Is having “cybersex” cheating on a relationship?

A friend of mine has a poll up where she asks is having cybersex cheating if you’re married? I voted – my answer was yes – but I wanted to spend a little time talking about my answer here on my own blog and have my own informal survey of readers about this topic.
First off, you’ll note that I changed the question to be about relationships, not just marriage, because I think that it’s critical to recognize that cheating is only cheating – in any form – if it happens within the context of a monogamous relationship. Married or otherwise, if you and your partner have an agreement that you can be intimate with other people, then it’s not cheating. My assumption, then, is that the question really revolves around “what is cheating?” in general.


I might have a romantic, even naive view of a committed, monogamous relationship (to be lazy, I’ll call this a CMR from now on), but if you’re deep into it with a significant other, then I believe that they should be significant, indeed, the most significant person in your life.
Yes, if you have kids they’re darn important, your parents might be on the top of your list, certain long-time friends, etc., but as a general expectation, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that the person with whom you have a CMR should be #1 in your life, and vice-versa.
Given that, if you have needs, emotional or otherwise, that aren’t met by your partner, but can be fulfilled by someone else of the opposite gender, then I suggest that there’s a problem in the fabric of the relationship. If I’m in a serious, long-term relationship – or married – yet feel I can better confide in another woman, not the one with whom I have the relationship, then maybe the relationship itself is not as strong, and we’re not as compatible, as I think.
Now let’s add the sexual dimension here. Just as with the emotional side, I believe that the sexual side should be met by your partner if you’re indeed in a compatible, sympatico, mutually wonderful relationship. Maybe a pipe dream (especially at this point in my life) but surely that’s what makes a good relationship good? After all, if you practice giving as well as taking, view intimacy as play and as a chance to fulfill your partners needs and wants in addition to (and, yes, sometimes instead of) your own, then that should add up to being pretty darn fulfilling for most of us, I’d think.
That’s why I have such a strong reaction to the question. There’s no question in my mind that cybersex – that even having an emotionally intimate relationship with someone of the other gender – is cheating if you’re otherwise in a CMR: It’s about what’s in your heart, not your erogenous zones or any other part of your body…
One easy test: if you don’t want to tell your partner what you’re discussing (or doing!!) with this third party and if you definitely do not want them eavesdropping, that’s a harbinger of big trouble yet to occur.
But I’ve always been a bit of an idealist about relationships, and I do strongly believe in what I call black and white morality: either something is right, or it’s not. With some issues, there’s no gray area. “Well, you were being a jerk, so I’ve been having a relationship with someone else via the computer / phone / whatever” is an excuse, a rationalization, not an explanation of why it’s okay to dally – even just intellectually – with someone else.
Am I looking at this too starkly? Are there times when a little e-nooky is okay even though you – and your partner – are in a committed, long-term monogamous relationship? Or is that all taboo, all cheating, whether you meet in person, have a tryst in a hotel room or trade show, or just exchange steamy email messages and an occasional R or X-rated webcam snap?

11 comments on “Is having “cybersex” cheating on a relationship?

  1. Fair enough, Dave — from the perspective of an innately monogamous person who chooses only to have relationships with similarly innately monogamous people.
    I just ask you to keep in mind that monogamy isn’t the only, the right, or the best choice for everyone. For some people, monogamy causes more problems than it solves, and it doesn’t suit their nature. And obviously, monogamous relationships end or fail often — so monogamy in a sexual or emotional sense is not a panacea or safeguard of any decent quality.
    I think in the context of your remarks, it’s important to note that nonmonogamous or polyamorous people are not incapable of commitment or otherwise inferior in their preferred approach to intimate relationships. It’s just a different and less black-and-white approach, that’s all.
    So if you’ve written this as an innately monogamous person specifically for other innately monogamous people, with no judgment intended toward people who are not monogamous (of course, who are ethically and honestly not monogamous), then cool 🙂
    – Amy Gahran

  2. I think you’ve hit the nail 100% on the head.
    I have several friends in ‘poly’ relationships – that means they have agreements and understandings that encompass non-monogamous behavior.
    Cheating is simply breaking the rules. When you have committed to someone else to be monogamous, any form of non-monogamy is breaking the rules and therefore cheating.
    If the ‘rules’ you and your partner agreed to allow for sexual interaction of any sort with others – then it’s not monogamy.
    But I’m just repeating myself.
    Easier just to say. “Yep. I agree.”

