When I started this site, I actively tried recruiting some of my friends with whom I was discussing sex and sexuality at the time. It became evident soon enough that everyone who had been so encouraging and supportive were changing their opinions. At the time, I wasn’t sure what was happening. Was it me? Was I going too far? Was I making them uncomfortable?
People love to talk about sex. They’re just anxious about putting it out there for everyone to read and know, especially when it comes to a site like this where their words become immortalized. What if my mom reads it. Or my kids! Discussing sex (comma) with friends and family (comma) is normal and, in many ways, healthy. But trying to take those conversations from the intimacy of a livingroom, coffeeshop, or walk to a public sphere makes people very uncomfortable. No more so than when I begin to walk that fine line of discussing extramarital relationships.
In a closed setting, discussing affairs has empathetic value. Generally, it is met with contemplative nods indicating that they too have considered whether the grass is greener elsewhere. Not all of these stories are bad or end dramatically. Not all are good or have a happy ending. And not all are… how can I put this… problematic for the relationship. These arrangements are commonly referred to as “cuckolding.” I’ve talked about cuckolding before, but maybe not as in-depth as I will here.
In an article by Anthony Neal Macri, the Social Media Director of AshleyMadison.com,
Cuckolding used to be something that was so taboo that nothing could shame a man more. It was the act of taking a married woman and making a mockery out of her husband. A cuckold was someone who had an unfaithful wife whether or not they were aware of it and it was something that was deeply shaming to the point that it would be hard to face society again. To be a cuckold was to be lacking. Being a cuckold meant that you weren’t satisfying your wife in some way and thus, she needed to seek her pleasure elsewhere.
Today, however, cuckolding has become a fetish. It usually involves a dominant woman and her submissive husband. The woman sleeps with another man while the husband watches and has become one of those fetishes that a surprising number of people have since it ties in with things like voyeurism and swinging. When cuckolding is done with the right frame of mind, it can be incredibly fun for all those involved.
There’s an incredible amount of trust that is involved in cuckolding. It takes an incredible amount of self-security to watch another person have sex or “play around” with your spouse or significant other. It also means a high degree of trust has to exist in the relationship, cycling and reciprocal between the parties involved. In the moment though, you get to be the victim. You get to wallow in the shame of your partner choosing someone else, being taken by someone else. And when it’s all over? You still have your partner.
That is the thrill, the horizon of arousal. You get to feel like something is getting taken from you. You get to feel the comingling of shame, arousal and need that many people report feeling when they’re are being cheated on, with one notable exception. When it’s all over, you feel closer with your partner than you did before they were “taken away from you.” Again, this is the thrill of cuckolding, unique from polyamory, swinging, cheating/adultery, and other forms of non-traditional, non-monogamous relationships. Cuckolding thrives on allowing you to feel jealousy and sadness, even betrayal, as the affair is taking place but then the second part is that once the scene of sexual activity is over, a new sensation called “comperison” assures the survival of the relationship. Comperison, or “the opposite of jealousy,” is when a partner takes joy in the sexual exploits of a partner.
Admittedly, cuckolding is not part of the typical social construction of extramarital relationships. Macri says it is something that “used to be taboo” but this must be taken in the context of AshleyMadison’s agenda to help their members find
cheating partners. Our success gives us a unique perspective on married dating and affairs.
Ashley Madison is the online personals dating destination for secret romances, and the largest dating service of its kind with more than 3.5 million members. We cater to people who are single or in a committed relationship and are looking for discreet dating. Our goal is to keep our members from taking unnecessary risks and being subject to exposure while they explore the feelings that caused them to consider cheating or married dating.
Macri might be trying to sell the idea and, in so doing, pass it off as more pleasant than it really is but in my own circles, he’s not too far off the mark. I barely discuss this part of my friend’s lives, but cuckolding is not uncommon. Perhaps I simply turn a blind eye to it, I’m no longer sure. I would say that I am simply “aware” of it, without any kind of moral valuation; what I can say with certainty is that in one of the instances, cuckolding helped their marriage. He enjoyed the hedonism of seeing his wife with other men, and she enjoyed the emotional security of knowing that she could have sex with another man and he would still love her, dote on her, and raise children with her.
Cuckolding is not the same as having an “open marriage” or even a one-side open-relationship. I must always distinguish this. It is about sex, not (ethical or unethical) non-monogamy. It is primarily sexual, sure. But it has more to do with psychology than sex. This is what sets it apart – the plasticity of the “headspace.”
We have a tendency to think of sex as primarily physical locution rather than psycho-sexually polyvalent. Cuckolding is typically female-centric, or empowers a woman to express her sexuality to the fullest with the support of both her partner and her lover – or at least that’s how the literature (yes, including and especially erotica) tries to make it sound sexy. But the “cuckold” is almost always male (more on this in the second part) who identifies as white and is educated. Though there has been traction for male-dominant/female-shaming cuckolding in pornographic materials on sites like Tumblr, pornography is increasingly “curated” and fulfills niche interests and kinks; naturally there will be variations on a theme or genre. However, the fetish remains primarily an interest for males who fixate on female-centric sexual dynamics (worship, femdom, or female-led relationships though not necessarily male-submissive) with significant interest expressed by white, educated heteroflexible males with a focus on the desires of a female partner, her satisfaction, and interest in “shaming” or humiliation of the the male partner contrasted with the dominance of the female’s lover, whose hypermasculinity categorizes him as a “bull.” This triad – the cuckold (typically submissive or at least passive), the cuckoldress (the female in the center of this triangle, the object of attention, the “prize” that can be stolen or taken away from the cuckold), and the bull (the “better” lover, who is able to satisfy the cuckoldress).
