Sexualpedia 6: Why Do I Like Him To Dress Up As Smokey The Bear?

Sexualpedia is an open-ended series of articles that will explain the source of many common erotic interests using neuroscience, biology, and online behavioral data.


Prevalence: Very common

Cues: Female submission cue; female psychological cues for male dominance


The Internet reveals a great deal about our sexual proclivities. When we are liberated from anxiety and shame by the anonymity of our web browser, our true erotic preferences become clearer, recorded as digital footprints left behind in searches, clicks, comments, and credit card transactions.

But certain erotic tastes don’t manifest as plainly in the virtual world as they do in face-to-face interactions. Online behavioral data is a powerful tool for determining which bits of anatomy men find most arousing and which qualities of the male personality turn on women the most; indeed, this flood of new online data is the most powerful research tool in the history of sex science. But there are still facets of human desire which remain difficult to analyze using online data. One of these is erotic role-playing in the bedroom—such as asking your man to dress up like Smokey the Bear.

I often participate on the Morning X radio show in Tampa (hosted by Drew Garabo and Seth Kush) where I respond to a segment known as Fetish Fridays that invites listeners to call in and describe their sexual activities. Though these phoned-in confessions are obviously anecdotal, constituting a highly non-random convenience sample, there is a consistent pattern in women’s professed playtime preferences, which include:

  • wanting boyfriend to dress up like Smokey the Bear.
  • wanting boyfriend to dress up like an auto mechanic.
  • wanting boyfriend to dress up  like a caveman.
  • wanting to pretend to be a hooker getting paid for sex.
  • wanting husband  to dress up like the UPS delivery man.
  • wanting boyfriend to pretend to be doctor.
  • wanting husband  to pretend to be daddy.
  • wanting boyfriend to pretend to be Nazi guard.
  • wanting boyfriend to pretend to be a werewolf.

Are these fantasies strange, unhealthy, or atypical? Not at all: in fact, such fantasies appear to be the very norm for the female sexual brain. Perhaps the single biggest discovery from our wide-ranging online research was the central importance of dominance and submissiveness roles in sexual arousal. Themes of domination and submission run through all of male visual pornography and through female erotic narratives; it’s one of the very few erotic interests that men and women share. Both sexes prefer sexual content with dominant males and submissive women, though some men appear to be born with a preference for male submission and a smaller portion of women appear to be born with a preference for female dominance.

The majority of women have submission fantasies. From classic romance The Flame and The Flower to classic erotica The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty to Twilight BDSM fan fiction to 50 Shades of Gray, submission themes are immensely popular in female erotica in every country from every era. Based on anecdotal evidence from callers on the radio show, this also runs through women’s face-to-face fantasies in the bedroom. Where does this interest come from?

Consider, for a moment, Rattus norvegicus, the Norwegian rat. The female performs stereotyped behaviors associated with sexual interest. First is pacing: running and stopping, inducing a male to chase her. This culminates in lordosis: assuming a submissive stationary posture with arched back and raised hips. Lordosis is controlled by a specific region of the hypothalamus, a subcortical brain structure. An analogous part of the brain controls submission postures in female primates. Though we can’t know what runs through a female rat’s mind during lordosis, it seems reasonable to assume there must be some pleasurable psychological quality associated with these submissive behaviors that reward the rat for performing them. In male rats, another part of the hypothalamus controls stereotyped dominance activity, such as mounting a female and performing intromission.

However, all rats and primates (both male and female) appear to be born with both dominance and submission systems intact; in fact, when scientists activate the submission system in male rats they behave like sexually submissive females and when they activate the dominance system in female rats they behave like sexually dominant males. (Some female primates have also been found to naturally engage in male sexual behaviors.) It seems highly likely that humans have inherited the same twin set of ancient dominance-submission systems. (It’s always worth mentioning that just because you like to be submissive in the bedroom has no relevance for what you want in the boardroom.)

In addition, almost every quality of dominant males triggers arousal in the female brain: dominant scents, dominant gaits, deep voices, height, displays of wealth, displays of physical strength. Role-playing master/servant roles is likely a way for women to activate ancient submissive cues shared with other female primates while also activating the female brain’s less ancient cues for strong males. That’s why so many women want their partner to pretend they are a savage beast, a powerful man, a brutal man, an authority figure, or an outright rapist—but always someone who takes charge in the bedroom and has his way with her.

