Is sexting cheating? That’s an unfortunate argument that many couples have had. Usually, this discussion begins when one person discovers that their partner has been sharing sexual fantasies with another person via text. Naturally, the person who has been engaging in this behavior would argue that having sexting considered cheating is off base. After all, there was no physical contact!
Clearly, the other person often feels the same way. They are in what they assumed was a committed relationship. Their partner betrayed them by engaging in an intimate relationship with someone else. Even if physical sex was not a part of that, they see no other way of answering the question, “Is sexting cheating?” Of course it is!
Related reading: Coloring the Grey Zone – Is Flirting Cheating?
So, who is right? Is sexting always considered cheating? Let’s define sexting and explore its impacts on a partner’s trust. It’s worth knowing what to do if your partner is sexting and evaluate the possibility of leaving some room in a relationship for a bit of sexting.
Is sexting cheating all of the time? Maybe not. There are certainly couples out there who mutually agree that these online affairs are okay as long as they don’t lead to a physical relationship. However, any time that sexting violates the ground rules and expectations of a dedicated relationship, yes that is cheating.
Before we discuss how or when is sexting cheating, let’s get a few definitions out there. It’s important to be clear on what this means exactly.
Sexting: Most people would agree that sexting is engaging in online conversations with another person of a sexual nature. This may include sexual role playing, sharing explicit photographs, or discussing various sex acts in detail. Such interactions are done with the purpose of providing one or both people with some sexual fulfillment.
Emotional Infidelity: This is a form of infidelity in which the unfaithful partner betrays their primary relationship by engaging in emotional intimacy with another person. They do this by engaging in conversations and sharing information that is considered to be off limits outside of the current relationship. This form of infidelity may include discussing sex, but it doesn’t have to. It occurs when any form of emotional intimacy happens in a way that causes hurt and breaks the emotional bond between married couples or other monogamous partners.
Online Affair: This can be any combination of sexting and other acts of emotional infidelity that are carried out online or over the phone.
Will sexting lead to a real affair? People who ask this generally want to know how likely it is for sexting to become a gateway for the form of cheating that does involve sexual acts.
So if you want a fast answer to a question, “Will sexting lead to a physical affair in every case?”, then no, it doesn’t. In fact, for many people the fulfillment comes from the virtual interactions. They don’t need to go further than pictures and messages.
That said, there are so many cases, nevertheless, in which cheating via text or chat absolutely led to the people involved having sex with each other. In fact, it happens so often that people who uncover physical cheating often discover that their partner engaged in an intimate relationship with their affair partner online first. So, it’s fair to assume that sexting can lead to real life infidelity.
The saga of disgraced lawmaker Anthony Weiner is probably the most infamous example of cheating in the digital age. Weiner, created an online persona, “Carlos Danger” to send sexually explicit texts and pictures to other women. This was despite having a very present wife who had stood by him despite previous infidelity. This real life affair led to the end of a marriage. It also revealed information about the politician that resulted in his eventual indictment, conviction, and imprisonment.
There are several other famous examples of sexting by celebrities and politicians. While, the people who engage in this form of cheating suffer temporary embarrassment, their relationships suffer most. Also, not every person consents to be on the receiving end of sexting. One of the original sexting scandals involved republican Mark Foley’s betrayal of his values by sending explicit messages to teenagers.
The act of sexting can hurt people. It can turn a person’s life upside down, and this betrayal may lead to repercussions that extend way beyond the person who cheated and their spouse or partner. Let’s take a look at how a salacious relationship via digital devices can impact anybody who happens to be caught up in the situation, even if they are totally innocent in the matter.
How does inappropriate sexting impact a relationship? When someone makes the choice to betray their husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner, that erodes trust in that relationship. It may be impossible to repair that once it happens.
Additionally, sexting can lead to resentment within the relationship. This colors every interaction as those negative feelings simply can’t be avoided. This can make it difficult to forgive or reconnect.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. When a partner is sexting, that’s going to cause issues with that couple’s sex life. The person who has been cheated on may feel rejected. They may wonder if their partner is truly in the moment with them, or fantasizing about the person they’ve been sexting with. The cheating partner may feel guilty, particularly if they are thinking about someone else. Of course, that’s if the betrayal doesn’t kill that part of the relationship entirely.
Sexting is a type of cheating that can make you feel rejected and unworthy. Your partner chose another person with whom to share their feelings and fantasies. Even their private parts, become something that another person can see. That’s not just sexual infidelity. It’s a violation of expected intimacy between committed partners.
After sexting happens, you may wonder what you did wrong. The event may leave you wondering if your spouse or partner ever loved you. Then, there’s the sense of anxiety. Every time they talk on the phone or use the computer, you might worry that something inappropriate is happening. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that sexting may lead to a form of relationship PTSD.
There’s also a negative impact on the person who was caught doing wrong. Yes, it can be difficult to feel empathy for a cheater, but the level of shame they experience can be debilitating. While some guilt can drive a commitment to repair their relationship and treat their partners with more respect in the future, ongoing shame isn’t helpful. Those feelings may lead to more destructive behavior. Worse, they may convince themselves they did nothing wrong rather than committing to answer to what they did.
The person you love has been sexting. What do you do now? Will you and your spouse get through this? Do you want to get through this? There’s no right or wrong decisions when it comes to this matter. However, you can breathe deep and take a few steps before you decide if your marriage or partnership can be repaired.
The first thing you’ll want to do when your husband, wife, or partner has been sexting someone else is nothing. That may go against your instincts, but most people are devastated when they uncover this act of infidelity. You need to give yourself time to process those emotions. There’s a trite but true saying, “feel your feelings”. This means that your emotions may not always be logical, but they are valid. Let yourself feel whatever emotions you experience, and don’t shame yourself for them.
Your safety is a priority. If you have any reason to believe that things could turn violent, act carefully. It is more important that you create distance and find people to support you than to have a confrontation about this issue. Remember, you don’t owe any unsafe individual a conversation, even within the confines of a marriage.
When it’s time to bring this up with your husband, wife, or partner be very clear about what you know. Don’t leave room for denial. That isn’t productive or helpful for anybody. It’s certainly not going to save your marriage. Instead, state simply and matter of factly what you know.
Here is a sample detailing what you might say if you discovered your spouse was sexting another woman:
“(Name), I glanced at your phone and noticed you received a message from a woman you worked with. While I understand it was a private message to you, I assumed it was innocuous and checked it. I was very hurt to see that you had been sending sexually explicit message to her and several other women. Now, I’m wondering what is going to happen with our relationship. I feel hurt and betrayed by you.”
What you do next is your choice. You’ve given yourself time to navigate your feelings, and laid the facts out for your partner. Now, it’s time to decide how you want to proceed. It’s important to communicate that, because taking ownership of your actions is how you heal and move on. Here are some things to consider:
Not everybody is going to agree with the decisions you make in this moment. However, keep in mind that you don’t need to provide anybody with an answer or explanation.
Whether you decide to continue your relationship or not, counseling may help. A qualified professional will help you and your partner in talking through your issues. This is important if you want to come to a healthy resolution and move forward. Fortunately, it’s easier to obtain counseling now than ever. There are even virtual options for busy couples.
If you decide to stay with your partner, don’t feel bad about setting some clear conditions. For example, you may request that they cease in virtual contact with the man or woman they’ve been sexting. Additionally, you might ask that they delete prior conversations, or agree to a period of time that all internet access will be in a public area of your home. Another common condition is continued counseling and other couple’s work such as engaging in programs to strengthen your marriage or doing related reading together.