"We are hearing from therapists around the country reporting online sexual activity to be a major cause of marital problems," Cooper said.
"We need to better understand the contributing factors if we are going to be able to warn people about the slippery slope that starts with online flirting and too often ends in divorce." With the exception of two of the study's participants, all hid their online activities from their spouses, often "chatting" after their husbands or wives had gone to sleep, Mileham said.
Many reported that what started as innocent, friendly exchanges progressed quickly to strong desires for sexual relationships, she said.
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But some used this form of effortless escapism while their spouse was in the room, she said.
Said one such man, "While I'm on the computer my wife just assumes I'm writing a report for work." Another man said his wife, who knew what he was doing and didn't like it, looked over his shoulder sometimes while he was typing, Mileham said.
Females are usually bombarded with messages and can pick and choose which messages they respond to, she said.
Al Cooper, a leading expert in the field of Internet sexuality and the author of the book "Sex and the Internet: A Guidebook for Clinicians," said Mileham's research is important in helping to understand this increasingly common phenomenon.
Other research has shown, however, that most spouses feel as betrayed, angry and hurt by online infidelity as they would if skin-to-skin adultery had taken place, she said.