Of course, the individual details of a woman’s “dominant male” fantasy are highly variable and depend on her own experiences, personality, and other erotic tastes. Whether you want your husband to pretend to be the family physician or a Nazi doctor might depend on your past medical experiences. Whether you want your boyfriend to dress up like a werewolf or a lion or Smokey the Bear might be influenced by your childhood literary preferences. But—based on online data gathered from millions of women from around the world—all of these submissive fantasies reflect a healthy, natural, and utterly normal sexual brain.

Dr. Ogi Ogas received his PhD in computational neuroscience from Boston University and was a Department of Homeland Security Fellow. His writing has been published in the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Glamour, Wired, Baltimore Magazine, and Seed.  He used his knowledge of cognition to reach the million dollar question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and battle Ken Jennings in the finals of Grand Slam.

Cobra Libre Contest and Giveaway

UPDATE: Congratulations, Anthony, on the winning caption: Patchy Paul and Little Paul starring in ‘Barney and Friends have a Picnic.’

Thank you everyone for participating. Please stay tuned for our next giveaway.

GENTLEMEN: Fun Factory’s Cobra Libre ($149.99) could be yours.

The hood of this masturbator holds the penis shaft in place, allowing the vibrating ridge inside to massage your most sensitive areas. The soft silicone of the inner toy shaft hugs the penis tightly and the powerful, quiet dual motors deliver a variety of pulsing vibrations directly to the sensitive penis glans. Featuring 6.3″ in total length and intuitive control buttons, the Cobra Libre is fully rechargeable with innovative Click ‘N’ Share technology.

SHARE YOUR CAPTION FOR THIS PHOTO IN THE COMMENTS BELOW AND ENTER TO WIN YOUR VERY OWN COBRA LIBRE. The winner will be announced on Monday, March 18, 2013. Offer valid in the U.S. only.

Fun Factory

(This photo features Patchy Paul and Little Paul Fun Factory vibes also for sale at the Museum store.)

Sexualpedia Part 2: Sexual Homunculi

Sexualpedia is an open-ended series of articles that will explain the source of many common erotic interests using neuroscience, biology, and online behavioral data.

What lady parts do men find most beguiling? What pieces of male anatomy intrigue women the most? To answer these questions, we turned to our data.

To gain insight into male desires, we counted the number of times that men included different pieces of female anatomy in their sexual searches on Dogpile. (We also counted the number of times that pieces of male anatomy were included in searches for gay sexual content on Dogpile.) Then we gave the resulting frequencies to the graphic artists at Boy Meets Hero and asked them to draw us a pair of “sexual homunculi.”

If you’ve ever taken a psychology course, you probably recall the “sensory homunculus” in the chapter about perception. This big-lipped fellow shows the different anatomical divisions of the primary somatosensory cortex, with pieces of anatomy sized according to how much cortical real estate they each take up in our brain. It shows that we have a lot of sensation in our hands and tongue.

Similarly, the sexual homunculus has anatomy that is sized according to how often men search for each body part. The female sexual homunculus features the lady anatomy that men search for. You could perhaps say that this is how the typical male sexual brain perceives women.The male sexual homunculus features male anatomy sized according to how frequently gay men search for each part. You might say that this is how the typical gay male sexual brain perceives men. Keep in mind that the proportionality is only approximate, since it was rendered through an artist’s interpretation of our data and he informed us that “it’s difficult to supersize someone’s butt while keeping their adjacent anatomy normal looking.”

To discern women’s interest in male anatomy, we turned to the romance novel. We analyzed the text of more than ten thousand romance novels published from 1983 to 2008 (including erotic novels) to determine the most common descriptions of the hero’s physical appearance. Here are the seven most frequently mentioned pieces of masculine anatomy:

  1. cheekbones
  2. jaw
  3. brows
  4. shoulders
  5. forehead
  6. waist
  7. hips

If we wished to describe the ideal-looking hero, we could use the most common two-word physical descriptions: the perfect hero boasts blue eyes, a straight nosehigh forehead, and square jaw together making a handsome face. His head is framed by dark hair which accents the white teeth in his sensual mouth curved into a crooked smile. He stands tall with broad shoulders, a broad chestnarrow waistflat stomachstrong armsbig handsbig feet, and long legs—though the heroine’s eye might ultimately be drawn to his powerful thighs. We are still awaiting a romance hero homunculus, though we aren’t quite sure what a crooked smile looks like.

