What Qualifies as Adultery: Unpacking the Gray Area

Infidelity in a marriage is a common and unfortunate occurrence. Yet, the definition of what is considered “adultery” can be a grey area, with different interpretations given to it by different people. In this article, we will dive deep into the different forms of adultery and the legal, moral, and ethical implications attached to them.

The Legal Definition of Adultery

In the legal world, adultery is an act of sexual intercourse between a married person and someone who is not their spouse. The legal definition varies from state to state, but in most places, adultery can be used as grounds for divorce. It can also be a criminal offense in certain states if it is committed with someone who is under the age of consent.

But what exactly falls under the umbrella of adultery?

Activities that are typically considered to be adulterous include sexual intercourse, oral sex, and other sexual acts. However, other activities such as kissing or even financial infidelity (hiding money or purchasing gifts for a lover) can also fall under this category, depending on the interpretation of the law.

The Moral and Ethical Implications of Adultery

Adultery doesn’t just have legal consequences, but it can also have serious moral and ethical implications. For many, adultery is seen as a violation of the trust and commitment that is expected in a marriage. To many, it is a betrayal of the vows made during the wedding ceremony and can be seen as a breach of the sanctity of marriage.

Is adultery more morally wrong than other sins?

This question is subjective and varies from person to person. Some people view it as a grave sin, while others may view it on the same level as other sins such as lying or stealing. Religious beliefs can also affect an individual’s interpretation of adultery and its severity.

The Different Forms of Adultery

Adultery is not limited to sexual intercourse. It can take various forms, some of which may be legal but still considered immoral.

Emotional Adultery

Emotional infidelity is the act of forming a close emotional bond with someone other than your spouse. It often involves sharing personal information, emotions, and intimate details about your life. While emotional infidelity may not involve physical intimacy, many people consider it a form of betrayal because it involves sharing intimate aspects of your life with someone who is not your spouse.


Micro-cheating is a form of emotional infidelity that involves engaging in small, seemingly harmless behaviors such as liking someone’s posts on social media, sending flirty messages, or having an unacknowledged crush. Though not technically adultery, it still threatens the trust and security of the relationship.

Virtual Adultery

Virtual adultery involves engaging in sexual conversation via text, email, or other online communication mediums. It can also involve watching pornography or participating in cybersex with someone who is not your spouse. While it may seem harmless because there is no physical contact, virtual adultery can be just as damaging to a relationship as physical adultery.

When Does Something Qualify as Adultery?

Most people agree that sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse qualifies as adultery. However, as we have seen above, the line can be blurry when it comes to other forms of infidelity. Below are a few questions that can help determine whether something qualifies as adultery:

  • Does the activity involve physical intimacy?
  • Would you feel comfortable sharing the details of the activity with your spouse?
  • Would you be okay with your spouse engaging in the same activity with someone else?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no,’ then it’s best to avoid that activity altogether.

The Consequences of Adultery

Adultery can have severe consequences, not just for the relationship but also for the individuals involved. Below are a few ramifications of adultery:


Adultery is one of the leading causes of divorce. In many cases, discovering that their spouse has cheated can lead to a breakdown of trust in the relationship, leading to an eventual split.

Legal Action

Adultery can also lead to legal action. In some states, adultery can be considered a crime, and the guilty party can face legal repercussions such as fines or imprisonment.

Emotional Damage

Adultery can cause significant pain and emotional damage to the betrayed partner. It can lead to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.


Adultery is a complex issue, with various legal, moral, and ethical implications attached to it. It’s important for individuals to understand what qualifies as adultery and to avoid engaging in activities that could be seen as betraying their spouse’s trust. Honesty and communication are crucial for maintaining a healthy and happy relationship.


  • What is considered adultery?

    Adultery is defined as sexual intercourse between a married person and someone who is not their spouse. Other activities such as emotional infidelity, micro-cheating, and virtual adultery can also be considered adulterous.
  • Is adultery illegal?

    Adultery is not illegal in all states, but it can be considered a crime if it is committed with someone who is under the age of consent or if it is considered a form of public indecency.
  • What are the consequences of adultery?

    Adultery can lead to divorce, legal action, and emotional damage to the betrayed spouse.
  • What should I do if I suspect my spouse is committing adultery?

    The best approach is to talk to your spouse and express your concerns. Seek professional help if necessary, and consider couples therapy to work through any underlying issues in the relationship.


  • The Law concerning families and domestic relations – adultery. (2015). Colorado State Legislature. Colorado Revised Statutes, 14-10-123.
  • Virtual adultery – definition and consequences. (2021). Jane Watson Law. Retrieved 7 September 2021, from https://www.janewatsonlaw.com/blog/virtual-adultery/
  • Balzarini, R. N., Muise, A., & Campbell, L. (2018). Online infidelity: An integrative review. Journal of Sex Research, 55(4–5), 608–625. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1398730
  • Holman, A., & Sillars, A. (2012). Talk About Cheating: Communication Processes Leading to Sexual Infidelity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 29(8), 1143–1162. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407512454273

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