How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘sexual behaviors’

Taking Chances: Wives Who Have Affairs

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 (valentinelogar.com), 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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Adulteress as Villainess

A hundred years ago Hester Prynne of “The Scarlet Letter” was given an A for adultery; today she would rate no better than a C-plus.
—Peter De Vries

Throughout history, women who were caught in adultery have suffered grievous punishments. In India, they might have been burned. In Persia, men favored beheading adulterous women. In Turkey, the traditional punishment was the lash, a painful prospect but one offering more hope than in traditional China, where errant wives might be imprisoned for life.

Under Sharia law in a number of Islamic countries, all it takes is two male witnesses swearing that the woman is an adulteress, and she can be stoned to death even if she never committed adultery.

Countries with Sharia rule.

Countries with Sharia rule. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the literature of the Western world, women who are, as they say, “taken in adultery” are not punished as blatantly, but they don’t fare well. The world’s literature is, of course, written primarily by men and may, consequently, reflect more the position of an outraged husband than it does the sentiments of the outraged wife.

In Dante’s Inferno (ca. 1300), Francesca loved not only her husband but also his younger brother, Paolo; and when they were discovered, both were put to death. This sad tale, repeated in other literary versions, is unusual in that both guilty parties were punished. Usually, the double standard results in the errant woman being the focus of concern and punishment.

In Hawthorn’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne was forced to wear an embroidered scarlet letter on her dress to show that she was an adulteress and then required to stand in the pillory holding her illegitimate child. In Tolstoy’s tragic story of Anna Karenina, the social disapproval of the lovers is so pervasive and extreme that Anna disintegrates and ultimately throws herself under the wheels of a train. There are a plethora of other examples of the same ilk, conveying the message that crime does not pay and that the woman who strays from the domestic hearth will come to a tragic end.

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Secret Affairs: The Extramarital Connection

If you cannot have your dear husband for a comfort and delight, for a breadwinner and a crosspatch, for a sofa, chair, or hot water bottle,one can use him as a cross to be borne.
—Stevie Smith

Adultery: democracy applied to love.
—H. L. Mencken

It’s one thing to reflect upon your life and to decide that you would like to have a lover in it. It’s quite another thing to do that when you are already married. A woman’s husband is, theoretically, supposed to eliminate the need or the desire for a lover; unfortunately, very often he doesn’t. The lover of a married woman is by definition an illicit lover, although he may not be a secret one. The special term for illicit lovers of either sex is “paramour.” The French par plus amour means “by or through love.” The role of paramour seems to have evolved simultaneously with the roles of husband and wife. In some cultures, the paramour was more blatant than others, but he has always hovered provocatively in the background.

Sexual encounters outside of marriage have such a negative connotation in our culture that it’s difficult even to discuss them in neutral and objective terms.

The technical term “adultery” means sexual intercourse by a married person with someone other than a spouse. It’s often illegal and is generally considered to be a sin as well by most major religious groups. In addition, the term isn’t very precise, for it doesn’t include the wide range of sexual experiences other than conventional intercourse.

The Seventh Commandment

The Seventh Commandment (Photo credit: pasukaru76)

The verb “to adulterate” means to debase or to make impure by the addition of inferior materials. It conjures up negative images such as contaminated food. People who have extramarital involvements are said to be unfaithful or to betray their vows or to cheat. The common phrase “sleeping around” implies a very casual and promiscuous behavior, presumably involving more than two beds. “Playing around” has a connotation of something other than serious intent. The most neutral wording to refer to the relationship of a married woman and her paramour, or a married man and his, is simply as an “extramarital relationship,” meaning one which exists in addition to a conjugal one.

Technically, you can only commit adultery if you are legally married. Moreover, if you are legally married, then any sex with anyone other than your spouse is adultery. In the spirit of the law, the relationship inherent in an “extramarital relationship” could be considered the same for any two people who cohabit as husband and wife, whether they are legally married or not. Being unfaithful to a common-law husband is a lot like being unfaithful to a legally married husband, if the couple’s understanding is that they are in fact in a “husband-wife” relationship. “Married but not churched” is how my grandmother would have described it.

The situation is less clear when you have two people who are lovers but are not married or living together as husband and wife. They don’t have the same obligations to each other as would formalized couples that are legally married, living common-law or are registered domestic partners, in that they have not promised to forsake all others forever and ever. They have almost no legal privileges involving the relationship, but they also have almost no obligations. In that context, value-laden words such as “unfaithful” are even less appropriate.

Anyone discussing the virtues and vices of contemporary marriage usually brings up the importance of monogamy. The term “monogamy” does not refer to relationships at all but to a certain kind of marital structure involving one husband and one wife: “mono” for one, “gamy” for marriage. An alternative to monogamy would be bigamy, in which one person has two husbands or two wives, and bigamy is considered illegal everywhere in the Western world. The
person with an extramarital connection is not, usually, a bigamist. He or she has one spouse and one or more other relationships with the opposite sex. Erica Jong does not exactly clarify the issue when she explains, “Bigamy
is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same.”