There’s one notable difference between the female sexual brain and the gay male sexual brain: in the hundred most common physical descriptors used to describe the romance hero, there is no synonym for penis.

Dr. Ogi Ogas received his PhD in computational neuroscience from Boston University and was a Department of Homeland Security Fellow. His writing has been published in the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Glamour, Wired, Baltimore Magazine, and Seed.  He used his knowledge of cognition to reach the million dollar question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and battle Ken Jennings in the finals of Grand Slam.


Stronic Eins Contest & Giveaway

UPDATE: Congratulations, Olivia, on the winning caption:

“Even though she had been told that she couldn’t get pregnant from vibrators, Jane loves the newborns more than anything.”

Thank you everyone for participating. Please stay tuned for our next giveaway. And now…time for the great Stronic Eins race! Who will win?


Vibrators are so last season.

For the month of February, we’re teaming up with Fun Factory to turn the Museum store into a space dedicated to a revolutionary new sex toy.

Stronic Eins

Say hello to the Stronic Eins.

Using magnetic technology to create strong pulsing thrusts, the Stronic Eins is the first of its kind on the market. With ten different stimulation rhythms, the sensations are endlessly customizable, and its controls are simple to learn and use. According to a survey led by Fun Factory last November, 87% of women who have used a vibrator prefer a pulsator after trying one…

SHARE YOUR CAPTION FOR THIS PHOTO IN THE COMMENTS BELOW AND ENTER TO WIN YOUR VERY OWN STRONIC EINS. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. Offer valid in the U.S. only.

Photo credit: Fun Factory USA

Photo credit: Fun Factory USA







The Deadliest Snatch

Sex has been used to facilitate murder many times before but, never like this…

A Brazilian woman poisoned her vagina in hopes that her husband would go down on her and die. Her plan was thwarted when he complained of a “funny smell” when he went down and took her to the hospital to get checked out.

Sadly, the article is more academic than comedic but, if you’re curious about the history of evil vaginas, including the Brazilian one above, read this article.

So They Can Know

Help make sex more awesome for everyone and eradicate STDs.

So They Can Know is a website designed to help people who’ve been diagnosed with STDs notify their partners. Users of the website can access information on how to talk to their partners themselves or watch videos that model STD notification conversations. The website also allows users to send anonymous notification emails to sexual partners that they wouldn’t otherwise tell. These emails are sent by the website and let partners know what they need to get tested for, provide some basic information about the STD, and link recipients back to So They Can Know to find a clinic or doctor who will test them.

There are 19 million new STD cases each year in the US. Nearly half of these, or 9.1 million, occur among 15-24 year olds. Many infected individuals do not have symptoms, do not get tested and treated, and unknowingly spread the STD to their sexual partners. Partner notification, in which the sexual partners of STD patients are notified of their potential STD exposure, is one of the most effective ways to address this public health problem. However, only 23% of at-risk partners are ever notified.

With your help, So They Can Know can remain a free service for the next year and provide free promotional materials to STD and family planning clinics to give out to their patients. This will ensure that there will be more people notifying their partners, more partners getting tested and treated, and fewer people spreading STDs.


Jessica Ladd presents So They Can Know at TEDxMidAtlantic in DC:

About Sexual Health Innovations
Sexual Health Innovations (SHI) is a nonprofit organization that has created and is maintaining So They Can Know. Their mission is to improve the sexual health of Americans by promoting more effective use of technology and to achieve this by creating effective new technology products, conducting high-quality research, and advising non-profit and governmental organizations on how to better use technology to improve health. Jessica Ladd and Jenny McManus are the two leaders of the So They Can Know initiative with long-standing commitments to sexual health. For more information, visit


