Sex on Tuesday: The Cheat Sheet

Confess your crimes to Sari at [email protected]

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According to the Janus Report, more than 30 percent of men and 25 percent of women admit to having extramarital sex. I have confirmed that such numbers are reflective of my fellow students, using a method of statistical analysis called "The Ten Fingers Drinking Game."

By now, I'm used to asking strangers highly personal questions due to my shameless curiosity that we'll euphemistically call "responsible reporting." But never before have I experienced this week's dilemma: The more people I asked about a topic, the more confused I became. It seems everyone has a different perception of what constitutes cheating, why people cheat and just how deadly a sin it is.

For example, at one extreme a friend complained that she dislikes it when her boyfriend watches porn because it proves he gets turned on by other women. Meanwhile, another friend doesn't mind if her lover fools around on the side as long as he doesn't become emotionally involved.

Many heterosexual couples I asked said it's not "cheating" if one partner makes out with a member of the same sex. One exception was a man who, after having a threesome with his girlfriend and her female friend, found his girl was more into girls than he could handle. "I would never have gotten jealous about her having the occasional ladies' night before, but after seeing her in this new light, I knew we could no longer be together."

There seems to be two kinds of cheating-emotional and physical. Emotional infidelity is impossible to pinpoint. While we can be held accountable for actions we take, how can we control sexual attraction we feel or chemistry we experience? Where do you draw the line? What's the difference between going to dinner with your hot friend and going on a date? Perhaps it's whether you work "My boyfriend has that same watch!" into the dialogue.

Physical infidelity may be easier to define, but its severity is still very subjective. One girl I know tends to make out with whomever she's dancing with once she's elegantly wasted. Nothing comes of these encounters, and she feels no guilt withholding such details from her man. "But what if you found out he was doing the same thing when he went out?" I pried.

She shot me a look of death for such an awful question, snapping, "That would be SO not okay." In fact, having different standards for oneself and one's partner seems, well, standard. This is often justified by the claim that only you can truly know when a kiss doesn't mean anything or when casual sex is just more convenient than masturbation.

If an act is so meaningless that it could not possibly threaten a relationship, why mustn't your partner find out? In fact, it's the deceit and secrecy that are wrong. Think of couples who swing or are in open relationships. It's the lying, not the physical act, that is most significant.

There appear to be three categories of unfaithful. Some are serial cheaters, just not wired for monogamy. They'll never be content with the relationship they have because they'll always wonder what they're missing. Eventually they become the creepy old man inhaling whiskey sours at 3 p.m. and hitting on cocktail waitresses two generations too young.

Others are more the "fool me once" type. During one of those mysterious synchronicities, a friend was telling me about her experience of being cheated on when "Cheating Bastard" flashed on the caller ID of her cell. She put the ex-in-question on speaker and I took my first stab at couple's counseling. He revealed that cheating on her was his biggest regret, that he would never again risk a wonderful relationship for cheap thrills and that the sex wasn't even all that good. How sweet.

The third type of cheater claims having a little something on the side actually strengthens a relationship. As Jon Stewart would say, all eyebrow-raised, "Whaahaa?!" Yes, this rare breed swears the occasional fling can remind you of how special your partner is. "Sometimes it's good to test out the strength of your current relationship by seeing what else is out there," my friend Joey explains. "When you're with the right one, you won't be tempted by anyone else."


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