Cuckold Relationships Today
Cuckold Relationships: An Interview with Dr. David Ley
I am thrilled to be able to interview Dr. David Ley, Ph.D. – a clinical psychologist in practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico and one of the only academic experts in cuckold relationships.
He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Ole Miss, and his Master’s and Doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from the University of New Mexico.
He is also the author of the book, Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them. This seminal work remains the only major academic treatment of cuckolding relationships in history.
So without further adue, let’s jump right in to the interview and gain some insight into an elusive question: what is a cuckold relationship?
What prompted your research into cuckold relationships? I guess what I’m asking is how you came to be interested in the hotwife fantasy from an academic perspective?
While collecting data for a study on non-monogamous couples, I encountered two couples who lived the cuckold lifestyle. My initial assumption was that it “must” be unhealthy. Then I stopped myself and wondered why I assumed that? These two couples were in fact remarkably healthy with extraordinary marriages and communication skills. I realized, as I examined my reaction, that I’d had absolutely no training to prepare me for understanding these couples’ sexual practices, and that I had unconsciously incorporated a lot of biases about monogamy, female sexuality and masculinity into my clinical thinking. At the time, there was nothing at all written about this lifestyle in the clinical or academic literature, so I took that on, in order to try to help other clinicians and researchers avoid making the mistake I’d made, assuming pathology based on my own ignorance.
In your book, “Insatiable Wives” you trace the history of wife sharing and non-monogamy through the ages. Can you give a brief summary of the historical evolution of cuckold relationships into the modern era?
Goodness, that’s not a small request. I’ve always been fascinated by history, because I believe it offers us a bigger context within which to understand human behaviors and choices. So, I delved into the history of wife-sharing in Insatiable Wives,
in order to frame the context that this wasn’t a unique or isolated practice. As I explored it, I found countless examples of intentional, consensual wife-sharing throughout our history. In Ancient Rome, men who had already had children with their wives, would sometimes loan the wife out to other, childless men, to help those men procreate.
Another one of my favorite stories was of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, a Russian nobleman and author. Masochism is named after him, because he liked to be beaten and whipped by women. Leopold wanted to experience the “ultimate humiliation” of cuckoldry, so he placed an ad in a German newspaper of the day, for an “energetic” young man to befriend his wife – it’s a striking and funny parallel to the role that Craigslist plays today for so many cuckolds. What I found amazing in the life of Leopold, was that at age 13, he stood in front of his family home, using pistols at a barricade to defend his family from marauders. This “cuckold weakling” had a deep font of bravery and courage. That story was one of the clues to me, of what the cuckold fantasy does, psychologically.
One of my favorite poets has always been Lord Byron, and it was amazing to me, when I found out the ways in which wife-sharing was a huge part of the literary figure’s life. Numerous women around him, were wives of other men, who consented to sharing their wives with Byron and others. This Romantic poet somehow opened up the ideas of female sexuality, in himself and others, in powerful, beautiful ways. One of those husbands reportedly had a huge portrait of Byron in their home, which he proudly displayed after Byron died, telling visitors of his wife’s intimate relationship with the poet.
In modern times, I found stories of wife-sharing hidden in the origins of swinging, where husbands sometimes preferred to simply enjoy their wives being sexual with others, and chose not to pursue their own sexual adventures with other women. As I dug into our cultural history around female sexuality and monogamy, I found story after story, where husbands and wives were sharing the wife’s sexuality with other men. But because of the cultural stigma and taboo, these stories and experiences were buried, and not acknowledged. It helped me to frame this sexual practice as a truly normal human sexual practice, having that extensive history.
Many people quote Ogi Ogas in his book, “A Billion Wicked Thoughts” when he says that the term “cuckold” is the second most searched for term in all of porn. And the American Swingers Association estimates that up to 10% of all couples in the US are “open” to the idea of wife sharing? Is there any research that illuminates how prevalent cuckold relationships are today? If not, how widespread is this phenomenon in your opinion?
