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Virtual sex – can it be cheating?

Published in Uncategorised by Yessica Apolo from Marriage Care on October 14th 2021

Technology allows us to interact sexually with people online. Although this may seem different to in 'real life', there is reason to think that doing so carries similar emotional weight.

What is virtual sex?

Virtual sex is usually where two or more people interact through a communications device (e.g. smartphone, tablet or a computer) in a way that is sexually explicit. It’s mostly been defined as ‘interactive’, meaning that there is usually a partner involved, although some people count individual activities as virtual sex. It can include:

  • exchanging explicit messages, photos, and/or videos
  • stimulation using remotely controlled underwear or sex toys
  • having sexual experiences through an avatar in a game.

Is it really cheating?

It’s important to know that cheating (both on - and offline) has different meanings depending on who you ask; there doesn’t appear to be a one-size-fits-all definition. Some people may think of cheating as having sex with someone other than their partner, whereas others may include flirting, keeping secrets, or having a strong emotional connection with someone outside of your relationship in their definition. For more information see our ‘it is only online – can it be cheating?’ page.

Cheating (both on- and offline) has different meanings depending on who you ask; there doesn’t appear to be a one-size-fits-all definition

I think I’m having virtual sex – how will my partner feel if they find out?

Studies have shown that partners of people who secretly engage in virtual sex experience great emotional distress, including a sense of betrayal, when they found out. Many people have reported that they consider the behaviour as serious as a traditional affair and it could have a negative impact on their relationship. Despite this, it’s important to remember that everyone’s definition of cheating is different. If you’ve had a conversation with your partner about what you both consider to be appropriate and inappropriate behaviour in your relationship, then you may already have an idea of how they will react.

What should I do if I think I’m having virtual sex?

If you are involved in any activity that could be considered virtual sex and you are worried that you may be cheating, it’s probably worth thinking about a few things:

  1. If you found out that your partner was doing what you’re doing, would you consider it cheating?
  2. Talk to your partner about the kinds of online activities that are acceptable in the context of your relationship. This will vary from couple to couple, so try not to worry about other people’s opinions.
  3. Think of the conversation with your partner as you would about any other negotiation of boundaries. Listen to their opinion and express yours in a way that is respectful. Try to come to an agreement that works for both of you. You might also want to read our ‘how we can talk about what’s OK online’ page.

To see the full list of research references which have informed the content on this page, please see our research references section.

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