In the most recent NY Times Modern Love column titled: What Sleeping With Married Men Taught Me About Infidelity, author Karin Jones tells of her experiences having sexual relationships with several different married men. Her discovery that many of these married men were in sexless marriages is not surprising to me. I am an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist & Supervisor who founded the sex therapy/coaching practice called The Center for Love and Sex in NYC. Many of the couples (straight and gay) who come to us for help have not had any sexual interactions for months, and sometimes for years. They come to us to help them resume a sexual connection. Every so often a couple may come to see us to help negotiate a consensual non-monogamous agreement. There was one man in Jones’ story who stated he’d gotten his wife’s consent to have no-strings-attached sex with outside partners due to the fact the wife was no longer interested in having sex at all any longer.
However, in most cases the men with whom she was sending texts or having sex were in non-consensual non-monogamous relationships. In other words, they were cheating on their wives.
Jones commented that the reasons that women initiate affairs differ from the reasons given by the men she would see. She quoted Esther Perel, my longtime colleague who wrote about women seeking novelty, or a liberation of domestic responsibility when having an affair in her latest book The State of Affairs .
- From Jones’ perspective the married men she saw were longing for the emotional intimacy as much as they were horny for the physical release. In my work with heterosexual and gay men who have been unfaithful, I have found a myriad of underlying contributing factors including:
- sudden death of a parent or close friend
- overwhelming stress at both work and in home life
- illness of a child that requires spouse’s undivided attention and energy
- wife’s infertility process that becomes a physically and emotionally exhausting period of years and causes sex to become solely about procreation
- couple not spending time alone together nurturing intimacy, playfulness and mutual support.
- a man’s own health scare
- anger at partner’s disclosure of a previous infidelity
- frustration at partner’s avoidance of discussing ways of revitalizing their sex life
- alcohol abuse or dependence
Another important aspect Jones missed in this piece was her own participation in the non-consensual non-monogamy. In many of the open relationship and Polyamory communities there is an emphasis on practicing what’s called ethical non-monogamy .
In consensual open relationship agreements, all parties are aware of each partner’s primary relationship, and the consent of other partners so that there aren’t secrets kept from any one person. In her quest for sexual expression after her divorce, Jones remains mum on any ethical dilemma she has about being the 3rd coming between her lover and his wife.
Except for her intellectual inquiry about why her lover refuses to discuss his sexual dissatisfaction with his wife, she does not take a closer look at her own ethical dilemma since she has become a witting part of these marriages while the wife remains in the dark. How does she feel as the woman on the outside of a marriage? Does she have any guilt or feel like it’s none of her concern as a no-strings attached partner?
I would argue that she is part of the marriage system even if it’s in shadow.
The couples who are discussing open relationships in our Center are facing the dilemmas openly and with ethical honesty. It’s challenging work but they are facing all the questions and concerns with love, respect, and at times jealousy and anxiety. Even if they decide it’s not for them, they are negotiating new ways of approaching problems, sexual and emotional in new and authentic ways.
Finally, the writer neglected to mention what kinds of protection she used with her lovers. Given the increases in STIs among those 45 year-olds and older (20% increase between 2015 and 2016), I thought her avoidance discussing sexual health and STIs in this piece and possibly with her lovers realistically reflects the general lack of discussion taken by the many clients who come to our center after their partner/spouse discovers their affair.
As an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist I am concerned about my clients sexual health as much as I am about their emotional well being. When I present or supervise general couples therapists, I am continually surprised and disappointed when they neglect to ask their client if they used any barriers when having a sexual encounter with another (whether dating or during an affair). I have seen too many partners discover they caught an STI due to their partner’s affair and a few times discovered that their partner’s/spouse’s lover become pregnant as a result of the unprotected sex they had.
Affairs are secrets. Secrets are not just “protecting” the spouse from getting hurt as one of Jones’ lovers tells her (the wife is usually devastated when they discover the affair). Affairs are preventing a relationship from confronting authentic needs and desires of all involved.