Is it unethical not to ask relationship status before sex?
June 15, 2006 12:20 PM   Subscribe

EthicsFilter: is it wrong to sleep with someone you haven't made sure is single?

Last night my friend and I had a one-night stand with a guy we pulled in a club. Let's call him A. He's a friend of a friend. Relationship status wasn't discussed - we didn't ask, mostly because we were trashed, and he didn't tell. Retrospectively (now I'm sober), his initial reluctance to dance with us could have been interpreted as signalling he wasn't available, not shyness as we thought.

This morning my mate found out that a mutual friend of her's and A's had been phoned repeatedly by A's girlfriend, trying to find out what he was up to. My immediate reaction was that it was his judgement call, so we weren't at fault, though I feel for the girlfriend. Relaying the tale to my girly friends today, the reaction was one of shock at our actions - apparently checking all involved are single is standard behaviour and not doing it is tantamount to "giving guys a licence to cheat".

I've never heard this before. Is it part of casual sex etiquette that's completely passed me by? Did my friend and I act unethically?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (49 answers total)

 
I don't think you did anything wrong. If he can't keep it in his pants, that's his own fault.
posted by cosmicbandito at 12:24 PM on June 15, 2006


Not at all. The guy knew what he was doing, but probably in his mind a threesome doesn't count as cheating because the two girls cancel each other out.
posted by dobie at 12:26 PM on June 15, 2006 [2 favorites]


Going home and sleeping with you is the universal non-verbal, "I'm available" message. What are you suppose to run a background check? Sounds like a bunch of drama-laden friends.
posted by geoff. at 12:27 PM on June 15, 2006


"Nah I wouldn't cheat on my gi... wait, threesome?"

I don't think you did anything wrong. A person can only give themselves a license to cheat, and then face the consequences. Besides, even if you did ask, do you really want to play combinatorics on all the existing relationship situations that might put some scare quotes onto the word cheating? (ie: "cheating").
posted by jon_kill at 12:28 PM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Dude, he knew what he was doing. It's not like there's some kind of universal girl psychic network that was supposed to ping the minute you saw him.
posted by sugarfish at 12:28 PM on June 15, 2006


I mean it was a threefer! How could he turn it down?? he's only a man. Not your responsibility to check, but you're not 100% free from blame. But if he's gonna cheat on her anyways, maybe you did her a favor. and him a really big double favor.
posted by ZackTM at 12:29 PM on June 15, 2006


People, in general, are pretty quick to blame "the other woman" for any sort of affair, with the sexist ideas that guys somehow can't help themself and it's women's job to keep them properly civilized.

That's bullshit. He's the one in the relationship, he's the one that should be protecting that relationship. It's his fault he screwed up, not yours.
posted by occhiblu at 12:35 PM on June 15, 2006


As a woman in a relationship, I feel that it is my partner's responsibility to determine whether his actions vis a vis our relationship are appropriate, (and vice versa for me, of course). It is not the responsibility of strangers or distant acquaintances to monitor our choices.
posted by carmen at 12:36 PM on June 15, 2006


Oh, THIS is gonna end well....

It is my firm opinion that, once you have abdicated your personal responsibility to the extent necessary to engage in serial pointless sex, you cannot be expected to verify the relationship status of your booty partners.

The very act of trolling for same-day sex partners strongly implies abandonment of the traditional procedures of courtship, etc. that tend to enable your more cautious sisters to screen their bedbuddies for relationship status, cheap behavior and other knobshinery.

Even if you did take it upon yourself to ask your penis-du-jour to fill out a questionnaire, you have no way of knowing whether his responses will be honest. In fact, you can rely that, if he is alone and conversing with pretty girls at a club, he will NOT disclose any ball-and-chain related issues.

So, tell your girlfriends to get stuffed. If they are shocked - Shocked! - at only this minor technicality of your last evening's behavior, they are probably winding you up anyway. If he didn't tell, it's not your responsibility to ask.

That said, can I get your number? (Kidding!, Kidding!)
posted by BigLankyBastard at 12:37 PM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Also, had you asked, and had he said that yes, in fact, he was in a relationship, and so you kicked him out the door -- how does that make his actions much better? It's not like that suddenly would have made his behavior that night entirely ethical, because *you* would have been the one saying that it wasn't right, not him.
posted by occhiblu at 12:41 PM on June 15, 2006


You did nothing wrong. The guy made the conscious choice to come home with you, well knowing his own situation. I have no idea where your girlfriends are smoking.
posted by Meagan at 12:42 PM on June 15, 2006


I have no idea what your girlfriends are smoking, rather.
posted by Meagan at 12:44 PM on June 15, 2006


Yep, it's his ethics that are called into question here, not yours. You did nothing wrong.
posted by gaspode at 12:51 PM on June 15, 2006


Dancing with you and coming home with you makes it his fault, not yours.
posted by k8t at 1:01 PM on June 15, 2006


I agree with having done nothing wrong. He's the one who decided to cheat.

