What is the effect on marriage of wives' affairs with other women? Does it mean they are unfaithful?
In our current post-modern times of multi-layered experience, a woman's sexual attractions are influenced by social and cultural constructions, personal history, as well as inner strivings, situational, and marital factors.
The meaning of a wife's extramarital affair with a woman is a unique experience with a private meaning that differs for each and every woman. I will explore some of these multiple meanings of married women's affairs with other women that I wrote about in my book, Daring Wives: Insight into Women's Desires for Extramarital Affairs.
The effect on marriage is manifold, as a husband may feel his wife has not only betrayed him with another woman, but that she knew about her sexual longings and, in fact, has been betraying him all along.
Yet the research shows otherwise. There is evidence that a woman's sexuality is flexible, plastic, and may change over time. Childhood indicators of sexual orientation do not necessarily indicate a woman's later sexual orientation. For some women, sexual orientation may well be an emergent phenomenon, rather than an early-appearing trait.
Then, there are some women who have always known that they had sexual desires for other women and their marriage may be a way of trying to conform to societal constraints about same-sex relationships. In that case, the woman, may have, unwittingly, used the marriage as an experiment to see if a relationship with a man could "cure" her of her lesbian leanings.
The state of the marriage ─ a situational factor ─ can also influence a woman's expression of her same-sex desires. Women want mutual power, reciprocity, recognition, empathy, and emotional attunement in the marital relationship. If her husband fails in these areas ─ but a woman doesn't ─ a woman may be surprised by her emerging sexual feelings towards her female friend.
In other cases, a husband may encourage his wife's affairs with other women. Indeed, a husband still wields a great deal of power in his wife's choices. He may ask his wife to engage with him in swinging ─ where she engages in sex with another woman while he watches or participates. Research indicates that many women, who had no prior sexual attraction to other women, continued to have sex with both men and women after their first swinging experience with another woman.
In my clinical experience, I have worked with wives whose same-sex affairs gave rise to turmoil for them and for their husbands. I have read about women whose continued engagement in sexual behavior with women did not affect the marriage. I have not, however, found the last scenario ─particularly in swinging situations ─to enhance the marriage, but rather swinging only diminishes true intimacy.
That's because true intimacy is a multi-leveled experience of shared experience, respect, attraction, empathy, attunement, loyalty, lust and love. It takes most of these factors for women to achieve intimacy and satisfying sex with their partners. The open marriages of the sixties and seventies ─that symbolized the sexual and the counter-culture revolution ─do not appear to work today.
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