or monogamy and commitment.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that it is being carried out offline (in real-life) because many assume that “actual infidelity” is only when it is taken offline- a face to face or body to body exchange.
The by-line of my book is “I am not having sex or anything” and the reason that I put that there is because that was my awareness. I would sit with couples in my therapy rooms and “he” would say to “her” —I don’t know why you are so upset! It’s not like I was having sex or anything!
For the 20-something generation the term, “Cyber Infidelity” is quite confusing, have you found that this is particularly challenging for this generation?
What I found most surprising while working with younger people was when I began the conversation about cyber infidelity. I had an expectation that young people like yourself with a digital nature would be able to teach me the rules on how to navigate the cyber space because it is the only space that you young people know and I was surprised that they were absolutely confused.
I would ask “do you think any of you have committed cyber infidelity?” And they would say— “what the f*ck, we don’t know what that is?”
So I’d propose some situations like “if you found that your boyfriend or girlfriend was chatting online and being flirtatious or perhaps via Facebook messages— would you define that as cheating?”
And there was a silence and I wondered wow, you don’t even understand this cyber world yourself yet, young people haven’t even begun to find meaning in it yet.
Sometimes even the wrong emoticon can you get us in trouble these days, it is difficult to rule out exactly what constitutes as flirting because we’re all so communicated. We chat to work colleagues regularly, catch up with old friends, etc…. what do you feel constitutes as flirting? i.e “Hi “Boss” could we grab a coffee later to chat ;)”
You have to consider whether your partner would be offended by it. A lot of the conversation in my therapy room for example would be she saying “I think he has been flirting” and he would say “I was not flirting”, and I ask her to define what she means by flirting, and she answers “well it was the tone of voice and language that he used” and the guy would disagree and think it was appropriate. That is where you need to establish rules around this but also there has to be privacy granted— I really don’t want people to be surveilling and monitoring each mail.
Do you think with everything that is done online being recorded and documented and being able to see actual messages being sent, that this type of infidelity is more painful than traditional offline cheating?
Clinically, I have found 3 parts to this pain:
- The 1st being that there is more pain in this discovery than in your real life infidelity and here online you get the usual feelings of “I feel cheated, I feel excluded, I feel humiliated, I am in incredible pain because of this discovery”.
- The 2nd part being that as you say “I am actually reading the conversations that you’ve had with somebody else” or maybe “you’re calling them the same names that you call me” and then the sharing of revealing photographs, because in our traditional value system if we send a body part to somebody, your partner feels ownership over that body part and we don’t want somebody else to see it. So then it feels like there has been a violation of that ownership.
- The 3rd level of pain is that you may be reading that he or she is expressing themselves in a way to another person that they’ve never done with you, so there is an element of either unexpressed sexual fantasies or emotional sharing that you’ve never seen. Many people sit on this couch and would say “he has become a stranger to me” or “the way that she was expressing her sexuality, she has never done that with me, I don’t know who she is, with me she is just not interested, she is passive, she has no fantasies” And I find that this is where the pain intensifies.
Would you say that Cyber Infidelity is forcing us to define a new kind of relationship entirely, or is it more about assessing your own boundaries in your own relationships?
So what’s happened now which is incredibly exciting, is that I am sitting in a really cutting edge space in the world, where the conversation is around new forms of relationships and I am embedding myself there as the go-to global person around cyber infidelity as a new form of relationship because in the book you will discover that all my respondents, and the couples that I have worked with, are not there because they are unhappy or they want to be divorced, or the “my wife doesn’t understand me” which are traditional reasons that people cheat. It is because they’re curious or adventurous. So, yes, it has become a new form of relationship.
What I am looking at and moving towards is a new part of research on new non-monogomies and new forms of intimacy. And I am thus positioning cyber infidelity as a new form of intimacy together with many other forms of new relationships. The word relationship really doesn’t fit anymore and we really have to challenge that.
Is it fair to say perhaps that with being married, what sometimes happens is you eventually steer towards becoming more of a friend to your partner and you then begin to miss or crave the aspect of the relationship where all the excitement of the chatting and the pursuit happened? It falls away and you end up still craving the excitement, but at the same time you are happy and want to stay in your marriage. Technology has almost awakened this “extension” of ourselves that we didn’t know existed before and that we struggle to suppress.
I use the philosophy of Steve Jobs from Apple, I loved it when he said this about technology “people don’t know what they need until you give it to them”….nobody knew they needed an iPad until they had it in their hands, wondering how did I live without this? So I say, you really don’t know what cyber infidelity is until you start learning what it is, and I am going to be the one who is going to be telling the world what this is and how to go about having negotiations and conversations with your partner so that it doesn’t cause pain. I am not promoting infidelity in any form or any level but it is happening whether there is an Ashley Madison or not .
Does the book provide a guide for having this conversation of boundaries with your partner?
In the book there is something called the net-equitte guide, helping you have good etiquette around your net activities. A very non-judgemental way of looking at how you integrate your tech life and your real life.
One of my hypothesis that I came to after writing this book was— we can’t get rid of tech, it is here and we have to learn how to manage it within a context of our real life relationships, so couples have no choice but to communicate around what their rules are.
What platforms have you used to conduct your research for the book?
Ashley Madison was where I administered all my surveys which was my quantitative research. As for qualitative research, I created my own website which was called My Cyber Secret, which I’ve taken down and integrated into my own website www.marlenewasserman.com and here I invited people to post their secrets and I used those narratives in the book. I also used it to have all those people to teach me about what was going on and the conundrums they experienced in terms of cyber infidelity.
The 3rd arm of my research was where I created two profiles on Ashley Madison, one as a single woman and another as a married man.