And what, if you'd asked and he said, "No" but he was attached, would you think you were wrong then?

Behavior lands on the person in the relationship, period, at least in the instance of a one-night-stand.
posted by agregoli at 1:03 PM on June 15, 2006


"giving guys a licence to cheat"


I'm going to assume that this is a direct quote from one of your girlfriends...

I can't understand this point of view at all. Maybe if the guy was so intoxicated he couldn't make decisions for himself... but at that point, you would've been raping him so that question is moot.

People are responsible for their own actions, period. Even if the girlfriend was your best friend... your actions don't give him a "license" to do anything. The agreed upon rules of a relationship are only the concern of the people involved in said relationship. Whether he was violating those rules during your crazy night or not is not for you to worry about.
posted by utsutsu at 1:04 PM on June 15, 2006


I suspect your girlfriends are redirecting their disapproval at your one-night threesome, which they may have trouble articulating to you -- a consenting (and I hope responsible) adult, to this technicality. I might ask them what is really bugging them, if they are really angry at you or angry at the two-timing guy.
posted by dness2 at 1:06 PM on June 15, 2006


You don't have a responsibility to protect a relationship you aren't even aware of. If he's in a relationship, he's the one with the committment to honour (or not). If you knew he was attached, then you're on shakier ground. But I don't think you have a moral responsbility to check out the relationship status of a one night stand. That person needs to make their own choices.

That said, how do you feel about the fact (if it's true) that A has a girlfriend? Some people would feel used or otherwise bothered by the thought that someone they had relations with was actually attached. Others wouldn't care because it's a one night stand and both parties are using each other for their purposes/reasons/etc, without any committment or promises to each other. I don't think there's any 'right' or 'wrong' answer here. You'll know what you're comfortable with.
posted by raedyn at 1:10 PM on June 15, 2006


occhilu speaks well:
He's the one in the relationship, he's the one that should be protecting that relationship. It's his fault he screwed up, not yours.
And
Also, had you asked, and had he said that yes, in fact, he was in a relationship, and so you kicked him out the door -- how does that make his actions much better?
posted by raedyn at 1:14 PM on June 15, 2006


If all of us pile on anonymous's friend, it'll be an N-some.

Any issues of fidelity are between him and his girlfriend, and nobody else. It's not your job to police their relationship.

If you knew he was attached, then you're on shakier ground.

It's still not your job to police their relationship. If both of you want to do the nasty, you're not doing anything wrong by doing it. He might be, but you're not.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:19 PM on June 15, 2006


In many countries, if you have sex with a person to whom you aren't married, you are guilty of the crime of fornicating (happens to still be a crime where I live, with a 3 month jail sentence the common penalty, and is sometimes still enforced, mainly in connection with other morals charges). Supposing you live in a jurisdiction with such laws on the books, and feel that breaking the law is liable to be unethical, you've done something unethical. If you further complicate the matter by screwing a person married to someone else, you commit the further offense of adultery. That's illegal in a lot more jurisdictions, and clearly proscribed by most religious traditions. It's a social no-no in most societies, and yes, you're supposed to take reasonable steps to ascertain whether a prospective sexual partner is otherwise married, to avoid the crime of adultery, which may take more than a few minutes (like, you know, getting to know the prospective partner socially, so you'll have some trustworthy mutual contacts to help verify the partner's status).

If your jurisdiction is less Puritanical, you might still be, in this day and age, considered by many to be doing something unethical by engaging in risky behaviors (safer sex practices being only, you know, safer), but that's the fairly pragmatic, ultilitarian ethical point of view. Personally, I'd think this kind of thing is more foolish than unethical, but if you think casual sex is a good idea, I doubt you're going to be dissuaded by any ethical considerations. Party on, live fast, die young, and leave clear instructions for your funeral.
posted by paulsc at 1:22 PM on June 15, 2006


Going home and sleeping with you is the universal non-verbal, "I'm available" message. What are you suppose to run a background check? Sounds like a bunch of drama-laden friends.

