The nature of the cuckold fetish is that another man “takes” the female “away from” her primary partner, or the female “gives herself away” to another partner, thus humiliating the primary male partner. There are variations on this theme, for instance the “reverse cuckold” where a female partner is shamed as her boyfriend or husband has sex with another female (the “cuckqueen”), but the distinguishing characteristic of the fetish is typically a concern for the male cuckold. The male is “denied” (or denying) his “right” to a woman in some way. There are variations on the theme, but the nature of the fetish is that “proper” or traditional aspects of traditional relationships and sexual expression are subverted and replaced by another traditional sexual expression matrix.
There are certainly ways we could be discussing this clinically, but for general interest, the key terms and relevant parties are the
- cuckold – the offended party who becomes either aroused (compersion) or shamed/humiliated,
- the cuckoldress – a female who, whether consensually or through force has sex with another partner, and
- the bull – typically a male, though sometimes a female partner (typically, a “dyke”) who engages in sexual behaviors with the cuckoldress.
There are, as with all forms of sex, variations on the theme but as noted previously, the discussion can become unwieldy rather quickly if we begin to juggle these and, for my purposes, the “traditional” version of cuckoldry will suffice.
A quick review:
A kink is an unconventional sexual taste or behavior.
A fetish is 1. an object (as a small stone carving of an animal) believed to have magical power to protect or aid its owner; broadly : a material object regarded with superstitious or extravagant trust or reverence, 2. : an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion : prepossession, 3. : an object or bodily part whose real or fantasied presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may interfere with complete sexual expression
Compersion is the feeling of joy and/or satisfaction when a loved one invests in and takes pleasure from another romantic and/or sexual relationship.
These are important distinctions to make because, offhandedly, “cuckoldry” or the cuckold experience are generally labeled and discussed with both terms. This is a misunderstanding. Almost any sexual interest can be considered a kink, as the only requirement for the term is that is “unconventional.” This traditionally has meant any sexual interest or practice outside of White Heteronormative ideals (“missionary” sex between married partners for the act of procreation, rarely recreation) and is a very loose, universally applicable term. Compersion, often discussed among the polyamorous community, is the enjoyment a partner feels in knowing (or seeing, or hearing) that a primary partner is being satisfied or taking enjoyment in a relationship with someone else. Stepping away from everything sexual for a moment, you might say a parent who notices and feels happiness when they see their child bonding with a playmate or even the other parent is experiencing a form of compersion that is non-sexual. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the term, and any attempt to make it so is misguided. However, as it relates to sex and romance, compersion is often misunderstood and, as it is outside of the White heteronormative ideal where “rights” to a partner are part of said ideal, compersion is also a kink. The fetish is the object, or objects of the kink, the point on which a cuckold (and possibly all other persons involved in the sexual encounter) fixates and directs their attention to achieve psychological and/or sexual satisfaction.
The fetish here – the object of focus – is usually two-fold. The fixations of the cuckolding fetish is very often the sexual superiority of the bull (typified in the “better” lover/bull and embodied, more often, in the penis of the bull) or the “used” genitals (typified in the “satisfied” genitals of the primary partner and embodied in the “used” vagina) of the female partner. The “used” vagina is often flush with blood flow, enlarged or distended from sexual activity, and very often includes the seminal deposit of the bull. When semen is present in a used orifice, this is called a “creampie.” More often, a creampie is vaginal. That is, the semen of the bull is present in the vagina as evidence that the cuckoldress has been unfaithful. A popular element of this kink includes the cuckolded husband, or “offended” party, having to clean up the seminal residue from the vagina of his wife, the cuckoldress, at the demand of the bull. Again, let’s not juggle too many variations on this. While the creampie is typically vaginal because it involves the additional threat of pregnancy, it is frequently anal as evidence that the wife participated in sexual activities or new experiences, especially the taboo, heretofore denied her husband.
Cuckolding is both simple and complex in this way: it is easily explained. A wife cheats on her husband. Simple. Yet the complexity of a sexual fixation is rarely ever the sexual act itself but instead the psychological elements that infuse it with meaning, substance, and significance. In parallel, we are not angry with someone because they stepped on our toes. We are angry with them because we believe they did it intentionally, or previous encounters prove their negligence in this regard. Here are some questions about the psychological aspect.
- Did the cuckold experience shame – if so, internally or verbally/physically from the bull or cuckoldress?
- Did the cuckold enjoy this experience (compersion) and was he allowed to watch (involving elements of voyeurism and exhibitionism) or was it exclusively humiliating?
- Did the experience strengthen the primary relationship between the husband and wife, or did it create a new relational dynamic with the wife giving allegiance (privilege, even exclusive privilege going forward) to her bull instead?
