What do YOU consider cheating? From watching porn to a drunken snog at the office party, Tracey Cox on what counts as TRUE betrayal – and what to do if your partner does the dirty
- Survey found 75% of women think kissing is cheating compared to 50% of men
- Tracey Cox notes men and women consider different behaviours to be off-limits
- The sex and relationship expert explores some of the most common examples
- And offers advice on what to consider if you uncover your partner has cheated
With the silly season in full flow, plenty of people are waking up with more than just a headache after that boozy office Christmas party.
A guilty conscience takes a lot longer to go away, too.
But it was only a kiss, you tell yourself. Everyone has the odd drunken snog….don’t they?
The answer to that depends on who’s asking the question: a man or a woman.
Last week, a BBC Radio 5 Live survey found while 75 per cent of women class kissing as cheating, only half of men agree.
And it’s not just kissing that both sexes disagree on when it comes to infidelity.
Sex and relationship expert Tracey Cox reveals what behaviours couples consider cheating and how to tackle behaviours with your partner. Stock image
What do YOU count as cheating?
In order of what most people DON’T consider cheating down to what most people do, here’s my take on a (by no means exhaustible) list of possible emotional and physical betrayals.
The majority of people believe masturbating simply relieves sexual tension and few would class it as cheating. But I do get emails from both men and women who are extremely upset if their partner has solo sex.
Some men say they feel hurt and ‘betrayed’ if they stumble upon a vibrator (‘Clearly our sex isn’t good enough for her.’)
Women tend to find out their partner’s masturbating when they ‘accidentally’ see their partner’s search history and – surprise surprise – find out he’s been watching porn regularly.
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Research world-wide is very clear on this: 98 per cent of men watch porn regularly.
Porn can be a huge problem if it’s used excessively or is being used to replace sex in real life but finding out your partner uses porn around two or three times a week, for five minutes at a time, is usual and common for most men.
Lots of women masturbate to porn as well.
It’s the level of interaction that changes how this scores on the cheating chart.
Watching a live web cam and making comments or requests moves porn firmly into ‘cheating’ category, for most women. Seventy five percent of women in the Radio 5 Live survey consider cyber-sex off-limits.
Watching a live web cam and making comments or requests moves porn firmly into ‘cheating’ category for most women but only 50 per cent of the men surveyed agree. Stock image
Only 50 per cent of the men surveyed agreed – and eighty-three per cent of men in another study had the motto ‘unless it’s physical it doesn’t count’.
Secretly watching porn is also different than openly admitting watching it.
If you both use it to masturbate to and can have a bit of a laugh about it, or watch porn together, it’s clearly not an issue.
‘It wasn’t that he was watching porn, it was that he always denied that he did,’ said one 34-year-old woman. ‘I’m no prude: why didn’t he feel he could tell me? What kind of porn is he watching? What else is he hiding?’
Having sexual fantasies about someone
Almost all men (98 per cent) and the vast majority of women (80 per cent) report having fantasised about someone other than their current partner at least occasionally.
Lots of the time, those fantasies are playing in our heads while we’re actually having sex with our partner.
Since nearly everyone does it, most people don’t classify it as cheating.
We don’t like admitting to it our partners though – nor do we want them to admit it to us.
Tracey Cox, pictured, explains that most wronged parties are more hurt by the lying around the cheating than the actual act
My take is that fantasising and watching porn are safe ways to cope with the downside of monogamy: getting bored from sleeping with the same person over and over.
We all crave variety, no matter how much we love our partners and, for most of us, imagining sex with someone else is a world away from contemplating doing it.
With one exception…
Having repeated sexual fantasies about someone you know
There is evidence that having regular fantasies about a person who is in your life and that you see regularly, can increase attraction to them and the likelihood you might actually take it through to reality.
The more you rehearse it in your head, the more real it becomes.
We control what happens in our fantasies, so the sex with this person in our heads is pretty damn perfect, also increasing the desire to do it in real life.
(If you’re guilty of this one and want to break the habit, deliberately give the fantasy a bad ending. Picture your partner’s face when they find out what you’ve done or an unsatisfactory ending to the sex.)
Going to a strip club
Some women consider this cheating if their bloke goes, yet see absolutely nothing wrong with going to a Magic Mike style male strip act for women.
There is a difference – one’s on stage, the other at a touchable distance, even if you’re not allowed to – but the concept is the same.
You’re both looking lustfully but not touching.
Most guys say strip club visits, especially those with a group of mates, are more about male bonding than anything dodgy. It’s a place that has a bar that stays open late when all the pubs are closed – and there’s a view.