I couldn't have said it better.
posted by languagehat at 1:25 PM on June 15, 2006


paulsc, (1) the guy's not married and (2) your link is about the illegality of interracial sexual relations in Florida. Relevance?
posted by occhiblu at 1:27 PM on June 15, 2006


Occhicblu, read the case for the relevant citation. As in
"Section 798.03, [379 U.S. 184, 186] also of general application, proscribes fornication 3 and authorizes a three-month jail sentence. "
As for your point(?) about the guy not being married, fornication is performed in Florida, any time a person is not having intercourse with someone that is their own husband or wife. That's kind of the point of the state licensing marriage; if you have a license, and are married to the person, it's expressly legal to have intercourse with them, otherwise, in many jurisdictions, it's not.
posted by paulsc at 1:35 PM on June 15, 2006


I.... OK. Anon, if following U.S. laws used as precedent to keep people of different races from having sex with each other in Florida is a guiding principle of your moral code, then yes, what you did might be considered unethical.
posted by occhiblu at 1:40 PM on June 15, 2006


giving guys a licence to cheat

Gah. Girls who see men as dumb animals to be trained and corralled deserve the men they get.

My boyfriend's fidelity is his responsibility.

Of course, I would prefer cute, young things not randomly offer him three ways, but these things happen. At least in Penthouse.
posted by Gucky at 1:45 PM on June 15, 2006


Does anyone use the letter of the law as a basis for determining if something is ethical?

Not trying to snark, I'm curious. The law is usually the last thing I'd consider, though the law (and possible consequences) still plays a part in determining whether I make a choice.
posted by utsutsu at 2:02 PM on June 15, 2006


I really expected to see one of those "This thread is useless without pics" little gifs or something.

Less of a derail: there is no license to cheat, and if there was, you don't have the authority to appoint them.
posted by Brainy at 2:16 PM on June 15, 2006


Ditto geoff., ditto dness2. A's cheating is on him, and your girly friends are whack. You and your friend aren't to blame; the whole "men can't help but cheat" thing is patronizing and would be widely recognized as offensive if it weren't so damned convenient.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:55 PM on June 15, 2006


In all seriousness, a threesome with two hot chicks who seduced you when you were drunk may not count as cheating. Maybe he shouldn't have been out at a bar drunk, but that's beside the point. Imagine this hypothetical from his girl friend -

GF - Would you ever cheat on me?
Guy - No. Of course not.
GF - What if you were drunk?
Guy - No. I know my limits.
GF - What if it was a hot chick?
Guy - No.
GF - What if it was two hot chicks, and you were drunk, and they wanted to take you home and bang you no questions asked, and they didn't take no for an answer?
Guy - That's not a fair question.

See? Not fair. I vote not cheating.
posted by Binkeeboo at 4:00 PM on June 15, 2006


You didn't know and had no reason to ask whether he had a girlfriend. In this instance you did nothing unethical. You're in the clear.

Had you known he had a girlfriend beforehand, you would have done something unethical.
posted by Captaintripps at 4:14 PM on June 15, 2006


I don't think that anonymous did anything wrong, but some of these responses surprise me. Surely to intentionally keep oneself in ignorance about potentially important facts is not always permissible.

If anonymous is really dedicated to not sleeping with other people's significant others, it wouldn't have made the world a worse place if she/he'd asked. Just because it wasn't wrong doesn't mean she couldn't have done something better.
posted by ontic at 4:29 PM on June 15, 2006


In all seriousness, a threesome with two hot chicks who seduced you when you were drunk may not count as cheating.

Rubbish.

Maybe he shouldn't have been out at a bar drunk

Correct.

, but that's beside the point.

No, you are responsible for what you do when you get drunk. Who else would be?

anonymous, you did nothing wrong (other than reward a scumbag with the night of his life).
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 4:30 PM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Yeesh. Sorry about this, but I gotta say that I'm the first to disagree. I'm not saying he's scott-free either, but I view this sort of thing as having two (or in this case three) guilty parties. He didn't offer, and you didn't ask. In some sense, because you sort of knew this fellow, I feel like an effort should have been made. I also think it's fairly obvious that you didn't ask because you didn't want to know he wasn't available, not because you were drunk.
posted by hoborg at 4:30 PM on June 15, 2006


If you have a friend-of-friend relationship with this guy, it would probably have been wise to ask, but I am thinking this more in pragmatic terms than ethical. If he were a complete stranger, then I certainly don't think there would be any ethical need for you to find out his status.

No offence to anonymous intended, but it is curious how many people here have assumed that this "lucky guy" had "the night of his life" with "two hot chicks". For all we know, anonymous & her friend are The Fat Slags
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:17 PM on June 15, 2006


The purely Kantian response would be such:

Was it wrong not to ask by accident, or did you choose not to ask because you didn't want to know. His situation and decision have no bearing on whether you were right or wrong. But if you actively danced around a question rolling around in your head that you didn't want to kno wthe answer to, then yes, Virginia, it is unethical. The answer is not as important as the question.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:28 PM on June 15, 2006 [2 favorites]


paulsc: As for your point(?) about the guy not being married, fornication is performed in Florida, any time a person is not having intercourse with someone that is their own husband or wife.
Huh. You know, right this second- and really, for quite some time now- I've been not having intercourse with someone that is my own my wife.

