The era of electronic entertainment has given rise to all sorts of interesting moral questions, questions that bring shades of gray to hitherto black-and-white issues of right or wrong. Here’s one:
I was going to file this silly thing under INSIGNIFICA when I decided it wasn’t that silly, after all.
We might think that this is a modern morality question, but of course it isn’t. People have been sending “love letters” to each other pretty much as soon as we discovered writing, only now the communication is electronic over the Internet rather than on paper and by messenger / through the mail. In days gone by, therefore, a husband discovering racy love letters from another man in his wife’s possession would justifiably, in my opinion, be suspicious of his wife’s fidelity — and certainly so if the other man was a mutual acquaintance, or someone living close by.
Of course, the further the distance between writers, the less likely would actual adultery take place — but, to address the above question, is virtual adultery any different from actual adultery?
Note that I’m not talking about flirty communication here; there’s an enormous difference, in my opinion, between “I’d love to take a walk on the beach with you someday” to “I want to suck your penis”, although some might argue that the difference is only in degree.
The arrival of the telephone added sound to the situation — and one has only to see how many “phone sex” lines there are to see the effect of that. Still, I suppose that one might argue that such activity is purely impersonal — I’m reminded of a scene in some movie of a young woman having phone sex on one of these lines while doing her ironing and watching her baby play on the kitchen floor — and it’s all just fantasy, not adultery.
What has changed, of course, is that communication nowadays can include video, where love letters never did. Now we are talking about a whole different ball game, aren’t we? Or are we?
Does adultery have to require actual physical contact to be classified as adultery?
I have to say “yes” to the above — although that said, I understand that virtual adultery has all sorts of “moth and candle” implications, especially if it’s between people who know each other. As one woman of my acquaintance once put it: “Virtual sex has replaced foreplay when it comes to fooling around”, and she’s absolutely right — if, that is, the couple are not just strangers getting a cheap thrill out of the thing.
And there, I think, is the crux of it. It’s not the virtual aspect of it; it’s who you’re talking to. Which is more dangerous to a marriage: talking sex to a complete stranger in a chat room, on a phone sex line or on a video call, or talking sex with a neighbor, a guy from the office or a friend’s husband?
I think we all know the answer to that.