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What It's Like to Cheat?

    Infidelity can be highly destructive for relationships. However, as much as we might not want to hear it, the people doing the cheating also experience pain. At GetLusty for Couples, we don't want to excuse any malice in a relationship, but we feel it is important to hear both sides. Luckily, Clarisse Thorn, the BDSM Feminist, is here to talk about how PostSecret postcards can help explain some of the behavior that might not be as selfish as we often think.

    Disclaimer: Don't cheat. If you want to have an affair, please think about the consequences first. One option? Start to broach the subject with your partner. Just tell them you're attracted to someone else. Either way, don't participate in infidelity will nilly. There are alternatives for your interest in having sex with others. Could swinging be an option? Polyamory? You might not be there. What's most important in that situation is a strong line of communication!

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    I’ve always had Strong Emotions and Serious Opinions about cheating, mostly due to background info that I won’t write about today. I’ve always maintained that it’s almost as bad to be the “cheating facilitator” — i.e. the person who a cheater hooks up with — as to be the cheater themselves.

    I have also always maintained that it’s entirely possible to cheat even if you’re polyamorous: cheating means breaking the relationship agreement, it’s not about the exact mechanics of the sexual act. So, for example, say that you agree with your partner that you can both have sex with other people, but not kiss them. In that case, if you kiss someone else, it’s still cheating!

    With age, however, I have become less fierce about the topic. (I guess people get less fierce about everything, with age.) I am now more willing to listen to reasons that cheating might happen, and what it means to different people. I still don’t advocate cheating, and I don’t think it’s right, but I can understand it better now.

    Lately, I’ve been featuring postcards from PostSecret. It’s an online community art project to which people send postcards featuring a secret they’ve never told anyone. I’ve been reading PostSecret for many years, and I’m uncertain when I began saving postcards, so I can’t date the following cheater-derived images:

    “I rationalized that having an affair was justified because my wife didn’t seem to trust me, whether I was faithful or not. I figured I had little to lose. I was wrong. I gave up being the guy who would never hurt her like that. Forever.”

    This postcard resonates most with me, presumably because the writer seems to take the emotional harm he’s caused as seriously as I do.

    “I’m sleeping with both of you so I can be both halves of who I really am: Innocent / Freak.”

    Sometimes, a PostSecret card comes up that makes me wonder whether the writer is talking about cheating … or consensual non-monogamy. For example, maybe this person is being honest with all involved partners. I certainly hope so!

    I have always figured that if there’s a sexual desire that can’t be met by a current relationship, then the first step should be to try and negotiate an alternative sexual outlet. For example, if this person desires some BDSM (as the image seems to imply), but has a partner who doesn’t want to do BDSM, then it’s totally legit to say “Honey, can I take on a BDSM partner outside our relationship?” — even if they’re monogamous most of the time.

    I know that a lot of people don’t think that way, though. So, one of the first “cheating sympathies” I ever had was this: if a person asks their partner for something they feel is important, but the conversation is shut down or ignored … or even if there’s good intentions on all sides and many attempts have been made, but there’s no apparent compromise. In this context, I can understand why cheating happens.

    “Because of my husband’s sexual dysfunction, I have been celibate for over a decade. I am not proud of my fidelity. I feel ashamed that I stay.”

    This, right here. This seems like the perfect time for a careful conversation about sexual needs and an honest, straightforward request for an open relationship. However, I understand why that would be incredibly hard, and I feel bad for everyone involved. No one should have to feel trapped in a sexually unfulfilling relationship, but some people are terribly hurt by the idea that their partner would sleep with someone else, and it can be so hard to talk about

    “I am a better wife when I cheat.”

    I can … somewhat … see how a person would be a better partner, if they cheated in a situation where they felt like they couldn’t talk things through, and used that as an emotional “valve” to release stress and cope.

    Well … maybe I can see it? It makes me uneasy. I’m always happier if I feel like everyone is truly being honest; and it seems like dishonest cheating should be the last resort (if that).

    “I’ve been pumping iron for a year. My wife has said nothing, but other women do ….”

    Here’s another postcard where it doesn’t say that the writer is cheating. It seems clear to me that the potential for cheating is a subtext, though.

    It’s another situation that I can kinda understand? … but it makes me uneasy. This postcard feels like a symptom, not a solution. Writing a postcard about these feelings indicates big problems in the relationship that it would be good to actually talk about, you know? But on the other hand, I know it’s not always possible to talk things through; not always possible to deal with everything properly. I just hope that this guy has tried, in a genuinely careful way, with genuinely good intentions.

    “I quit smoking because I wanted to fuck a coworker. After a hot 6-month affair, my wife knows nothing, but is proud of me for quitting smoking.”

    Yeah, so the other postcards? I had some sympathy for all of them, even if it wasn’t much sympathy. But this one? I have to say I really don’t get it. I can’t relate. It doesn’t seem to have any ethics or anxiety in it at all.

    It almost feels gleeful. Gross!

    Cross-posted with permission from Clarisse Thorn's blog.
    Clarisse Thorn is a Chicago-based feminist S&M writer who has lectured from Berlin to San Francisco, and written from The Guardian to Jezebel. She wrote a book about men, dating, and sex called Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser; she's also got a best-of collection called The S&M Feminist. She's always writing something new, so check out her list of books. Also follow her on Twitter @clarissethorn.
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