Lap-dancing clubs minus a personal lap dance inch closer to cheating; actually having one pushes it much higher up the betrayal scale.
Some don’t mind seeing even this as a bit of fun; others see it as a complete betrayal because it involves contact, nudity and is up close and personal.
Most guys say strip club visits, especially those with a group of mates, are more about male bonding than anything dodgy. Stock image
Flirting used to mean your partner getting a bit risqué and affectionate with your best friend when drunk or something you did at the office party.
Social media now means you can be at it 24/7 with flirting taking many (many) different forms.
I asked my step-daughter, Sofia, who is 17 whether she thinks flirting is cheating.
‘Absolutely!’ she said, eyes blazing at the mere suggestion that it might not be.
I asked if her friends would agree and she said 100 per cent of them would echo her sentiments and that most millennials have a real issue with jealousy over flirting.
Emotional betrayal: ‘Work wives and husbands’ and their ‘best friends’ you never seem to see
The first question women ask when they find out their partner has been unfaithful is, ‘Do you love her?’
The first thing men ask is, ‘Did you have sex with him?’
Women are far more threatened by men getting emotionally close to someone than men are – and the female instinct is dead right on this one.
Getting too close to a friend of the opposite sex (or the same sex if you’re gay) is incredibly threatening to a relationship and often turns into an affair.
This is why ‘work husbands’ and ‘work wives’ can be dangerous.
We are closest to the people who know the most about us.
If you see someone every day and spend lots of time with them, you often end up confiding all your deep, dark spousal secrets.
It’s one thing dissecting and analysing your relationships with your friends, quite another admitting your relationship isn’t perfect with a friend you’ve got a ‘thing’ for.
Emotional closeness can swiftly move into romance.
One US therapists claims 82 per cent of the unfaithful partners she’d counselled had an affair with someone who’d started out as a friend and the incidence of people leaving their partners for their ‘best friend’ at work is high, even if nothing physical happens until afterward.
Lots of people have innocent friendships with the opposite sex but if there’s a secretive element to the friendship and you’re never included, you’re right to be nervous.
‘When you were growing up, you’d only have to worry about people your partner worked with or interacted with regularly like at the pub,’ she said.
‘Social media changed all that. Our generation have the whole world to compete with. People can flirt with anyone, anywhere in the world. You can never really relax.’
Is flirting onscreen worse than flirting in person?
Men and women answer that question differently. Women tend to think telling someone you’d like to do rude things to them counts as cheating, men tend to think it’s only if they arrange to meet up to do the desired deeds that it crosses the line.
It’s also one rule for us, another for our partner.
Only twenty six percent of us think sending a ‘flirty sexy’ text to someone is cheating but 75 per cent think it’s definitely cheating if our partner does it.
One thing most agree on: it’s secretive behaviour that is the giveaway between flirting innocently or with intent.
Closing their computer when you walk into the room, being overprotective of their phone, putting passwords on social media accounts when they’ve never bothered before – all ring alarms and rightly so.
There’s a cuddle and there’s a sexy cuddle and most of us know the difference.
A friendly hug at the end of the night usually just signals affection but press your pelvises close, your breasts into their chest and snuggle your face into the nape of their neck, holding the cuddle for longer than truly necessary, and it moves into something else.
Obviously, who it’s with is also crucial. A semi-flirty hug, half drunk, after a great night out with a friend you’re always playful with, usually means nothing.
Doing the same with a work friend you’re getting a little close to, is hugely significant.
Cuddling is rarely a dumpable offence but it’s most definitely a red flag, in certain circumstances.
A drunken kiss at the office party
As the Radio 5 Live survey illustrated, everyone has double standards on this one.
In another US study, 77 per cent of men and 89 per cent of women considered kissing cheating.
But when it came to drunken snogs with strangers in nightclubs that ‘didn’t mean anything’, they were ‘harmless’ – when it was you doing the snogging!
Not so if it’s your partner, that’s cheating!
With kissing it very much depends on where it was done, what state you were in and who it was you were kissing.
Snogging someone you’ve have a crush on all year is, understandably and justifiably, more of a cheating crime.
Have intercourse with someone else and you have well and truly cheated: you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t agree this is game over, notes Tracey. Stock image
Some people (men mostly) hide behind the Bill Clinton excuse that unless there’s penetration it doesn’t count, but most people (91 per cent) disagree.
It’s intimate sexual contact and in some ways even more intimate than penetration.
