(Sex Re-Education)

Is It OK To Flirt With Other People When Married?

The answer might surprise you.

by Alyssa Shelasky

Sex (Re-) Education is a sex and relationships advice column for women in their late 30s, 40s, and beyond. Got a question for Alyssa? Fill out this form.

Dear Alyssa,

I'm in a good, solid, monogamous marriage, but I like flirting with other men. I’ve never physically “cheated,” but for the 10 years we’ve been married, I’ve always had crushes and flirtations that run the spectrum of totally harmless to a bit PG-13. I am currently texting with someone who I know from my work life (we’re both in the same creative field) and our texts have gotten so sexual that it feels like we're on the brink of having an affair. For example, last night I sent a picture of me in a bra. This is the furthest I’ve ever taken it with anyone, and I honestly don’t think I will let it go any further than that, but I crossed a new line there, for sure. I know it’s a slippery slope. But the thing is, I kind of like having a harmless secret. And my relationship with my husband hasn’t suffered from any of it. I still love him, we have a healthy sex life, there’s no part of me that wants to leave him. I just enjoy having a slightly naughty side. I can compartmentalize my marriage and my little secret, but am I being unethical? Is it OK? Do other wives do this?


The Flirty Wife

Dear TFW,

Before I met my long-term partner, Sam, I felt incomplete if I didn’t have a big, bad crush. It didn’t matter to me if the feelings were reciprocal, or if the crush was appropriate, I just needed someone to inspire me to get out of bed in the morning, brush my teeth with extra vigor, and wear a bra that did its job. Having a crush made me happy to be alive.

When I got into a serious and monogamous relationship with Sam, and we proceeded to raise kids together, it never occurred to me to bury that fun-loving, slightly naughty, side of myself. And much like you, my “innocent flirtations” have never caused any damage. If anything, I’m steadier in my relationship because I’m not looking towards Sam for every single spark, tingle, or shiver. Other people can make us feel sexy and that’s OK.

It does help that Sam knows I’m a shameless flirt, and a sex-positive person in general, and that he also feels completely secure in our relationship, as he should. Can you show that side of yourself, authentically, to your husband? Do you feel like he really knows you? If the answer is yes, that’s excellent news. He should be able to accept, or even cherish, the fact that you have a flirtatious spirit and that you’re also very much devoted to him. Both things can be true.

Darren Michaels/New Line Cinema/Kobal/Shutterstock

I’ll tell you something else that works in my relationship: communicating, open and honestly, about these matters. We’ve had many conversations about how we would handle the urge to cheat if it became a burning reality, and we’ve both agreed that we'd rather talk it through, and find a way to “stray” ethically, should it ever come to that. It might benefit you and your husband to have the same kind of conversation if you can do so in a not-scary, open-hearted way. Grownups should be able to talk about such hypotheticals without alarm bells — especially over date night cocktails, or in a snuggly state of post sex haze.

I don’t think all secrets are toxic. Some secrets help us feel whole and free and un-owned by anyone else. But some secrets are destructive. My advice is to practice a little more self-awareness as you go forward with your secretive texting. Ask yourself what you’re getting out of those rip-roaring messages. Why does it feel so good? And what does that say about your world as a whole? Maybe you’re bored with work and it’s time to pivot? Maybe your tiny apartment makes you feel trapped and you’re ready to move to the country? Maybe your sex life with your husband is just too bland? The point is, what’s actually behind the private texts? That might be the more important issue.

As for the provocative bra pic. Only you know where the line in the sand is. If I were in your position, I’d probably tell myself that I’ve taken things far enough, that it’s starting to feel a bit out of control, and I’d force myself to shut it down. But again, only you know when you’re simply enjoying a quick hit of pleasure, and when you’re engaging with dangerous self-sabotage. Ask yourself where the boundaries are, and take those boundaries very seriously. We both know you’re playing with fire — and I’m not telling you to stop — but please don’t burn your life down.