This story is over 5 years old.


Sexting Doesn't Count as Cheating

A recent survey found that more than a third of people believe sexting isn't adultery. We asked some on-the-side sexters if they agree.
Photo by RG&B Images via Stocksy

Sexting is fun. The act provides an opportunity for the sexually frustrated to demonstrate their creative sensibilities in literary text, erotic emoji, and nudes; it's a mixed-media art form. Everyone agrees. What is less unanimous: If you're coupled and displaying your work to someone besides your significant other, does it count as cheating?

A recent survey conducted by a British law firm suggests that a lot of men and women, at least in the UK, don't think so. The firm, Slater and Gordon, developed the study in response to the increasing number of Britons who cite extramarital sexting as grounds for divorce. The survey of 2,150 men and women, however, showed something else: Thirty-five percent said sending explicit texts to a third party doesn't count as adultery. Men were more likely than women to consider sexting someone other than their partner no big deal—but still, less than half of women thought sexting on the side was cheating.


Nevertheless, sexting is intimate, not least because it's on the record. It's surprising that the Brits are so chill about it. Wondering how women stateside felt about sexting affairs, I decided to ask around.

Alicia, who asked to be identified by only her first name, is among the category of sexters who are loyal. "I feel that, for me, sexting with someone else while I'm in a relationship would be cheating," she said. "If I'm sexting with someone other than my partner, I am emotionally cheating and avoiding having some type of conversation with my partner. I'm not able to sext with people and detach emotionally."

Read More: People Explain Their Reasons for Cheating

Indeed, though digital, sexting is not just interactive porn. There's a real person on the receiving end of a flirty eggplant emoji who will of course send one back, which could lead to something more serious—and disastrous. I had trouble finding someone who had sexted outside of their relationship and avoided this seemingly inevitable result: actual sex.

One woman I spoke to, Sarah*, who has sexted a third party while in a relationship, pointed to the fact that sexting someone else while you're in a relationship is probably a sign that you want out. While sexting someone else might not be an immediate threat to a couple, it's a baby step; a gateway drug. "I started dating a guy right after getting out of another relationship," Sarah said. "I wasn't very into him, but I was also extremely sad and I wanted companionship. We were just hooking up at first (the sex was bad) until he told me he wanted a serious relationship. I figured sure, why not. I wasn't really sleeping with anyone else at the time, so I thought being exclusive would be easy."


Then, the sexting started. "I realized that what my depression really wanted me to do was have a boyfriend but also be slutty on the side, so I started sexting with some friends of mine. It didn't feel like cheating at first, but then it got to the point where we planned to have actual sex and did."

All that said, Sarah still thinks sexting is "fine." "I feel like everyone sexts while in a relationship at some point," she said.

Maybe it could be. In perhaps the ideal sexting-on-the-side scenario, the person you sext with would be a faceless stranger that you never meet. Your sext lover would never interfere with your real-life lover, and you could go on leading—and justifying—a double life in texts. No one would have to be the wiser. Maybe, in that pure form, sexting can exist in a liminal, OK space, neither an emotional nor a physical affair. But in reality, does it really work that way?

"Sexting, like straight up, 'I wanna fuck u so hard rn,' or whatever, definitely seems closer to an emotionless one-night stand than a serious affair," Sarah said. "It would be easier to forgive than if my boyfriend was having a long-term emotional affair with someone else. Not that I would necessarily be inclined to forgive either. In my experience, I've almost always sexted people who I already know, so it was hard to separate liking the person with the physical aspects of sex."

I feel like everyone sexts while in a relationship at some point.

Leah*, who was married when she started sexting, thought she could keep her sexting purely in the realm of fantasy by sending erotic chats to people she could never actually be with. "I mean, no taste in who I messaged," she told me. "Like, I found my boyfriend from the eighth grade on Facebook who now has a kid, wears Wranglers, and his profile picture is of a confederate flag. He was fair game. At that time, I was like a black hole of needing attention."

Eventually, her husband found out about her sexting ways—and was surprisingly cool with it; it lead to an open relationship—she realized that seeking out random guys from her past meant she was unhappy and should leave the relationship. In a way, she says, she's grateful for sexting. "Thank God for technology," she said. "Sexting can utilize that gap that exists in any relationship; the one that highlights the space for someone else that's a better fit."

That's certainly a positive way of looking at it.

*Names have been changed.