I don’t condone having sex behind your romantic partner’s back, and I certainly don’t condone lying about it. I am AGAINST lying. That’s why I’m poly, so my boyfriend and I don’t have to lie about our desires.
My purpose was simply to say the word “cheating” has connotations that imply you’ve stolen or “swindled” something from your partner by having sex with someone else. You can’t steal something that already belongs to you (your own body). So to imply you’ve stolen something from your partner implies your partner owns your body and sexuality.Every dictionary definition I’ve found includes something to this effect – “a deception for profit to yourself.” The use of the word cheating to mean “sexually unfaithful” is always prefaced by the words “informal” or “chiefly in the U.S.”If you don’t believe me look at the etymology – when the word was first in use in the 14th and 15th centuries, it meant “forfeited or stolen property.” I read somewhere that the word “cheat” wasn’t used in relation to sexual infidelity until the 1930s. The implication is that by having sex with someone other than one’s spouse, one is stealing property from one’s spouse.
Maybe some of you have made explicit agreements (in your wedding vows or elsewhere) that you and your partners do own each others’ bodies – that you have exclusive sexual access to them. I’m arguing that sounds a lot like slavery.
I would never make an agreement like that, and if I had done so out of immaturity and ignorance when I was young, I would not feel bad about breaking the agreement later in life. I hope I wouldn’t have the guts to tell my partner I wanted to back out of the agreement before I actually did, but I can think of a million reasons one might be scared to do so given we live in a culture that condemns turning away from monogamy.
My boyfriend and I never made an agreement to be monogamous. We were friends, we started having sex, got pregnant accidentally and, by default, assumed we were expected from then on to be monogamous.
Four years later, when I started talking to him about my newfound discovery – polyamory – he was elated. He felt like a weight had been lifted. He’d carried a burden all those years he’d been afraid to tell me about. The day he found out I was pregnant, he felt like a ball and chain had been put around his neck. Not only was he on the hook for providing for a child for the next 25 years or so, it also set in that he would NEVER HAVE SEX WITH ANOTHER WOMAN AGAIN FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE.
Not having had much sexual experience before me, this was a devastating realization. He never actually “cheated on” me, but I wouldn’t blame him if he had.
After I broke the news to him that I’d really like us to try having sex with other people, he felt safe to tell me that he’d gone to a strip club a year earlier while on a business trip in California. Two senior coworkers – with more years of marriage and kids under their belt than Brad – “dragged” him along for the adventure.
The whole year, he’d been so afraid to tell me and was so relieved when I told him I was happy for him and encouraged him to go again. He also admitted to me he’d been fantasizing about and flirting with a young, attractive intern at his office lately, so my timing for throwing the doors of our relationship open was impeccable. He said he loved me and our daughter Nora so much, he could never picture losing us, but he’d also felt so trapped and stifled sexually. He’d made up his mind to go on suffering this way, because he never thought it was safe to tell me about his desires.
I don’t know how long he could’ve gone without “cheating,” or if he ever would have, but what an awful position for our culture to put people in – to have to choose between sexual freedom and love and commitment to family. If we really, truly love someone, don’t we want them to have it all?
And now, of course, I realize I wanted sexual freedom too. My desire had just been even further repressed in me as a woman.
I’ll end with this quote by Osho: “If you love a person, how can you destroy his or her freedom? If you trust a person, you trust her or his freedom too.”
Click here for his full speech about trust and “cheating” – it’s pretty enlightening.
Here’s a related post called “Why Men Cheat,” which in retrospect I realize should’ve been called “Why People Cheat.”