Infidelity and “Forbidden Sex”

This post comes from a discussion currently going on in a LinkedIn group to which I belong, Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality — SSSS.  Yes, even considering my previous post, I do still read it.  It began as a debate over a Psych Today article as to whether or not a recent high profile “breakup” was due to a choice or sexual dysfunction.


I have many reactions to the posts above. Some arguments seem unreasonably simplistic, others make valid points, still others seem to have too narrow a view.

Eroticism is a very complex issue as discussed by Esther Perel, a delicate balance between the mystery of what might be possible and the safety of what is known. We all, I think, struggle with that balance in our lives and are tempted by the mystery of affairs while wanting to hold to the safety of a committed relationship.

The term “Forbidden Sex” as used by Ms. McMahon reflects the mystery, I think, but also reflects on the established relationship. It is forbidden because the society in general, and the relationship in particular expects one to enter into and commit for life to a monogamous relationship with a person of the opposite sex for the purpose of procreation. As we are seeing currently, some of those presumptions are being more closely examined, I think for the benefit of all.

Would it be “Forbidden Sex” if there was transparent communication between partners? Would it cause the pain of divorce if there were open discussions between partners of their deep sexuality and agreements based on the love of your partner rather than the expectations of society? I tend to think not. But that is a FAR more difficult path than relaxing into social mores. In my mind it requires ACTIVE loving, rather than passive.

I do not believe that humans are wired for monogamous relationships any more than they are wired for Polyamorous ones. And as for whether one or the other is dysfunctional, that is obviously in the eye of the beholder (read therapist). What I believe IS dysfunctional is the dishonesty between committed partners of which I myself have been guilty. What also is dysfunctional is the feeling that one person can love another only if that “loved one” stays within constricted social bounds.

And before anyone says, “You mean if I love you once, I must love you forever, even if you are an abuser or turn out to be Tamerlan Tsarnaev.” Obviously, no, there are many reasons for people understanding they are incompatible. Let us not make this simplistic.

Finally, I would state that the phrase “Polyamouous Relationship” is an incredibly broad umbrella phrase encompassing a wide variety of possibly mutually incompatible relationship structures and should not be considered one particular form.

The most important aspect of all of this is introspection, understanding, acceptance and transparent communication, an incredibly difficult path because it requires delving deeply into what you really want, and freely and openly communicating that to the people you love and who love you, knowing that it may jeopardize that relationship.  So, is it better to live the lie and try to convince others, and yourself that you are not who you are?  It may be easier, but it sure isn’t better.

The Eroticist

For those interested in a bit more research, I quote from that discussion, a post from Kathy A McMahon, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist, Adjunct Faculty, Antioch University, New England, another member.  The links are ones found by me, not supplied by Ms. McMahon.  -tE

“I don’t agree that we are not wired to love only one person. I believe we have a “dual mandate” if you will: one that is curious and pleasure-seeking, and one that is attachment-based. To pretend only one exists is ignoring the existence of the other. 

Robin Baker’s “Sperm Wars” certainly suggests one, no doubt. On the other hand, evidence-based couples work of Gottman and Johnson emphasize the other. And what about “sexual styles” based on the sex research from Donald Mosher?  [The only links I can find directly to Mosher’s work are two downloadable papers, here and here.  –tE]  We are going to see any more extra-relational sex with someone embracing a “Role Enactor” position than we are someone who is more “Partner Engager.” We’re also going to see a different response from the partner, depending upon the style they also embrace. Even Baker’s work suggest that the penis and testicle size might be correlated with reproductive and mating styles.”

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