Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fantasy Vs. Reality: What Is Cheating?

(Cross-post at BlogHer)

This week's TMI Tuesday was an interesting one. The first task was to define "infidelity" as it relates to a relationship, and I stated that the definition really is a unique agreement between parties and that too often this isn't actually discussed but is an unspoken set of assumptions ~ and that's where misunderstandings and heartbreak reside.

As a sex worker I've pondered infidelity and cheating often. I've knowingly participated in 'his affair', and for that I'm often hated; but I know that I'm not responsible for the decisions of another. "Isn't it unethical to come between another couple's relationship?" I'm asked. "I can only make my own responsible decisions," is my reply, "I do not have the power to consent for anyone else."

Of course, making responsible decisions for myself involves being honest and clear with myself so that I can do the same with my partner(s). Would that we'd all be so aware.

Sex workers are often quizzed on their own relationships. "Isn't your work cheating on your partner?" I've been asked. I never saw it that way. It's work. However, personally, once I began a committed relationship, it was often difficult for me to work. My gigs, as such, were not just screwing episodes. I put more of myself into those appointments than just my body parts. I won't say I was in love with clients, but I sure didn't hate them. I loved in an 'all of humanity' way and so it was intimate work for my soul. This was more difficult when I was personally attached, or becoming so, with another. At those times I quit. That was my choice. Other sex pros I know were more capable of separating personal from professional than I, and they carried on with work and relationship quite comfortably.

But is it cheating? Well, not if I'm honest with my partner(s) and they agree.

I've discussed with partners, past and current, about how they'd feel with my continuing to work and being with them. Most had no problems ~ perhaps because it was 'in theory'. I cannot say for certain. It also takes a rather open man to both have no insecurities and be free of moral judgments, so perhaps they are just that special. Most understood the distinctions between fantasy and reality. Paid escort work is fantasy; dating me is reality. They aren't the same experience. (And heaven knows several of my exes wish they could pay me so that I'd be the girl they wanted!)

But other people are not so clear in their understanding.

Another sex worker, Secondhand Rose, recently had a conversation about her phone sex work. And it's clear that her husband's friend, Mike, doesn't trust her work, to which Rose responds:
Mike, I guess you need to see the difference between action and words, between fantasy and reality. That's what entertainment is. Phone sex is about sex, yes, but it's entertainment. When you watch Die Hard, you aren't really blowing shit up -- you're just pretending. You're entertained. Just one of the many reasons why phone work is legal and prostitution isn't.
When he is not convinced, Rose's husband speaks up:
Mike: And that doesn't bother you, Rob? To know some other guy's getting off to -- or even with -- your wife?!

Rob: So what if she does? I'm not the freakin' masturbation police, or her keeper. I know for a fact she gets off writing her stories, so what's the difference if she's creating them on the phone? When she writes humor pieces I hear her giggling at her own wit at the computer -- the only danger here is that Rose will fall even more in love with herself, making her harder to live with, and her large head means we will have to buy expensive custom hats.
I've often advised erotica as an outlet for those people in relationships where a fantasy or a fetish is not going to be shared in the relationship, and I certainly include calling a PSO in that category. But then I'm a sex worker, so I 'would', says my friend, Kim.

She was aghast that I'd even think such a thing. Here's how our conversation went...

"Rick paying for phone sex would be cheating!"

"Why? It's no different than reading an erotic story from a book or listening to recorded erotica ~ other than this is less passive, it's interactive."

"That's the problem ~ he'd be getting off with her, not just the story."

"He'd be getting off to a story, a fantasy, she's creating for him. It's not 'her' as a person."

"She is a person, and she's talking sex with my husband!"

"Yes, but she's not 'herself'; she's a fantasy."

"But he's telling her private, intimate things..."

"Yes, but things you've made it clear he shouldn't share with you. It's about the fantasy, not her."

"But what if he likes that she can go there and so starts to fall for her...?"

"If he should do that then he's just as likely to fall for some chick in a magazine or on TV. He's not living here but in fantasy land. It can happen ~ it does happen ~ but as a pro, she'll set him back right. She'll tell him where the lines are, and if he can't grasp that, she'll not accept his calls."

"How can you be so sure?"

"A female sex worker is still a woman. She doesn't want to be some fantasy woman adored for the illusion, she too wants to be adored for herself. She's not going to accept a relationship where it's clearly based on the fantasy, a fantasy world, not reality. That's why I say a pro is better than some chat room or a 'free' call ~ she's a pro, not someone desperate for or playing at a relationship. The pro will play, be entertainment; but she's not going to be satisfied with playing pretend for the rest of her life."

"What if she is?"

"Then she's as unstable as the guy and they're both in trouble. Does that sound like Rick?"

She said, "No," but she's still not convinced that Rick calling a PSO would be the same as his masturbating to photos online, to a porno, or to a story in a book...

What do you say? Is calling a phone sex operator cheating? Or is it the same as any other sex fantasy read in a book or in photos?

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At August 16, 2007 4:29 AM , Blogger Alessia Brio said...

"...the definition really is a unique agreement between parties and that too often this isn't actually discussed but is an unspoken set of assumptions ~ and that's where misunderstandings and heartbreak reside."

Amen, sister!

At August 16, 2007 4:45 AM , Blogger Gwen Masters said...

I think any kind of cheating is defined as something you couldn't -- or wouldn't -- tell your partner about. If you have to hide it, then it's cheating.

Given your example of phone sex...if a man has a fetish he wants to get out, and his woman has a problem with giving it to him, then phone sex is definitely an option. As long as she knows he's doing it, then it's not cheating.

