Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Is looking at porn cheating on my girlfriend? Add to ...

Dear Mr. Smith: Is looking at porn cheating on my girlfriend? How about harmless flirting?

Answer: It must be the summer humidity making everyone itchy. This topic - the question of boundaries - is suddenly, so to speak, hot. Just last week The Globe and Mail compiled a survey asking online readers whether flirting was okay in various locations (at work, at a playground) and whether it was something you would quit if you were told to.

More Related to this Story

The results were pretty evenly split; the only physical location that seems to cause a lack of enthusiasm for flirting was the kid's playground, but not by much. Whether flirting is good for married people divided the respondents pretty evenly. (The results, however, were not divided by sex, which would make interesting reading.) Interestingly, most people said they would be uncomfortable if their partner flirted with someone else right in front of them. But then a large majority of people also said it had never been an issue for them.

At the same time, my own online men's magazine, DailyXY.com, ran a survey of our subscribers about the question of infidelity. In an age of so many sexual distractions, real and virtual, we wondered whether everyone shared the same ideas about where the boundaries of commitment are. We had 559 respondents (of whom only 61 were women) and the results were an interesting snapshot of contemporary hesitations. Only 2 per cent thought that watching porn was cheating. (There again, you have to wonder if the number would change were the majority of respondents female.) This makes sense: Fantasies are impossible to stop, unless you're a Mormon. If all masturbation were cheating, both men and women would be living in a very guilty world indeed.

I was surprised that only 65 per cent thought that receiving an "exotic massage" constituted infidelity; again, I suspect this tolerance reflects the overwhelming gender bias of our sample. Only 45 per cent thought that sexy cyber-chat was cheating: That figure, neither high nor low, shows a real confusion about how to define this new activity.

In general, our married respondents were more likely to feel permissive about such grey-area activities than our unmarried ones were. I think this shows how marriage gives one a slightly less romantic - and slightly more mature - understanding of life.

As to the question of flirting, only 12 per cent thought that it should be considered unfaithful. Your question is loaded, as you yourself already define your flirting as "harmless," but that's the very issue, isn't it? (That formulation is a textbook example of the rhetorical trick known as petitio principii, or begging the question.) I personally think that if commitment to monogamy meant an end to all pleasantly charged interaction with others, I would be resolutely opposed to monogamy. I honestly don't think committed relationships can work without some pressure valve for the occasional bit of outside ego-massage that we all, male and female, need to feel alive.

Ask Mr. Smith a question, or view the complete archive, at Russell Smith's online advisory service, DailyXY.com.

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories