- Female infidelity has a long history of stigma and shame.
- In recent years, cuckolding and other forms of female non-monogamy are getting attention (positive and negative) in mainstream media
- As shame and stigma around sexual lifestyles decreases, people find healthy, positive ways to integrate sexuality into their lives
In 2008, I first encountered couples who lived what they called the “hotwife” or “cuckold” lifestyle. While I had worked with sexuality issues for many years, I was unfamiliar with this phenomenon. In this lifestyle, the men in these heterosexual relationships encouraged their wives to engage in sexual relations with other men, while the husbands were most often monogamous. In cuckolding, there is often an element of male submission or humiliation involved, whereas in hotwifing, the men are equal partners, and there’s no humiliation involved. My initial reaction was to assume that this practice reflected unhealthy relationships, disturbed attachment, and sexual problems.
Nothing was further from the truth. As I interviewed people around the world who engaged in these practices, I found that most of them were healthy people, exploring sexual desires and confronting taboo and shame. I was forced to confront the degree of morality and bias that had intruded into my clinical thinking and had clouded my judgment.
There had been little to no attention to this sexual lifestyle in mainstream media or research. Though I found that there was a long and rich history of such forms of wife-sharing and permissive female infidelity, it was a dirty, shameful secret. Shakespeare’s plays are filled with humiliation and shame around men being cuckolded by their wives, and that theme has persisted throughout social attitudes and literature. Where consensual cuckolding happened, it was often secret, shameful, and hidden for fear of judgment. Many couples I met kept their sexual lifestyle secret, even within other sexual communities. I’ll never forget the couple who participated in the swinging community but kept secret the fact that they were interested in cuckolding, because of judgment from swingers that the husband wasn’t also being sexual with other people, and that their relationship was solely focused on the wife’s sexual pleasure.
In recent years, however, mainstream acknowledgment and attention to the commonness of the cuckold and hotwife fantasy and lifestyle has exploded, shifting in extraordinary ways. In 2017, with social psychologist Justin Lehmiller and columnist Dan Savage, we published the first-ever psychological research study of people who fantasized about cuckolding, particularly in the gay male community. Prior to this, cuckolding had been assumed to be a heterosexual-only phenomenon. That study exposed that many people fantasize about cuckolding—whether they are straight, gay, or bi—and that for many of them, this sexual practice was a healthy part of their lives and loves.
The media exploded, and even Fox News got involved, deriding the idea that cuckolding could ever be healthy. In conservative politics, the term “cuck” is commonly used as an insult, for men who are weak, unmasculine, and uncommitted to their political principles. But, just a few years later, that same conservative community was rocked by the revelations that prominent Republican and religious figure Jerry Falwell Jr. allegedly enjoyed watching his wife engage in sexual behaviors with men, a core component of cuckolding.
In 2018, Justin Lehmiller expanded our research, exploring sexual fantasies and behaviors in his book, Tell Me What You Want, where he shared research that around 45 percent of men sexually fantasize about watching their female partners with other men. These data jibe with the fact that every year, porn-related research indicates that cuckolding-related pornography is extremely and increasingly popular. Colleague Joe Kort described men who explored cuckolding, in his books and blog, but also now began to talk about the women who engage in cuckolding, as well as those women who get excited by sharing their men with other women. As mainstream attention to cuckolding has increased, a fascinating shift has occurred, away from a focus on the male sex fantasy, towards an elevation of the female desires that are the focus of cuckolding.
When I investigated cuckolding and hotwifing, this was a practice almost universally introduced by the husbands to their wives. I heard only rarely, if ever, about women who chose to seek this out themselves, or introduced it independently, for their own interests. It was almost always something that occurred in relationships that had been stable and lasting, and had started monogamously. All of that has changed. Venus Connections is a matchmaking service that pairs single men and women, who are both interested in finding a relationship that includes permissive female infidelity, from the beginning. I interviewed Crystal Welch, a woman who struggled with monogamy and accepted that sexual fidelity didn’t work for her. She sought out a man who accepted that in her, and reports she’s never been happier or more fulfilled.
In Open, an uncensored memoir of love, liberation, and non-monogamy, writer Rachel Krantz dives deeply into exploring her own sexuality and pursuing sex outside the bounds of relationship. “I see how some women have experienced non-monogamy as a path to some form of liberation,” Krantz quotes a non-monogamous woman who says, “They realize, I own my sexuality, I own my body, I am not dependent on any one person. And that in itself is extremely liberating to feel. Especially for women with men. Many women are not getting enough attention and affection and romance. They’re starving, but they’re accepting it. I think it can be extremely freeing to realize they have other avenues to get their needs met.”
As the shame and secrecy around diverse sexuality decrease, like receding waters, we are uncovering and discovering more of the fascinating, complex nuances that imbue our unique sexualities. Through fostering self-acceptance, more and more people, including women and sexual minorities, are able to create healthy ways to integrate their sexuality into their lives. It’s our job now to listen to them and learn from them.
Facebook image: Motortion Films/Shutterstock
See podcast with Crystal Welch.