Just as the Pill opened up premarital sex in the Sixties, the internet is opening up a whole new culture of affairs among married people.Sex has become a major leisure activity of our time, accessible to everyone, married or not, rich and poor.

the new rules internet dating playfair39s-39

Alongside the internet dating revolution, these “playfairs” are evidence of a potentially dramatic shift in British marriage.

As dating websites open up a global shop window of sexual possibilities, as life expectancy continues to rise and we become increasingly sexually aware, how can we still take the crushing old rules of fidelity, that turn marriage into a prison, for granted?

Why should we not be able to recapture the heady thrills of youth, while protecting a secure home life?

The time has come, alongside the technology, to redraw the rules of marriage for the 21st century.

The setting is the quiet corner of an Italian restaurant in the City; the players are George, an IT specialist, and Zoe, who wears a pretty dress and a big smile; they drink an especially good bottle of wine and when they get to coffee he reaches over and kisses her on the mouth. To onlookers it might be the classic opening scene of a traditional romance.

Yet both parties are married to other people, whom they have no intention of leaving.

Although they will go on to enjoy all the spoils of a relationship, from intimate phone calls to Christmas shopping trips and, of course, regular sex, this is understood from the outset.

They are in fact launching into a “playfair”, a 21st-century affair in which would-be adulterers meet, via specialist dating websites, to enjoy the excitement of an illicit relationship without any of the domestic fallout.

Here, couples endure the challenges of child care, work pressures, mid‑life crisis and dwindling marital sex against a backdrop of repressive Anglo-Saxon hang‑ups about infidelity, seen always in pejorative terms such as “cheating”. Statistics confirm that British and American divorce rates are among the highest in the world.