The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Is sex in virtual reality cheating? Part 1

John asks, Does virtual reality sex constitute cheating? A recent New York Times article, Virtual Reality Gets Naughty, discusses this issue in detail.

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].


The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal faith. At our core, as a faith community is our promise to journey together with a commitment to be in right relationship with one another. Our covenants are often written agreements made among members of the congregation, between members of small group ministries, and within an individual couple like in a marriage. These covenants set the standards of how we will behave in certain ways, and how we will live up to our mutual promises. It would be up to the two individuals by way of their marriage covenant to determine if participating in virtual reality sex would be cheating or not.

“Unitarian Universalists along with the United Church of Christ have developed an award winning comprehensive sexual education curriculum called OWL, Our Whole Lives. Starting in our middle school curriculum we begin to address the use of pornography and the lessons lean towards not using it. First it works against building healthy intimacy, it creates unrealistic expectations of gratification, it distorts the human anatomy, and it objectifies people making them appear as sexual objects. While I would not consider it as cheating I would caution it as not the best practice for having the healthiest sex life.”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“Yes. This is simply another way for men and women to commit adultery in their hearts (Matthew 7:28), but now with the aid of what we used to call ‘space age technology.’ Does anybody remember when Jimmy Carter (then a candidate for President of the United States) rocked the nation by revealing that he had committed this very sin? He had the disadvantage in those days of having to wait for a real woman to cross his field of vision. We’ve come a long way since then.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“For anyone to make any sort of judgment on this concept the NY Times article that spurred this question need to be read. We see there that the technology for virtual sex can have a variety of uses. Yes, one is purely for self gratification. But higher minds can take it to therapeutic levels. The opportunity to use these innovations in the treatment of sexual trauma or dysfunction is not to be easily dismissed.

“The concern we might have is that some people may use it as a filler for sex with a committed partner. As with conventional porn, it may “replace” that partner. There are plenty of studies that show this can happen.

“One difference between this outlet and an extramarital affair, is that there is one less person involved who might suffer the consequences of the tragedy that accompany illicit trysts.

But I am keenly aware of a significant population who for a variety of reasons will never realistically have the opportunity to engage in a mature, committed, intimate relationship. I have worked over the years with many disabled adults who are in this situation. We cannot forget that people like that are sexual beings. I withhold all judgment when it comes to their decisions as to how to express that part of themselves, individually or with a consenting adult.”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“The short answer to this question is definitively YES!

“The focusing of the sexual relationship on one’s self instead of with the person with whom the individual has promised fidelity causes a spiritual gap in the understanding of marital fidelity. The Roman Catholic Church defines marriage as ‘a covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life, and which of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children.’ (1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1055)

“The statistics on the use of pornography are staggering. Some sources say as many as ninety-percent of men and sixty-percent of woman view pornography. Any act, be it masturbation and/or pornography, which includes virtual reality sex, that takes away from the partnership constitutes a form of infidelity because it does not bring the couple closer together. Instead, it places a wedge between the couple because one party places a selfish focus on him or herself, thus interrupting a relationship created by God designed to be for the well-being of the spouses.”


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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