Dr. Wall continues his series on Sexual Desire by warning against the perils of going outside the boundary of your marriage to indulge in sexual pleasure. Swinging, and her perverted sisters, is anything but, and you “swap” your integrity for a life of chaos and misery.
In recent blogs we’re been looking at different aspects of sexual desire in marriage. The first two looked at the one extreme of spouses who aren’t interested in sex at all (here and here) and the last one with spouses that think about sex way too much (here). Today we’re looking at another variation of spouses who think about sex way too much: Swingers.
By “swinging” I mean couples, who have affairs with either gender with their spouses’ full knowledge and tacit approval. Sometimes both partners are involved in the sexual activity. Sometimes the swinging spouse is the only one doing it, but seek, plead and beg for their spouse’s approval. In either case we’ve “opened” the door to relationship chaos and relationship problems are right behind.
There are some people who think an affair is only an affair if a spouse does it in secret. If I do it with my spouse’s full knowledge, participation and blessing, then it’s not an affair and we will avoid the pitfalls of an affair. My clinical experience has been just the opposite. The brazen, in your face, fist-shaking-at-God-and-all-convention nature of swinging creates even more chaos and relationship destruction than an affair. It’s a complete disaster.
It’s too bad I have to discuss this topic today. Unfortunately, I’ve had a rash of clients in recent months that have had some horrendous problems with swinging, swapping and some other creepy things, so I thought I’d better address it. I fear, like the teacher who has to explain a position that’s the total opposite point of view of the teacher whose student develops an interest in advocating for this opposite point of view even though the teacher was critiquing it. The student never even thought of that point of view until the teacher brought up the subject. Likewise, I fear that just by my bringing the subject up, there might be some unwitting reader, who sees me addressing this issue and then thinking that it must be Okay if Dr. Wall discusses it. He brought it up after all. So why can’t we?
Our society today is touting the merits of so-called “sexual openness”. If you’ll look you’ll find it preached in porn. If you don’t you find it preached on TV and in the magazines at the grocery store that your 14-year old daughter or son could easily buy and read. Sex is just sex. Sex is fun. Sex is recreational. The more sex, the more variety, the more partners, the better. A boundary around your marriage? How unenlightened is that?
It’s open marriage, baby. Open marriage? Who comes up with these terms that absolutely take away anything meaningful? The whole idea of “marriage” is that there IS a boundary around a husband and a wife. This boundary is sacred and to be protected. “Open” implies that there is no boundary. These people MIGHT say they have a boundary in their heart: We’ll do sex with others, but NOT love them. We’ll save our love for each other. We’re just shaking it up a little. “Open marriage” is an oxymoron: “An open-closed” relationship. These two are contradictory and will play with your brain. There’s no such thing as an open-closed relationship. It’s one or the other. If you introduce “open” into your boundary-protected “closed” marital relationship, you invite problems into your lives. The boundary of marriage is there to protect you, like a ship’s hull protects it from sinking. Smash a hole in the side of a ship and the ship sinks. Smash a hole in the boundary of emotional and spiritual protection in your marriage and your marriage and you and your spouse will sink.
Open marriage? It used to be called perverted. You can call it what you will. It doesn’t clean it up at all.
I hope this subject doesn’t even come up as a lifestyle option in your marriage. Just the suggestion of it as a possibility can create havoc on you and your spouse’s psyche. It’ll cause her to wonder what other perverted crap is rattling around in your brain and if that’s how you really think about sex, then why would I want to be married to someone like that?
Unfortunately, way too many people, both male and female, are training their brains about sexuality in porn and in porn there are no boundaries around sexuality and anything goes. You don’t have to get into porn much before sexual with anyone and anyhow and any time is the norm. But it’s NOT normal for marriage. Successful marriages anyway. If you feast you mind on perversion and splash around in the gutter, something’s gonna get dirty, and it ain’t just your brain. Pretty soon you’ll be like the 2-year old toddler wanting to do everything daddy or mommy are doing. This isn’t the road to blessing, folks.
