How to Pick a Lover

The chains of marriage are so heavy that it takes two to bear them, and sometimes three.
—Alexandre Dumas: fi ls, L’Esprit d’Alexandre Dumas

As Val, whose blog I highly recommend (, noted in her comment on my last post, the double standard of sexuality has always been more tolerant of the husband who strays than of the wife who strays. Nevertheless, a large proportion of married woman do have extramarital sex, at least once, during the course of their marriages. Quite a large proportion take a lover and have an affair which continues over time on a number of occasions. Some have more than one affair at a time. How large are these proportions? No one knows, but they would seem to be an increasing minority.

Back in 1948, Kinsey and his associates reported in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female that about 20 percent of all wives had had extramarital sex at least once. In 1972, Hunt published a survey done by Redbook magazine, which suggested approximately the same ratio, with rates slightly higher among young women. In her book The Monogamy Myth, Peggy Vaughan estimates that 40 percent of women will have an extramarital affair while married. The rate is likely to vary depending on the type of women interviewed, with the highest probably to be found among younger wives working in urban areas. While extramarital sex is still a relatively secretive activity, it’s becoming more and more of an open secret. Elaine Denholtz provides an account of women who are Having It Both Ways, based on a series of very intimate anonymous interviews. Mary Anne Wollison does much the same thing in her discussion of Affairs: The Secret Lives of Women, as does Linda Wolfe in her book Playing Around: Women and Extramarital Affairs.

Cover of "The Monogamy Myth: A Personal H...

Cover via Amazon

Some people who commit adultery do incur most unfortunate results, just as the folk literature tells us. However, in real life, many women have affairs which no one knows about except the participants. Many women have affairs which are eventually discovered but which don’t automatically bring destruction and ruin about their heads. Many women have many affairs and live to tell the tale and, eventually, live happily ever after.

The real message may be that it’s not an extramarital connection per se that is bad for one’s mental health, but the wrong extramarital connection, undertaken with the wrong person for the wrong reasons and managed in the wrong way. There isn’t a whole lot of instruction given wives on the important subject of how to have a successful affair, with the result that there’s a lot of on-the-job training. As a married friend of mine told me after she had a disastrous affair, “The trouble with on-the-job training is that you can make so many mistakes.”

Help may be on the way, as women become more circumspect about their sexual needs. In the early 1980s in Los Angeles, psychologist Cynthia Silverman began to offer workshops for married women who are having—or thinking of having—extramarital affairs. While such groups may offer some psychological support and may be useful in dealing with guilt, they are most noteworthy for the changing attitudes they represent.

A married woman who contemplates an affair should take into account all of the rules of safe conduct discussed in my previous blogs. In addition, however, she needs to contend with two other factors: the risk of exposure and the special problems of pregnancy. More to come on that later.

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Comments on: "Taking Chances: Wives Who Have Affairs" (4)

  1. I think, this is just me mind you, women today are finding their needs not being met within marriage. This isn’t simply an issue of sex but of emotion. The older generation (me) are being met increasingly with harsh realities of being alone after long marriages, often having never explored options. We were unfortunately the front end of the sexual revolution and then settled into ‘safe’ relationships. Strange how the wheel turns.

    • Val I don’t think it’s just you. Sometimes, emotional intimacy (love) and sex and marriage go together; sometimes only two are found together; and sometimes they are totally separate for some women. Sometimes they start out together with love’s young dream and get separated later on. Some find sex and love and marriage all at once in a relationship; and some never really find satisfaction in sex or love or marriage.

      While my blogs of late have focused on the sexual needs of women in marriage, or the lack there of, most women, like yourself, also have a need for emotional intimacy in marriage. A woman may or may not want to marry, and she may or may not want to have children; but almost without exception, she wants a certain someone to share with her the joys of a loving relationship. And, if nothing else, she wants the exquisite vanity of living under someone else’s loving gaze.

      As you note, while the sexual revolution raised the consciousness of a generation in terms of their potential for erotic fulfillment, sexuality is only one part of what women want from men.

      There are certainly women who might want mainly to have sex; and others who want mainly to be less lonely or to be less bored or to be loved. Yet, I think that most women, in the best of all possible worlds, probably want eroticism and love together, with a man who is also an interesting companion. Which needs comes foremost in your mind depends upon your won personality and upon the circumstances in which you find yourself. Having a husband who is physically present doesn’t guarantee emotional fulfillment, even though we often think it should.

      These are just my thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to the post.

      • I think, where I find myself now I am struggling with what is important. What I am coming to is this:

        Intimacy is vital, without it exploration won’t happen and thus eroticism will be missing. For me, I need that; I need that level of trust. Does this mean marriage? I don’t think so, I think where I am today marriage doesn’t breed trust so I don’t trust marriage as the breeding ground of either intimacy or eroticism. But a loving relationship, yes still want that and all that goes with it.

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