Whether it’s giving or receiving oral sex or hands fondling places they shouldn’t, most of us agree it’s cheating alright.
Is it as bad as having intercourse?
If it’s us doing the cheating, of course not. If it’s our partner, of course it is.
Have intercourse with someone else and you have well and truly cheated: you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t agree this is game over.
No arguments and not even a millimetre of wiggle room to get out of this one!
Visit traceycox.com for more of Tracey’s views on sex and relationships and to find her product range and books.
What you should do if you find out your partner has cheated
The most obvious factors to consider are what they did (a sext versus full sex) and what were their reasons for doing it.
Couples do survive infidelity but only if the victim understands the reason why it happened – and the guilty person is prepared to do anything it takes to win back their trust and love.
Why did they do it?
If your partner kisses a work colleague because they’re feeling ignored by you and you’ve been going through a rough patch in your relationship, you will be more forgiving than if it happens after a romantic, sexy holiday away with both of you returning loved up.
Put yourself in their shoes. If you were them, feeling the way they did, in the situation they were in, what would you do?
Can you understand it? Does it seem out of character and unlike them? Or aren’t you really surprised?
If your relationship is struggling, your partner was unhappy and you’d had a massive row, you might decide to forgive.
When did they do it?
A snog with an ex when you’re two dates in is miles apart from shagging the secretary once a week when you’ve been married a decade.
How far you are into your relationship the cheating occurs is significant.
Did they know what they did was off-limits?
I would advise all couples to have a serious chat about what is and isn’t considered cheating early into the relationship.
Never assume anything. Be specific about what you will and won’t put up with and spell out what will happen if you find out they’ve gone against your wishes.
If you’re done this, and your partner goes ahead and cheats anyway, this is far worse than someone who assumes it was OK to have a ‘snog that meant nothing’
Being drunk is a factor, not an excuse
Of course our judgement is impaired when we’re drunk.
But there is always a moment when you know you’ll get yourself in trouble if you stay or have another drink in a dodgy scenario.
Most people who do end up having that drunken kiss at the office party will admit to a point earlier in the evening when they knew there was a possibility things could get out of hand.
Is it a repeat offence?
If your partner’s already cheated and you’ve given them another chance, personally, I wouldn’t offer a third.
But I would check that what you expect of them isn’t unreasonable.
If your definition of cheating is so extreme that texting any person of the opposite sex (or same sex if you’re gay) qualifies, then this is clearly unworkable.
(What about their sister? A work colleague they have to have contact with for work? Innocent friendships?)
Ask a trusted friend whether they consider what your partner did is cheating. If they agree it most definitely is and you’ve already warned that you’d walk if they do it again, put your money where your mouth is.
Let someone get away with cheating more than twice and you’ve basically said ‘Do what you like because I’m clearly going to put up with whatever you do to me’.
How long’s it been going on?
An affair – where your partner has lied to you on multiple occasions – is a very different betrayal to a one-night stand.
Would you spot it if it happened again?
Knowing something was wrong – having a gut instinct that your partner was unfaithful – helps a lot.
If you were suspicious, you’ll feel confident you’d spot something going on if it happened again.
What do you have to lose by walking?
I had a dreadful problem with jealousy in my early 20s (my Dad had an affair), so I dutifully took myself off to see a therapist.
I remember arguing angrily with him about what constituted cheating and what the consequences should be.
‘Imagine this scenario: Would you throw away a happy 40-year marriage, rich with children and grandchildren, if you caught your husband kissing someone?’ he asked me.
My answer was an emphatic yes – in an of-course-you-idiot-who-wouldn’t way.
‘One moment’s bad judgement and you’d throw all that away?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ I said.
Thirty years later, and six years into a lovely relationship with my husband, my answer would be different.
Don’t get me wrong: it might be the end of the marriage if I found my husband kissing someone else.
But it might not be.
Before, I’d walk without getting details. Now I would definitely listen to the circumstances and examine it from many viewpoints before pulling the plug on something as amazing as we have.
Age also makes you softer and offers perspective.
Once you tip over the 50 mark, you can’t help but realise that everyone makes mistakes and has momentary lapses of judgements.
We’re human beings not programmed robots.
Which is also why what we say we’ll do if we find our partner cheating and what we actually do are often very different.
I’ve seen two couples survive infidelity despite their partners swearing they’d never forgive them if ever there was even a suspicion of an affair.
The thing is, not all people who cheat are bad people.
If your relationship is good and you have history, make sure you fully understand the reasons behind what they did, before you decide how to react to it.
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