Women Who Stray

Notes on the history and current practice of female infidelity

Is kinky sex good for your marriage?

What can we learn from kinky couples who stay together?

An article in the British tabloid SWNS.com describes the thirty-year of a pair of English swingers, Ian and Jean Smith, who have been "partying" together, and with other people, in the "swinging" scene of London since the 1970's. They started having sex with other people only six months after their marriage, and by their count, have been in over three hundred "parties" with other people. The couple is in their seventies, and are still going strong. With four children and eight grandchildren, and marriage that spans thirty years, it's hard to criticize the apparent health of their relationship, though I'm sure that some will.

My own literary and psychological explorations into the phenomenon of alternative sexual practices began when, in my clinical practice, I encountered two different couples who lived what they called a "hotwife" lifestyle, where the wives had sex with other men, with the husband's permission and encouragement. Distinct from the Smith's swinging lifestyle, the hotwife couples' practices don't include outside sex with other partners, unless it occurs in the confines of group sex centered around the wife. I will share that I was floored by these couples' descriptions, as their practices so directly contradict the social programming that males receive, that we must jealously and violently guard and protect our mates' sexuality from other men.

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The thing that was even more surprising to me? Both of the first couples I encountered were professional, educated and successful. Like the Smiths, they both had decades-long marriages. One of the wives I met was a vice-president in a significant multinational corporation, the other was a tenured, well-published college professor. And both of them loved to have sex with men other than their husbands, often while their husbands watched.

I spent the next two years interviewing couples around the country. My sample was not randomly chosen, I had no control groups, and my efforts were not research, but merely investigation. I found many other couples like these, like the Smiths, where couples had managed to find compatibility by stepping outside the social boundaries of marriage.

Again and again, these couples told me, "if you can talk about this (having sex with other people), you can talk about anything." These couples' communication skills were extraordinary. And, these couples' sexual practices were enormously empowering to the wives. Women told me that while they knew their husband thought they were beautiful, being desired by other men was even more validating to them; after all, "your husband is supposed to think you're beautiful." These couples had negotiated boundaries, mutual and individual. They described to each other their most base, deepest secrets and sexual desires. Many of the couples I saw had previous divorces, and entered into this marriage accepting that monogamy was not a reasonable goal for them. They knew themselves well enough to say, "this monogamy thing doesn't work for me," and as a result, were able to negotiate marriages from a place of self-acceptance and self-knowledge.

Nearly every one of these couples told me that after the wife had sex with other men, their own sex life was fueled, and the couple had sex the way they did when they first started dating. I speculate that the fuel to this fire is in the neurochemistry and biology of sperm competition, as these couples subvert these mechanisms that were intended to prevent illicit pregnancies, co-opting these biological processes to serve a role in fanning the flames of relationships, long past the time when they might have normally subsided into a comfortable, quiet love where sex is nice, but not necessary.

Are these types of relationships for everybody? Certainly not. I encountered numerous couples who dipped their toes into these dangerous waters, and yanked them out again, their marriages only barely surviving the flames of jealousy and fear. But, in contrast to the portrayals of almost every such couple in the media, where couples like Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson in An Indecent Proposal are doomed to destruction, some couples have found ways to make this work, and work incredibly well. Can these couples teach others how to communicate, overcome jealousy, support each other through complicated, challenging activities? Can they teach us how to mutually support each others' growth and development? Regardless of whether sex with others is involved? I think that rather than condemning these couples, we should be working to understand what it is in their relationships that has made it work

 

David J. Ley, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and author of Insatiable Wives, Women Who Stray and The Men Who Love Them, available from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

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