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‘My girlfriend is sexting another man and thinks it’s not cheating’

Dear Roe: ‘She acts like she didn’t really do anything wrong, which seems crazy to me’

Dear Roe,

I’m a 26-year-old man, and I’ve been with my girlfriend for five months, though we were casually seeing each other people for a while before we officially got together. A couple of weeks ago, she was showing me something on her phone when a message popped up on her screen, and it was a sext (text, no images) from a guy she used to sleep with, who now lives abroad.

Obviously I asked her about it, and it turns out she regularly sexts with this guy, but didn’t think it counted as cheating as – she says – nothing physical has happened between them (or can, because he doesn’t live in the country) and, in her words, it’s more like “fantasy with another person”.

We’ve been fighting a lot since and I don’t know what to do. She’s said that she won’t text him like that again, but she’s still acting like she didn’t really do anything wrong, which seems crazy to me. Would I be an idiot to stay with her?


I’m not going to call you or your girlfriend an idiot, but what is clear here is that there has been a lack of clear communication in your relationship – and your girlfriend is not taking responsibility for her rather large role in that, and being disingenuous about her reasons for doing so.

Before we get into the specifics of your situation, let’s talk about sexting and cheating, because it appears that a lot of people are unclear: Is sexting cheating?

It’s apparent from your question, and the continuing confusion, that there is not one universal answer that applies to all relationships across the board. People disagree on this issue. Some take your girlfriend’s view: that sexting, without physical contact, is a form of harmless flirtation and fantasy. Some believe it’s not exactly cheating, but that it’s wrong because it opens up the possibility of, and could lead to, cheating. And some think that is absolutely counts as cheating, and that fact is so obvious that even the question is ludicrous.

We shouldn’t really be surprised at this confusion. Sexting is a relatively new phenomenon, and isn’t one most adults had to consider as we learned about concepts like fidelity and monogamy. We’re still figuring it out – and because people’s understanding of intimacy, flirtation and loyalty can differ, there are going to be disagreements.

So couples have to discuss these things, and express what their own boundaries are around issues like flirting, sexting, dating app usage, etc. They need to be clear on what they’re comfortable with, and express this to their partner – preferably at the start of a relationship, to avoid hurting each other. These boundaries and ideas may evolve over time, new situations may arise; there may be types of flirtations and interactions that feel harmless with some people but not others; and trust levels may waiver in a relationship, meaning that there can be more or less flexibility at different stages of a relationship. These boundaries should be communicated clearly, and negotiated in ways that feel comfortable for everyone involved.

Free pass?

Which all sounds like I think your girlfriend is in the clear, doesn’t it? You hadn’t discussed it, so she didn’t know you considered this a form of cheating, so she gets a free pass? No. Because she is being disingenuous about her lack of transparency around this.

While you hadn’t raised the issue of sexting other people with her because you hadn’t considered this being an issue, she didn’t raise the issue with you because she knew there was at least a possibility that you wouldn’t be comfortable. If she had genuinely thought that sexting someone else was harmless, she would have felt comfortable raising it at some stage – most obviously, when you decided to officially be a couple. But she didn’t. She hid this sexual correspondence from you. She didn’t ask you whether you considered sexting to be cheating because she knew there was a possibility that you would say yes, and then she’d lose her excuse of living in the fidelity grey area of you never officially, specifically saying to her – without prompt – “Please do not sext your ex who lives abroad, because that makes me uncomfortable.”

I do think you can move on from this, as long as she acknowledges that she has hurt you and was consciously hiding this from you. But you also need to be open to forgiving her and taking steps to rebuilding the broken trust between you. Can you move on from this and trust her to respect the boundaries of your relationship?

If you believe you can, start the process of moving forward by committing to clearly communicating clearly your boundaries, and having more empathy and respect for each other. Healthy relationships aren’t about testing to see what you can get away with, but are about actively considering each other’s feelings, and caring for each other. Nothing idiotic about that.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at