Pencil Dicks Short Vaginas, Herpes, and Sugar Daddy Issues

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Dear Ms. M.,

This is maybe a little tamer than the questions you usually get. I am a young, 19 year old guy who has been having problems with fit recently. When I first lost my virginity at 16 there were no problems, but with each consecutive girl I have had sex with, I have a harder time getting it to fit in. I have slept with four girls in total now. I think maybe I have just grown down below since I was 16, but maybe I am just doing something wrong. It is more of a depth problem than width usually, and even with lube and lots of foreplay, for the girls it isn’t solved. It is really frustrating not to be able to go all the way in and I was wondering what could help fix this. It is stopping me from enjoying sex as much, especially since the girls find it painful, and having my partner enjoy it is paramount to my own enjoyment as well. As young teenager I never would have thought that I would have wanted a shorter penis; I don’t even think mine is that big (actually I am quite sure). Is it possible these girls just have short vaginas? Is this a common problem? Anything you can tell me would be useful, thanks!

-In Too Deep

P.S.: Not sure if this is inappropriate to include, but my penis is only 18cm (about 7 inches) in length.


I am very pleased to hear you are using lube and engaging in lots of foreplay. I am even more impressed to hear that having your partner enjoy it is paramount to your own enjoyment. You are a wonderful example of a sexually conscious evolved male. Kudos!

When I read your email, I was reminded of a guy I used to date nicknamed Tripod, because basically, it was like a third leg. We didn’t need lube (I get very wet naturally on my own), but he always spent a good 30+ minutes on foreplay. When he did finally penetrate me, I was so eager and hungry for him, he would basically stay still and I would grind my way to greater and greater depths. He was 11+ inches. Only once after a three-day trip we took together, did I feel sore from all the sex.

That being said, I’ve also had sex with guys much smaller than Tripod and smaller than you, yet some of them had this notion that pounding me hard, fast, and forcefully was the way to magically and instantly make me cum. So you see, it’s not necessarily the size of your cock, but how you work it.

Consider the motion in the ocean. Are you going bang bang bang, hammering away? Or, are you slowly entering her, teasing her, and listening to her body? Are you allowing her to suck you inside of her between her legs, because she’s so hungry for it, she needs it? Or are you pounding her?

Hardcore porn tends to teach younger guys the wrong way to do it. Sport sex can be fun on occasion, but remember, porn stars are PAID TO ACT like they’re into it; it’s not a fine example of how to truly please a woman. Go in slow motion, to where you’re driving yourself crazy. Try not to stick the whole thing in there in one big jabbing force.

You can also try switching up the angles. Let her be on top and be the one in control. Or, if you’re on top, go inside of her, then put her legs together and your legs around the outside of her legs. You can also try putting a pillow under her bum to vary the angle.

More importantly, remember you’re only at the beginning of your sexual pilgrimage. If you’re having sex with girls your age, they are likely as new to sex as you are. Odds are, they don’t know what they’re doing yet. Keep trying: patience, perseverance, and practice are key ingredients. Maybe hook-up with an older or more experienced gal who can give you more relevant honest feedback.

Good Luck,

Ms. M.


Ms. M.,

I found Valtrex in my boyfriend’s bathroom cabinet and his name was on the prescription label. When we started having sex, he swore to me he didn’t have anything so we’ve been having sex unprotected for nearly six months now. I’m so pissed I want to kill him, and definitely considering breaking up. A friend said I probably will not get herpes so long as we don’t have sex when he has a visible sore. Is this true or do you think I have already gotten herpes? I’m so mad he lied and didn’t tell me.

-Betrayed In Boston

Hold your horses there, Betrayed. You’re jumping to conclusions and living in the heat of emotion. You haven’t even communicated with your partner about this find, yet you feel your relationship is at a level where it’s okay to have unprotected sex regularly—doesn’t add up.

If you were in a great relationship, you would calmly and coolly explain you were searching for Advil or toilet paper or toothpaste and noticed the bottle of Valtrex with his name on it. Then you would ask, “Is there something I should know? Are you okay?”

He hasn’t necessarily lied. Valtrex is used to treat alpha-herpes viruses, including herpes simplex viruses 1 & 2 (what you’re worried about), plus varicella zoster virus, which causes chicken pox and shingles. So basically, it’s possible he has Valtrex because he had a bad case of shingles, which is not an STD. While they all may be of the same viral family, it’s important you remember the varicella zoster virus that causes shingles does not and will not cause herpes.

