I recently went on the "cheating" dating site Ashley Madison while gathering information for my eBook on online dating. And wow—what an education! For over 12 years now, this website kicked off a boom of dating sites for married people.
The success of such infidelity sites makes a lot of sense, because they grant married "daters" anonymity. If the chosen lover isn’t among your circle of friends, neighbors or co-workers, you're less likely to get caught.
But here is the amazing discovery I made during my time on Ashley Madison—Most of these men are more interested in relating romantically than they are in just having sex!
Shocked? Well, this shouldn't be surprising. If these men just want sex, there are plenty of other well-established sites for that purpose.
But the men I encountered (through email, phone conversations and in-person meetings) made it clear that they're looking ... for love.
For some, sex really isn't that important. Romance is the dominant interest. They want a "lover" to text them saying that she's thinking about them. They long to receive a caring phone call mid-afternoon.
Many put up pictures of their erect penises, but after receiving the admiration they wanted, it didn't come up in conversation again.
One man said he was thinking of me ... while he was with his wife waiting for a movie to start. We'd never met (and never did). But when we spoke on the phone, it was with tones of caring and desire, like lovers.
Of those men seeking sex, I asked why they wanted a lover. It turns out, most were not having sex with their wives. But even without sex, people can feel loved and adored. These men, however, didn't feel loved either. But they couldn’t justify divorce because of the children they adored (even adult children) and the sense of family they appreciated.
But they did, very much, want love.
One man stayed in his marriage after his wife indulged in at least two long affairs. At that point, he was no longer willing to have sex with her. After years of that sexless existence, he finally went online to find married women to share encounters with. Even then, he didn’t want "just sex". He wanted an affectionate, caring exchange that also included some sexual activity.
Another man's wife was chronically ill, depressed and didn't enjoy sex. He'd married her hoping to help her get well. When failing, he sought out interested women, but never actually consummated sex with any.
A man dating a woman who was eager for sex was upset by her lack of interest in romantic dinners. He stopped seeing her.
While I didn’t have sex with any of these men, I found it fascinating to interact with them.
I had the greatest rationalizations and research for my book. Their yearning for love, for being cherished, and feeling wanted, was so strong.
These men gobbled up any attention from me, with more clearly desired. While they did talk about sex, it was not the primary focus. They liked my interest in them—that I wanted to hear their stories and learn about their lives. It felt like real caring, and I guess it was.
But ultimately I couldn’t give them what was missing in their lives.
When sexless couples come to my office, it's a struggle to get them in touch with their loving feelings for each other. I help them access caring without requiring them to engage in sex as part of that expression. They agree to stop having sex for a time, re-discover their loving feelings, if any, and then, add sex back in.
Many people go to therapy because one partner believes he or she deserves sex—and demands it. The other partner feels obligated, which kills that partner’s sex drive.
Sexual shame is the greatest inhibitor of couples being able to maintain an abundant desire for each other. We look at how shame influences their lack of interest, and the felt need for outside-in stimulation.
I believe the frequency of extramarital affairs initiated online is the outcome of the large number of people who cannot incorporate loving sex into their marriages. These dating/cheating sites offer a facsimile of it, where they find people who will talk with them, and make them feel special in some way. Sexual energy, even if not acted on, fuels the strength of feeling.
Many men in my practice have difficulty wanting sex with their wives.
Why? Because they separate the "clean" wife from the "dirty" lover, even if only texting and talking with her. They often see wives as mother-like, or pure, and not appropriate for "dirty" or "nasty" sex. "In the gutter" is only one expression reflecting the shameful nature of sex. The "good wife" and the “shameless hussy” are never merged roles in these men's minds.
Therefore, when these men crave “shameful” sex, they use porn, prostitution, or affairs to experience it.
I wrote a novel called Dirty Sex or Clean Sex in which the characters walk through these issues as they show up in love relationships. The reader is the fly on the wall as the characters explore their sexual shame, and learn to relate with the partners they live with and love.
My work with clients, and my explorations on Ashley Madison, reveal that sexual relating is perhaps the most confusing arena in which to relate.
Love, sex and shame are interwoven in ways that are difficult to pull apart.
Unless affairs are the drug of an addiction, they are one solution for those who can’t bring sex and love together. Hopefully some of these people will discover that it’s possible to heal sexuality and weave love and sex into one relationship.
Anne Stirling Hastings, PhD is a California psychologist and author specializing in sexuality and relationships. She is the author of self help books, and is now writing Transformational Fiction novels in which she entertains and informs. Dirty Sex or Clean Sex is available on Kindle.