Women Who Stray

Notes on the history and current practice of female infidelity

What About Love?

Hollywood is inundating us with movies about infidelity. Why?

Shouldn't love be enough?
Ever notice how movies come in a cluster? There will be three or four war movies released around the same time, or alien movies, or whatever the studios learn that another studio is doing, that they can copy and try to ride on the coattails of. The latest series of related films all explore our convoluted beliefs about sexual fidelity, love, and monogamy.

Hall Pass is the latest, where two horny husbands are given a week's free license by their wives, to "get it out of their systems." In The Dilemma, Vince Vaughan is confronted by the infidelity of his best friend's wife. In Something Borrowed, Kate Hudson get entangled in a sexual liaison with her best friend's fiancée. And in No Strings Attached, Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman explore the world of uncommitted sex.

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So, why is nonmonogamous sex suddenly on everyone's mind? Well, we spent the last few years, witnessing sexual scandals involving infidelity from Tiger Woods, John Ensign, Jesse James, David Beckham, and on and on. Most of the above movies are comedies, and maybe the zeitgeist just decided we all needed to take things a little less seriously. Laughter is the best medicine after all.


We also had a lot of interesting research come to light in 2010, research that revealed that casual sex is way more common than we'd like to think, and has far fewer negative consequences than we've believed. In fact, lots of pretty happy healthy relationships start with casual sex. My friend and fellow PT blogger Chris Ryan and his partner published an amazing book that confronts our basic beliefs that monogamy is a natural part of the human condition. And recently, research on young couples now suggests that many of them are less monogamous than even they believe.

For the second year running, the website Ashley Madison, where the tagline is, "Life is short, have an affair," was declined the ability to purchase an advertisement slot during the Super Bowl. Ashley Madison is a wildly successful website, and its' creator, Biderman, has become one of the most quoted people in the media, when it comes to infidelity.

Most of our discussion of infidelity focuses on sexual behaviors, and not that wonderful, difficult to define concept of love. But, I predict that all of these movies will have happy endings, where love triumphs over the temptations of sexual freedom. It's an interesting and subtle conflict that these films introduce. They suggest that one can have sexual freedom, OR have strong, passionate love, but not both. Is it true?

Do sexual fidelity and love have to be in lockstep?
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I believe it is certainly true for some people. The biochemistry involved in mating does have a lot of influence on our behaviors, our feelings, and our relationships. When we have sex with someone, and share intimacy with them, opening our bodies up to them, it is difficult not to also open our souls. And love, especially romantic love, can be a lot of work. Love, whatever definition you ascribe to, involves you valuing the needs and happiness of another person. Some people have told me that the idea of multiple romantic relationships just sounds like a lot of work, and a lot of complication. Others have suggested that it is frightening to them, that they may never have a love so true that the other person cannot give up sex with others, or even better, never again feel sexual desire for anyone else. I believe that this is one of the dangerous messages in our social discussion of monogamy and sexual fidelity. The embedded message in all of these movies and sexyal scandals is that these sexual escapades occurred because of a lack of love, or simply because there wasn't enough love.

In my book Insatiable Wives, I interviewed an unforgettable couple. They had been married for over three decades, were each others' first lovers and high-school sweethearts. And at around age fifty, the wife shared with her husband that she'd never had an orgasm with him. The couple began to work harder than ever before, to reconnect sexually, and did so at an amazing level. After a couple of years of exploring each others' sexual desires, and discovering the wife's true levels of sexual capacity, the couple opened their relationship. When I interviewed them, the wife had been having sex with other men for several years, with her husband's consent, and I never saw a couple that conveyed as much mutual support, love, and knowledge of each other. The husband was a courtly Southern gentleman, who treated his wife like a queen, and she basked in his love, radiating it back like a sun. It is certainly not the case for every marriage, but in this one at least, I saw that boundless love and sexual fidelity were not mutually exclusive.

So, if you need a laugh, go to Hollywood's latest offerings. Let yourself struggle with the infidelity and sexual temptations on screen, and then watch when Hollywood slips in those messages, that love and sexual temptation are in combat. That may be true for you, or even for many people, but with some of the people I see and treat, love and sexual fidelity are two related, but separate concepts. Regardless of what Hollywood wants to sell them.

 

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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