If he does have herpes, then yes, it’s possible you have contracted it. It’s a virus that stays dormant in the body, so until you get your first outbreak, you won’t show any symptoms and you can still possibly infect partners. If you have no symptoms but would like to know if you have contracted the virus, you can opt to take a blood test or an antibody test.  Here’s some information on test types, so you can determine which might be best for you.

If you do in fact have the virus, it doesn’t necessarily mean he was the one who gave it to you. In the USA alone, one in four sexually active women and one in five sexually active men have herpes. Additionally, among the estimated 50 million Americans who have genital herpes, 90% don’t know they have the disease. One last thing while we’re on the topic: those blisters on people’s mouths everyone calls “cold sores” are actually herpes simplex type 1. Don’t let them fool you!

-Ms. M.


Dear Ms. M.,

I have been in a relationship with a man who started out as my sugar daddy. He pays my rent and all my college expenses and gives me spending money. We go out to nice restaurants and also have occasional threesomes with other girls, which I enjoyed until recently. You see, I’ve developed feelings for him I can’t explain. We have a huge age difference and looks wise, it doesn’t make sense. I’m afraid to tell him because if I do, he might end the relationship and cut me off. But at the same time, I hate hearing about his mean nagging wife, their family vacations she organizes, and her redecorating plans of their huge townhouse. I deserve what she has, not her. He also has three kids, so I doubt he will leave his family to be with me. What should I do?

Falling for your sugar daddy is like being a drug dealer and gettin’ high on your own supply. You just don’t do it! You got into this situation for money, and at best a friendship—not love.

Most importantly, you do not deserve what his wife has, you deserve better. You deserve a man who wouldn’t cheat on you if you were his wife (unless you were both cool with an open marriage). You deserve a man, who, when faced with a sexless miserable marriage would communicate, seek therapy, or divorce. That is a real man, one who makes a valiant effort, BUT who is also true to himself. If a man is not true to himself, how could you ever expect he remain true to you or your marriage? You may be thinking he wouldn’t cheat on you if you were his wife, but what about in 20 years when you get old and boring? Men have sugar babies for the same reason dogs lick their balls: because they can. And yet, a lot of them have a profound need for affection, sex, and to feel needed by someone, but ironically don’t have the balls to leave their wives who aren’t fulfilling their needs.

He’s not going to leave his miserable nagging wife. You are selling your long-term self short for some cash and the façade of security; that’s not cool. Personally, I think it’s fine to have a sugar daddy at this point in your life. In fact, the experience will hopefully provide you with some insight to men, bad marriages, and how powerful you can be as a female (see Erotic Capital). But once you’re out of college, it’s imperative you make your own money and provide yourself with security, or you’ll wind up being no different than his wife.

The greatest thing that could come out of a long-term relationship like this, besides the obvious mutually beneficial arrangement, is a profound lasting friendship. One day you may not still have sex and you may not be supported by him financially, but you will hopefully always be able to call each other up and shoot the breeze with ease.

You need to get over your romantic feelings for him. Find another guy, ideally hotter and younger to crush on and distract yourself; have lots of sex with the young stud. Take a small break from the sugar daddy, go on a trip, get your groove back like Stella. But whatever you do, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT, tell your sugar daddy you have feelings for him. It will make life much more complicated for you both. Let it be! He likes being needed, but not being possessed or nagged the way his wife treats him. You are his fun escape from the world; remain so, and remain in your current lifestyle.

You could also consider getting a job and taking out student loans like the rest of American students, but who wants to pay off loans for the rest of their life? Maybe just find another sugar daddy. Affection-starved, sex-starved men in miserable marriages are extremely easy to find. Apparently, there are tons of girls at NYU with them. Screw the expensive costs of college education in this country, and screw the man … oh wait, you are.  😉

Much Love,

Ms. M.


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An Affair to Remember: What Happens in Couples After Someone Cheats (Part Three)

We’ve already looked at two types of couples that, for better or worse, remain together after affairs, but for some partners, the affair becomes a transformational experience and catalyst for renewal and change. This outcome illustrates that therapy has the potential to help couples reinvent their marriage by mining the resilience and resourcefulness each partner brings to the table.

