Virtual Flirting: Cheating or Harmless Interaction?

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New York Rep. Anthony Weiner may be in a heap of trouble after his admission of exchanging racy photos and messages with several women outside his marriage.

A poll released Tuesday showed nearly half of New York City voters want him to resign. Now, the revelations also have people talking about what truly constitutes infidelity.

For a week Weiner denied the pictures, saying the suggestive posts on social networking sites were part of a prank against him. But Monday, he admitted to everything.

"To be clear, the picture was of me and I sent it," he said.

The Democratic congressman also confessed to exchanging explicit messages and photos over Facebook and Twitter with about six women in the past three years.

"For the most part, these relationships and communications took place before my marriage," he said. "Though some have, sadly, took place after."

But Weiner repeatedly said the online relationships were not sexual.

"To be clear, I have never met any of these women or had physical relationships at any time," he said.

So is this cheating? Is this kind of online relationship, especially with married people, appropriate?

On the CBN News Facebook page, we asked if Weiner's actions should be considered cheating. Join the conversation.  Also, pastoral counselor Dr. Paul Hardy deals with people struggling with addictions and compulsive behaviors. Click play for his analysis following Charlene Israel's report.

"Technology has opened up whole new avenues for cheating," explained psychoanalyst Dr. Bethany Mashall. "The motivation is the same, but the pathway is different."

Family therapists warn that cyber flirtations could actually be more harmful.

"In some ways the online relationships, because they don't require authenticity and because there can be so much fabrication, I think some things that can happen online are actually more dangerous," said Christian therapist Janelle Hallman. 

Hallman with appear on Wednesday's CBN Newschannel Morning Show.  Stay with CBNNews.com for more of her comments on the growing issue of cyber cheating.

The fallout from such affairs affect women and men differently. Asking the question "When is Tweeting Cheating?" TIME magazine found that men generally dismiss these incidents as "no big deal, a technical foul at best."

But for many women, physical and emotional relationships can be a devastating violation of trust.

"If you're using the sexting to keep a secret from another person, yes, it's cheating," Mashall explained.

According to family experts, young people are especially tuned in to these controversies as they navigate a new world of relationships online.

"And I really think it is dangerous. It is breaking down the kind of attachments and connections we are designed for because we don't have the eye to eye contact," Mashall added. "We don't have the other social connections and so anything goes online."

--Published June 8, 2011.

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Charlene  Aaron

Charlene Aaron

CBN News Reporter

Charlene Aaron serves as a general assignment reporter and helps anchor for the CBN News Channel.  Follow her on Twitter @CharNews and "like" her at Facebook.com/CharleneIsraelCBNNews.