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Fifty Shades of Infidelity

By Matty Silver, Sex Therapist on December 24, 2014 in Other

Photo: Kevin Plowman

Photo: Kevin Plowman

In today’s society, it is expected that when we are in a relationship we have to be monogamous, but in practice many couples struggle with the concept.

As part of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at Sydney Opera House last year, America’s leading sex-advice columnist Dan Savage spoke about one of his favourite theories, redefining the rules of marriage. He believes that monogamy can be restrictive, has become old-fashioned and is the reason for many unhappy relationships.

He coined the term ‘monogamish’ to refer to long-term committed relationships that bend the rules of monogamy with the consent of both parties. He believes we need a more flexible attitude within a relationship. As you might expect, he received an enormous amount of criticism, but he also received thousands of letters and emails from people who agreed with him.

Another more extreme opinion about infidelity was put forward by Catherine Hakim, a British social scientist who was educated in France and wrote the book ‘The New Rules of Marriage’. She believes we should take our cue from the French, whom she claims are happier and have a more philosophical approach to adultery.

An unforgiving attitude to adultery is damaging married life in Britain and driving couples to divorce and children to suffer, but Hakim believes that it is possible to have a successful affair where both parties are happier and no one is hurt. France and several other European countries have more accepting attitudes to infidelity and have lower divorce rates.

She provoked quite a controversy when she said: “Anyone rejecting a fresh approach to marriage and adultery, with a new set of rules to go with it, fails to recognise the benefits of a revitalised sex life outside the home”.

But unlike Savage, Hakim believes that being honest and truthful about an affair can be hurtful and is not necessary, saying: “Total discretion is the absolute rule – the other party should never find out.”

Statistics tell us that in Australia between 40 and 60 percent of women and men will cheat at some time in their lives. What has changed in the past decade is the way we are cheating; it has become easier than ever.

The typical affair we used to have started at work or within our circle of friends or acquaintances, but now we have the Internet. We can have steamy chat-room conversations with strangers and have cybersex with anybody who is keen.

I have several clients who are taking part in this, especially women at home with young children and partners who work long hours. They tell me there is no physical sexual contact, it is exciting, it isn’t cheating and nobody will find out. But some studies suggest that online affairs can trigger emotional infidelity, and when found out can also trigger feelings of anger, jealousy and insecurity in the other partner.

In 2010, an Internet dating site called Ashley Madison Australia was launched, which proved to be enormously popular. It was created especially for partnered people who want to have an affair with no strings attached. Their slogan is ‘Life is short. Have an affair’!
One of my clients joined the site because he definitely doesn’t want to leave his wife and children, but their sex life has become non-existent. He met a woman who has no intention of leaving her husband either and they meet once a week.

Is flirting with a colleague at work cheating? What about having a massage with a happy ending? Is masturbating while looking at porn a form of infidelity? What about having sex with your partner while fantasising about Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie?

There seem to be so many shades of infidelity!