Why is Sex Outside the Relationship So Wrong?

November 4th, 2015 by Nick Notas 14 Comments


When you think of someone cheating on their partner…what words and feelings come to mind?

Asshole? Douchebag? Slut?

For most people, cheating is black-and-white. It means you’re a horrible human being.

I don’t completely agree with that and it trivializes a complicated subject.

Some studies show that the rate of infidelity in marriages is around 25%, some estimate 30-60%, and others claim around 45-60%. The numbers are even higher when you talk about non-marital relationships.

What’s even more interesting is that 74% of men and 68% of women admitted they’d have an affair if they could get away with it.

So at the very least, you’re saying a good chunk of the people in your life are shit people. Something’s off.

In this article I hope to have a vulnerable discussion on why cheating is misunderstood and why sexual experiences outside the relationship can actually be healthy.

Why we really struggle with being non-monogamous

I’ve wondered….why do we view sex outside of a relationship as so terrible in the first place?

For most people, there are obvious reasons. You don’t want to deal with:

  • Having an unplanned pregnancy
  • Your partner catching an STD
  • Dealing with the consequences from the third party involved
  • Other people finding out you or your partner had extramarital sex and judging or shaming you
  • Your partner getting attached or in a long-term affair

These are valid concerns. But what if you and your partner eliminated all those risks? It’s not unrealistic.

Pregnancies are mostly solved by proper condom use and soon enough there will be a male contraceptive pill. The majority of STDs can be avoided by using protection or getting an HPV vaccine at an early age.

To avoid getting into trouble or found out, you could set boundaries where your partner can only stray on business trips using a fake name. If you don’t want them getting attached, they could only visit legal prostitution in places like Nevada or in many countries around the world.

So if your partner could theoretically remove all potential risks, would you still be against them have sex with someone else? I’m sure many people reading this are still nodding their heads, “yes.”

And it’s because more often than not, these “risks” of cheating are not the main reasons it’s hurtful. Cheating feels personal. It challenges your entire relationship. When your significant other wants to sleep with someone else, it makes you feel like you’re not good enough.

And I’m here to prove that belief wrong. Because…

Cheating isn’t always personal

We think that dissatisfaction with a partner is always the driving force for cheating. But often when someone cheats, it has nothing to do with their current relationship. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University, found that 56% of men and 34% of women who cheat claim they are happy in their marriage.

As more research is available, we’re beginning to understand that most people are not biologically programmed for monogamy; they are both monogamous and polyamorous. In my experience, this is especially true for men.

Men are visual creatures with the ability to reproduce for our entire lifetimes. We’re driven to spread our seed to ensure we pass on our genetics.

It’s why sex sells in advertising. It’s why porn has pioneered technological advances for decades. It’s why happily married men will still check out attractive women until the day they die.

A lot of women have a hard time understanding why men act like such horny teenagers. And it’s because we experience our sexual needs differently. A woman’s body tells her to reproduce with a secure partner. Ours tells us to reproduce with youthful, viable women all the damn time.

I know some people are probably thinking right now, “This is all just propaganda giving men permission to get their dicks wet. Why don’t they just jerk off or have sex with their partners?”

It’s not that easy. Some men have needs for specific sexual experiences or fetishes they can’t ignore.

Just think: can you ignore your hunger? Can you ignore the feeling of loneliness when you haven’t seen your friends even if you’re with your partner?

Dr. Christopher Ryan, author of the national best-seller Sex at Dawn, backs up this theory. On a recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, he explained how men experience desire and fetishes differently than women.

From his research, men often have fetishes and sexual needs that last a lifetime. They can’t get rid of them and if they go unfulfilled, it can cause massive amounts of frustration and internal struggle. In my belief, this is a reason why some men resort to acts of sexual violence. Lust murder is predominantly a male phenomenon.

But according to Ryan, most women may prefer a sexual experience or kink, but they don’t need it. They can go without it and still be perfectly happy while men will literally feel miserable and empty.

Louis CK said it perfectly as well…

“Here’s the thing, you know, it’s…as far as sex, for guys it’s just not complex. We just need to release, that’s all. That’s all it is, we just need it…It’s just something that we need to do so that we won’t murder people. That’s all it is, really. Just maintenance.”

This isn’t an excuse for any of these behaviors, but just gives some perspective.

Society feeds us that cheating, especially male cheating, is always done with malicious intent. But that’s not always true — 68% of men feel guilty during an affair. For many, it’s just an itch they need to scratch.

Why we cheat: men vs women

All this greatly affects the motives behind cheating for men and women.

The main motive for male infidelity is sex. One study found that 75-80% of men who had extramarital affairs described sex as their primary motivation. They have some sort of sexual urge that needs to be fulfilled — whether that’s sexual curiosity or to indulge in sexual fantasies that their wife doesn’t want to participate in.

I’ve had many guys tell me, “I just need something different once in a while.” They’re perfectly content having a one-off sexual experience and then coming home to love their existing partner. They don’t even think twice about the other girl because she doesn’t mean anything substantial to them.