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Paranoia, Projection, Protestations

A man does not look in the closet unless he has stood there himself.
—Leonard Levinson

The English have a saying that it’s reformed rakes who make the best husbands. One wonders at its veracity, but whether or not it’s true, it’s certainly true that it’s reformed rakes who make the most suspicious husbands.

If a man is himself a veteran of many affairs of the heart, with many ladies married and otherwise, he knows what duplicity can lurk in the hearts of women and how unflattering and even ridiculous the imposed role of cuckold can be. One might hope that such a man of the world would be wise enough to turn a blind eye to suspicious circumstances. If he doesn’t choose to do so, then he will be very difficult to deal with. It goes without saying that his own behavior, past and present, does little to increase his tolerance for yours.

The best defense against jealousy in simultaneous affairs is to keep one relationship as far away as possible from the other in terms of time and of space. The point is to avoid confrontations at all costs. In the abstract, the idea of another relationship may be vaguely upsetting. In the flesh, it may be enraging. Whether the man in question is a husband or a boyfriend or something in between, he should be protected as much as possible from having to deal directly with the reality of another affair.

The double standard isn’t just a masculine flaw: it’s part of the human condition. If you are having another affair, even if he “knows” that such might be the case and even if he “permits” it, he should never have to deal with finding the wrong brand of underwear in his underwear drawer or a package of incriminating snapshots or a carelessly displayed love letter or e-mail.

The best advice, and very important advice it is, is simple: at all times, act as your own detective.

Cover of "Same Time, Next Year"

Cover of Same Time, Next Year

In Same Time, Next Year, the hit Broadway comedy by Bernard Slade, George and Doris have an affair for twenty-four years. They meet every year in a hotel in California, he supposedly on an annual business trip, and she supposedly at a retreat. As the play unfolds from one year to the next, we see how they share their lives and how the affair is a meaningful part of them. Apart from illustrating how an affair can be incorporated into a marriage and may actually strengthen it, the play provides an ideal circumstance for a tryst. When they are together, both are away from their respective homes and routines, and they relate only to each other. The more separate one affair from the other is, in time and space, the better.

Don’t Have An Affair To Get Even

Revenge is like a boomerang. Although for a time it flies in the direction in which it is hurled, it takes a sudden curve, and, returning, hits your own head the heaviest blow of all.
—J. M. Mason

One of the most usual circumstances that propel women into an affair is the discovery that their lover or their husband has been playing around. Sometimes, they learn only in midlife that while they have been being faithful, their partners have been playing around for years.

It’s commonplace to observe that women have the gift of expressing themselves and their emotions whereas men have no such gift and are emotionally inarticulate. While this is often true, there’s one major exception: anger. Women who feel sad or hurt can cry more readily than men; however, women who feel rage have fewer outlets for it than do men. After-all, ladies aren’t supposed to feel rage, and when training little girls to be ladylike, we also train them to deny their anger and to suppress it or turn it inward.

The trusting girlfriend or wife who discovers her man’s infidelity is usually enraged as well as hurt. Even people who don’t know much Shakespeare are familiar with the idea that “hell has no fury like a woman scorned.” However, the woman scorned has few ways of expressing her anger. Lord Byron, in Don Juan, contends that “revenge is sweet—especially to women.” The sweetness comes in part because of her relative powerlessness.

A woman may be unable to demand justice from her man for real or imagined wrongs. One way she can get revenge, however, is through her sexuality. If her man has a double standard as most men do, then doing the same thing herself will hurt him and will hurt him where he lives. Making him a cuckold gives her a weapon to be used or to be saved and used sometime later.

Revenge can take many forms. Taking a new lover in order to punish the old one may work as an effective punishment, but it’s not likely to work as a basis for a satisfactory love affair. The man involved was selected, not for his intrinsic charm but to make a political point in another relationship. The decision process is likely to be one of expedience. The woman may even select someone she does not particularly like because she knows that choice would be particularly galling to her philandering lover or husband.

English: Photograph of Sophie Tucker

English: Photograph of Sophie Tucker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The popular burlesque performer, Sophie Tucker, had a number of stock comic routines about a boyfriend named Ernie. One of them went something like this: On the occasion of his eightieth birthday, Ernie called and announced, “Soph! Soph! I took myself a twenty-year-old girl. What do you think of that?” “Ernie,” Sophie countered, “when I am eighty, I shall take a twenty year-old boy. And let me tell you something, Ernie, twenty goes into eighty a helluva lot more than eighty goes into twenty! So think about that, Ernie!”

The woman who has an affair out of revenge is, in fact, prostituting herself. She’s doing sexual things for nonsexual reasons and isn’t likely to enjoy them very much. The man involved is being used. He may be quite willing to be used, but if he does not understand his role as supporting actor until later, he has a legitimate right to feel resentful.

If you discover that the man you thought was monogamous is, in fact, playing around, you may feel justified in playing the field as well. If and when you do, be sure you do so in order to give yourself the pleasure you deserve, not in order to punish him.

Having an affair out of vengeance may work in that it may inflict reciprocal pain, but it’s likely to increase your own disquietude rather than appease it.

