When he hears his wife moan with pleasure while she has sex with another man, Paul Pines feels bad—then good. When Paul’s wife tells him that the other man is much better at sex than he ever was, Paul feels worse—then better. But of course he does: He arranged this encounter, in which he watches in agony as his wife makes love to another guy. And almost as soon as it’s over, he’ll start planning the next one.
Cuckoldry is defined as a wife’s infidelity. Chaucer and Shakespeare characterized it as the ultimate shame. So perhaps it’s no surprise that today it’s developed into a fairly popular fetish. The Internet is rife with husbands enthusiastically soliciting other men—often larger, hotter, sexier men than themselves—to have sex with their wives while they watch.
“The high point of cuckolding is when your wife says she wants the other guy all the time and never wants you.”
This isn’t like swinging, and it’s not a threesome. Cuckolded men (aka "cucks") only observe their wives’ infidelities, they don’t participate. And that's why they find it a turn-on: They're left out, looking on as the woman they love climaxes with a better man than them. It’s a form of psychological sadomasochism. Some people get turned on by whips, chains, and physical pain. Cucks get aroused by mental anguish.
Cuckolding is rapidly emerging as the alt-sex fetish of choice for American intellectuals. Just check out the online forums like OurHotWives.org/forum, where letter-perfect postings celebrate cuckoldry as a cerebral pursuit, transcending ordinary voyeurism and S&M as a dangerous game involving jealousy, misery, gratitude, shame, sharing, sublimation, lust, and trust.
Once a month, Drs. Paul and Sally Pines, a pair of New York City-area Ph.D.s who have been married 25 years, check into a hotel suite with another man. As Paul looks on, Sally and the man snuggle up together on the couch like lovebirds. Soon their clothes are off, and before long, she’s wailing in ecstasy as the man has aggressive, passionate sex with her. Paul, helpless, can only watch and suffer. Afterward, Paul serves lunch to his wife and the man in the suite’s dining area; they eat in the nude before launching into another long, loud, sweaty session.
For Paul, this sort of suffering feels like heaven.
"Imagine looking at the guy who's about to go to bed with your wife. Imagine hearing the man crying out in bed with your wife," says Paul, who pleasures himself "like a madman" during these encounters. "The high point of cuckolding is when your wife says she wants the other guy all the time and never wants you. Sally's body makes it very clear that this is true. It hurts me worse to know this, so it's better to know." Worst/best of all is watching Sally bond with the other man not only physically but emotionally—when, as Paul puts it, she's "masturbating him with her mind."
This emotional bond that women form with the third party is a topic of excited discussion on cuckolding forums. One member of OurHotWives.org/forum admits being "more afraid of Susan going for a walk to the ice-cream store with a lover then [ sic] her having three different men in a week."
"If he just fucks her and goes home, that's one thing," Paul says. "But if they fuck for an hour, then have an intellectual relationship where they sit and talk for two hours afterward, it hurts a lot more."
In this respect, cuckolding attracts "the very highly educated," Paul says, adding that it’s “truly intellectual in its enterprise because it replaces sexual touch with humiliation and emotional pain, both of which are psychological. Most of what gives me physical pleasure has to go on in my brain. I'm totally being classist, but this isn't like people in redneck bars asking each other, 'You wanna fuck my wife?' It's much more complex. It's pleasure on a different level."
When, after years of pleading, he finally convinced Sally, whom he describes as "dignified and proper," to cuckold him, Paul posted a notice at AdultFriendFinder.com that began: "Seeking an intelligent man to be my wife's lover." He picked the four smartest candidates. That was 12 years ago. Watching Sally having sex with another man, "I realize how bad I am at it. And this is really hard for me to say"—at this point, his voice cracks—"but I get off on it."
Although he doesn't know precisely why he's wired this way—"I've told all my therapists I'm happy to talk with them about this as long as they promise they won't try to cure me"—Paul remembers walking in on his parents once when he was too young to realize what they were doing in bed.
"They said, 'Get out!' And I knew it was something very exciting, and that when it's going on, Paul belongs outside—that my place should always be outside of it, which is a really cool place to be."
For other cuckolds, pain isn’t the point. Some are closeted husbands who want to see naked men, whether they admit it or not. Others like the idea of their wives attracting other guys.
"Competition gets them hard," says sex therapist Susan Block, who operates a phone-therapy program especially for cuckolds to fine-tune their fantasies and strategies. "There are so many forms of substitute competition among men in our society, such as sports, that take the place of the real competition inside a woman's body," in which rival males' sperm engage in "wars" to fertilize her eggs.
"Winning isn't even that important. What's important for a man in terms of his arousal is the competition. If you're a married man, you might love your wife, but you won't get as strong an erection for her or have as strong an ejaculation if your testicles know that this woman is yours alone. Nature is conservative, so your testicles won't work any harder than they know they have to. But if your wife has been away at a conference and there's a chance that she's had sex with another man, you'll get a stronger erection when she comes home. If she has had sex with another man, that makes you really hard."
Turning this dynamic into reality through cuckolding is a mental workout "because it involves getting your mind past the jealousy"—past that touch her and I'll blow your head off reflex. Jealousy, Block theorizes, is a social construct based on the notion that husbands own their wives, and is thus "much more recent, evolutionarily speaking, than the competition that turns guys on. That's why it's mostly intellectuals who are into cuckolding: because other guys are crippled by jealousy. They're aroused and upset and don't know why."
Think your way around that, and "this is a simple and safe way to find a lover," ventures the San Francisco-based Webmaster who calls himself DotInfo and operates Cuckold-Forum.net. "Not only does a woman want it, but also her husband wants to share his wife. And they don't have to hide it from each other. It makes their relationships more clear and open.”
But there’s also a somewhat uncomfortable racial angle to cuckolding. Cruise the galleries at cuckolding Web sites and you'll see the same dynamic again and again: white husband, white wife, African-American other man. In cuck slang, these black men are dubbed "mandingos" or "bulls." Some sites, such as InterracialCuck.com, CuckoldHoes.com, and BigBlackBull.com, cater solely to this.
"It harks back to the notion of the forbidden," says Paul, who doesn't pursue this fetish-within-a-fetish himself, "and to that monstrous old stereotype in which all black men have two-foot cocks."
For Paul, it’s enough that the guy makes him feel pathetic, but he warns that the emotional scarring isn’t for everyone.
"You're playing with fire” he says. “Don't do this unless you understand that you can't take it back. Even if you never do it again, your wife will have always had that great time, and you'll both know."
Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto, and the Nautilus Award-winning Stuck: Why We Don't (or Won't) Move On , and the coauthor of still more, including Weird Europe and The Scavengers' Manifesto. In 2006, she won a Society of Professional Journalists award for criticism.