Casual sex isn’t usually as clear-cut with women. They can have a more difficult time separating those sexual experiences from deeper emotions.

“Men are more likely to give sexual motivations for infidelity and less likely to fall in love with an extramarital partner. Women are more interested in supplementing their marriage or jumping ship than men are. For men, it is a secondary strategy as opposed to an alternate.” – Helen Fisher Rutgers University

Female infidelity, however, is motivated by more emotional reasons. In contrast to men, only 20% of women said that sex was their sole purpose for cheating. Instead, reasons such as a lack of emotional intimacy or a need for validation are the driving force. Sometimes a woman feels she isn’t getting the attention or love she feels she deserves from her partner. So she then seeks that bond or need to be desired elsewhere.

Of course, some women cheat just for sex but it’s not nearly as common. But if you are a woman who wants to have casual sex while in a relationship — more power to you.

Therein lies the greatest difference in what infidelity means to men and to women.

So while our reasons for cheating are different, it still comes down to us needing something we’re not currently getting. Having outside sexual experiences may or may not help with that. But ideally, you should do it above board and not in secrecy.

When sex outside the relationship isn’t the right choice

I think having sex with other people can be extremely unhealthy and destructive to certain relationships. It can destroy trust and ruin connections forever. But that’s when it’s handled poorly or when it’s not what the relationship needs.

When things go wrong, it’s typically because of mistreatment, deceit, and unhealthy communication. That’s when people get hurt and relationships suffer.

Here are some examples of how you can go about it the wrong way:

  • Constantly lie about what’s going on. You don’t discuss your need for external sexual experiences and instead do it behind your partner’s back.
  • Prioritize outside sexual experiences over your relationship. You spend less time with your wife or husband. You become more deeply involved with another person and having an ongoing affair. You show less affection to your existing partner.
  • Be irresponsible with those other sexual experiences. You don’t wear protection. You lead the other person on and set yourself up for disastrous repercussions when they find out you’re committed to someone else.
  • Ignore the boundaries set by you and your partner. You promise one thing and do another.
  • Hook up with other people because you’re secretly unhappy. You’re too afraid to speak your mind about issues or too scared to end a relationship. Or you’re trying to get revenge on a partner, maybe for their own infidelity.
  • Guilt or shame your partner into letting you sleep with other people. You threaten or pressure them when they aren’t ready or comfortable with the idea.

Actions like these reinforce that sex outside a relationship always leads to pain and misery. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

When sex outside the relationship can be healthy

While some couples are perfectly content for their entire lives together, some will need external sexual experiences. It doesn’t make anybody worse or better for it, just makes them individuals.

But I would still challenge people who’ve never considered sex outside their relationship to be OPEN to the idea.

Regardless of your decision to indulge in outside sex or not, everyone has to be clear about their needs and boundaries.

Drop your ego and try to be fair all around. Don’t just get emotional, think logically about all this, too. Try to understand your partner’s point of view. Don’t assume it’s personal, that it reflects on your value as a partner, or that it’s out of spite.

This is how you’ll figure out what can and will work for the both of you.

Ask each other…

  • Why do we feel threatened by this idea?
  • Would you be open to only casual encounters?
  • Are you more comfortable with your partner having external emotional or sexual connections? Which do you want for yourself?
  • What are your limits? How much would you be comfortable with? Is it just kissing? Is it oral sex? Are certain people off the table?
  • Do you want permission before either of you does something?
  • Do you even want to know if either of you does something?
  • Would you be okay bringing someone else into a threesome instead?
  • Is it something you’d consider in the future but are not ready for yet?
  • Is it something you absolutely would never be open to?

You both have to deem what’s acceptable, what’s not, and what’s cheating. Once you come to those terms, you have to respect them. And then you have to keep communication open in the future because feelings will change, boundaries will change, and new situations will arise.

For some people, they may never accept their partner sleeping with someone else. Then it’s up both of you to decide whether or not you can handle these terms for the long run.

A friend told me the other day that both him and his girlfriend used to travel for work all the time. They agreed that they could hook up with other people on business but only casually. And they both didn’t want to know about it.

He said that while he never did anything, just having that reassurance put him at ease.

So yes, I think for a lot of couples, just having the option or occasional outlet might actually be healthy for their relationship.

We don’t expect our partners to fulfill all of our social and emotional needs, that’s why we have friends and hobbies. So why do we expect all our sexual needs to be fulfilled by one person for the rest of our lives? That’s an unrealistic expectation for many.

Society tries to tell us what’s right or wrong for our relationships. But applying general advice to everyone doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t respect our unique personalities, situations, and needs.

No one can know what’s best for your relationship besides the people involved.

This isn’t your parents’ relationship. This isn’t your church’s relationship. This isn’t your friends’ relationship.

This is YOUR relationship — never forget that.

  1. Howard on November 4, 2015

    9 years in an open marriage and still madly in love! Friends and family used to give us so much crap for it. They thought it was a phase or would lead to a divorce. Now after all this time they are starting to realize that we're happy and though it's not for everyone, it works for us.

