Sex vs an Emotional Affair

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Sex vs an Emotional Affair

150 women and 298 men have answered
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Definitions for this survey:

  • Just for sex = Sex without any emotional connection.
  • Emotional affair = Caring and emotional connection without any sex.


  • Most women, 53%, and many men, 37%, said sex only and emotional only affairs are just as bad.
  • Thirty eight percent of men said sex only was worse or way worse. Only 20% of women said sex only was worse or way worse.
  • Twenty eight percent of women and 24% of men said emotional only was worse.
  • Older men were somewhat more likely to see sex only as worse.
  • Among women, being very serious about religion increased the odds of saying sex only was worse. For men level of devotion had no effect on this.

Based on some of the comments, this could have been worded better – asking which would hurt worse or be harder to forgive would have been more informative.

The comments also showed men and women would be more hurt by their spouse giving another what they felt they lacked in their marriage. If you want more sex, having your spouse give it to another is very painful. If you want more emotional intimacy, learning another is getting it is more painful.

Women’s Comments:

  • They are both equally devastating & cause crushing pain. The answer depends on what type of person you are, which matters most to you: emotional or sexual?
  • Being open and vulnerable to another human is the ultimate to me. To have my husband do that with another woman would hurt me deeply. This is why I am terrified of the friendship he has kept with a lady friend from school. They have stayed in touch over the years and see each other regularly when the school groups get together. What is scary about her, though, is that he connects with her often on social media, through secret texts, and online games. They discuss their personal problems with one another and share intimate details of their lives. He doesn’t see anything wrong with it. Thinks he is helping her. Says she is easy to talk with and only a friend. When I share my fears, he says I am jealous. If men would understand how deeply this hurts the hearts of their wives, maybe they would stop dipping their toes in dangerous waters. Emotional connections with other women hurts us to our very cores men! Just because sex isn’t involved does NOT mean that it isn’t cheating to us. Our hearts break when we see you open up emotionally to another woman.
  • I believe sex itself is an emotional act, you giving your body to someone when biblically it belongs to your spouse it worse. Love = sex
  • There is a clear commandment against sexual sin – even if it is just lustful thoughts. It is hard to find a similar commandment against an emotional affair that doesn’t also have a sexual aspect. I’m going with God’s definition and saying that from my point of view anything sexual outside marriage is way worse. Still any relationship that threatens a marriage has got to be sinful at some level.
  • My husband has done this. It is hard on the spouse mentally
  • There is something about physical betrayal that is so shattering. If your spouse doesn’t have the self-control to avoid a “just for sex” affair, then that speaks volumes…how could you trust him again, especially if sex is readily available in the marriage? How immature can you be? An emotional affair would also be devastating but it is more complicated and complex than just a self-control issue. Somehow it doesn’t hurt the trust issue quite as much, but then again there would be a lot of deeper issues to work through.
  • Once emotional affair turns sexual then the spouse leaves. Emotional affairs are worse because they shut the spouse out and then they become the other woman.
