The Politics of Cuckolding
Why are conservative men more interested in sharing their wives?
Posted Jul 23, 2018
In January 2018, I, along with co-authors Justin Lehmiller and Dan Savage, published a research study which examined a unique sexual issue: cuckolding in gay male couples. We did some interviews about the research, and about both Dr. Lehmiller's and my own other research about wife-sharing in heterosexual couples. One of the things we suggested in the study and in our interviews seemed relatively innocuous to me: When a couple is relatively healthy, engaging in the practice of cuckolding appeared to have generally positive outcomes for the couple, likely due to the degree of communication, sexual novelty, and negotiation required. The Internet then blew up.
In 2009, I published my first book, Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men who Love Them, a unique scholarly investigation into the psychology of men who enjoy the idea of their wives having sex with other men. Historically, this practice was actually known as “wittolry” but modern fans have adopted the term cuckolding. When I interviewed dozens of couples around the country for my book, this was a relatively rare practice, and appeared to only occur in heterosexual couples. But, in recent years, there has been an interesting rise in the practice of gay cuckolding, in which homosexual men explore a similar fantasy of submission, sharing their husbands with other men. This recent rise prompted our research, as Dan Savage had received letters from gay men into this practice.
Since about 2016, though, the term “cuck” and cuckold has also become a slur and an attack within conservative political circles, where the label is used to belittle other conservative figures, apparently for failing to stay true to their values and defend their turf. When CNN covered our research, suggesting cuckolding might be positive for some, conservative media outlets viewed this as an attack on family values, and also as an example of the “weakness” of liberal and left politics.
On Twitter, conservative right and alt-right figures erupted as well, leading to one exchange in which I suggested to a well-known commentator that, as a psychologist, I found the conservative obsession with calling other people “cucks” to suggest projection, and that these conservatives were themselves quite interested in this practice. It turns out that my quip may have been more true than I expected.
A study published in July examined the role of politics and political affiliations in people who used the Ashley Madison website to seek out extramarital encounters. Using names and information gathered from the infamous Ashley Madison hacking incident, researchers found voter roll information for around 80,000 Ashley Madison users. It turned out that the majority were either Libertarian or Republican. While this research examined infidelity, and not cuckolding per se, the researchers suggested that their results provided support for the idea that people with more conservative and strict sexual values might actually, paradoxically, be “more likely to engage in deviant sexual behavior.”
My co-author, Lehmiller, recently published his new book, Tell Me What You Want, examining the sexual fantasies of 4000 people. The entire book is a fascinating read, but interestingly, Justin found that Republicans fantasized much more about infidelity, cuckolding, and men with very large genitals, as compared to Democrats, who were more likely to fantasize about bondage and discipline behaviors or romantic intimacy. (This last might be because of gender differences, with more females affiliated with left-leaning politics, and these types of fantasies being more common among females.)
This certainly isn't new. In the early 1990’s, Florida politics rocked with a titillating sex scandal: A deputy sheriff was arranging for men to have sex with his wife for money, while his deputy secretly recorded the encounters. At trial, the wife, Kathy Willetts, claimed that nymphomania had been the cause of the couples’ behavior. The scandal got even deeper when it was revealed that many of Willetts' sex partners had been prominent Republican politicians. Trump advisor Roger Stone has acknowledged participating in swinging and describes himself as a "libertine."
And last week, allegations of cuckolding erupted from the top echelon of modern Republican politics. According to documents released, it is alleged that Republican Paul Manafort, currently in jail facing charges related to Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation, used to enjoy sharing his wife with numerous men. Wikileaks apparently held a large trove of texts from within the Manafort family, and these materials were recently made generally public. According to this information, Manafort was described as making his wife be with other men, a practice to which she apparently complied with to make him happy, but found “disgusting.” Like many men involved in cuckolding, Manafort would allegedly wait until the other men, usually black males, had sex with his wife and left before he had sex with her. According to the materials, this sexual interest ultimately contributed to Manafort’s divorce, because he “needed” these sexual activities to be happy, which his daughters referred to as an “addiction.”
There are many reasons why men might enjoy sexual fantasies of their wives with other men. I discussed a few of these in one of my earliest and most popular Psychology Today posts. Sometimes it’s because the couple, or the man, find themselves needing a spark of excitement or jealousy to revitalize their sexual relationship and interest; the concept of “sperm competition” is essentially weaponized. During the media furor about our gay cuckold research, I heard from dozens of conservative men who shared privately that they had cuckold fantasies. Many said that they sometimes despaired at their ability to live up to the “alpha male” ideals they espoused and found that giving up that control was erotic, as they fantasized about their partners with other men.
It’s not that all Republicans are interested in cuckolding or infidelity. And Democrats have their own histories of sexual peccadilloes and infidelity. But we do have a very long history of conservative politicians and religious leaders who attack and decry some sexual practices, and then get caught engaging in that very behavior. Whether this is about projection, or merely the intense excitement that comes from violating secret and strong taboos, there do appear to be some strong links between these uncommon sexual behaviors and one’s political values.