    • Nick Notas on November 4, 2015

      That’s great — congrats on staying strong and leading with what you both want. I think the outside judgment from loved ones is the hardest thing to deal with for a lot of people. But eventually those who truly care about you will come to accept you as you are.

  2. Sarah on November 4, 2015

    I get that guys have a stronger urge to sleep with multiple women, but it's a hard pill to swallow for a me to know that my boyfriend wants to have sex with someone else. I can see how having a conversation about it is awesomely better than any lying or cheating. Tough conversation, but still better than the alternative.

    • Nick Notas on November 4, 2015

      It’s not easy to think about, let alone accept the idea. We have to realize that again, it’s usually not about us. And that we all have various natural sexual desires.

      It doesn’t mean you have to have a relationship where your partner has sex with other people. Just that you be open to discussing what is right and wrong for both of you.

      • Michael Graham on November 4, 2015

        Nick. Honestly I will never be comfortable with the idea of exploring multiple sexual partners whilst in my relationship. Many of the points you mentioned about men having certain sexual desires/fetishes and needing to satisfy them is completely based on one’s own perception. However i do agree that it is OUR relationship and we set the boundaries and my boundary borders on respect and much communication. Just my opinion 🙂 but all in all it was a very well articulated research.

        • Nick Notas on November 9, 2015

          Hey Michael,

          Thanks and that’s great! So monogamy is the right answer for you. Like you said, it’s still always good to set boundaries and communicate what you enjoy in the bedroom.

  3. Sam on November 7, 2015

    Check out the book Sex at Dusk. I think some people are wired for polyamory or open relationships but most people like monogamy. As soon as a relationship gets serious for me, monogamy is a strongly enforced boundary.

    • Nick Notas on November 9, 2015

      Thanks for the recommendation Sam — I’ll definitely check it out.

      I don’t know if I agree that most people are purely monogamous. I would say a lot of people have levels of polyamory or want outside experiences sometime in their life. The fact that a large portion of us have committed infidelity (or will) lends credibility to that.

      • Sam on November 9, 2015

        Thanks, I agree with most of your articles and am glad we can discuss the ones I don’t civilly.
        Many people may fantasize of cheating and indulge in it, but I think the fact that most people get sick to their stomachs and end relationships when it happens, shows that when in a committed relationship, people want their partner to be sexually exclusive. Humans may be biologically promiscuous, but the majority seen to be emotionally monogamous, as in once married or in a relationship and develop strong feelings, they don’t want their partner sleeping with others.

        There are exceptions to this of course. In the end it comes down to self control and respecting and setting boundaries.

  4. Seymoure on November 8, 2015

    Dear Nick, I’m in such situation as I write this. A girl I was dating for about a year left me because she thought I was not serious while she was looking for commitment. She never discussed her wants before deciding to leave. After she left I realized how much I loved and wanted her. She quickly met another man and is still living with him. We kept in touch via email and text and met a few times for coffee nothing more. I honestly never thought that I would be intimate with her again. Fast forward to sept 2015, a year and 4 months after she left me, she called me one night, came over and spent the night. I’ve been intimate with her ever since , for two months now. She says her boyfriend takes her for granted, verbally disrespects her and has not asked her to marry him and when asked he does not wish to do it. I never stopped loving her and although I have other women she’s the one that raises my pulse more than anyone else. It’s sad because I can never see her at nights and our get togethes are always with one eye on the clock, I don’t know how long it will last and I’m wise enough to not count on or assume anything but I can’t deny that I love being with her.

    • Nick Notas on November 9, 2015

      Hey Seymoure,

      I remember your situation. It’s great that you’re hooking up with her on the side but I would caution you not to invest in it seriously. From what you’ve said before, this woman complains endlessly about her boyfriend, cheats on him, but then always goes back.

      Remember that in those situations, she’s not just an innocent victim. She chooses to stay with a guy she talks so poorly about, which can be a reflection of her character in itself. Usually in these situations, a woman will love the attention from the guy on the side but won’t ever leave the guy she’s actually seeing. I wrote about it here:


  5. Seymoure on November 9, 2015

    Thank you Nick. I’m staying very realistic and your wisdom as always helps

  6. Mark Belden on November 9, 2015

    This is great. I’ve been thinking about this topic and talking about it with my friends for the past few weeks. After reading Neil Strauss’ new book The Truth, I’ve really been thinking about what I want in my relationships moving forward.

    Starting healthy conversations like this is the next step, so thank you for that.

    Also, it’s cool you mentioned Chris Ryan. He was at Nei Strauss’ book launch here in NYC a few weeks ago and they had a discussion on this same post you wrote about.

    Definitely worth checking out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xquO3bfWM3I

    • Nick Notas on November 12, 2015

      You’re welcome and I’ve heard good things about The Truth — I’ve got to get on that.

      Thanks for sharing that link, really awesome interview. I highly recommend people check it out.