Rather than focus on my friends, I want to instead point to the rising popularity and interest in cuckolding. It is currently one of the largest search terms in pornographic materials and can fall under several headings like “cheating, hotwife, slutwife, cuckold, amateur / caught, shame,” and of course, “humiliation.” Since it is not restricted to marriage, the parameters can expand to include “girlfriend” in any of these combinations. Pregnancy is often a contributing genre, as are interracial, verbal humiliation, even “sissification” and emasculation. What interests me in all of this – together with what might be obvious – is the social aspect. For example, a correlation could be drawn between the “rise” of women in the workforce, income, education and socio-economic factors, as well as the de-masculazation of men. Put another way, why has cuckolding become so popular and widespread?
Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha in their book Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships (2011) put forward that cuckolding has always existed. While they spend much of their book discussing cheating (extramarital deception), laced within their work is the recurring pattern that humans, indeed all mammals, not only cuckold but thoroughly enjoy it. One need look no further than the common, everyday pornographic material to notice that you are getting off on watching someone else. That is why pornography is so popular – you enjoy watching people have sex. And what is more, you are probably imagining some form of relationship to those you are watching – transferring yourself either into the material or participating in the reality that you are an observer.
David J. Ley in his book Insatiable Wives (2012) also suggests that cuckolding has always existed. Partners cheat. Humans are not always faithful. Though Ley does not draw off of Ryan and Jetha’s work (the two books seem to have been written concurrently), his presumption is the same – partners will cheat. How they manage that in the relationship differs. Ley’s book looks at several instances of cuckolding relationships and he hypothesizes that women see cheating as a form of relational empowerment, while men see the impact on the relationship as secondary. Men accept or pursue cuckolding for the residual benefits, not because they feel empowered. In fact, the loss of power is the thrill. Whatever “power” he feels is, again, residual or secondary. He feels “empowered” because he is married to or in a relationship with a desirable woman. He is able to entertain homosexual tendencies without admitting he is a homosexual, even bisexual. He is able to see his wife finally “satisfied.” There are all kinds of benefits to sex and relationships other than the immediately personal.
In the case of the friends I mentioned earlier, this proved to be true. “Elizabeth” felt that “Eric” wasn’t appreciating her. Despite initial protests, Eric admitted that he knew she was right. There was something missing which only another person from outside the marriage could stir up. Seeing her with another man compelled him to “up his game” emotionally and relationally and provided him with what he refers to as “something primal” that made him
want [her] more. It was like I didn’t realize how much I really did love her until I saw her with someone else, having sex, and seeing her with… another guy made me, in this really weird way, go absolutely crazy for her. It’s hard to explain, but it’s true. It’s like, by focusing on the fact that this is my wife and that she’s having sex with another man, I’m really tripping over the part where I’m thinking this is my wife. My wife. My wife. Elizabeth is mine, and I’m hers and nothing can ever come between that – not even someone having sex with her. And she’s so fucking hot… you know, watching her with someone else. She’s with someone else, but I’m right there and we’re going to be together forever.
Elizabeth agreed, going a bit further to add
I think a big part of it for me, and it’s weird, is that I was so scared we were going to get a divorce and break up. I didn’t want that. I just wanted us to be together, but something was missing. And when we talked about it, I was really sick for days, just crying and thinking “Oh my God, this is so sick.” The whole ideal marriage...thing… was just not like we had ever been told it could be. Not like our parents told us it could be. I mean, I grew up in a really conservative home, where you just be a good wife and raise the kids and work hard and make sure you have enough to go on a vacation every year, even if you have to hide money and lie to your husband to do it. And it was just… If you would have told me this kind of thing happened? If it was anyone else, if it was one of my girlfriends? I would have said, “Run. Just run away. This man doesn’t love you.”
But, then, once we really got into it – and it took a while to overcome those hang-ups and reorient our relationship, our marriage – I started to see that all he wanted was for me to be happy, to enjoy myself, and to see that side of me. It wasn’t really that different from the way we live other parts of our lives. We make trade-offs for the ones we love because we love them. With [our children] we outsource that parental role to someone else every day. Every day we send them to school. To strangers, really, when you think about it. And that’s okay – we have this communal contract that it’s okay to just give up your parental role of teaching your kids. And why? Because we know – or at least trust and hope – that this person, this stranger, is better than we are. How is that any different for marriage? It’s not a full-time thing. It’s in this one area of life. And at the end of the day, we come back together, and it’s fine.
Right, or work. We trade our spouses to other people and they spend the majority of their waking hours with these people. “Work wives” and “work husbands.” No problem. But when it comes to sex? Oh! Suddenly that’s perverted.
Cont. in pt. II (coming soon)