If you’ve ever listened to Dan Savage, you’ll know that one of the (many) things he feels strongly about is sexual compatibility. While in many ways, opposites attract, this doesn’t hold true in the bedroom. Generally speaking, couples who are best suited for each other have relatively similar sex drives, and a similar level of openness to trying new things. When either of these elements is out of synch within a couple, it creates the potential for sexual conflict or awkwardness … which can spill over and affect other elements of a relationship.
Even when a couple has a high degree of sexual compatibility inside the bedroom, they can have very different perceptions and interpretations of what goes on outside, including about what’s okay. A recent study published in the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy found that men and women often have different views about what constitutes cheating. In this age of texting, prolific pornography, and online dating and chat sites, there are a lot of areas for possible misunderstanding or disagreement.
In the study, they asked participants to rate 15 different acts in terms of whether they would consider them to be cheating. While I suspect most people would agree that having sex with or intimately kissing someone else is a form of cheating (2 of the activities they included), some of the others aren’t as clear cut. For example, how do you feel about the following:
- Sexting with someone with no pictures
- Sharing sexy pictures with someone you don’t know
- Sharing sexy pictures with someone you do know
- Sharing intimate secrets
- Fantasizing about someone (and is there a difference if it’s someone famous, or someone you know?)
- Looking at or watching porn
- Going out for a nice dinner together
- Going to a strip club
- Chatting with a stranger in a sexy chat room
- Looking at profiles on Tinder or another dating site … but without contacting anyone
- Prolonged hugging (like a really, really long hug)
Some of these probably made you think a little bit. The researchers found that a person’s answers may also correlate with their feelings and comfort with intimacy; those people who more easily form close and intimate relationships were more likely to see a wide range of activities as cheating, including emotional closeness.
So what should we take from this? It’s important to think about these questions and discuss them with your partner. And it’s helpful not to start by thinking there’s a “right answer” to each question on the list, but rather to see it as a chance to explore what each of these activities means and why you would or wouldn’t consider it to be cheating. This might lead to some interesting conversations … and may even open up new terrain to explore together (like sharing fantasies).