I don’t think any of us truly know how common this interest might be, now, and in the future. I think we also must look at the different levels or shades of this practice. Some couples and men might merely fantasize about it, but never actually engage in the behavior. A huge majority of men today have nude pictures of their wives and girlfriends on their phone, which they share with friends. That’s a form of wife-sharing, similar to what King Candaules did in ancient Greece, showing off his beautiful wife to Gyges. Finally, there are many different flavors of this, ranging from polyamory to swinging to hotwifing and cuckoldry. I believe what we are learning now is that these fantasies are deeply embedded in our sexual psyche, and that they are far, far more common than we ever believed. If pressed, I might estimate that perhaps 10-20% of men might fantasize about wife-sharing in one form or another, but that only around 2% might ever really try to make it a reality.
But, these numbers are changing. Around 20% of people may experience a consensually non-monogamous relationship in their lifetime, suggests recent research. 45% of millennials don’t view monogamy as a necessity. So, the acceptability of these non-monogamous relationship approaches is increasing, changing the likelihood that men and women might be willing to explore fantasies of wife-sharing with each other, and potentially enact them in life.
In all of your research, did you discover a common thread explaining why so many men are drawn to the idea of cuckold relationships?
Like all sexual behaviors, these desires are multiply determined, and heterogeneous, reflecting a variety of different mechanisms and influences. In general, I found and support the role of these as major factors in men and couples pursuing:
1. Sperm competition theory suggests that sexual biology and psychology developed to increase competitive responses to cuckoldry. Intentional wife-sharing unconsciously hijacks some of that programmed jealousy and transforms it into excitement;
2. Male bisexual desires – many men struggle with their desires for sexual engagement or connection with other men. Their interest are socially-stigmatized. But, through sharing their wife, the men may vicariously explore sexual adventures with other men.
3. Voyeurism – although it’s a simplification, men are more sexually focused on visual experience of sexual stimuli. Wife-sharing is perhaps the easiest, safest way to bring real-life voyeurism into a man’s sexual experiences.
4. Escape through submission – one theory for BDSM and the attractiveness of submission is that it offers an “escape from the burden of self” and being in charge. For men, it can be psychically tiring to always be the man, defending your wife and your masculinity. Submitting to cuckoldry can be a relief, giving up that somewhat pointless, never-ending battle. I think this is a part of what I learned from the story of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch – sometimes, strong men (and women) gain strength and respite from stepping outside the expectations that they must always be strong.
5. Eroticism of fear and taboo – my friend Dan Savage suggests that cuckolding is exciting because it is a way to disempower the fear of being cheated on. I’m not sure how true that is, but the role of the taboo of monogamy violation and wife sharing is indeed a powerful influence here, because violating those deep-seated taboos is sexually exciting.
Dan and I have a research paper in press with Justin Lehmiller from Ball State, about the recent rise of gay male cuckolding. We found that different men pursue cuckolding for a variety of reasons, but that it is generally a net positive for the couples, and that men pursue cuckolding in different ways, depending upon the man’s personality. So, these different characteristics and aspects of cuckolding are sexually arousing in different ways to different men, because of the different ways it “matches” the man’s individual psychology and personality.
Cuckold Relationships are viewed with disdain by most of the general public. Why do you think that cuckolding, more so than any other non-monogamous path, is viewed with such revulsion?
The easy theoretical answer is that it is driven by evolutionary pressures to avoid investing resources in offspring not genetically related to the male. But, that’s a great theory, which can never really be proven or tested. There’s also heavy influence in this stigma, of simple fear of female sexuality and female empowerment. And, it’s not a “man being a real man” thing. I’ve seen cuckold couples who are in the swinger community, but keep their actual sexual proclivities secret from other swingers, for fear of rejection and shame by those swingers.
During the recent Presidential election, a fake tweet was used to humiliate Tim Kaine, Clinton’s VP candidate. The tweet talked about Kaine being ok with sharing his wife with other man, and then humiliated him for it. So, this stigma is there, it’s deep and it’s likely not going away anytime soon. But, as society becomes more accepting of sexual diversity, non-monogamy, female empowerment, and more flexible views of masculinity, I believe the overt stigma of wife-sharing is likely to decrease, in many communities at least.
I talk all the time about the inherent risks of cuckold relationships. Of all the couples you interviewed, how many of them experienced a “negative” outcome from their practice of cuckoldry? Do you think their experience is representative of the larger cuckolding community?
