Call me a radical, but I don’t think having sex with someone other than one’s official partner(s) (husband, girlfriend, closed poly-triad, whatever) is cheating.
One may be able to accuse said sex “offender” of lying – which is never an attractive quality – but I can’t think of a circumstance where someone cheated anyone else out of anything by using their own body to have sex with someone else.
I’m defining cheating as “stealing” – or as the dictionary says “swindling or defrauding.” Cheating involves lying, but it implies more than that. It implies taking something that belongs to someone else by trickery.
Let’s try to keep this simple. You can’t steal something that already belonged to you. So unless you contractually gave ownership of your body and sexuality to your partner(s) when you signed up for a relationship with them, you’re not cheating or “stealing” anything from them by using your own body to get pleasure from another person’s body. You’re not swindling or defrauding them. You’re not taking anything from them. Because they don’t own you, or your body, or your sexuality.
Let’s review. You can cheat someone out of their money by selling them a lemon of a car, you can cheat someone out of an inheritance by fine tuning the fine print, you can cheat someone in a game by giving someone fewer points than they earned, you can cheat someone at the grocery store by tipping the scales… see the pattern? Cheating implies lying and stealing.
You can not cheat someone you’re romantically involved with by having sex with someone else. You’re not taking anything from them. You’re not cheating them. Unless they perceive that they own you. You’re just deriving pleasure from someone else.
So I hope, from now on, instead of saying “he cheated on me” or “she cheated on me” – which actually is poor grammar, you can’t cheat on someone – people will say “he lied to me” or “she lied to me.”
And once we’ve got that sorted out, I hope we will ask – “why did he or she feel the need to lie to me?” And I bet, if we’re honest, we’ll realize it’s because they felt afraid to tell us. Why did they feel afraid to tell us?
Because they live in a culture that tells them their wife or boyfriend owns their body, that they should be able to have all of their sexual needs met by one person, and that there’s something wrong with them if they want more. Perhaps they felt afraid to tell us about their natural needs and desires because of cultural shame, and fear that their most trusted, beloved partners would pile on more shame, or worse yet abandon them.
Look, I’m not saying people are not free to make whatever agreements they want with their romantic partners. If you and your spouse or triad or quad want to make contractual agreements saying you all own each other sexually, I’m all for it. Could be kind of kinky. Sounds a lot like slavery to me, but to each their own. Just go into it with informed consent. Understand what you’re signing up for. You’re signing over ownership of your body and sexuality to someone else, in some cases, for life.
If you’re into bondage, that’s cool. Just think about it before you informally consent to it and then someone starts calling you a cheater when you change your mind.
I’ve written a follow-up post to respond to some of the comments, and to include some of my personal experience on the matter.
And here’s a related post I wrote called “Why Men Cheat,” which in retrospect should’ve been called “Why People Cheat.”