Flirting is a pretty natural part of life. Even people in committed monogamous relationships are likely to engage in some form of mild flirtation from time to time without any real intention of taking things further.
But according to a study published in the journal Sexuality & Culture, if your partner is maintaining an online relationship with someone outside the relationship, it's likely they're seeking more than just some harmless attention.
The study examined the behaviors of people who frequented an online dating site devoted to people who are seeking extra-marital affairs —which, may have a little something to do with the results— and found that while a great number of people enjoyed having "online sexual relationships" with people outside their primary relationship, most of them hoped that one day they would actually hook up with these pen pals in person. Well, considering this was on a website for those actively seeking affairs, yes, it makes sense that they want to get it on in person.
But thinking beyond this sample of people: Whether or not "sexting" "counts" as cheating is generally up for debate among you and your partner, but if an open dialog on the topic isn't present, where is the line? Is maintaining a relationship with someone you've never met — but hope to meet, and not in a "let's go for lattes!" kind of way— cheating?
And if it's not, is it a warning sign nonetheless?
For both men and women, however, the researchers note that the best predictors for developing an extramarital relationship was engaging in cybersex, which often followed on from sexting. For women, engaging in cybersex tripled their odds of straying online and doubled their odds of cheating offline, while for men, having cybersex quintupled the odds of developing an online extramarital relationship and slightly less than doubled the odds for cheating offline. Generally speaking, exchanging sexually explicit chat and photos with another person online was a major indicator that the person in question was about to or planned to cheat.
"While social networking sites are increasingly being used for social contact, people continue to be more interested in real-life partners, rather than online partners," the researchers said in a statement. "It seems that, at some point in a relationship, we need the physical, face-to-face contact. Part of the reason for this may be that, ultimately, humans are social creatures."