I think that given the high level of divorce (44%) in monogamous couples, that the risks of cuckolding to marriage are likely overestimated. In other words, while it’s a sensational, sexy factor, I don’t think cuckolding or non-monogamy in general, is any more risky to a marriage than any of the other countless issues that can challenge a marriage. But, it’s easier to blame.
That said – what I and other clinicians and researchers are focused on more, is building up protective factors for couples. Because non-monogamy, or cuckolding, can be challenging given its lack of social acceptance, for couples to be successful, they need higher levels of positives in their relationship to insulate them from harm or risk. Things like emotional stability, communication skills, win-win styles of problem solving, lack of substance use disorder, higher levels of emotional stability or “EQ,” and economic stability are all things that make it easier for couples to successfully navigate including wife sharing as a part of their lives. I think that’s one reason why we are still seeing cuckolding and non-monogamy more prevalent in white, higher socio-economic status couples, simply because they have more marital resources which can support it remaining a positive in their lives.
What I tell couples wanting to explore this, is that they need to ensure strong, healthy foundations for the relationship, and develop these protective factors. Focusing on growing those strengths allows a healthy playing field for the exploration of wife-sharing.
Is there any evidence to suggest that people who willingly engage in cuckold relationships have a higher incidence of psychological pathology, sexual abuse, or relationship difficulty?
No, though it hasn’t really been studied extensively. In my upcoming research with gay cuckold couples, we didn’t find any evidence of psychological disturbance with cuckolding. Valerie Chuba is a therapist who did her dissertation with cuckold research, and she found no clear evidence of such trauma or pathological origins of cuckolding.
I argue that cuckolding is an expression of individual personality and characteristics. Lots of things are like that, we’re finding. People who watch lots of porn or have lots of sex, tend to be high libido, high sensation-seeking personalities. The sex or porn didn’t make them that way, the sex and porn use are an expression of who the person is. The same is likely true of cuckolding, that these are people, men and women, who are higher in sensation-seeking, who enjoy thinking “outside the box” and stepping over taboos, and who are willing and able to look at their sexual desires and try to find ways to explore or express them.
What do you feel is the greatest challenge for couples in cuckold relationships today?
The social stigma and potential social consequences, without a doubt. Rejection by friends and family, work consequences, public exposure, etc. While some couples and men enjoy the “idea” of the humiliation, the true reality can be devastating. It’s why I recommend a lot of exploration and distinction between fantasy and reality.
Do you have any advice for men who are fascinated with cuckold relationships, but unsure if they should pursue it?
Start with baby steps, and explore the fantasy, without too much pressure to make this a reality. The more pressure you put on yourself and wife, to make this a reality, the more likely it is to blow up in your face. Men need to be empathic and understanding of their wife’s fears and concerns about this. Men simply can’t understand the level of fear and shame that women face, for expressing sexual desire at all, much less engaging in female infidelity. I see a lot of men who are too focused on their sexual fantasy, to recognize how challenging it is for their wife. This can only succeed in healthy, safe ways, if the men can step back from their sexual selfishness, and sometimes compulsive, obsessive desire to be cuckolded. The best way men can make this a healthy part of their relationship, is to share their fantasy and interest with their wife, as something the man is intrigued by, but without the pressure to make it a reality. Create the open dialogue about sexual expression within and without the marriage, and let things develop as naturally as possible, within their wife and marriage.
Do you have anything you would like to add, Dr. Ley?
It can be very tough for cuckold and wife-sharing couples to find support, from therapists and in general. There are more resources available to help these couples, as they venture into this lonely frontier. Sites like Cuckold Relationship are one. Ourhotwives.org is a great community resource I often recommend. Therapists like myself, and other sex therapists (often listed on the www.aasect.org site) are out there to help. Don’t give up, when you encounter therapists who are rejecting and judgmental – unfortunately, those therapists are reacting from a place of ignorance and lack of training. But more and more therapists are opening up our minds, confronting our own biases, and learning to offer healthy, nonjudgmental support on these issues.
I hope you found this interview as informative and insightful as I did in understanding cuckold relationships. I would like to thank Dr. Ley again for his time and his work towards making cuckoldry better understood by the general populace.
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