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The Secret Lives of Cheating Wives

These women cheat to keep their marriages strong.

Guest post by Alicia Walker, Ph.D.

When people find out that the topic of my book, The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife, is women’s infidelity, they have lots of questions. People are alternately fascinated, repulsed, and astonished by the idea. We have a tendency to discount women’s sexuality in general, and that extends to their need and desire for sex. We like to think that sex just isn’t all that important to women. But that’s simply not the reality for many.

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The women I interviewed consistently spoke of the importance and value of sex in their lives. This was especially true for women whose marriages were sexless or orgasmless. Women often endured these sexual deserts for years before finally acting. None of these women rushed into posting a profile seeking an affair thoughtlessly or impulsively. Rather, they had already invested much time and effort into trying to repair the sexual state of their marriages, to no avail. At some point, they just couldn’t go on without getting their sexual needs met. While some would yell at these women to take care of those needs themselves, for some people, solo sex just isn’t enough. For them, partnered sex is necessary for their needs to be met.

Our common-sense understandings of women’s sexuality claim that it is rooted in love and emotion. We say things like, “Women have sex to feel closer to their partner, while men have sex for pleasure.” But the women I spoke to desired sex for pleasure. The sex they had in their affairs was specifically focused on their pleasure. They avoided “love” with their affair partners, saving that emotion for their husbands. With their affair partners, the sex was about their pleasure and sexual desires. They were in the sexual driver’s seat in a way many had never been in their “real” lives.

For these women, the release they experienced through sex with an affair partner saved their marriages. Prior to participating in an affair, they doubted their own ability to stay in the marriage. They simply didn’t know how much longer they could live sexlessly or with a sex life absent pleasurable release. The thought of dissolving their marriages evoked sadness and despair. But the sexual relief of their affairs made them feel capable of continuing to stay in those marriages — something they very much desired.

With their sexual needs met, at least periodically, they found themselves better able to endure the daily frustrations of a shared life. They could overlook an unequal division of household labor, irritating habits, and even inattentiveness, in part because they kept such a large, stigmatized secret from their spouse. Many pointed out that when they got angry with their husbands about something small, they checked themselves with some version of the thought: “I’m a cheating [b-word].” But aside from the guilt about their behavior, the sheer power of having their sexual needs met enabled them to be a more gracious version of themselves. It makes sense: When we have less stress in our lives, we can afford to be more charitable toward other people. Going years without sexual release can certainly be a source of stress. We may want to believe that that stress only applies to men, but the women I talked to certainly challenge that idea. As a result, the women’s home lives and marriages were smoother and enjoyed less conflict overall. These women could focus on the things about their husbands that they appreciated and valued, rather than being consumed with the one thing their husbands weren’t providing — satisfying sex.

For the women I spoke to, their affairs were carefully constructed to boost and reinforce their marriages, rather than to take from them. They were careful to not allow their affair to divert too much time and energy from their marriages — another reason they avoided “falling in love” with an affair partner. They made sure that their affairs were an outlet of release, and not the focus of their lives. These affairs didn’t take up space in their hearts. They were relegated to a specific and small space in their lives, so that they didn’t threaten these women’s marriages. The women’s focus remained on their husbands and families. Their affairs were a place where they focused solely on themselves and their pleasure and desires. But it was a place they only visited. They were careful not to take up residence, physically or emotionally.

In these very specific circumstances, affairs improved marriages. Women were able to extend more kindness, generosity, and forgiveness to their husbands, because the sexual pleasure gained in their affairs released the tension, resentment, and frustration they had coped with for years in sexless and sexually unsatisfying unions.

Am I suggesting all wives should have affairs? Not at all. But for the women I spoke with, affairs had saved their marriages. The sex they were enjoying in their affairs revived their ability to continue on in their marriages, preserving their families. They allowed them to once again see the joy and merit in those marriages, while previously they had been unable to see past their sexual deprivation. In these specific conditions, affairs helped keep marriages together.