I Love Him, but I Need Someone Else, Too

Here's an inside look at sexual outsourcing.

Posted Feb 26, 2019

"I just want what every married woman wants, someone besides her husband to sleep with.” —Peg Bundy, the television show Married with Children

Can we outsource our romantic and sexual needs? Can someone else do it better than our partner? Sometimes, the answer is “yes.”

Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock
Source: Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

What is outsourcing?

"Do what you do best and outsource the rest!" —Tom Peters

Outsourcing is a business practice that involves contracting with a party outside a company to fulfill a certain task that is traditionally fulfilled by company employees.

The potential benefits of work outsourcing are many: cutting costs, getting access to skilled expertise, focusing on core activities, running your business 24/7, greater flexibility and diversity. A major potential drawback of work outsourcing is a possible increase in internal tension, especially when positions are taken from company-employed workers. Company success is dependent upon the good feelings of workers, and outsourcing can damage these feelings. Indeed, many companies that tried outsourcing wound up reversing their strategy and “insourcing,” and in this way heightened worker satisfaction.

Opposition to outsourcing is mainly about extent — that is, how much of the company work is sent elsewhere. The more that is sent, the greater the opposition. When the outsourcing is limited (in the extent of the activity) and occasional (relatively infrequent), the criticism is weaker, since it can be perceived as a temporary remedy.

The source of sexual outsourcing

As I claim in my book, The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change Over Time (2019), and elsewhere, people usually experience emotions when they perceive significant positive or negative changes in their personal situation — or in that of those related to them. From an evolutionary point of view, it is advantageous to focus our attention on change rather than on static stimuli. While change tends to generate intense, short-term emotion, familiarity tends to produce a more moderate attitude, which can be long-lasting. A change cannot persist for an extended period; after a while, we consider the change as normal, and it no longer stimulates us. Thus, one’s sexual response to a familiar partner will typically be progressively less intense than such a response to a novel partner.

External change has become the go-to stick for stoking the romantic fire. Think, for instance, of changing a partner, or at least taking an occasional walk on the wild side.

Making changes within a couple’s relationship, like exploring new places or new activities together, can enhance enduring relationships and help maintain a reasonable level of intensity. Such changes, however, cannot reach the highest summits of a burning heart of those associated with sexually interacting with a new partner; hence, the changes within may seem like a pauper’s joy.

However, these minor joint interactions go from being a pauper’s joy to a millionaire’s dream — a powerful engine for the development and enhancement of love. The imperative for stable, caring interactions with a limited number of people can even override the excitement of changing romantic partners.

Types of sexual outsourcing

“I have good-looking kids. Thank goodness my wife cheats on me.” —Rodney Dangerfield

Sexual outsourcing runs counter to monogamy, in which a single person fulfills all the sexual needs of another person, and vice versa. Roughly speaking, there are two types of sexual outsourcing: nonconsensual and consensual.

Nonconsensual sexual outsourcing has prevailed throughout human history in the form of adultery — namely, sex between a married person and someone who is not their husband or wife — and infidelity, which is the act of being unfaithful to a sexual partner.

Consensual sexual outsourcing can be found in open (sexual) relationships where one or both partners seek sexual experiences outside the relationship. In open, sexual relationships, the basic attitude is that the relationship is essentially fine, and the most acute problem is the declining sexual desire. This is taken care of by adding new sexual partners. Consensual sexual outsourcing involves adultery, but not infidelity.

Both types of sexual outsourcing have some of the benefits and drawbacks of work-related outsourcing. The benefits include gaining access to experiences unavailable otherwise, while maintaining insourcing activities concerning other core features of romantic relationships. Sexual outsourcing may reduce the risks associated with leaving the current, dull relationship by exercising sexual generosity. When using sexual outsourcing, the availability of one’s sexual satisfaction is greater and more intense. Such outsourcing increases pleasant romantic flexibility and diversity.

Evaluating sexual outsourcing

"It ain't no sin if you crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don’t break any.” —Mae West

From a normative viewpoint, consensual outsourcing seems to be a lesser “sin” than nonconsensual outsourcing, as it does not involve cheating and infidelity. The person does not have to lie, and the spouse is not being deceived. Although this view is indeed valid, from a different perspective, consensual outsourcing can be perceived as normatively more problematic.

Two major features significant to regular employees for evaluating workplace outsourcing are being limited and occasional. These features, which facilitate considering outsourcing as a temporary remedy, are also relevant for evaluating sexual outsourcing. However, in light of the high sensitivity of sexual outsourcing, another feature is added: discreetness.