  • We have experienced the sex affair. It went on for several years but I was unaware at the time and learned of it sometime later. I am pretty sure that the OW was emotionally invested but that my husband was not. That is more or less why it came to an end as she was making demands he wasn’t willing to give. Our marriage during those years and before was also suffering the drift and I was especially feeling unconnected. That lack of emotional connection was affecting my sexuality, although I really wasn’t understanding that at the time. Sex happened about 70-90 times a year (yes he kept track, which annoyed me greatly and probably reduced the #). Had his affair been both physical and emotional, I doubt we would have survived. As it was, after lots of trickle truth, eventually leading to probing conversations and real sharing, we are now in a much better place and take daily steps to avoid a disconnect or drift in the future. I have read various blogs and books, and together we have read Dr Chapman’s Five Love Languages, Dr Willard’s His Needs Her Needs and some others. He sees that I need affection and meaningful conversation and I see his need for sex (and actually enjoy it now, often daily) and companionship.
  • Knowing she connected deeply with another man would be devastating.
  • It’s hard really to say for sure, and I certainly don’t want to run any tests to find out! There are too many possible factors that might make a difference, such as the duration of the affair (One night stand? Months? Years?), what else might be going on in our relationship at the time (How is our sex life? Are we getting along well or fighting a lot? Is there a lot of stress from other sources in our lives?), and so on.
  • An affair, is an affair. It’s still stepping outside of the marriage. Either a physical or an emotional affair would be devastating, any way you look at it.
  • It’s black and white for me…sin is sin. Both are betrayal and totally adulterous.
  • Sex would be way worse, because he doesn’t care much for affection and sex, so it would prove that it was me he didn’t want, and not just disinterest in affection and sex.
  • We have been there. Husband was starting to have emotional affair with a neighbor.
  • I have been through both and the emotional affair was worse. The effects linger for years…
  • My husband was having a sexual affair a year ago and claims there was no love or emotion involved, but I am still devastated to my core because something that was only to be shared between us was not. But, I can also imagine how devastating an emotional affair could be because if your spouse believes they are in love with the third party, that will be a much harder connection to break than one based only on sex because the spouse will feel some sort of obligation to the other person as well and may have a hard time making a clean break.
  • Having an affair just for sex is like behaving like an animal, devoid of emotions. It creates a bond through a physical act and is a grave violation of the marriage covenant. It cannot be undone. Sex is far more complex than just being a mere physical act. To connect with a person emotionally is far more human and understandable. The fact that a connection has happened and those involved have not taken it to a physical level says that something is keeping them from completely violating their marriage covenant. At this point they can still decide to do what is right and stop the relationship from progressing further.
  • Been there with my husband. Both are horrible to live through.
  • The disconnect either situation would create would destroy everything we’ve worked so hard to build up.
  • I was the one that had an emotional affair, and it almost ruined our marriage. Whether it’s sin of the flesh or sin of the heart, it’s still sin if you are putting your thoughts elsewhere besides your spouse.
  • I said both because as far as the emotional affair goes, that would hurt to know your spouse is sharing intimate details about his life with another woman that he didn’t feel he could share with you. As far as the physical side of an affair, sex is such an intense and intimate time between two people that in my mind would be just as devastating. I don’t think one is any easier to accept than the other.
  • I think that each type of affair brings a unique but no less intense pain to the spouse that has remained faithful.
  • My husband has had an emotional affair twice with the same woman. It’s devastating. If it was just sex because he wasn’t getting it at home then to fix it we’d have sex and he would never be alone with another woman. Emotional Affairs are more difficult because he did it for attention and while he can easily say it’s over I can’t trust that. He doesn’t even have to be alone with a woman for him to be participating. It can literally be happening in front of me and I wouldn’t know(and it has happened in front of me).