The Explorers

“The affair was a shock that forced us to get unstuck,” was Julian’s unequivocal response in an interview five years after I’d seen him and his wife, Claire, in couples therapy. “I agree that our relationship is now much better than it ever was,” said Claire as she turned to Julian and added, “but I still think that you acted like a jerk. You didn’t need to cheat on me to make the point that our marriage was in trouble.” While they still disagree on the way Julian delivered his “message,” they agree his affair transformed their marriage.

Claire found out about Julian’s affair through accidentally discovering e-mail messages. Deeply jolted, she sought individual therapy and reached out to her friends. But along with giving her support, they asked her to see that, while Julian had betrayed her trust, she herself had–as she later put it–“betrayed my vows.” Knowing that Claire didn’t want to lose the man she loved, her friends encouraged her to fight for him. So she reached out to him, and they talked with each other as they hadn’t done in years, sharing feelings and thoughts that had long been tucked away. As the conversations evolved and they began to narrow the distance between them, they felt awakened into a new experience of connection, in which they felt both great pain and excitement, as they never had before.

When couples like Julian and Claire begin to find their way back to each other, there’s often a combustive rekindling of desire, a mix of anxiety and lust, which many couples are shy to admit. In this emotional maelstrom, couples swing between starkly opposing feelings: one minute it’s “Fuck you”; the next minute it’s “Fuck me.” Then it’s “Get out of here!” Followed by “Don’t ever leave me!” Throughout this drama, Claire and Julian managed to sustain these swings without either one marching off to a divorce lawyer. Being able to express and accept such a wide range of feelings without demanding a premature “closure” made them good candidates for a positive resolution. Tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty is vital to discovering a space from which a more creative and robust relationship can emerge.

In my joint work with Julian and Claire, I did something that some therapists might consider risky: I suggested she invite Julian to talk about his experience with infidelity. Paradoxically, I’ve found that this type of openness about one’s affair, rather than being destructive and painful, can be a deeply affecting demonstration of loyalty to the spouse. Telling one’s partner, “Okay, I’ll show you who I am. This is what happened, and this is how I felt about it” can be a way of saying “I love you and never really wanted to leave you; I want to tell you this because you’re so important to me.” Indeed, Claire found that having Julian talk about his intimacy with another woman was itself an expression of intimacy with her–increasing their bond with each other.

Sometimes the crisis of infidelity helps couples make a crucial distinction, one between a relationship based on exclusiveness and one grounded in the uniqueness of their connection. Exclusivity depends on establishing rigid boundaries: the emphasis is on “not permitting,” “restricting,” “not sharing with others.” Before the affair, Claire and Julian had increasingly based their relationship on this kind of external framework to set them apart as a couple. In contrast, through our work together, they learned to value what was distinctive about the meaning they held for each other, with the emphasis on why they “chose to be with each other” rather than what was “forbidden with someone else.” Ultimately, this enhanced sense of “us” is the most powerful analgesic for relationships at the edge, soothing the pain and promising a prospect of renewal.

Couples like Julian and Claire manage to turn the turmoil of an affair into an enlarging emotional journey. Each one takes appropriate responsibility for the deterioration of the relationship, focusing not only on mending the breach produced by the affair, but on rebuilding the emotional foundation of the marriage. Such couples tend to identify the affair as one event–but not the definitive event–in their history together. Rather than seeing the affair purely as an act of failure and betrayal, they transform it into a catalyst for change, an inspiration for a rebirth of connection.

All kinds of unexpected discoveries can come out of the crisis of infidelity. Claire, having had to reconnect with her own resources to weather the storm with Julian, experienced a new sense of self-reliance and a new willingness to take the initiative. As she learned how to express her sexual yearnings, Julian was surprised to find a partner with a strength and enthusiasm he’d never encountered before. At the same time, no longer the lone decision-maker in the marriage, he found himself missing the ability to make decisions for the two of them. While richer and more interesting, the relationship felt less secure to both of them. “I’m not sure at all where this is going to take us, but dull it certainly isn’t,” Julian said.

Reinventing the Self

Couples who can successfully recover from an infidelity often display a significant shift in language: From “you” and “me” to “our,” from “when you did this to me” to “this was an event in our life.” They talk about “When we had our crisis,” recounting a shared experience. Now they’re joint scriptwriters, sharing credit for the grand production of their life together.