Remember when you said, “having thee only till death us do part”? Remember that? Did you mean that? Really? Cuz, ah, I’ve heard waaaaaay too many times where one partner says some of the following and it sure doesn’t sound like a spouse is committed for the long haul to just their husband or wife when he or she starts throwing these doubts into the mix. I also know how difficult it is to admit to these things to a therapist and I’m guessing that a lot more clients have done them, or said them, than have admitted them to me. Sadly, nearly all the folk, who I’ve heard say these things, are men highly steeped in the unrealistic and emotionally damaging world of pornography. The women, who I’ve heard say these things, were often sexually abused as youngsters. I wouldn’t think that neither porn nor sexual abuse would be models for marital bliss. The following are samples of the language of this degenerate life-style:
-You don’t seem to have much sexual desire. Maybe if we swapped partners with another couple, the variety would get your sexual juices jumped started again.
-(Husband to wife) You don’t seem to have much sexual desire. Maybe if you did it with another woman you’d awaken your sexual self. Bring her in. I can watch. Or we’ll all do it together. Cool. You’ll like it. It’d be fun.
-Open marriage is fine. Lot’s of people do it and they are all fine with it. Look at this web site. See. These are normal married couples. See how happy they look.
-It’s just sex. You don’t love them. No, it’s just sex. WE love each OTHER. WE BOTH know that WE LOVE each other. We won’t love our swinging partners. We’ll both know that neither of us is emotionally involved with them. We’ll save our real love for each other. It’s just recreational sex. We’re doing it for variety. Sex is fun. Let’s have fun. Shake it up a little.
-He’s gay. It means nothing. As long as he’s not straight it’s Okay. He doesn’t even like sex with women. I could see why you’d be upset if he’s straight. But he’s not. We both know that.
-You don’t seem to have much desire for me. Maybe you are gay. You should check that out.
-It was a gay bar. As long as it’s not heterosexual it’s fine. You should only be jealous if I was dinking around with someone of the opposite sex who is actually interested.
-Just because I’m attracted to the same-sex doesn’t mean I don’t love you. You shouldn’t be jealous. It’s not the opposite sex. Don’t you know it’s only an affair if it’s the opposite sex? If it’s same-sex it’s totally fine. I can love you and still do same-sex things. It’s just sex and says nothing about our relationship. I can to both and still love you.
-If you don’t approve of me doing this (any of the above), this means you are a control freak and that you don’t accept me for who I am. You are mean and judgmental. You are the problem. I’m the one trying to improve our life here.
-I told you. It’s NOT in secret. It shouldn’t be a trust issue. I haven’t lied. I’ve been up front about it. You are such a fuddy-duddy. You are sooooo boring. We need to shake up our sexual life. I’ve had these fantasies for years and for you to deny them to me is for you to be casting judgment on me.
Hey, folks. I don’t care your moral stance. The above is the language of abuse. Sexual and emotional abuse. Yes, you can sexually abuse your spouse. Throw your spouse to the wolves and smile? That’s what you are doing.
Having thee only meant having thee only. You didn’t get a free pass to explore other avenues as long as your spouse KNOWS about it! What’s up with that? These people think that if both of them know, if they are “open” about it, that will take the guilt away, that will make it Okay, that will take the “wrongness” of it go away. If we both agree on a wrong thing being right, then our agreeing that it’s not wrong makes it not wrong. Wrongness is only socially constructed. There is no absolute evil. It’s only evil in your mind. If we both agree it’s not wrong, it’s not wrong.
Tell that to Bonnie and Clyde.
The language of a spouse who tries to talk his wife (or vice versa) into any variations on this theme of sharing his or her or both their bodies with anyone else, male or female, is the language of a sexual predator. Here, look at these pictures. See. All the people have their clothes off. See their happy faces. That’s what you should do. You’ll be happy, too. You’ll make daddy so happy. You like making daddy happy, don’t you?
But, of course, the child is not happy. Something cries out inside of the sexual abuse victim that all is not well, that something is wrong, that what daddy is doing is wrong, that daddy is a crazy person to be avoided at all costs and now I have these terrible secrets I dare not share with anyone. Now I feel like I’m going crazy. I hated every minute of it. I wanted to kill him. It felt good. It felt horrible. It felt wrong. I was scared. It felt good. There must be something the matter with me. I have no control over my body. I’m just here to make him happy. I am invisible. I feel so exposed. Sex is dirty. It makes me feel dirty. Everyone can see how dirty I am. I can’t look anyone in the eye anymore. They might see inside me. Hide. Hide. Hide. Secrets are the way to peace. Peace. That’s all I want. Peace. What is peace? I barely remember peace.