Men’s Comments:

  • Emotions change, and love is a choice, not an emotion. I don’t know why, but for me sex would be way worse. An emotional affair could also be one-way.
  • We are Christians and long-time Generous Husband readers who swing, on occasion (long story, not for the faint of heart). We’re answering from experience, not conjecture. The only time I would feel cheated on would be due to her forming an emotional connection with someone else. Years later, she still makes me feel tremendously loved, valued, and respected as her husband and father of our kids. “Just for sex” is exactly that. Just. For. Sex. Our sex is on a completely different level of intimacy.
  • Either one would hurt deeply. But an affair involving sex would be more grievous and damaging.
  • After many years of trying to be a devoted Christian (even missionary) now I am agnostic 🙁 1] sex without an emotional element is only possible, I think, when you are bestial. 2] you can love and care for children and people of the opposite gender without committing adultery in your heart. 3] adultery, in my view, is also committed when one partner neglect (even passively avoids) intimacy.
  • Either one is such a violation that resonates to my core I can’t decide which is the lesser of two evils.
  • I don’t think the lines would ever be as clear as the question is making it. An emotional affair would be easier (not easy, but easier) to deal with for me, but mainly because I don’t see sex without any emotional connection ever really being a thing in my life. Once sex enters the equation, I see that as an emotional affair that has crossed the line.
  • Sex has been an issue our entire marriage so her choosing to have sex with someone else while not wanting to have sex with me often would be devastating. Plus the fact that she had multiple partners before me while I did not has also been a sore subject.
  • This question is sort of like asking which is worse, crashing a jetliner into a skyscraper, or beheading a hostage and releasing tapes of it. Both are so clearly wrong, that the distinction of being worse is hardly worth discussing. I think people often use degrees of wrong to excuse lesser offenses, but the bottom line is that sin is sin, and the devil is masterful at using “small” sin to wreak havoc on our lives. As to the original question, both of them are a major betrayal of your spouse’s trust, and they both equally weaken the bond between husband and wife that God intended. I don’t think there is any difference between them that can’t be called a rounding error, so it really doesn’t matter.
  • My wife had two of these on the internet. When they give away their heart that’s the whole ballgame.
  • For a woman, I’m not sure how easy a “sex without emotional connection” could occur–but I do know of women having sex just for the physical release (small minority). If it truly is “physical” only, then that would be easier to recover.
  • Women have to be emotionally connected.
  • Each act is an act of unfaithfulness that can each bring it’s own form of severe consequences. I have known individuals who had several partners behind their spouse’s back but yet enjoyed the emotional security of the relationship they were in. That is very dangerous and self-serving; however the emotional affair can create long term consequences for everybody involved because emotional soul ties are much harder break. To me it just depends who the person is to that these things are happening to; to determine how much worse one is from the other.
  • My first wife had an emotional affair which ruined our 20 year marriage. My current wife of five years lied to me recently about an emotional affair she had for the past year. The dagger in my heart was removed when I forgave her, but the wound will take a long time to heal. My trust was shattered and repairing that will be extremely tough. Please pray for us.
  • Both would be worse for their respective reasons. The damage to my validation would be enormous.
  • I *KNOW* both are just as bad but I still *FEEL* actual sex is worse. 🙁
  • While I find it incomprehensible that one could have sex without any emotion involved it would be much more of a problem for my spouse to have an emotional affair. While I believe that all of my wife is for me her heart and mind are more valuable to me than her body. Let’s face it, there will come a day when neither of us will be able to make much use of our bodies for affection and will have to rely on what our hearts and minds can offer one another. To that end, even now knowing that some other person was occupying her thoughts or space in her heart would be much more devastating than if she had sex with someone. I feel like we could work through that much more easily than an emotional connection which takes much longer to break down.
  • There is no such thing as sex without some emotional component.
  • Either way it says there is a fairly major issue in the relationship. Sex is fairly absolute to recognise and describe. It is harder to pinpoint where an emotional affair begins and a good friendship of the opposite sex ends. If the other person has become the first person to tell news to, the first shoulder to cry on, then I think that person has taken over as being the primary partner. Big rejection either way!
  • My answer is colored by what is missing in my marriage; right now, what is missing is my wife being actually present for sex; so for her to give what I have been begging for to someone else would hurt more. But I had to think about it; at first, I was thinking they’d be about the same. Either way, I think the devil is in the details; it really comes down to what she really did give to this other person, regardless of the label.
