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The cool thing about fantasy relationships is they don’t require any work.” Therapy is similar for online or traditional affairs, with couples working on issues of trust, betrayal and forgiveness.Hertlein also encourages couples to use the Internet to strengthen their relationships by enjoying pornography sites together or visiting websites for ideas about romantic dates or new sexual skills.While men traditionally have been the more unfaithful sex, gender roles are reversing in some cases as more women experience cybersex.

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The typical affair used to start in the office and move to a seedy motel room, but the vast reach of the Internet has brought infidelity into many couples’ homes over the past decade.

The growth in steamy chat room conversations and cybersex also has triggered a rethinking of the meaning of infidelity.

Therapy can be more complicated if the cheating partner doesn’t believe his or her online activities qualify as an affair, Ducharme says.

“The excuses are, ‘I didn’t have sex with this person.

Every time you walk by, you’re asking yourself if he or she is using it for an affair.” While most relationships are hampered by such workday realities as household chores and paying the bills, online relationships exist in an electronic nether world where strangers can construct their own identities, Hertlein says.

“On the Internet, you can be whoever you want to be. You don’t have to be this constrained person you think you should be.” Fantasy also is a huge factor in online affairs, and fantasy always trumps reality.

Americans now spend as much time online as they do watching TV — about 13 hours a week.

While TV viewing has remained fairly constant, time spent surfing the Web has increased more than 120 percent over the last five years.

It starts right under your roof,” says Elaine Ducharme, Ph D, a psychologist in Glastonbury, Conn., who specializes in cybersex addictions.

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