“Infidelity is a common occurrence in marriages, estimates for extramarital affairs in the United States have ranged from 20% to 40%” (Marín et al., 2014, p. 1), in fact “between 1991 and 2006, the numbers of unfaithful wives under 30 increased by 20% and husbands by a whopping 45%” (Schaefer Riley, 2008). The increase in infidelity has much to do with the technological driven culture that is 2018. The increase of infidelity started in 1991, with the invention of the World Wide Web. The invention of the internet and social media accounts, has provided a numerous of ways couples can cheat on one another and redefined what it is considered an infidelity. According to a study, “When asked “Did you ever commit infidelity while you were married?” 36% of male participants and 21% of female participants answered yes. When asked “Did your spouse ever commit infidelity,” 58% of men and 65% of women answered yes” (Blackburn, 2018). Why the discrepancy in those who admitted from those who felt were cheated on? Social media has redefined what is considered infidelity by providing a plethora amount of ways to engage in such activity. The modern era has provided various outlets to ensure in these illicit behaviors. This paper will examine this concept from a historical perspective, a law perspective, while taking into consideration gender studies.
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In 2015 Snapchat introduced its newest, (and current) updated software, the removal of the best friends list visibility. This caused major backlash from users as it no longer listed a users top friends. Best friends was a feature that allowed a user to view the top three users with whom a friend exchanged private messages with. These best friends’ names were a list that was based on an algorithm that took in count the number of private messages individuals carried with one another. It wasn’t manual, nor could it manually be controlled (Bell, 2015). The outrage was primarily from individuals who feared their partners would use this as an opportunity to engage in adulterous behavior. For years infidelity was a fear in relationships that was done outside the home but with the development of social media accounts, infidelity can be done from the couch of their home with their spouse sitting right next to them. According to National Public Radio (NPR) in 2015 a survey was conducted and out of a thousand American’s surveyed, “they found that 21 percent of men and 19 percent of women admitted that they had cheated on their partners.” This survey came shortly after the Ashley Madison scandal.
The Ashley Madison scandal was a data breach which information from its users was stolen and later published for the world to see. It was soon known as the cheating husband site, googling the words “cheating husband website” The Ashley Madison site comes up with its slogan, “Life is short. Have an affair.” An affair can develop from the palms of the individual and the way the media is portraying it, it’s as easy signing up to it. These notions attribute to how people think of relationships in the modern era, even dating has shifted. Couples are no longer dating as they are engaging in casual hook ups. The concept of infidelity now lies on the injured party as to what has gone too far, because what used to be a clear concept now gets lost in translation.
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that shows how social media has changed how people commit to relationships, and because of this the lines of what is clearly cheating and what isn’t has been muddled. To understand how the concept of infidelity has changed over the years, the comparison must be made. Infidelity is defined as the action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse or other sexual partner. Unfaithful is defined as engaging in sexual relations with a person other than one’s regular partner in contravention of a previous promise or understanding. Thus, the conclusion is that an individual must engage in a sexual relation with someone outside their spouse or sexual partner. This definition on infidelity will be used as the starting point and will be referenced in comparison to the redefined version of infidelity in the modern era. Adulterous behavior was deemed a sin in biblical times. According to the Ten Commandments, the seventh commandment reads, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” This predisposed notion made relationships a sacred pact between two people, but as the years went by monogamy was soon a thing of the past and polygamous relationships began to reign. God intended for monogamy to ensue but the bible goes from telling the story of Adam and Eve as the first marriage, to their grandson Lamec taking in two wives. This shift in perspective was the first acknowledgement of adultery. This brings up the cultural aspect in which some cultures it’s okay to marry more than once, for this paper the focus will remain on cultures where monogamy is the social norm.