If you’ve ever worked with sexual abuse victims, then you’ll know what it sounds like to talk to someone whose spouse has used those earlier excuses I shared above. It doesn’t make it right for your victim to be 10 or 20 years older or that your victim is your spouse. You are sexually abusing your spouse and dressing it up with guilt and manipulation and control and making your spouse the problem if he or she doesn’t cooperate with you. It’s all about you.
If you tell these things to her you will plant seeds of doubt in her head about your integrity and the veracity of your marriage.
If you do these things or insist or persuade her to do them with you, you will convince her beyond all doubt that you are a selfish perv, out to throw her away to the dogs.
The number one complain I hear from clients whose spouses have insisted they try any variation of the swinging lifestyle is:
Why wouldn’t he protect me? Why would he throw the integrity of our marriage away? Why is his selfish desire more important than my emotional well-being and the dignity of our marriage? Why? Why? Why? Why won’t he protect me? Why won’t he protect me? I must not mean anything to him.
It’s pretty hard to be married to your perpetrator. There ain’t many people that are going to sit around and be Okay with that. Maybe if your spouse was sexually abused as a child she could tolerate it for a while, but only because some other abuser got there first and conditioned her to swallow her opinion or her conscience or her dignity and to just be the object of her abuser’s pleasure and she has no life and no say and her feelings don’t matter and that her job is to make you happy and do what you want. She’s been taught, maybe for years, that she needs to just roll over and die. She doesn’t exist.
I hope, instead, a little lightbulb goes on in her head that says, “this is the same thing that daddy told me when I was 10-years old! My frickin’ husband is doing the same thing! This is NUTS!”
I thought sex between a husband and wife was supposed to be special? I thought it was supposed to be protected. I thought it was supposed to be holy. I thought it was supposed to be about just us two? Nobody else. Tender. Longings fulfilled. Vulnerable. Naked and not ashamed. Looking into each other’s eyes. The connection of our souls. The joining of our spirits. The reminder of our oneness and our vows and our commitment. The germination of the next generation.
You mean sex means NOTHING? AT ALL? JUST A RAW ACT? With anyone? You tell me this over and over and over and over. You believe this? You mean I’m nothing to you? There’s nothing special about me? Why are we married, then?
If she tells you it’s Okay to swing? If she tells you she even enjoyed it? If she tells you let’s do it again?
Be careful. You’ve just taught her to lie, remember? She’s supposed to make you happy, even though her inner core is screaming in protest. She’s just supposed to be sexual with these people and NOT feel anything. You are teaching her to lie to herself. It doesn’t feel right to her and she does it anyway. You were so happy. You thought she was enjoying it, too! HA! So what’s going to keep her from lying to you? She’s already lying to you when she says it’s fine. You told her it’s fine. She knows better, but says it’s fine anyway?
Wow. Now we got a mess. Now you can’t trust her? She enjoyed sex with that guy? She fell in love with that woman? More than with me? You liked him? You weren’t supposed to like her. We were just going to have some fun. Sex is fun. Recreation. You love him? You aren’t supposed to love her. How can I ever trust you again?
Dr. Wall, she was just supposed to be sexual with him. She fell in love with her. I feel so violated. Tell her she done wrong by falling in love with the guy (or gal, as the case may be).
Welcome to chaos. Welcome to relationship Hades. Welcome to an emotional wasteland. Welcome to fear and dread and worry and anxiety and loneliness and feeling lost. Welcome.
It’s just sex, right? It doesn’t mean anything.
Tell that to your shrink. You’re going to need one.
The Second Blog on Swinging is:
Dr. Wall continues both his series on sexual desire and this second on swinging, by unpacking the hurt around swinging behavior.
See Dr. Wall’s other blogs in this series on Sexual Desire:
Dr. Wall suggests that marriages cannot stay warm and tender without regular sexual encounters between husband and wife, so if one person in the marriage cuts that life-blood off, that person is spelling the demise of his or her marriage.
Dr. Wall argues that the statement “I’m just not the sexual type” is simply not true and the sooner we figure that out, the better our marriage and our sex lives will be. He warns that if we ignore this we do so at our peril.
Dr. Wall continues his series on sexual desire by discussing the effect of porn on men’s minds and how it devastates meaningful, mutual, marital sexuality.