Here are some highlights of what I said.
* What is infidelity? It's a contract violation. Sometimes that's clear—'we agreed we wouldn't have sex with anyone else, and you did.' But other times it's much less clear, because marital contracts are notoriously brief. So I periodically hear, 'Yes, I did internet chat, but that isn't infidelity.' Or 'A happy ending to a massage isn't an affair.' Or 'looking up old boyfriends on Facebook doesn't mean I'm looking for action.'
* As a therapist, I don't vote on whether something is infidelity, whether it's on-line chat, masturbating to porn, or sensuous slow-dancing. If one person is in pain about the other's behavior, they need to discuss it; getting bogged down in debating whether something is infidelity is easier—but far less productive—than discussing how each person feels.
* After the revelation of infidelity, the Betrayed often demands access to the Betrayer's cellphone records, email passwords, etc.. I discourage this, because it doesn't build trust, it prevents it. Trust is what you develop in the absence of information, not as a result of having information. And I've never seen anyone use the information gained from this monitoring in a wholesome way—it's always to hurt someone, either self or other.
* You can't "prevent" someone from betraying you again. They either choose to be faithful or they don't. If they want to be unfaithful, all the monitoring in the world won't stop them.
* I'm stunned by the number of Betrayeds who tell their kids the other parent has betrayed them. Your marital difficulties or broken heart are not your kids' problem. No, the kids don't "deserve" to know "what kind of person" their mom or dad is. They care about being parented, not her/his marital adventures.
The Betrayed's desire to express his/her feelings is understandable and legitimate. On the other hand, if there's any desire for reconciliation, expressing feelings has to be done in a way that allows for the Betrayer's feelings and reality. Those two conflicting impulses—to express pain and to maintain respect and even empathy—are difficult to manage.
* All affairs have some sexual component. But the Betrayer should be honest—is the affair mostly about sex, or mostly about emotional adventures? A lot of affairs are about intimacy and feeling connected, honored, known, and celebrated, and the sex at the affair's beginning is just the gateway to those other things.
* Particularly if there aren't small children involved, I don't automatically push for reconciliation. I'm usually the only person either party knows who's neutral on the issue. This is often very helpful.
* Before people agree to reconcile after an affair, they should describe what relationship they each want to have. It's rare that both people say 'yes, I want to return to exactly the relationship we had before the affair was exposed.' If two people discover they can't agree on what relationship they want to have, there's nothing to reconcile.
* When one person is considering whether to attempt reconciliation, they often want to know how this will be accomplished. But you don't need to know that in order to decide whether to reconcile. First you have to decide you want to. Then we'll discuss strategy.
Sixty years ago this weekend, biologist, professor, and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey changed every American's life once again by publishing his second book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.
Here's what he discovered and published:
• Women have orgasms
• Many women have these orgasms without sexual intercourse
• Straight women think about, and have, sexual experiences with other women
Remember, this was in 1953—before 2/3 of Americans alive today were born.
The information hit the country like a bomb from outer space. See some of the reactions from 1953 here.
Kinsey was denounced as a Communist, an atheist, a dangerous degenerate out to destroy America. The government spied on him (it had already confiscated some of his research materials). Clergy across the country demanded his books be censored or burned. The president of his university fielded constant demands that he be fired.
At the same time, Kinsey was interviewed by all the important media of the day. His name made it into song lyrics and comedy routines. His students revered him. Far-sighted professionals around the globe honored him. The Rockefeller Foundation funded him.
Kinsey was a Christopher Columbus, literally risking his life to sail into unknown places. Already a world-class entomologist, Kinsey saw first-hand how sexual ignorance limited and damaged the lives of his students. He believed in the value of knowledge, and understood that sexual knowledge was critical to healthy and sophisticated personal adulthood and public policy.
To this day, many Americans oppose this viewpoint. Narrow-minded legislators de-fund research into Americans' sexual decision-making and behavior. Many religious denominations reflexively oppose scientifically accurate sex education. Public universities are continually having to justify teaching sexual knowledge, just as Kinsey and Indiana University had to back in the dark ages of the 1950s.
Ironically, the AIDS epidemic provided a "reason" for sex research that some people could finally comprehend. The fact that an epidemic of one million unintended pregnancies every year has not been considered as serious a crisis is a horrible indictment of our fatalism about sexual disaster—and our mistrust of sex for pleasure.
If you're a woman, or have sex with one, or just like a few, today is a day to celebrate. Give thanks to the brilliant, tenacious, and courageous Alfred Kinsey, who forced America to think about female sexuality—as it actually is.
About every decade, it seems, Americans somehow become aware of the latest sexual Do's and Don't's. They typically involve the taboos we're supposed to observe, and the behaviors we're supposed to do. They're supposed to substitute for noticing what we like, communicating with our partners, and custom-designing sex so it suits us as we are—today.
My patients are continually telling me how their bodies, or fantasies, or preferences, don't meet the sexual standards of the moment—and they're dismayed, embarrassed, apologetic, anxious. They think they have a "dysfunction" because they don't get aroused by stuff they think "should" arouse them. They worry they're "kinky" or even broken because they enjoy doing stuff that's not on Cosmopolitan's radar of cool sex acts.
Depending on your age, during the last half-century you probably learned things like:
- Men don't like women to be too sexually assertive
- A straight man who ever fantasizes about men isn't really straight
- Straight men never enjoy anal or nipple stimulation
- You shouldn't tell your partner you masturbate
While some people are still stuck trying to live up to (or rather down to) these ideals, for many people they're passé. Freed from these old instructions, they now simply follow new ones. While the new sex rules—invented and distributed by magazines, bloggers, feminist philosophers, "decency" groups, and even well-meaning psychologists—are supposed to liberate people, the problem is that they're still rules.
Any rule that suggests there's a right way to fantasize or enjoy sex, any rule that sets up a standard of how to display or enjoy our body—no matter what the rule says—is oppressive. Sex is one of the few arenas in life where people can create their own (consensual) reality, do what they want—and no one need get hurt, no one need to answer for themselves.
Replacing the old rules of sex, here are some of the contemporary rules of sex that my patients are trying to follow—no matter how frustrating, inconvenient, or unsexy the result:
- After sex, don't ask a woman if she had an orgasm
- A woman should shave her pubic hair
- A woman shouldn't shave her pubic hair
- People should have, and enjoy, oral sex
- A woman should be able to climax from oral sex
- People should make a lot of noise during sex
- Everybody should masturbate
- Everybody should look at porn
- Nobody should look at porn
- Everybody should use sex toys
- Everybody should do anal
- Birth control pills are dangerous
There's no reason to think there was ever some mythical ancient Paradise when life involved unlimited pleasure from unlimited sex. That said, there's no reason that society—organized religion, capitalism, mass media, anxious parents—has to pursue an agenda of social control around sexual expression. There's certainly no reason that people have to accept and follow sexual rules that come from outside themselves.
Highway speed limits, yes. Vaccinating all our kids, yes. Sex, no. Sex is an opportunity for personal autonomy and discovery. Following any rules—regardless of content—introduces the possibility of failure, which has no place in sex at all.