Incipient Divorce Potential

Though many, whose church forbids it, believe divorce is a sin, it may be said that aside from these groups, two marriages with a divorce are thought normal; among the rich, three are normal; and in Hollywood four are normal.
—Edmund Wilson, The Cold War and Income Tax

If you’re already married but are nevertheless contemplating an affair, you need to consider how you feel about maintaining your marriage.

Some women who aren’t very satisfied with their husbands are nevertheless determined to maintain their households intact. They have other considerations to think about. Often, the main marital glue is a child, but it can also be financial considerations or other family obligations. “How can I leave my husband?” a woman friend of mine lamented to me recently. “He’s paying for my mother’s nursing home care. I could never afford that, and what would become of her?” A fair and legitimate question for which I had no answer.  Then there are some women who are simply afraid of being single again and don’t think they can manage on their own.

Cover of "Love Affairs: Marriage & Infide...

Cover of Love Affairs: Marriage & Infidelity

An affair can be the first rebellious step on the way to a woman’s freedom. A woman I met at a cocktail party several months ago quipped to me, after hearing about my blog, “Wanting an open marriage is nature’s way of telling you that you need a divorce.”  An affair is one way for a woman to test her wings or to bide her time until an opportune moment arises. The wife of a close male friend of mine confided in me that she intended to leave her husband and that she had a definite timetable. She calculated she would be finished graduate school in fifteen more months and would then be graduated and gone in sixteen. Her departure would coincide almost to the day with her first paycheck. You can well imagine the dilemma this confession put me in. I found myself avoiding my male friend for the next sixteen months.

Some women contemplating an affair are already thinking about what a second husband would be like. Many others have had enough of marriage, at least for now, and are looking for a lover for the sake of a worthwhile affair and nothing more.

For a start, a first requirement that you owe your paramour is to be honest about the state and prospects of your marriage, at least as you understand them at the time. If you’re determined to maintain your marriage at all costs, then don’t let him hope that someday you’ll leave your husband and run away with him. Men tend to feel they’re irresistible, so if you’re serious about remaining married, you cannot stress it too much or too early in the relationship.

On the other hand, if you’re more or less looking for an excuse to get out of the marriage, and perhaps someone who is willing to act as a co-respondent in a divorce action should you be found out, then it’s only fair to say this as well. When later you do leave your husband, you have precluded any potential guilt on the part of your lover that he was a home wrecker who broke up an otherwise satisfactory marriage. Being honest here also warns him that you may not always take the need for discretion very seriously.

Love affairs do sometimes change things, and you may decide later that your initial intent needs to be revised. All you can do is to level with him about how you feel at the time.

Rule Two: Accept Responsibility for Birth Control

Without the full capacity to limit her own reproduction, a woman’s other “freedoms” are tantalizing mockers that cannot be exercised.
—Lucinda Cisler, Sisterhood Is Powerful

The sexual mores of the later half of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century are indeed different from what they were in the past. One important development which permits such differences to flourish with a minimum of harm and maximum of pleasure is that of adequate birth control.

When women were at risk of getting pregnant, then the choice of a lover was usually also the choice of a father for one’s child; and a father for one’s child, for the sake of all concerned, had better be also one’s husband. If pregnancy occurred, then the only acceptable solution was a so-called forced marriage. Better, under such conditions, not to sleep with anyone you wouldn’t be willing and able to marry.

There’s no longer a need for these conditions to apply. Adequate birth control is, for the most part, available to everyone who seeks it. There are a variety of different techniques for women of different ages, circumstances, and experiences. Although there’ a powerful segment of social conservatives who want to prevent a woman’s right to birth control, and thereby, to deny her the right to control her sexuality.  As a society we need to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Romney Ryan Plan Birth Control

Romney Ryan Plan Birth Control (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Putting aside the misguided efforts of the few to take away a woman’s right to birth control; whatever you and your physician decide, you should be on the pill or use a diaphragm or a sponge or trust an IUD. It’s, of course, theoretically true that birth control should be the man’s responsibility as well; and as a desirable lover, he should be concerned and cooperative. Nevertheless, no matter how unfair it seems to you, he never risks getting pregnant. You do. You run the risk unless he’s known to be sterile and has had a doctor say so or has had a vasectomy.

A number of years ago at the height of the “zero population growth” movement, men who had had a vasectomy were proud of the fact and would wear a little male symbol of a circle attached to an arrow, but with a break in the circle. Cute and chic and often done in gold, it was worn as a tiepin or label button. It was not unheard of for a man on the make to borrow his friend’s vasectomy pin and wear it as a conversation piece at the local pickup bar. You can’t exactly see his scars but . . .

In every instance, getting pregnant should be a deliberate decision, not an accident or an oversight. Retroactive birth control, such as the morning-after pill, is available for situations in which sex may take place without any birth control. And in the case of contraceptive failure, abortion should be considered as a backup emergency procedure.

You run the risk of getting pregnant unless you have had a doctor say that you are naturally sterile or you have been surgically sterilized or you are already pregnant. As long as you are at risk, you must protect yourself and assume responsibility for birth control at the same time that you assume responsibility for your own sexuality.

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