Is Fantasizing about Another Called Cheating?

Dr. Michael Tobin

The Mind is the most Powerful Sexual Organ in the Body.

Through creative imagination and fantasy a couple can bring excitement and drama to their lovemaking. It takes courage to shatter the predictable and leap into the unknown—to a place where possibility and novelty exist.

It is only through imagination—that ability to visualize what we could be if we would only dare to say yes to abandonment, yes to passion, yes to intimacy—that a couple will reach sexual union.

An Affair of the Mind

Let’s imagine the following:

A married woman spends a sensual evening at a restaurant with her co-worker. The encounter doesn’t culminate in a night of lovemaking. At this point, it’s still a premature leap for the woman.

Most affairs don’t begin with a sudden burst of passion. A subtle dance of intimacy and daring builds slowly, chipping away at the natural resistance against infidelity that even the most open-minded among us tend to honor. The lovers need time to adjust their moral compass from true north to a new destination called Why Not? I deserve to feel love and desired.

The time was still not ripe for the woman, but the desire lingered. The evening with her co-worker ignited her need for intimacy and sensuality. When she left the restaurant, feeling more disappointed than relieved, she thought to herself that maybe this was a sign that she should take the lead with her husband, to initiate a stronger sexual connection with him.

That evening she seduced her husband.

As she and her husband made love, she imagined the other man’s hands sensually stroking her body, his legs pressing against hers, their lips passionately caressing each other. She felt sexually alive and responsive to her husband.

Did it matter that it was her vivid fantasy of making love with another that drove her to such total abandonment with her husband?

Let’s say her husband remains clueless about his wife’s imaginary “deception.” Won’t he always remember this as an exquisite night of pleasure. Together, they reached that illusive state of sexual unity or so he would have assumed.

Imagine Being the Spouse in this Scenario.

Your relationship with your partner has been cold and distant for some time. The moments of intimacy have grown further apart until you’re at a place where you expect very little. You’re in bed and perhaps out of habit you begin one of your perfunctory sexual encounters.

Suddenly something changes.

He touches you gently and lovingly. You respond, perhaps somewhat reticently at first, but then with greater spontaneity, as you sense him anticipating your needs and giving fully to you. With every passing moment, your feeling of trust grows, and you allow yourself to feel and give pleasure. At the end of making love, you lie in your partner’s arms feeling warm and safe. It didn’t seem possible, but you’re in love again.

And then you discover that it was make believe. He wasn’t making love to you. He was using your body to act out his fantasies for another woman.

How would you react? What would you say? Would you rage at him for cheating on you? Would you call him deceitful and dishonest? Would his fantasy destroy your trust in him?

Did this Woman Cheat on her Husband?

Is this adultery?

How do we define adultery? Is it the actual sexual act itself?

If so, what about the man who at 2:00 AM, while his wife is asleep, goes on-line to meet his virtual lover? Is that adultery? They don't touch each other physically. Yet, written correspondence can be far more erotic and emotionally addicting than a physical affair. While making love with their minds, they bring their bodies to heights of exquisite pleasure.

If you caught your partner in the act, how would you react? Would you be pleased that he had discovered a "safe" outlet for his sexual fantasies? Or would you scream in horror for cheating on you?

You and I know the answer to those questions. We know that we would react with hurt and anger at the discovery of our partner's virtual love affair. My mailbox is filled with hundreds of e-mails from husbands and wives whose partners have "run off" with their virtual lovers. They cry out to me for help, confused about how to react to their partner's infidelity. "My husband tells me it's nothing, but I don't believe him. His heart is with her. I have this horrible feeling that when he's making love to me, he's really with her."

Whether it's physical, virtual, or imaginary, there is one thing that all these affairs of the heart have in common—the element of deception. No lover wants his spouse to discover the truth.

Part of the Excitement of an Affair is its Secrecy

The lover becomes the perfect imaginary friend and sexual partner, flawless in his ability to bring her to the heights of sexual passion and unparalleled in her capacity to anticipate his emotional needs.

In this woman’s mind, her imaginary sexual partner has been transformed into an enormously talented lover. In fact, his skill, in her fantasy, was so formidable that while she was making love with her husband, the “lover” was able to bring her to full orgasm. Do you think she would want to reveal her secret to her husband?

So, I ask you: With whom did she make love? Did she, in fact, cheat on her husband? It's not as if she planned this fantasy. It just happened. Would it have been better for her to have stopped making love with her husband, and instead, told him that "as long as my heart and mind are with another man, I can't make love to you"?

Maybe it would have been best to speak the truth. For sure, he would have been broken, but at least it would have been honest suffering, not like the rage and hurt that he might feel if he were to discover the deception. Perhaps her honesty would have been the beginning of a real attempt to heal their marriage.

Or not.

There are times and situations in a marriage where it might be dangerous to destroy trust at the expense of radical honesty. Confessing every illicit fantasy is hardly the path to marital intimacy.

Perhaps the same logic might hold with this woman. Remember, at this point, she hadn’t said yes to an affair with her co-worker. Her fantasy might have been exactly what she and her husband needed to revive their marriage.

Or, as it turned out—since this is based on a real story— her night of disingenuous passion convinced her that it was worse to deceive her husband and herself with her imagination—even if he didn’t know it—than to be with the man her mind and heart desired.

She stopped cheating with her mind and instead had an affair with her co-worker.

I leave you with this question:

Is fantasizing about another during love making cheating? Add your comments if you wish.

Dr. Michael Tobin

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Dr. Tobin has been a relationship psychologist for 47 years. He credits his expertise on love to Deborah, his life partner of 45 years. For more information about his articles, podcast interviews, and book go to his website,


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