These three features — namely, being limited, occasional, and discreet — reduce the criticism of sexual outsourcing to the point that it may be accepted in some cases, even from a religious perspective. Thus, a major religious book in the Jewish tradition, the Babylonian Talmud, states: “Rabbi Ilai the Elder said: If a man sees that his desire is conquering him, let him go to a place where he is unknown, don black and cover himself with black, and do as his heart desires, but let him not publicly profane God's name.” In a similar vein, Catherine Hakim, who argues that an enduring marriage and extramarital affairs is the best formula for happiness, claims that, in order to avoid embarrassment, the affairs should be "conducted with great discretion."

Alicia Walker (2019), in her study on married individuals seeking extramarital sexual encounters on an online website catering to affairs, Ashley Madison, found that these affairs tend to increase life satisfaction during and after the affair, as compared with their satisfaction before the affair. Many of them believe that having an outside partner enables them to stay in their primary partnership. Compared with men, women perceived even greater life satisfaction during an outside partnership. Walker further argues that these people reject the social norm of marriage as monogamous, but they do so secretly. Through this experience, they redefine “commitment” to mean a resolution to remain in the primary partnership. Thus, under this paradigm, sex and emotional intimacy with another partner does not violate their commitment. Walker concludes that “holding onto the primary partnership with its existing benefits and supplementing with an outside partnership could begin to appear to some as a reasonable strategy to achieve the socially sanctioned goals of relational satisfaction and happiness.” Nevertheless, Walker emphasizes that her study was conducted on a non-random sample, and the results cannot be generalized to the greater population (see also Brenner, 2019).

Nonconsensual outsourcing is often perceived as a kind of natural deviation from a norm that many people cannot fully fulfill. Indeed, a common narrative among married people who are having an affair but still love their spouse is describing the affair as a one-time, incidental, meaningless experience. This narrative is often self-deceptive, but still is valuable for carrying on the affair. Hence, in many such cases, the sexual encounter ends without a date determined for the next one, and there is no connection between the two lovers from one meeting to another. The adulterous person tries to see the activity as a repeated, one-time sexual outsourcing; a kind of bending of a few laws, as we often do, but breaking none.

Consensual outsourcing is judged more harshly, since it is seen as abandoning the norm and not merely deviating from it. The extent, duration, and frequency of the “deviation” are crucial to the evaluation of the given sexual behavior. Considering a comparison in the area of mental health, chronic depression and anxiety are perceived to be much more negative than occasional sadness and fear.

Consensual romantic outsourcing

“My fantasy is to have five lovers. However, I do not think that my husband will agree, and anyway, I will not have time for having them all. I believe that three is the limit.” —A polyamorous married woman

In addition to sexual outsourcing, we can also speak about romantic outsourcing, which is common in polyamory. In my book, The Arc of Love, I claim that while an open, sexual marriage assumes that the major problem in monogamy is declining sexual desire, polyamory assumes that this decline is part of a larger problem associated with the idea that a single person can fulfill our entire romantic (and other significant) needs.

The broader outsourcing in polyamory blurs the distinction between insourcing and outsourcing. Although in polyamorous relations the distinction between the primary partner (insourcing) and second partner (outsourcing) is often retained, the boundaries between the two are unclear, and in some relationships, they do not exist. In any case, the outsourcing here is almost unlimited in its extent and frequency, and it is obviously not discreet, but rather occurs at the central stage of the relationship. This is likely to increase the tension between the various relevant individuals. In this sense, romantic outsourcing seems to break more laws than sexual outsourcing, which appears to bend them instead.   

Work-related outsourcing assumes that “where the work can be done outside better than it can be done inside, we should do it” (Alphonso Jackson). But this is precisely what we should not do in romantic relationships. Constant comparison and endless search for a better partner is lethal to the current relationship and can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Accordingly, outsourcing should not be the default option, but rather an option taken when the current one is far worse than what the person can cope with, with no possible improvement on any horizon.

Concluding remarks

“The chain of wedlock is so heavy that it takes two to carry it — and sometimes three.” —Heraclitus

Romantic outsourcing is more beneficial when it is part of the hierarchical order: for example, having a secondary status and being limited and discreet. Otherwise, romantic outsourcing may ruin the very system it intends to improve. As in business, by depriving yourself of romantic outsourcing, you may put yourself out of business.

References

Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2019). The arc of love: How our romantic lives change over time. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Brenner, G. H. (2019). Can Infidelity Support Marriage and Increase Happiness? Psychology Today, February 24, 2019

Hakim, C. (2012). The new rules. London: Gibson Square.

Walker, A. M. (2019). Having your cake and eating it, too: Factors impacting perception of life satisfaction during outside partnerships. Sexuality & Culture, 23, 112-131.