06/07/2011 02:31 pm ET Updated Aug 07, 2011

Is a Sexting Spouse Cheating on You?

He's sexually "inappropriate." He lies about it for a while, but gets busted anyway. He apologizes to everyone he's hurt, mostly his wife.

Can you guess whom I'm talking about?

The joke is that men often think with the wrong head. But with all the high-profile sexual misadventures of late -- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Rep. Christopher Lee -- it's hard not to struggle with the word "think," as in were they thinking?

And now, add New York Rep. Anthony Weiner to the list.

It's baffling how any politician would continue to engage in the kind of shenanigans Weiner admitted to Monday--that he had "inappropriate" online exchanges with at least six women in the past three years. But the past is the past and for the 46-year-old Weiner, the unmarried past. But then there's the lewd photo he Tweeted to a college student in Seattle last month, which he repeatedly lied about for the past 10 days.

Okay, I get (but don't condone) the lying -- it's embarrassing because the photo was meant to be private, and who wants to get caught with his pants down (or with a big ol' erection in your tight undies)? Very few of us would come clean on the first questioning. And you have to appreciate a guy who has a sense of humor in his online lust. In one photo allegedly emailed to a young thing, Weiner is on a couch with two cats nearby. The subject line -- "Me and the pussys."

Weiner says he never met any of his online flirts, and he says his wife of barely a year, Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, knew about some of his online escapades, although not the latest one. Tellingly, perhaps, she wasn't by his side at the tearful press conference. Weiner said "we have no intention of splitting up over this" and that she told him "we're going to get through this" as a couple, but she wasn't quite standing by her man.

Whether Weiner should resign or not isn't the question here. The question here is, does Weiner's sexting qualify as cheating?

Yvonne Thomas, a Los Angeles psychologist, would say yes. "When you're going outside the boundaries of what you're supposed to share, emotionally and physically, only with your partner, cheating is cheating is cheating," she says.

For Sexorcist columnist Michael Alvear, co-host of HBO's The Sex Inspectors, "sexting is not the new lipstick on the collar. It's the application of lipstick before you get it on the shirt. As such, sexting doesn't qualify as a fling." But he's quick to add it's stretching marital vows "to the breaking point."

On a CafeMoms forum, more women than not say they consider sexting cheating, although a few mention whatever you call it, it's wrong. At the online dating site PlentyofFish's forum, one wise commenter writes, "If your SO [significant other] would be deeply hurt, ticked off or kick you to the curb for doing it ... what difference does it make what you call it. Get permission first."

Since Weiner repeatedly apologized to his wife at Monday's press conference -- and one would have to presume even more earnestly in private -- it's likely he didn't exactly have her permission. But that she knew of his sexting history before marrying him doesn't make her "partly responsible" either, as MSNBC's Chris Matthews said. Like most newlyweds, she probably thought he'd stop that nonsense.

So, if Weiner never had any sort of physical contact with the women he'd been sexting, what, exactly has he done? He flirted, he teased, he talked dirty and he sent pictures of various body parts to presumably willing, of-age recipients. In fact, he's been doing what 20 percent to 39 percent of America's teenagers admit to doing. Do you dump someone for that?

Chatting is not cheating, or so John Portmann, assistant professor of religious studies at the Unversity of Virginia, says in an essay by the same title in his book In Defense of Sin. "The Internet has not given us a new way to have sex, but rather an absorbing new way to talk about sex. Distinguishing between flirting and infidelity will show that talking dirty, whether on the Internet or on the phone, does not amount to having sex."

The problem with the kind of constant online sexual banter Weiner has been engaging in, a sort of reciprocal crush at a distance, is that it "intensifies this type of relationship and promotes its distortion," says Michael J. Formica in his Enlightened Living blog at Psychology Today. In a weird way, emotional infidelity is safe -- there's a perception that you're not actually "doing" anything so you can't get "caught," even if there are a handful of women with photos of your junk in their inbox. But Abedin and every other partner who's had to deal with a sexting spouse are, he says, "in the curious position of experiencing all of the hurt, anger and sense of rejection associated with an affair, while the 'cheater' shrugs it off and 'doesn't get it.'"

I imagine Weiner "gets" it now.