11/14/2011 01:43 EST | Updated 01/14/2012 05:12 EST

Cyber Sex Can Be Relationship-Friendly

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A friend of mine came home to find her now ex-husband in a, ahem, compromising situation. She laughed, recounting how he frantically pulled up his pants while muttering inane excuses. It was clear he was far more embarrassed by the incident than her.

After the laughter subsided, her mood completely shifted. Angrily she confided, "And then a few months later I found him with his pants down in front of the computer looking at nude pictures." There was a nervous hesitation and then, "I could never trust him after that. And the mistrust was a big reason why we split up."

I was writing about cyber sex and asking the 'regular Jane' how she felt about it. Everyone -- I mean everyone -- assumed there was something wrong or missing in a relationship in order for an individual to turn to sex on the Internet.

Of course this could be true. However, it never occurred to any of them that cyber sex could be a healthy sexual outlet for someone in a happy, stable relationship.

Something else became crystal clear: cyber sex is a contentious and complex couple issue. Perhaps for good reason. But then again, it shouldn't become a relationship deal breaker.

I can appreciate that a male partner looking at nude photos of bodacious beauties -- secretly -- on the Internet is enough to shake up even the most confident gal.

However, it's my belief that the real trouble comes when couples are not willing to tackle the 'relationship communication' necessary to successfully navigate through this.

Here's the deal with cyber sex

Most people automatically assume engaging in cyber sex equates to deviant behaviour. In truth, the stigma around cyber sex comes down to a lot of unknowns which makes it seem threatening.

Plus, the Internet is a relatively new medium which naturally makes for a blurred line of what is acceptable sexual behaviour.

Is cyber sex considered cheating?

Maybe. It always comes down to the people involved. First, you need to assess your situation and decide whether cyber sex is a once in a while thing, or if it happens frequently enough to get in the way of your relationship.

Going online is once in a awhile

You don't have to like or accept this; but you do have to understand that if you give a 'you can never do this' ultimatum, chances are your partner will still do it. Behind your back.

Instead, you need to discuss it and come to an agreement on a few things. The first being: what does the term 'having sex' mean to you? Is it flirting, intercourse, oral sex, self pleasuring? Until you can figure this out, it's almost impossible to go to step two.

Next, you need to set boundaries on what is acceptable behaviour within your partner's online relationship(s) and your personal relationship.

Then go online together, just once, to see what it's about. That way when you have your 'relationship communication,' it will be infinitely easier to set those all important boundaries.

Going online is happening all the time

So you're in the bedroom wanting to have time together and your partner is busy jacking off in front of their computer. All the time. This is where you need to sit down and have a frank conversation about how your partner's behaviour is affecting your happiness. If the conversations just aren't working, it's time to seek out counselling.

Is it the sex or the secrecy?

I believe it's the secrecy of your partner engaging in virtual sex that causes the majority of the difficulty -- if not devastation -- to a relationship. I appreciate that it's difficult to bring up that you want to dabble in cyber sex, but it's even more difficult to try and resolve an issue of mistrust.

Last word on cyber sex

Believe it or not, there are many benefits to cyber sex. Not only is it safe sex, it's an easy way for someone to discover a hidden desire and become less sexually inhibited. As well, if you think you might want to try out a sexual fantasy, it's a safe way to see if it suits you.

Perhaps one day, cyber sex might become as acceptable as fantasy or role play; another safe sex way to titillate the imagination. My guess is, however, it will be many, many years before that happens.