  3. I suppose I agree with you.. but as thinking about this.. I wonder… is reading an adult oriented novel.. not a sex book.. a novel where you feel for the characters.. perhaps even picture yourself as one of them.. is that “intelectual” cheating??
    How about watching a movie.. should I close my eyes during a love scene… am I cheating if I watch and feel my pulse quicken??
    What if my wife likes any movie with Harrison Ford or Johnny Depp.. is she cheating on me..
    That’s all intellectual.. granted there is no interativity.. but.. well.. the internet is weird.. Do you really picture me as a person.. or am I just words that are related to this topic..
    Am I like looking up a topic in a book… you read my opinion.. and go do more research to see more opinions…
    Or am I a person.. sitting at a keyboard.. looking at a monitor.. wondering who you are…
    tough situation…
    Cheating is in the mind.. I think you hit it when you mention the desire to hide what you’re doing from your spouse… But .. then again.. when you masterbate.. do you let your spouse know.. or do you do keep it to yourself.

  4. Yes, cybersex or a cyber-relationship is cheating.
    Like you said, Dave: “One easy test: if you don’t want to tell your partner what you’re discussing (or doing!!) with this third party and if you definitely do not want them eavesdropping, that’s a harbinger of big trouble yet to occur.”
    If it’s something you’re ashamed of or want to keep hidden and in the dark, then it’s something you obviously know is wrong, or at least wrong for you.
    P.S. What’s wrong with masterbating and letting your spouse know, participate, watch, or not know? We all need time to ourselves and our own space. If you’re masterbating during cybersex with someone who’s not your significant other, however, that’s different….

  5. Yes its cheating. And its cheating yourself out of the full potential of your relationship, as much as you’re cheating your partner.
    I’ve only been on one side of that scenario, and it was a heart-wrenching shock… and the end of what could have been a wonderful thing.
    Almost as sad was the remorse and regret my SO felt over it. But if “it meant nothing”, why do it at all?
    I say if you’re into __ (fill in the blank), do it with the person you’re with. Or let them go.

  6. I totally agree with you Dave and am very happy to know that there are men out there that think the way you do.
    Like Lynn, I have also been on one side of this scenario numerous times with my current significant other and I still cannot get over it to this day. I feel betrayed and cannot trust him anymore. Yes I am still with him because I keep on hoping he will stop doing it as he says he will but I always find out that it is still occuring. He’s done pretty much everything possible on the internet, which makes me think that if he can cheat on me online, he can very well cheat on me with a “real” person, if he hasn’t already…
    The fact that he is doing this is hard to take but the lies about it is what’s breaking me. I would prefer pure honesty from him in regards to this but this just ain’t happenning. I am at the end of my patience and am getting ready to leave him. It’s too bad that some cybersex addiction is the cause of the separation but I deserve someone that will respect me enough to be honest with me and who will be willing to hear how I feel about certain things in the relationship without making me feel bad for feeling that way!

  7. Cheating is violating trust and the defence I often hear of it’s not cheating if no one knows about it makes as little sense as saying it’s not murder if no one finds the body. Right is right and wrong is wrong and I think in a cultural climate of increasingly laissez-faire approach to morality, people will be less and less willing to take a definite stand against something lest they be labeled (gasp) too conservative. And we see the results in our disintegrating social institutions. People get out of a relationship only what they put into it and if they’re busy spreading the cyber-love around, that’s time they’re not spending increasing the intimacy and addressing the problems in their unplugged reality. IMHO, either divorce and start lobbyin for the right to engage your modem or ctrl-alt-delete the cyber trysts and live a real life.

  8. I’m sure Bill Clinton would say it’s not cheating. For myself, it isn’t about the sex – it’s about the lack of honesty and trust. It’s a slippery pole to the end of the relationship – and for what?

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