Couples who think in absolutes are less able to integrate the infidelity into the new substance of their marriage and likelier to get stuck in the past. For them, the affair is entirely bad and destructive, a transgression against commitment and morality. Complete remorse, followed by dramatic confession, unqualified promises of “never again,” unconditional forgiveness, and categorical absolution are the only acceptable outcomes. But things are more fluid for those who see an affair as an event that, no matter how painful, may contain the seeds of something positive. Such couples understand that forgiveness doesn’t happen all at once, and they feel OK with partial forgiveness. To be sure, after betrayal, trust isn’t likely to be total. When declarations like “How can I ever trust you again?” are made by such couples, I often interject, “Well it depends. Trust for what?”

Above all, what sets apart couples who use therapy to turn an infidelity into a transformative experience is that they come to recognize that therapy doesn’t provide clear-cut answers, but a nonjudgmental forum in which to discuss their ideas of betrayal, both sexual and emotional. They discover that such discussions can become the basis for their new relationship. While by no means giving up on the idea of commitment, they learn to redefine it in a way that will prevent the recurrence of secret affairs and betrayals. For them, monogamy means mutual emotional loyalty, fidelity, and commitment in a primary relationship, even if, for some, it doesn’t necessarily mean sexual exclusiveness.

They find out that infidelity doesn’t necessarily point to flaws in the relationship. Such partners see the affair as less a statement about the marriage than a statement about themselves. When we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t always our partner we’re turning away from, but the person we ourselves have become. We’re seeking not another partner, but another self. Couples who reinvent themselves can bring this other self into their existing relationship.

People stray for many reasons–tainted love, revenge, unfulfilled longings, and plain old lust. At times, an affair is a quest for intensity, a rebellion against the confines of matrimony. An illicit liaison can be catastrophic, but it can also be liberating, a source of strength, a healing. And frequently it’s all these things at once.

Some affairs are acts of resistance; others happen when we offer no resistance at all. Straying can sound an alarm for the marriage, signaling an urgent need to pay attention to what ails it. Or it can be the death knell that follows a relationship’s last gasping breath. I tell my patients that most of us in the West today will have two or three marriages or committed relationships in our lifetime. For those daring enough to try, they may find themselves having all of them with the same person. An affair may spell the end of a first marriage, as well as the beginning of a new one.

Meet MoSex blog contributor Esther Perel:

Psychologist Esther Perel is recognized as one of the world’s most original and insightful voices on couples and sexuality across cultures. Fluent in nine languages, the Belgian native and a celebrated speaker sought around the globe for her expertise in emotional and erotic intelligence, work-life balance, cross-cultural relations, conflict resolution and identity of modern marriage and family. Her best-selling and award-winning book, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic, has been translated into 24 languages. For more information about Esther, please visit:

An Affair To Remember: What Happens in Couples After Someone Cheats? (Part Two)

Last time, we looked at couples stuck in the past after extramarital affairs. Now, we explore partners who remain together and can move past the infidelity, but don’t necessarily transcend it.

The Survivors

Joanna had fantasized about the moment for almost two years: she’d leave her husband, Michael, move in with her lover, Eric, and be bathed in a state of bliss and sensuality that had been sorely missing from her life. Eric had showered her with affection and a sense of importance–attention she’d only ever received from her children, since Michael had excused himself from these gestures, saying he wasn’t that kind of guy. Lassitude had gradually crept into her marriage, leaving her feeling more attached to the habit of being married than to the man she’d once loved.

Joanna’s transgression was an attempt to recapture what she’d shared previously with Michael and didn’t want to live without: a sense of importance and belonging, relief from loneliness, and a feeling that life was basically good. Unfulfilled longings drive many cases of infidelity. Joanna carefully plotted her departure, but when push came to shove, she couldn’t do it.

Often people begin to see what they want to preserve at the moment that their affair is about to come out of hiding. Perhaps not surprisingly, this is also when they realize that the lover was meant to be exactly that: a lover.

“Part of me was very disappointed in myself for not being able to leave Michael, and I wondered if I was letting go of the love of my life,” Joanna recalled. “But part of me felt relief that I was going to stay and not destroy my family.” Michael alternated between panic and rage, between begging her to stay and chasing her away. “I couldn’t believe she was ready to jeopardize everything for this guy, Eric, and I felt trapped because I suspected that her reasons to stay didn’t have much to do with me. It was more about what we had than about who I was.”

