Is sexting cheating?

Originally Published: December 16, 2011 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: December 30, 2011
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Dear Alice,

I was snooping on my boyfriend's phone this morning while he was in the shower (I know, bad). I was not snooping because I distrusted my bf, but because there is this one girl I don't trust. I found more than I bargained for. She had sent him a topless photo of herself and he followed it up with comments about how turned on the photo made him.

I am devastated. I have no idea how to confront him about this. I love him so much and we have been together almost 2 years. My question is: Is sexting cheating? I always told him that if he cheated on me, it was over. But he didn't technically cheat... it was texting. But I feel like he cheated on me. Am I overreacting? How on earth do I confront him?

Thanks and please help,

Hurt in TX

Dear Hurt in TX,

You raise a very thought-provoking question, and one that (as you might guess) has no easy answers. Cheating is in the eye of the beholder. Or rather, the eyes of the beholders. Meaning that it's up to the two of you to decide what constitutes cheating in the context of your relationship. In all cases, good communication and transparency are essential. Some people would define what your boyfriend did as cheating. Others would not. What matters here is what you feel and how it impacts you.

You asked how to confront your boyfriend. Explaining how you felt when you saw the texts may be a good way to start the conversation. Before you do this, though, spend some time exploring what meaning this incident had for you. Again, context may matter. For some people, sexting with another may be okay only if things are going well in the relationship. For example, if you are not getting certain needs met (i.e., emotional, sexual, time together), seeing this type of engagement with another person may feel like more of a blow than it would if all is going well. For others, such communication with another person would hurt no matter the current circumstances of the relationship.

Consider this: If you ask your boyfriend about the text messages and he believes that he was not cheating, does this mean that you would also be allowed to sext other people? Would you want to? Have the two of you discussed the parameters of your relationship regarding sex/sexting/flirting with others? What might it look like to raise this issue with him? What would you want for yourself in this regard?

If you decide to bring this issue up with your boyfriend, consider that he may be upset that you were checking his phone while he was in the shower. Does this feel to you like a violation of his privacy? It may depend on whether the two of you typically have access to each others' texts. You say you trust your boyfriend, just not this other woman, yet checking your boyfriend's phone (whether "bad" or not) may indicate otherwise. So ask yourself what led you to check his phone. It may be that you don't trust him, and if this is the case, it may be important to explore why this is. Perhaps the mistrust comes from other behaviors of his, or perhaps it is about something else that is not related to him (or some combination).

Ideally, this conversation could provide an opportunity for both of you to understand more deeply what is happening in your relationship and to get clarity about what types of sexual engagement outside of the relationship (if any) are acceptable.

Good luck and take care,

Alice

February 4, 2014

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Absolutely agree. Sexting with other women is wrong period. Been through that with ex boyfriend and he said until the end that he was doing nothing wrong. I disagree. I asked him if he would like it...
Absolutely agree. Sexting with other women is wrong period. Been through that with ex boyfriend and he said until the end that he was doing nothing wrong. I disagree. I asked him if he would like it I would to do that with other men, and that did not sit very well with him. Either you both agree to open parameters to your relationships or not at all.