Marie Claire - December 2005

The Dangerous New Infidelity you Need to Know About: Head Sex
(Peggy's contributions are in italics)

What is "emotional infidelity?"

Unlike a typical affair, which revolves around pure physical attraction, an emotional affair springs from a feeling that you're on the same wavelength with a guy. "Emotional infidelity is not about lust," says M. Gary Neuman, a Florida psychotherapist and author of "Emotional Infidelity." It's about emotional connection. In fact, an emotional affair may never lead to a physical relationship, but it can still be equally intense—and sensual. Thus the term "head sex."

Emotional affairs also tend to progress rapidly, precisely because you already have a lot in common, says Peggy Vaughan of, author of "The Monogamy Myth." Often, in retrospect, there is an overwhelming sense of, "How did this happen so quickly?" One telltale sign you're involved in an emotional affair—and not just a healthy friendship—is secrecy: Once you begin keeping a connection hidden from your partner, you're on dangerous ground.

What's Cheating, What's Not
It's not sex! What's so bad about that?

A few things: The biggest problem is that you've introduced deception into your relationship, which creates emotional distance. "It's not the sex that it takes people years to get over," says Vaughan. "It's the fact that they feel deceived." In fact, in a poll on her website,, Vaughan asked "If your partner had an affair, what was the most difficult part to overcome?"

Women said:
That he had sex with someone else - 28%
That he deceived me - 72%

Men said:
That she had sex with someone else - 30%
That she deceived me - 70%

"A sustained emotional affair usually ends badly," Vaughan says. By sharing that much of yourself with someone else, you're affecting your relationship, even if your partner hasn't caught on to what's happening.

"We only have so much emotional energy in life," adds Neuman, who imagines it as a fixed quantity. "Every marriage needs an incredible amount of ongoing flirtatiousness and focus," he says. "By chatting and joking with your crush during the workday, that's emotional energy you should be sharing with your partner, and it drains your marriage of the vitality it needs."

What if you're a free agent, and your crush is the one dividing his affections?

Whether or not you believe in karma, Greg Behrendt, co-author of "He's Just Not That Into You" and "It's Called a Breakup Because It's Broken," puts it in terms of maintaining your own honor and dignity. "You're doing this to another woman," he says. "It's about the kind of person you are, and what you will and won't tolerate."

Finally, think of yourself. At the end of the day, you deserve a partner who's going home daydreaming about you—and not climbing into bed next to someone else.

How to End an Emotional Affair
So, how do you get out before you're in over your head?

"The first step is to acknowledge to yourself what's actually going on," says Behrendt, "then break it to him." When you do, be tactful. "Tell him, 'Look, this muddles two areas. We work together—bad—and I am (or you are) involved with someone—also bad,'" says Behrendt. Your goal: not to embarrass him.

Set boundaries by limiting contact with him for 60 days. If that's not possible—say, you're coworkers—keep your conversations focused on business. If your affair has gotten physical, "The only smart thing to do is leave your job," says Vaughan.

The experts agree: When ending an emotional affair, cold turkey is your best bet. But expect to feel a loss. "You get real drug-withdrawal symptoms," Dr. Fisher says—crying, melancholy, even depression. How to cope? "Get up and out of the house," she advises. "Exercise increases dopamine levels. Sunlight elevates mood. And when someone laughs, your face naturally mimics the muscles in their face." So seek out happy people. Eventually, Dr. Fisher promises, this too shall pass.

Why Guys Don't Buy Head Sex

Tell your girlfriends you're having an emotional affair, and they'll nod in sympathy. Ask a guy, and he might not know what you're talking about. If you're not having sex, some men say, it's not cheating. Why the gender divide? Here's how the experts break it down:

"Women may be more likely than men to enter a flirtation with no expectation beyond friendship, and then be surprised when an online or office friendship escalates into a consuming emotional connection," says Vaughan.

On the other hand, says Behrendt, "If a man is interested in a woman, he's probably hoping it will become sexual. He's not looking for endless coffee dates." In short, to men, "an emotional affair is just an affair that hasn't gotten physical—yet."

Men and women may therefore also react differently to their partners having emotional affairs. "Some women understand men to be physically and visually driven, and on some level [when men stray] they can blame a physical affair on his high level of testosterone," says Janice Hoffman, author of "Relationship Rules." "Men have the capacity to choose healthy behavior over the need for sexual gratification, but some women find it easier to forgive sexual indiscretions, whereas emotional affairs—in which a man seems to be saying, 'I prefer who she is and what she provides,' are a direct hit to a woman's self-esteem."

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NOTE: While I'm generally pleased to have been included in the article, I'm disappointed at the titillating title. (Unfortunately, this is all too common—perhaps due to marketing.) Anyway, even though the subject is "Emotional Affairs" - the title is:
"HEAD SEX! The Dangerous New Infidelity you Need to Know About"

Also...if you'd like to read (or re-read) an article about this issue that is permanently posted on my website, see: Emotional Affairs.

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