Two related items crossed my laptop this evening. First, fellow UU blogger Debra Haffner commented on Mark Souder's revelation of infidelity, noting that she often posts the same commentary every few months when some other politico or celebrity is caught with their pants down.
Next, I check out recent posts on Fetlife, the premier social networking site for the BDSM and fetish community. A fellow writes about being married to a wonderful vanilla woman, unable to fulfill his kinky longings, posing the question of whether seeing a professional dominatrix on the side would be considered cheating. And this isn't the first time I've read this question posted somewhere online.
It doesn't matter whether you're a conservative advocate for abstinence-only "education," or an unfulfilled kinkster looking for release. When you secretly break your promise to your partner, it's cheating, and no amount of rationalization can defend it.
I can understand when someone feels that their sexual needs and desires cannot be fulfilled with their current partner. But infidelity is no solution, and certainly not the only option.
Debra Haffner makes the point that "you can have a sexual feeling without acting on it." Very true, but I would add that it is also important to find other ways to deal with those feelings. For one thing, we need to overcome the myth that, just because you're happily married to someone, that doesn't mean you can't find someone attractive, or even fantasize about them.
Sometimes, however, the issue is more fundamental than imagining yourself with someone else. Too many times cultural and religious pressures lead to folks trying to fit rigidly unrealistic expectations about relationships and sexuality. When the only two options given to you are to follow the rules or be miserable, and following the rules only leads to misery, is it any wonder that so many people in these positions are driven to break the rules?
This is not to excuse the dishonesty and betrayal behind infidelity. It is merely an attempt to understand why so many fall into that trap. And, more importantly, to call for a different path of sexual ethics -- one which puts greater value on the emotional and relational context in which we make decisions about sex, instead of the mechanics of who does what with whom.
Conservative critics may call such an approach an easy out, but I would strongly disagree. This path calls for greater awareness of both oneself and the realities of human diversity, and a higher quality of communication about sexuality both between intimate partners and across society. But such demands, once met, reap greater insight and well-being than the more traditional moralism being preached by today's so-called conservatives.
We need to be honest with ourselves, not only about cheating, but about how we can best understand and deal with all of the problems standing in our way of a more healthy approach to sexuality.