Granted, I'm not married and haven't been laid in ages, but apparently I'm on an incredible streak of fornication! I'm the freakin' Joe Dimaggio of fornication! Whoohoo!
posted by hincandenza at 7:32 PM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


"I'm the freakin' Joe Dimaggio of fornication! Whoohoo!"
posted by hincandenza at 10:32 PM EST on June 15 [+fave] [!]


Heh. Mea culpa on my awkward construction, hincandenza, but I'm glad to have handed you a "Whoohoo!" in a thread about a threesome with nothing more than grammar... :-)
posted by paulsc at 8:25 PM on June 15, 2006


Even ensuring that your partner is consenting - probably the most important communication in these situations, required by law, with massive penalties for failure, even that is often (even usually) communicated non-verbally.

Likewise, he pretty clearly communicated non-verbally that he was available. Would making that same communication verbal really change anything? A verbal check just looks good on the books, it doesn't strike me as more effective.

Have your friends ever been cheated on? This it's-all-our-responsibility-to-protect-girls-from-their-unfaithful-boyfriends proceedure might be weighted towards that more than towards being a fair ethical assesment of your responsibility to... well, do a background check to double check his communicated position.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:16 PM on June 15, 2006


Fascinating question BTW, I'd also second Civil Disobedient's (Kantian) point.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:20 PM on June 15, 2006


This is one of those areas that are pretty much "left as an excercise" amongst young Americans. I'm not sure there is a right or wrong answer.

However, if you believe in the notion of karma or anything like it, you may want to take that into consideration.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:51 PM on June 15, 2006


However, in my opinion, "I was drunk" is *never* and excuse.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:53 PM on June 15, 2006


You should have asked. You don't have to run a frickin background check. Saying "So.... are you taken?" takes three seconds, and I don't think you'd be expected to see through his lie if he lied (which he probably would have).

I am dismayed that so many people are so taken with the idea of strings-free casual sex that they think simply asking someone if they're in a relationship is too much to ask.

If you're going to help someone betray someone they (ostensibly) care about, you should at least do it with your eyes open, knowing what you are doing. You can be morally bankrupt, sure, but at least take a tiny effort to not be morally blind.
posted by beth at 2:30 AM on June 16, 2006


It's the golden rule, the morning you discover a couple of filthy skanks fucked your husband you're going to see the other side of this story. But he did a worse thing than you did.
posted by The Monkey at 3:43 AM on June 16, 2006


If I were that guy's girlf, I would hold him responsible, and not even really take you and your friend into consideration (though by the same token, I would not want to ever meet you).

But all the same, ask next time, and all subsequent times. And yes, there will always be some other woman who won't ask, or who won't care, but that's not the point. You don't really want to feel *you've* played a part in hurting some woman, do you?
posted by orange swan at 8:13 AM on June 16, 2006


It seems like the majority in the thread (with a few exceptions) are saying approximately "you maybe could have asked, but it wasn't your job to police his committments or lack thereof".

I think you would have gotten a different response if you were already aware of the girlfriend. Some people still would have said "he's the one in the relationship, so that's his responsibility", but it undoubtedly would have been a (much?) smaller proportion. More would have said you're not supposed to pursue someone that's attached.

If you had known about the girlfriend, and he wanted to have a one-night stand with you, would you have gone through with it? Or would the existance of a girlfriend meant that you wouldn't sleep with him, even if he wanted it?

I think the answer to that question affects whether you 'should' have asked his relationship status. If you're the type to say "if I know about a significant other, it's hands off", then it's prudent to make an inquiry. Ethically consistent. If you're the type to say "even if I know about a significant other, it's not my job to enforce their committment" then you needn't bother asking because regardless of the answer you're going to sleep with him if he's interested.

Some people will disagree with whichever position you take. Different people have different senses of personal responsibility.
posted by raedyn at 8:25 AM on June 16, 2006


It is the absolute responsibility of the potentially-cheating party to get the blame. Cheating requires two parties, the cheater and the cheated-with. Having not known is an incredibly unblamable offense compared to knew-full-well, as the cheater does. A big part of the relationship in the first place is trust, and you're not the one breaking trust -- you don't even have a relationship with A's girlfriend per se, it's A's fault.
posted by vanoakenfold at 10:33 AM on June 16, 2006


occhiblu nailed it. The law has little to nothing to do with what is ethical.
posted by deborah at 12:04 PM on June 16, 2006


Don't worry about it. Gah. Relationships & monogamy cause too much stress. So you had a fun evening, and he probably did too (but since you left out the detaiuls, we can only speculate) so relax and don't worry about it. And tell your friends to sod off. :P
posted by drstein at 7:00 PM on June 16, 2006


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