  • Which is worse, to have your spouse cut-off your left leg or your right leg? I suppose losing my right leg (sex) is slightly worse than losing my left leg (emotion) but either way, she has cut-off one of my legs and cannot be entrusted with my heart or my body.
  • I answered that an emotional affair would be the same as a sexual affair. I would also assert that gatekeeping/refusing/withholding behaviors are just as devastating to the rejected spouse. Just as an affair basically says “I would rather not have sex with you”, not being fully sexually engaged with me also says the same thing. It doesn’t matter to me that my wife isn’t having an affair with someone else. The fact that she doesn’t desire to have a mutually fulfilling sexual relationship with me is just as utterly destructive as if she had an actual affair, regardless of whether it were emotional or sexual.
  • She is having an emotional affair now that leaves me living with a stranger that has little need for the warmth of a hug or the tenderness of a kiss. My lover has been stolen by Facebook, Pinterest, the food network, her friends that encourage her to believe that there is no reason for sex after age 50 (and yet they complain about bitterness in their own marriages).
  • Do to how my way puts sex in as such a low priority in are marriage for her to be having it with someone else would feel like more of a betrayal. Almost could forgive an emotional affair more could understand that if we are coming through a rough time finding someone to lean on would outside of marriage could be seen. May be easily forgiven if the guy was telling here to stay with the marriage and work through this difficult time it will be better in the long run. But I know that most guys that are having an emotional affair with a married woman is only doing to get to the sexual part. So buy then I would have known that in her mind the marriage is over. There would be no coming back.
  • Having her most intimate needs met–physical, emotional, or any sort–from anyone other than myself would be devastating.
  • Neither is okay, but when the thought (emotional) turns to deed (sex) then a line has been crossed that is beyond emotional, you have become one flesh (1Cor 6:16) . In an emotional affair the one flesh union is not achieved. The emotional affair can haunt you for years because the relationship can be so much better in your mind than in real life, hence the fantasy verses reality.
  • In general an emotional affair would be much worse… but I am definitely the higher sex drive spouse, and would be VERY hurt by my wife seeking sex elsewhere when I often feel a lack of desire on her part for sex. I guess I can’t imagine any affair she would have as “sex only” as she doesn’t seem to have the need for more than I’m already giving her.
  • Both are sin, but the fall out seems worse when sex is involved…
  • This is a very tough subject for me. My wife had an emotional affair with someone and we are still recuperating. She is still very emotionally detached from me. I am the one that will provide love, kisses and hugs of which I get none in return… yes some love but very little. Sex is like having Sex with no intimacy it is safely to meet my need. Her response is that it is a compromise that we are still having sex. I discovered the affair and put an end to it of which she is very resentful to me of. I do not understand the resentment…because I was expecting a return to me which had not happened however, she has been sorry but still has lost all emotions or intimacy with me of which I don’t know and pray that I will get back someday. Advice I have got is to be patient and let God do the work…she has a lot of work on her side to sort through so that is what I am trying to do. … but so hard. Sometimes I wish it was just a one night stand and that was the end of it… but she still has emotions that are torn between me and this other guy.
  • I’ve gone through this with my wife and it just doesn’t feel right at all, no feeling just a get it over with, her job to do it cause it’s been 2-3 weeks.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:16 tells us that we become one with the individual that we have sex with. The spouse leaves a part of their soul when they have an physical affair. I’m not sure if an emotional affair has the same affect.
  • The worst of all is BOTH! That said, an emotional affair alone has not yet progressed to sex – the ultimate intimacy. But a sexual affair may be only sex, but it will be hard for women not to also be emotionally involved as well.
  • My wife would likely not have a physical affair without an emotional one so I can’t imagine one is worse than the other. Either way trust would be broken and a lot of damage done.
  • The emotional affair could only be wrong if she were to withhold sex from, or disobey her husband.
  • I always find your “question 4” convicting… it seems to me to be asking if your faith is “hot or cold or lukewarm”.
  • If my wife was having a just for sex affair, that would mean she wanted sex. My wife and I have great sex, but she begins it because she loves me and she ends up loving it. I ask her from time to time if she ever spontaneously desires sex and she says it’s rare. She says once we start, then she gets aroused. A just for sex affair would mean she was aroused first or desired to get aroused.