Over the years, infidelity has spread and morphed into a new entity. Cheating on your partner no longer entails solely engaging in sexual relationship, as with the infuse of social media and technology cheating now has layers. Menage explains three of those stating them as physical, emotional, and energetic. Physical cheating, which encompasses a sexual relationship, but it also covers kissing and inappropriate touching. Emotional cheating which is having an inappropriate friendship with someone who isn’t your partner. Energetic cheating which means actively hiding things from your partner whether it be your social media accounts or financial statements. And lastly there is cyber cheating though, Menage doesn’t include this one as one in his three layers of cheating. Cyber cheating means having an affair online with the use of social media accounts. This further concludes that as time progresses so does the restructuring of what is considered infidelity and why the study in the beginning had a discrepancy from those admitted infidelity from those who felt it. Couples can be so disengaged that one partner can feel there’s an attachment elsewhere. A kiss can be simply a kiss but to the injured party that could clearly be considered an infidelity to others forging an emotional bond is far worse than a casual hookup. therefore, this solidifies that one doesn’t necessarily have to have a sexual encounter to be considered unfaithful.
According to the New York Times, with the increasing availability of pornography on the Internet, younger couples have normalized certain sexual attitudes and perceptions which may be playing a role in rising infidelity (Pope, 2008). Despite the constant shift to characterize infidelity as a normal human behavior there has been resistance. Over the years, conservatives have governed the land imposing bible teachings as the law of the land. According to Brown University’s research in Medieval times “Adulterous offenders were punished more severely than those who simply engaged in fornication. Adultery was considered a more serious sin because it betrayed the marriage vows and could produce illegitimate children” (Brown University, 2011).
Today adultery is still illegal, “adultery is illegal in 21 states, including New York… actually adultery, it turns out, is a misdemeanor in New York, punishable by a fine of $500 or 90 days in jail. When a 2004 affair ended badly in Virginia, (one of the states where infidelity is still illegal) the “other woman” went to the police. Her lover pleaded guilty. He cleared his record with community service, but he lost his job” (Rhode, 2016). This actively illustrate the fear of repercussions if proven guilty of infidelity, and technology has only enhanced the way we can find things out. Leaving behind a digital footprint allows partners to snoop and see what their partners have been up to. Social media has in a sense revolutionized the way couples commit to each other. The use of applications like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat or dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, or Grinder have completely changed the game. Individuals who fear their partners might be unfaithful now have to worry about the possibility that it can happen with them in the same room. Infidelities are no longer limited to a sexual encounter outside the committed relationship and laws have adjusted allotting for emotional distress sues in some states.
When thinking of individuals who cheat on their significant others, males are usually the ones who are the ones having the affair. In part this is because until recent history women were the ones who had more to lose if they cheated. They were property of their husbands and the punishment for adulterous women varied from being shunned from society to even stoned in some cases. Today, women are not held to the same societal limitations and as stated, 21% of female participants answered yes to cheating. Aside from women no longer being held to a different standard than men, according to The Atlantic, women now have opportunities to be independent and can afford the financial consequences that come from having an affair (Schonfeld, 2013). Furthermore, because of the cultural shifts and dating mainly becoming an online concept, these extramarital relationships stem out of an emotional outlet. Social media allows individuals to create a bond that starts of as an insignificant friendship but later forges into a deeper connection. This deeper connection is an emotional intimacy that is shared and thus an affair is started.
Throughout this paper I learned the caution one must have when posting on social media. A selfie can turn the comments section into a flirting conversation, and a simple hi can create a meaningful relationship. Social media has become a double edge sword and is increasingly becoming a main reason for couples to break up. My perspective remains in that we have to be careful when it comes to social media, especially if we’re in a relationship. Setting boundaries just as one would in a physical world helps in the cyber world. There is a sense of confidence that comes with being anonymous or having apps the self-delete messages and pictures sent. It becomes a sense of getting away with it because it’s so accessible.
Most of the statistics found was on married heterosexual couples, but infidelity happens in all relationships, with the legalization of gay marriage new studies will emerge. Another factor to keep in mind is that this new generation is choosing to not marry and engaging in cohabitation. Statistics on couples who are not married and gay couples will definitely show a higher percentage of infidelity correlation to social media. Social media has definitely redefined what is considered infidelity by providing numerous amounts of ways to engage in such activity.
What used to be black or white is now a spectrum filled with shades of gray that is left to the couple to decide what within the boundaries of their relationship is considered cheating.
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