3 min

To cheat or not to cheat

Ways of having your cake and eating it, too

Dear Dr Ren:

I’m a lesbian, coming up on 40 years old, who is in a 15-year relationship. I met my partner as a colleague (not co-worker). Even in the beginning, our sex life was warm rather than hot. Now our sex life is merely comfortable, but we have a good thing and I don’t want to rock the boat.

I recently met a woman by chance that I find incredibly attractive. She has me charged up sexually in a way I haven’t felt for a long time. Also, she’s made it clear that she’s interested and available. She’s completely outside our social and professional circles and is here just for the summer. I am extremely tempted and feel like I want the kind of sex I can’t get at home.

I don’t feel like it would change the way I feel about my girlfriend; I love her and that would remain the same. If I tell her about this she might leave me. At any other point I would have called this cheating, but it doesn’t feel that way in this situation.

It’s really not about her; it’s about me.

Is this just rationalizing? Is there ever a time that it’s okay to have sex outside your relationship and not tell?


Dear Quandary:

The short form answer is it depends.

You don’t mention what agreement you and your partner have, so I’ll assume you’ve done it as most of us do: you date a few times and after you become sexual you assume you are sexually exclusive as a couple. You never have a discussion about this but consider it devastating if either of you sleeps with anyone else.

When you inevitably become attracted to someone else–as sexual beings we thrive on novelty–you are filled with guilt and don’t discuss your feelings with your partner. You can act on your attraction and choose to leave your lover, cuckold her, or ride out your feelings until they subside. All of these are lousy options.

You are leaning toward cuckolding, justified by the logic that if she doesn’t know about it then it won’t hurt her, and if no one gets hurt then there’s no harm done. Well, maybe.

After 15 years, you know what you can expect from your primary relationship. Now that you see what you can get elsewhere, you believe you can exercise your lust for a few months and then return to “comfortable” with nary a blip on the home front. This is not a likely outcome.

Even if you could manage the logistics of time and place with the necessary discretion, don’t you think a couple of months of hot sex would change you? Don’t you think your girlfriend would notice?

This hot sex won’t be happening in a vacuum. You’ll be engaging with another human being who has emotions of her own. It’s difficult to make love from the skin out. With all the chemistry you two enjoy, you each risk forming emotional ties you probably can’t afford. Even if you keep your emotions in check, you can’t control hers. Your tryst could easily become complicated, painful and even public.

Let me suggest another way you could compartmentalize your erotic needs. If you travel, go to clubs and pick up hot women for one-night stands. That method is anonymous, uncomplicated, and private. If you protest that the sex would lack emotional connection, then you are fooling yourself about this new honey. You already have emotional connection at home; it’s hot monkey sex you are seeking, right?

I believe it can be valid to seek out sexual encounters unavailable at home, such as when we crave something our partner finds distasteful or uninteresting. But I also believe we have a moral imperative to find a kind and ethical way to make that happen. That may mean negotiating a contract about telling (or not), or conducting ourselves with the utmost discretion and safety. But it doesn’t mean boffing that hottie who’s turned our head and not telling our girlfriend, ostensibly for her own good. That’s just dishonest and even tacky.

You write that at any other point you would have called this cheating. What’s changed now other than the intensity of your need? Lust is powerful. We do not make our best choices when looking through its lens. Given the potential consequences of your decision, perhaps you would be wise to sit this one out and address your sexual frustration.

Might your partner join you in growing sexually? If you can’t attain Roman candles, perhaps you could manage sparklers. If she can’t meet you, can she support your personal growth? A week with a sexual enrichment group would surely get your groove on. Even some new toys might satisfy your appetite. Keep in mind that your partner is still in the dark. If you tell her of your hunger she might feed you.

When all is said and done, you have to live in your skin. As long as you are living ethically, you will be comfortable and no one will get hurt. Govern yourself accordingly.