  • My x had done both at various times. The emotional affair was more subtle as it was an online situation, but was ultimately more destructive. Given what God made sex to be in a relationship, I believe that there isn’t one without the other, at least not in the long term. Looking back, I would tell anyone dealing with either situation to get help (counselling) with the situation.
  • “Just” sex would be bad, but I could attribute to a physical need and could deal with more easily than an emotional affair. Engineer versus social worker, I work very hard to try and connect. The fact she chose to spend the effort to connect with someone else, what does that say for what I try to do? That truly cuts me to the quick.
  • My wife had an emotional affair with my friend……I have forgiven,,,,, ,I don’t think there will ever be the trust the way God intended toward her……she gave her heart….sexually I’m not worried….it wouldn’t take long for a man to want to go elsewhere….if that’s all they wanted.
  • This is a completely hypothetical exercise for me. Due to her unfortunate adolescent history, my spouse will not connect with ANY male — even me, her husband — for either sexual or emotional fulfillment. I have stayed because my marital vows are a very big deal to me (see #4 above).
  • Both options take our God given time & energy away from our spouse, who God gave us to spend that time & energy loving.
  • Having a wife who has done both, the emotional affair is ongoing and creates greater jealousy than a physical affair. It is harder to compete with and harder to forgive.
  • Any sex or affair is wrong according to bible outside marriage. Both will damage a marriage and are wrong. To look at another lustfully is sin.
  • I’ve never admitted this before ……. my wife had a one off sexual encounter some years ago. I considered it at the time – and since – as a symptom of her mental illness. Water off a ducks back, it has no effect on me. At other rocky times both of us have probably relied on others to provide the emotional intimacy that should be kept for marriage. The effect of that has been much more damaging BUT has provided growth in our relationship.
  • I’m not sure I can explain it fully but to me a sexual affair is much worse than an emotional affair. Partly because I don’t think you can take that emotion out of sex, even if you think you can. It also seems to me to be much more intimate a thing, being emotionally connected with someone in the way listed other than me is bad, don’t get me wrong but I think I could forgive that and get over that easier than knowing about a sexual affair. Perhaps it has to do with expression of love, the old men have sex to feel loved, women have sex when they feel loved thing.
  • This is a tough one as I wouldn’t want to face any potential after effects of her having sex with another man after this many years of marriage – comparison, disease, etc. – and I wouldn’t want the same comparison on an emotional level as both scenarios are not an accurate portrayal of reality – kids, bills, schedules, illness, …
  • If your marriage has a weak physical relationship the fact she would have a sexual relationship would be more complicated.
  • Thankfully never had to find out first hand. I put equally as both are incredibly intimate things reserved for “that one” / your spouse. Either or both would affect me greatly and be a significant blow to our marriage & relationship and would need equal amounts of healing.
  • Both necessary in a way of 50/50.
  • Bad survey.
  • That’s a tough decision. Both would and could be devastating. Both involve her looking somewhere else for what should be happening in the marriage. The physical act of my wife having sex with another would be a tough mental and emotional hurdle for me to get over.
  • I discovered my wife was having a sexual affair that lasted over two years. Needless to say, I’ve been shocked and my heart has been destroyed. There has been a lot of healing that has taken place but honestly, the fact that my wife had sex with another man shows that there was an emotional component to it as well.
  • I thought about this one… Maybe it is part of being male.. But I think it could almost be simply glorified masturbating in the case of sex.. But emotional means I have lost her heart.
  • Experienced first-hand. I was willing and open to forgiving and working together to reconcile and heal after both but once my ex made the online emotional connection, then in person emotional connection, then abandoned the family and found the needed emotional validation for her choices, there seemed to be no going back for her regardless of the Godly counsel we received and I don’t believe that would’ve been as much the case had it been originally and strictly a sexual affair.
  • I have to say the same because on one hand if she were to have sex with anyone else and enjoy it or do things with another man she wouldn’t do with me – I would be very hurt. Just because of all the work and sweat and effort I’ve put into our relationship to help overcome her inhibitions and fears and hang ups. For her to indulge and enjoy someone else beyond what she would ever do with me would be super hard for me to cope with. On the other hand, an emotional affair would hurt as well and obviously would have implications for our relationship at a deeper level, perhaps more foundational. In either situation it would be hurtful and difficult.

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