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The Complex Psychology of Cuckolding

"Eroticized cheating," hotwifing, and who tends to be into it.

During a recent podcast, I interviewed Justin Lehmiller, founder and editor of Sex and Psychology, a website that receives several million page views a year. Dr. Lehmiller's research focuses on topics including casual sex, sexual fantasy, sexual health, and friends with benefits. His latest book is Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

I’d like to talk about your research on cuckolding. Will you describe it?

Cuckolding essentially is a sexual interest where somebody is turned on, or they derive arousal from watching their partner have sex with somebody else. Cuckolding could involve any number of gender and sexual orientation combinations.

Isn’t this considered a three-way?

In a threesome, three partners are all sexually interacting. In a cuckolding scenario, there are three people, but they are not all mutually involved participants in the sexual activity. The cuckold is the person who is watching.

I call it eroticized cheating—the eroticizing of watching your mate with someone else even though you know about it. Is that right?

For some people, it may be. For example, when I ask people, "Where did your favorite sexual fantasy come from?" A couple of people said, "My partner cheated on me, and ever since then, I've been turned on by the idea of my partner doing that."

For some people, I can see eroticized cheating as being the source. But for other people, they may get aroused when seeing their partner sexually pleased and satisfied. There also are those who take great pleasure in knowing other people find their partner attractive, but their partner is still going to come home with them.

I think there can be very distinct psychological motivations.

How do you distinguish between cuckolding and hotwifing? Your definition sounds like hotwifing to me.

In cuckolding scenarios, there's usually a BDSM element involved. The cuckold—the person who is watching—takes on a submissive, sometimes masochistic role. In hotwifing, the BDSM element is not present. You have more of an ego boost motivation.

I was talking about cuckolding during an LGBT presentation, and a young guy said, “With all due respect, Dr. Kort, I want to tell you that gay men do it, too.” I disagreed with him. Can you talk about the difference?

We surveyed around 580 men who primarily identified as gay, and we looked at their cuckolding fantasies and compared them to heterosexual men. We found there weren't really a lot of BDSM games involved in gay men's cuckolding fantasies.

We also learned that in heterosexual men's cuckolding fantasies, there's usually an interracial element. Often, a white man wants to watch his white partner have sex with an African American man. In gay men's cuckolding fantasies, that interracial theme was almost nonexistent.

What about cuckqueaning—a woman who gets off watching her husband with another person? How common was this in your study?

This was a separate study for my book, Tell Me What You Want. I surveyed almost 4,200 Americans about their sexual fantasies, and one of the questions I asked was, "Have you ever fantasized about watching your partner have sex with someone else?”

More than half of the heterosexual men in the study had this fantasy before, compared to 25 percent of heterosexual women. Gay and bisexual men are more likely than heterosexual men to have cuckolding fantasies, and the same is true for lesbian and bisexual women. If you identify as male, if you identify as non-heterosexual, you're more likely to be into cuckolding.

Some people who have been cheated on don’t understand why anyone would see that as fun. I always say to them, "You're in control of it here. It’s all agreed upon." Real infidelity and real cheating mean you didn’t agree, and the person did it behind your back and broke the relationship contract. With cuckolding, everybody's on board, correct?

Right. I think it's important to make the distinction between cuckolding and cheating. Cheating, by definition, is non-consensual. Somebody is sneaking around and doing something behind their partner's back. In cuckolding, everybody knows and agrees to what is happening.

One important takeaway I have found in my research on cuckolding is that people who act on those fantasies report being more satisfied and happier in their relationships, and it has improved their relationship. Getting in touch with our sexual fantasies, sharing those desires with our partner, and potentially acting on them when it is mutually agreed upon, is something that can benefit our relationships in a lot of ways.

You're taking away the stigma, the shame, and allowing people to experience sexual pleasure.

Absolutely. When people feel that shame and guilt, it prevents them from talking to their partners about it and ultimately prevents them from getting what they want when it comes to sex. This creates a cycle; people are dissatisfied in their relationships because they're not getting what they want, but they don't feel like they can ask for it, because of that shame.

How do partners talk with each other about their sexual fantasies?

First, you have to feel good about yourself. Once you feel good about yourself when it comes to sharing your fantasies with your partner, choose the right time, place, and setting. Choose a private, distraction-free environment, start low, and go slow.

Don't share all of your fantasies at once. Start with the more vanilla ones, and think of this as a mutual process. It's self-disclosure; you're building trust and intimacy over time.

Facebook image: Motortion Films/Shutterstock

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