But of course, a scenario like that calls for deep trust, which most relationships tend to lack. -sigh-

At August 16, 2007 10:22 AM , Blogger Sara Winters said...

I agree with gwen that it's not really cheating unless the partner keeps it a secret. If they're both okay with it, than nothing should be considered off limits. Of course, some women are offended if their partners watch porn, so speaking to another woman, whether online or on the phone, would be a cardinal sin.

At August 16, 2007 1:55 PM , Blogger Secondhand Rose said...

Wow, thanks for the link and the conversation! I'm interested in what the comments are/will be... seems from poking about you all are erotica writers, so you understand entertainment ;) I wonder if the replies will be different from those who do not pen sexy stories...?

At August 19, 2007 3:39 PM , Blogger Nobilis said...

"If you have to hide it, then it's cheating."

That's the truest phrase here.

Having a conversation in the street, fully clothed, about the weather, is cheating if you feel you have to keep it secret.

That's not to say that a relationship where that qualifies as cheating doesn't have serious problems.

At August 21, 2007 12:12 AM , Blogger Gracie Passette said...

OK, let's complicate this a bit... *wink*

Is it cheating if you call a PSO and don't tell ~ not because you're 'afraid' to, or think it's 'bad', but because you figure it is just like reading erotica and you don't tell your partner every time you read a story or a book...

I guess what I am trying to say/ask is: Is phone sex really different from reading, or is it a different sort of entertainment?

At August 21, 2007 10:11 AM , Blogger Sara Winters said...

It's different because it is interactive, just as talking to someone (naked) on a video chat is more than just a conversation online. There's a line for each relationship where "informing" or asking your partner to make sure it's okay makes more sense than just acting on your own and getting "caught." As a courtesy to your partner, there should be a willingness to find out where that person's boundaries are instead of crossing into a gray area.

At August 21, 2007 9:58 PM , Blogger sammy<3 said...

I don't think it is cheating, although i would be upset that he didn't come to me to get off.

At August 22, 2007 9:16 AM , Blogger Mac said...

Permit the observation that parsing what constitutes 'cheating' by various orders of experience, intention or feeling rather misses the forest for the trees. This issue seems to me to devolve around a conception of 'realtionship' as either an entitlement or obligation to regulate, control or commandeer another person's business. If by relationship we mean something like a full, rich and sympathetic experience of another perspective on life (i.e., a closer reading of the verb relate), then the control element kind of naturally drops away, and with it the sense that one could or does cheat, or that one might be cheated upon.

I think the impetus to secrecy emerges from fear that devulged information can become a lever to be used against the giver. Keepers of secrets have the seductive whiff of guilt about them, while exploiters of information give off the funk of faithlessness. They are splendidly complimentary impulses, and either or both obtain in most relationships that... um... stink.

The net effect ends up being less the encouragement of another's happiness and fulfillment in life and more the constant non-consensual angling for power and advantage. It's tragedy as commonplace (but makes for some great literature and a lot of country music).

The alternative is genuine and generous interest in what the person to whom one would relate wants, something we all seem much better able to grant almost reflexively to persons with whom we are less formally related by either birth or choice.

I find it very perverse to consider that the union of two people entails more often than not the curbing of enthusiasms rather than the bilateral endorsement of them. It needn't be that way.

At August 22, 2007 10:28 PM , Blogger Secondhand Rose said...

Mac, I'm clapping -- but you can't see me!

I agree with you completely, but must conceed that when we love and create unions base on economic sharing, the 'control' factor steps in. No one can afford to trust that while not looking the stuff will be given away and this leads to the matter of security.

As humans, this is usually handled in the opposite manner, i.e. insecurity.

In my dating, I announced clean and clear my work, intentions, and related views on sex and politics. If he couldn't 'get it' then I tossed him back. And I repeated this until I found a keeper ;)

You may also want to see this post by The Man With Secrets -- I left my thoughts there, but his comment posting method appears to hate me. :(

At August 22, 2007 10:39 PM , Blogger Devilbluedress said...

I've had my own thoughts recently about fantasy v. reality. Part of it I'm writing, but most of it is hidden. It involves expectations and clubs.

The big problem that I've seen is where either party does not even recognize the difference between fantasy and reality. When expectations of reality are supposed to match one's fantasy, and the crash comes so hard.

The emotions don't match then and set one off on a roller coaster that is far more than most maturity levels can handle.

At August 23, 2007 11:09 AM , Anonymous Beautiful Muse said...

In my opinion (as a woman) I wouldnn't care if my guy called a PSO, looked at porn, listened to audio porn, long as he doesn't actually have sexual intercourse with these people then it's not cheating to me.

At September 2, 2007 12:58 AM , Anonymous sean connery said...

The "do you have to hide it" test is pretty close to what I would use for cheating. I think the "would she be OK with you doing it if she knew" test is better, though, since it's possible to want keep something private despite your SO not having a problem with it.

Regarding the porn example, I think it's certainly different (because, as someone pointed out, it does not involve interacting with another person), but I don't think the question of what is or is not appropriate within a relationship can be answered by just one partner. For instance, while I wouldn't agree with it, I could understand the point of view of someone who felt that pornography was cheating, since it involves sexualizing another person. If I were dating a woman who felt that way, and I found out about it, the relationship wouldn't last, but it's not up to me to make that decision for her.

Regarding sex work, I think the objection there would come down to a similar idea: that the private has become public. What one partner considers private, intimate, and exclusive to the relationship, the other is sharing with the public. Drawing the public/private line is different for each person and relationship.


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