Whenever I talk to people I know who have experienced or are currently involved with cuckolding, typically everyone has consented and takes enjoyment from the activities. I believe this is what distinguishes cuckolding from cheating or adultery – everyone knows about it and, to greater or lesser extent, takes a measure of satisfaction in the arrangement. Most of the thrill takes place in the bedroom where they are allowed to live out the negative aspects of the dynamic in a “safe space” with the promise of limits – be they time, emotional, situational, experiential, sexual, and so on. The thrill comes from experiencing, even wallowing, in these experiences but only up to a limit. Cuckolding, as with all non-traditional sexual practices, can “go wrong” very quickly once those limits (expressed or implied) are violated. In the ideal scenario, everyone resumes the original relational dynamic afterward with a husband resuming his regular status within the primary relationship. However, because the psychological and emotional aspects are so volatile, this is hard to determine. Trust is the only way this juggling act can be maintained.
Additionally, it is hard to get people to self-report non-traditional relational dynamics. All of us know someone who is a bit “adventurous” but it’s not as though people involved in a triad are jumping forward to announce what they are doing in the bedroom. While polyamory has been seeing a great amount of attention in the media lately, polyamory and cuckoldry are not the same thing. They overlap, but again, they are absolutely not the same since polyamory involves a sustained reorganization or reorientation of the relationship. Polyamory means “multiple loves”, not “limited non-traditional sexual pairings exclusive to sexual arrangements and terminating for the resumption of familiar relational structure.”
If it seems like I am weighing the odds here and hedging my bets by describing this – yes, this can be fun, but there are a lot of variables, even dangers – then you are reading me the way I intend. We are told by culture and society that “sex is easy” and that, if sex is complicated, we should stop immediately but that’s not really true or even healthy advice. Sex is frequently dangerous. Even “regular” sex comes with health and emotional risks. Turning up the dial on kink does not necessarily make things more dangerous. It only means you are being (re: should be) more explicit, more vocal, and more aware of what those risks are. As for the terms, yes. They intersect and overlap. At the risk of sounding redundant, I believe this is because we are limited in our sexual vocabulary and field of reference, because we have been told repeatedly that sex and relationships should be easy, simple, traditional, and any attempt to complicate that – even discuss it and lay it out to truly discuss it in depth – is a sign of instability, even danger in the partnership.
Many of the terms and experiences tend to overlap as we are not only expanding our cultural understanding of sexual behaviors and interests but also realizing how limiting many of the terms circulated within culture are and what the horizons of our sexual imagination really are. For example, the difference between an “open relationship”, swinging, and polyamory has to do with where the parameters of the dynamic reside. Are both partners allowed to have sex and/or develop a relationship with partners outside the primary relationship, if so to what degree and of what nature, is there a mandate or request to “tell everything” or are the partners free to be active without a debrief, etcetera? The distinctions may seem casual to an outside observer, but it is the negotiated distinctions that ensure the sustainability of trust within the primary relationship(s).
Distinct from all of the different forms of non-monogamous relational patterns, cuckolding involves sexual satisfaction of one partner when another partner has sex outside of the partnership. Polyamory involves “multiple loves” but the pairings are not sexual – one partner experiences happiness (not sexual in nature) when their partner loves other people. It is not about sex. The compersion experienced in polyamory is not sexual. With cuckolding, that compersion is inherently sexual – one partner is “turned on” by their partner having sex with someone else. This is not necessarily the case with polyamory.
An enlightening and helpful book on the topic of cuckolding, for me, was Stephen J. Ley’s Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men who Love Them (2011). Years prior, I had been involved in what two separate therapists (and a handful of friends) have referred to as a “love triangle.” I developed feelings for the wife of one of my friends, and those feelings were reciprocated, but at no time did those feelings diminish our feelings for one another or for her husband/my friend. In therapy, I actively tried to understand that experience and Ley’s book helped give me language to understand it. Once her husband/myfriend discovered what had transpired “behind his back” he admitted that he had known what was happening all along, even encouraged it. This was not what is referred to as a triad in polyamory – I had no sexual or relational confusion with him and, to the best of my knowledge none existed between us. However, that he “knew” what was happening and was “pretending to be shocked when I actually enjoyed the idea, to be honest” is a good example of compersion. “I’m actually glad it was you,” he told me afterwards, “Because I know she loves you more than me, that you love her too, and I’ve already accepted that. I’m not jealous – I knew it was inevitable and now it’s not just in my head anymore.”
As interest around the cuckolding phenomenon continues to generate interest, more and more people are expanding the parameters of compersion with accounts (or fantasies) similar to the one I experienced, a kind of “emotional cuckoldry” or “emotional unfaithfulness.” In this instance, it is my understanding that what transpired between the three of us “strengthened” their marriage. He and I drifted apart almost immediately after the liaison came to light, though when we saw or spoke with each other, he was always quick to assure me their marriage had not just “survived” but was better, that they found a new and renewed level of honesty and transparency, even thanking me on three occasions over the following years and there is no question, knowing him both before and after this experience, that the “torture” of knowing his wife preferred my company over his aroused something in him. Which is another confusing, seemingly parallel aspect to the cuckold experience. The cuckold both enjoys and is horrified by the actions of the cuckoldress. Psychologically, the cuckold enjoys the experience. Biologically, there are subtle shifts that are causing anxiety in the cuckold – namely sperm competition.