Was the profiling selection a strategic thing?
Absolutely yes for research purposes, and that was probably the most important experience that I had for two years in terms of really living it and giving me the ability to be fully present in every single step with both women and men. This is also all documented in my book.
How do you feel about Ashley Maddison being hacked?
I feel that it is part of the cyber world… it is terrible that the hacking has occurred, it’s an invasion of privacy, we have no right to be regulating people’s behaviour online and I am totally opposed to invading people’s personal spaces.
I have seen a few jokes that perhaps the hacker is a scorned woman who found out about her husband’s profile?
I have to disagree, after reading my book, you will probably believe that it was a scorned man!
In your research, what have you found to be the most popular platform for cyber infidelity?
Why do you think Facebook is such a popular platform
I have found that it does relate a lot to previous connections or exes- hooking up with exes or having conversations with people that you have known previously and this is because it kind of feels safer than going onto an online dating site. About 40% of people today are meeting partners online and a lot of married people are deceiving people online about their marital status, which is why I like Ashley Madison because they are transparent about being for married people ““Life is short have an affair”.
Another cyber topic strongly debated is Pornography, is it cheating? Women say they feel like they’re being cheated on because it’s a sexual extension and they are not involved in it. Some women even go as far as saying they feel violated by a man’s pornography usage.
I think of porn that is something mainstream, I don’t feel that it should be censored or banned or anything like that. It is interesting that you say some women feel violated and that it is an extension of sexuality and this is the biggest problem we have with relationships today is that people have this old belief that we should be joined at the hip and I should be your one and only, and you should only be wanting to be sexual with me and it’s bullsh*t really.
I’d much rather have someone watching porn than interacting online and cyber-sexting or meeting someone offline. We should stop being so precious with ourselves and recognize that we are separate people. As long as he is not making you feel that he is choosing porn over you, or comparing you to what he sees or making you feel that he is not connecting with you when he does have sex with you. And I am saying HE, but I am wrong, my research shows that women are watching porn more than what men do.
It is however problematic that young boys are accessing porn from the ages of 9 years old and they start to believe that this is what sexuality is and that it is real or what they should be doing. Some of them masturbate and become aroused by those images and then eventually find it difficult to engage intimately with somebody else , there has to be a balance around that.
In my bias, I do feel that my generation is affected the most by this cyber behaviour and it is rather difficult to have a traditionally monogomous relationship with someone. Do you think this is mainly a generational issue?
That is an interesting question because I am reading a journal article about ageing and it is a fascinating piece of research that has just come out. It is a cohort of women that are over the age of 50 and what they did was they asked them about their level of happiness and sexual satisfaction in their lives (these are women who are married and they engage in consensual non-monogamy) and the more partners that they had the happier they are in their lives and it is ground breaking.
Firstly we don’t think of older people as being sexual but here is this research that is coming out that shows it’s not just in your generation, it is older people that are being with more than one person and it could be friends with benefits or it could be that their partner knows because remember- often the pain comes with secrecy and the moment the partner does not know— that is when it all falls apart, but if your partner says it’s okay if you want to go out for the night and hookup and be safe and then come home to me then you have a great thing called friendship and relationship and this is where we are evolving.
So your generation is cluttered, murky and messy and this is going to become your norm – where there is permission given but simultaneously we still want to have the traditional feelings of fidelity, monogamy and commitment so your generation is straddling between these two worlds at the moment and it is going to be very painful until there is going to be a communication and a language that is developed between people to discuss this.
With the constant pursuit for online attention (likes) and sexual credibility that we have today, there is a pressure for us girls to look perfect in all our pictures and fueled even more so with guys rating their own sex-cred by the amount of nudes they have on their phones, what are your thoughts on this?
The way you describe that men are collecting these images as status to themselves, it’s really no different to how men behave offline if you think about it, it’s like bragging about how many women they shagged or how many girls I kissed at the club, it is just that now in real-life this has accelerated online.
The fact that women are being put under this incredible pressure is awful, we already have so much of it offline but here within the cyber space it’s not comparable because of the number of eyes that you have on you and so there is a lot of research around the negativity of that and how girls are being pressured with their status being determined by likes rather than who they are as people and the focus is more on physicality rather than who I am as a person.
Do you think that a “normal” relationship will eventually involve a person/s with whom you have an online relationship and another with whom you have separate offline relationship?
I do think that we are going to have multiple relationships but they will each be different and we will just have to negotiate them and what I have with you in face to face and real life living together is really different and is not competitive it is just different and it may be very difficult but its a matter of not having secrets.
Do you think that technology is to blame for us being less committed?
There was a really interesting piece of research recently that said because we have become commodified as people on dating sites specifically, we know that the level of commitment when you are face to face is much lower- so you’ll meet somebody and you’ll size them up real quick, and you will not invest more time or commit even if you like them and start hooking up and dating because you know you can get in your car and get back on a dating site and you have many others to choose from, so there is less level of commitment than before technology and that is pretty tragic.
On the contrary, there is other research that shows us, that the quicker that you meet offline the better it is and people are pushing for this too as we see with apps like Tinder and Grinder. These people want to meet quickly because they want to know the person on the other end of the screen.
But at the end of the day we come to the same conclusion that the physical attraction cannot be sustained, you can look and look and look and chat and chat and chat but until you have the real face to face interaction, you are not going to really get in to something substantial with someone
I love the new perspectives and challenges that Dr Eve has proposed to the world, challenging us to re-think our stances on our online lives and also realizing that this is progressing to be treated with the same importance and sensitivity as our offline lives.
Do you have thoughts on Cyber Infidelity? Is our generation doomed? Share them in the comments below!