Cheating On Your Spouse Just Ain't What It Used To Be

Zip up, and consider these moral dilemmas that come with extramarital affairs.

11/01/2017 04:56 SAST | Updated 11/01/2017 04:56 SAST
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Eric Gay/Associated Press
In this Feb. 19, 2010, file photo, Tiger Woods pauses during a news conference in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Woods called a news conference to apologize for his infidelities saying, "I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated."

Bees and birds do it. Men and women do it. About equally. Between 25 and 70 per cent of women — and 40 and 80 per cent of men — have engaged in at least one extramarital sexual encounter. And these figures are for In Real Life Infidelity only. When it comes to Cyber Infidelity the figures are about as deep a thumb suck as you can get. Who is going to admit to a researcher this shamed, sinful behavior? In truth we really dont know how many people actually commit infidelity.

As a couple and sex therapist and clinical sexologist, working with infidelity is part of my daily bread and butter. The blame and shame exchanged between the injured partner and the participating partner reverberate off my walls until I have to call "time out". Once the initial trauma is over and emotions become regulated, couples begin a conversation about the "morality" of cheating. This new "morality" questions global agreements that couples take for granted from the moment they become significant. Namely that they will be the one and only for each other, have ownership of each others genitals and hearts, and commit all their resources to only each other. Infidelity shakes these up in the most agonising manner.

I admit to cringing when placing these two words side by side : "morality" and "cheating ". I wonder who's morality a couple is using – is it the traditional vows of commitment, sexual fidelity and monogamy? Plus I really want to know how, in this shifting world of the internet , do they define cheating.

I know the answer to the question of morality: we are using a Judeo-Christian model that dictates a mono-hetero-normative model of monogamy, sexual fidelity and commitment as ideal. Ask any person if they believe in infidelity and they will vigorously and righteously reply "No." Ask that same person if they would leave this partner and the answer will be "yes". And this same person will say they cannot forgive the infidel.

I don't believe morality should interfere in people's decision making process. And anyway the sands of morality are shifting.

Yet the majority of people try to stay, stay and even purport to develop a richer relationship, with themselves and their partner. All ideals of "morality" are kicked out the door as fear of cutting ties, children and finances, loneliness dominate decisions.

I am delighted. I don't believe morality should interfere in people's decision making process. And anyway the sands of morality are shifting. To begin with , the simple confusion of "are we in relationship now" dictates a new form of morality. As to the definitions of infidelity, well, the internet has certainly brought pandemonium to this concept.

In 2013 at the beginning of my research into Cyber Infidelity , one of my primary goals was to establish a definition of Cyber Infidelity. I remember the first time a couple sat on my couch with this conundrum of whether or not infidelity had indeed been committed.

She was inconsolable. Having a suspicious feeling, she went onto her partner's mobile and found WhatsApp chats between him and a woman unknown to her. The conversations were frequent and mutually sexually explicit. Once confronted, he denied any wrongdoing, stating: "Its not that I am having sex or anything". And he was correct. According to traditional sexual norms, which state that "sex" is penile/vaginal penetration until the man ejaculates, no body fluids were exchanged online. Is this cheating, I asked myself?

I realised that no amount of "morality" could prevent cyber infidelity and that people need a mutually agreed upon definition, new relationship agreements and a guideline on managing their cyber lives.

Amplified pain kept walking into my therapy room. Amplified through reading words and seeing sexting that made the injured partner wonder who this person they call "significant partner" really is. I realised that this pain was like no other kind of infidelity pain I'd ever seen. Indeed not only was this a betrayal in the traditional sense of a big secret having been kept, but betrayal that cut at the heart as the injured person could read and re-read written words. And mostly, establishing trust felt impossible. How do you remove a mobile phone from an adult for bad behavior?!

I realised that no amount of "morality" could prevent cyber infidelity and that people need a mutually agreed upon definition, new relationship agreements and a guideline on managing their cyber lives.

Cyber Infidelity is a process in which people in a committed relationship seek computer synchronous interactive contact through electronic conversations that occur through text, chat rooms, emails and dating sites. These contacts may be emotional, sexual or pornographic. They are always secret. They violate the very principles upon which traditional marriage and relationships are built, namely monogamy, sexual fidelity and commitment.


I ask you to consider your current morality on cheating:

  • How do you define cheating?
  • Would your partner define it in the same way?
  • Do you consider cheating a deal breaker?
  • If you are an Injured Partner, would you consider leaving ?
  • If you stayed , would you feel a self betrayal ?
  • If you are the participating partner, would you feel guilty about your infidelity?
  • Would you forgive your partner? Give reasons either way.
  • Have you considered reconfiguring your original vows of monogamy, sexual fidelity and commitment?
  • Is one type of Infidelity worse than another type? Tick off and add on: 1. sex with a sex worker 2. sex worker is same/opposite sex 3. same sex person 4. massage with happy ending 5. interfaith/intercultural person 6. emotional only infidelity 7. sexual only infidelity 8. online only 9. sexting 10. friendship only 11. pornography viewing.

Welcome to the new cheating morality! Relook your own traditional values and see what you want to keep and what you want to throw out. I urge you to have this important discussion about morality and online activities, privacy and boundaries with a partner. It may well save you from the unnecessary pain of being seduced online.