At the core of Joanna’s predicament is a conflict of values, inherent in the affair itself, not just in its resolution. When people talk about their fears, often they’re really pondering their values. For Joanna and others in her place, lying and deceiving are more agonizing than thrilling. They don’t set out to betray their partners. Sometimes, as in the case of Joanna, they’re motivated by a yearning for what they’re no longer willing to live without: passion–not in the narrow, sexual sense, but as a quest for aliveness and erotic vitality.

For these partners, sexual excitement and what they regard as self-centered desires for more romantic “fulfillment” aren’t powerful enough incentives to turn them away from the long-term rewards and vital obligations of family. They hold themselves to the premise “when you marry, you make a commitment and you must honor it.” These couples value family integrity, security, continuity, and familiarity over the rollercoaster of risky romantic love. There can be deep, enduring love and loyalty in these couples, but passion doesn’t feature prominently on the menu. However, while people’s values can remain intact, the decision to stay in the marriage can be heart-wrenching.

When I work with these couples, I always include joint and individual sessions, keeping all information from the individual sessions confidential. The purpose of solo meetings is to provide a private space in which each partner can resolve his or her individual predicament, no matter how long it takes. With these couples, the therapeutic process is one of reasoning and rational thinking, as a way to temper the turbulence of their emotions.

Couples like Joanna and Michael had carefully crafted a path for themselves in their marriage, and much of what they seek in post-affair therapy is to reclaim a sense of control. They aren’t looking for massive renovations in their relationship; they simply want to come back to the home they know and rest on a familiar pillow.

In therapy, I explore the riches of the love affair, what they found in their relationship with the “other,” and what they can take from it into their primary relationship. We draft the new amendments for their life, in the singular and plural. We weigh the pain of ending the affair and I always ask how they imagine themselves 10 years down the road.

With the betrayed person, we examine the ebbs and flows of trust, the sense of impermanence that snuck into the relationship, and their wish to return to familiarity. Therapy offers couples like Joanna and Michael a place to evaluate the fundamentals of their lives. We also address the hurt that persists even though the couple remains together.

Joanna and Michael ultimately were able to resume a life similar to the one they’d had before the crisis. “We weren’t ready to divorce over this, but we don’t see the affair as being good in any way. It was a kind of temporary insanity,” Michael sums up. Listening to them, it’s clear that they’re both relieved that they were able to pull through.

Once in a while, Michael can feel a surge of insecurity, since Joanna and Eric occasionally meet professionally, but his suspicion is intermittent and easily absorbed. He’ll inquire, “When’s the last time you met him? Does he have a new girlfriend? Do you talk about personal things?” On occasion, humor is the perfect antidote. Once, when Michael asked Joanna if she thought Eric was still interested in her, she told him, “I don’t think so, but here’s his telephone number. You can call him and ask.”

Stay with me for the third installation of this article–looking at couples who have been totally transformed by affairs.

Meet MoSex blog contributor Esther Perel:
Psychologist Esther Perel is recognized as one of the world’s most original and insightful voices on couples and sexuality across cultures. Fluent in nine languages, the Belgian native and a celebrated speaker sought around the globe for her expertise in emotional and erotic intelligence, work-life balance, cross-cultural relations, conflict resolution and identity of modern marriage and family. Her best-selling and award-winning book, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic, has been translated into 24 languages. For more information about Esther, please visit:

Vote With Your Raincoat!

UPDATE: The results are in. Here are the results as of 4:30pm on November 6th:


Vote in the first ever Museum of Sex PROTECTION ELECTION POLL with the purchase of Obama and Romney condoms ($3) at the Museum store!

The presidential raincoats are available in-store and online. Each condom sold counts, your voting power can be more influential with each condom purchased. No Electoral College in this election – the candidate with the most votes wins. Final results will be published on Election Day, November 6th, 2012.




Features and Benefits of the Obama Condom:

Obama Condoms are the Ultimate Stimulus Package for hard times. Hope is not a form of protection.










Features and Benefits of the Romney Condom:

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Who are you voting for your next erection?