Hongkongers appear to be growing more accepting of a partner’s online flirtation, even when it leads to something more, a new study of people with experience of extramarital affairs suggests. About one in six people interviewed said it was “acceptable” to have online affairs – taken to mean flirting over the internet that ultimately led to real-life passion – or were “neutral” about the question, the study by the Caritas Family Crisis Support Centre showed. The findings, released on Sunday, were based on interviews with 454 clients who sought help from the Catholic charity after learning of an extramarital affair in the past two years. Of them, 4.6 per cent said having online affairs was “absolutely acceptable” or “acceptable”, while 11.5 per cent remained “neutral” on the matter. But using the internet to set up illicit affairs can also come back to haunt the person in question; in a growing number of cases, affairs have come to light when people have checked their partner’s instant messaging posts on services such as WhatsApp and WeChat. The centre said frontline social workers had raised concerns about online affairs in recent years. “Many of those who have sought help said they had found their spouses having discreet affairs with others via online instant messaging, like WhatsApp and WeChat,” the report said. And the report also dispelled the popular belief that those who did not have to worry about making ends meet were more likely to look for something on the side. In fact income level did not appear to be a factor, with some 55 per cent of cheating spouses interviewed having a monthly income of below HK$15,000 – roughly the median wage in Hong Kong. About 30 per cent of the cases involved affairs with colleagues, while another 32 per cent involved affairs with friends. Common reasons quoted for having secret affairs included lack of communication with the spouse, spending too little time together and living apart. But 80.9 per cent of interviewees said they would forgive their cheating partners if they showed “deep regret”, while 74.4 per cent cited “children’s welfare” as a reason for forgiving extramarital affairs. The centre called on the government to promote family-friendly policies so couples could have more time together at home. According to government figures, the number of divorces in Hong Kong rose by a factor of four, from 6,295 in 1991 to 22,271 in 2013.