If Anthony Weiner is to be believed -- and his credibility is dubious after lying about sending sexually suggestive online messages before admitting it Monday -- the married New York congressman did not have physical contact with any of the six women he "sexted."
That would put the 46-year-old Democrat at the vanguard of a new type of political scandal: the sexless sex scandal.
The moral and political questions raised by Weiner's behavior are the same: Is a virtual sexual affair the same as a fleshy one?
"It is a betrayal, absolutely," said Kerry Cohen, an Oregon psychotherapist and author of "Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity."
Like former President Bill Clinton, who officiated at Weiner's wedding, Weiner is a powerful public figure who got caught in a sex scandal. Their straying, Cohen added, "comes from the need to be seen and attended to" in ways politics can't.
But John Portmann, editor of the anthology "In Defense of Sin," said online sex isn't the same as the in-person variety.
"I don't believe that Weiner cheated on his wife, not at all," said Portmann, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia. "I also think that there is quite a lot of this erotic chatting going on."
Six percent of Americans over 18 have sent a nude or near-nude image of themselves to someone else and 15 percent have received one, according to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.
Sexting isn't just a young person's pastime: 17 percent of adults in Weiner's 30- to 49-year-old demographic have received such a communique.
In February, Republican Rep. Chris Lee -- another married, 46-year-old New Yorker -- resigned after posting a shirtless photo of himself on Craigslist. There have been no confirmed reports of Lee's infidelity, either.
Meagan Broussard, a 26-year-old Texan who admits to be being one of Weiner's sexting partners, told ABC News she has had several similar online relationships with other men.
Weiner said his wife of 11 months, Huma Abedin -- a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton -- knew about the online relationships he had been carrying on for years before they were married. Weiner said she didn't know about the explicit photos he sent until Monday.
Still, being a congressman and a desired speaker in progressive circles didn't provide enough of a visceral thrill for Weiner, Cohen said. That's why his head was turned when Broussard posted "hot" under a speech Weiner had put on his Facebook page. Then Weiner contacted her.
Cohen said it's similar to then-married former Democratic Sen. John Edwards getting involved with campaign staffer Rielle Hunter, who told the presidential candidate, "You're so hot."
Last week, Edwards was indicted in a campaign finance case for failing to report roughly $1 million that was allegedly spent to keep Hunter out of the limelight during his failed 2008 presidential run. Edwards said he is innocent.
On Tuesday, Weiner's political problems escalated. Republicans called for at least 18 House Democrats to return political contributions from him.
At the same time, another of Weiner's alleged sexting partners, a Las Vegas blackjack dealer, released what she says are racy online chats with the congressman to Radaronline.com.
Weiner's fellow Democrats were tepid toward him Tuesday after House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called Monday for the House Ethics Committee to investigate whether "any official resources were used or any other violation of House rules occurred" in connection with his sexting.
During his news conference Monday, Weiner said he used his personal BlackBerry and home computer to conduct his online connections.
But what may ensnare Weiner is a House rule that says a member of Congress "shall conduct himself at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House."
Ethically, Weiner's biggest sin may be the one that has felled politicians for generations: covering up the original sin by lying.
"He's shown very, very poor judgment not only in what he did, but what he did afterward," said Judy Nadler, a senior fellow in government ethics at Santa Clara University's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
After a week of lying about his sexting, Nadler said, "People will always be wondering, 'Is he telling the truth?' "
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)