Almost exactly two years ago (!), I wrote a post on “ethical non-monogamy.” That post resulted in (or was followed by) a series of comments in which, among other things, I was analogized to a Nazi (or, to be precise, my argument was analogized to that of a Nazi), and all of my photos on OKCupid were removed because a troll (the same who analogized me to a Nazi) repeatedly reported them as being in violation of OKC’s terms of service. Which, to be clear, they were. And which, to be clear, something like 20% of the photos on OKC are.
In recent days, a new reader (or new commenter) has been drawing me out on the question of whether it is, or can be, moral/acceptable/ethical to fuck the wife of an un-knowing/deceived husband/partner.
Characteristically, my thoughts on this aren’t black and white (except in my resistance to the idea of a black and white way of thinking about this).
First, to be clear.I don’t believe there’s a categorical “right” or “wrong” to having sex that is hidden from a partner’s partner. It’s not “wrong” in all cases for me to have sex with a woman who’s lying to her partner. Neither is it, in all cases, ethically or morally defensible. Each case is specific.
In recent days, I’ve come up against this from two different directions. There’s Angela, the slut I fucked once – once – a couple of months ago, whom I met through Ashley Madison, and who is such a slut that, in spite of her insistence that she had a great time being slapped around and used by me, and her repeated protestations that she wants to do it again, she hasn’t been able to make the time. (I don’t believe for a moment that she hasn’t gone and fucked two or six other guys in that time.)
And there’s Tina, a young woman I’ve recently been flirting with.
Both are in committed relationships. Both are engaged in a variety of deceptions relative to their partners. Angela, I fucked gladly, and would gladly fuck again. Tina, I recently told to contact me if things change with her boyfriend, but that, until then, even seemingly innocuous flirtation was off the table.
I’m not sure I want to defend my position vis-à-vis Angela as “ethical.” Or to claim “ethics” as the rationale for my position vis-à-vis Tina. But my internal ethical compass is spinning with each, and lands in a different place with each.
Angela has been with her boyfriend for years. She has had a profile on Ashley Madison for a while, and tells me she’s had a number of affairs, including one quite long one. I don’t know anything about her boyfriend’s behavior, or his expectations. Does he think she’s monogamous? Does he suspect? Does he know? I don’t know, and I don’t care. As she has demonstrated, I’m just a tool for her, an instrument with which she, on one occasion, got off – with someone other than her boyfriend. I hope she’ll use me again, but that’s another story. If I walk away (and if I don’t), she’ll fuck some other boy. This – a seemingly happily promiscuous, ostensibly monogamous woman is what she is. I don’t believe capitalizing on her enthusiasm is in any way harmful to her boyfriend. I don’t even believe it affects him. (If I disappeared from the planet, she’d be sucking some other guy’s cock. It’s not about me.)
In the case of Tina, it’s different. She is, ostensibly, monogamous. She hasn’t actually fucked anyone other than her boyfriend since they’ve been dating. But she’s had a constant series of extra-relationship flirtations, friendships, and relationships. In her case, though, she’s tortured. Tina wants to STOP, to be faithful, to be honest. But she fears commitment, and holds on to these flirtations as a sort of life line. If she didn’t have them, I have the sense she’d be out of her relationship in a minute.
You see, she also wants, at a minimum, to tell me that she “needs guidance,” to tease me with verbal images of her masturbation, to continue a steady stream of doubles entendres. She craves the feeling of being desired that just isn’t available for her within the context of a committed relationship.
But in the case of Tina, it just doesn’t feel right to me. More because of her own ambivalence than because of some putative ethical obligation to her boyfriend. But still: I don’t like feeling like, if I fuck her, it’ll be because we play out an elaborate seduction, one that’s, honestly, consistent with the notion that I would have “stolen” her. See, she wants me to do that, to give her the (ostensible) indemnification that comes with elaborate seduction and flirtation.
I’m not sure that, in either case, there’s a “correct” ethical answer. Tina will, I suspect, be physically unfaithful. (She’s already been virtually unfaithful, with at least one person in addition to me.) It may take a few months. Or a few years. But she will. Would it really be so bad for me to be the beneficiary? I don’t think so.
But the catalyst?
That feels different, worse.