Sexual Intelligence, written and published by Marty Klein, Ph.D.
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Each month, Sexual Intelligence® examines the sexual implications of current events, politics, technology, popular culture, and the media.

Dr. Marty Klein is a Certified Sex Therapist and sociologist with a special interest in public policy and sexuality. He has written 6 books and 100 articles. Each year he trains thousands of professionals in North America and abroad in clinical skills, human sexuality, and policy issues.

Issue #225 – NOVEMBER 2018


Caught Cheating? 8 Ways to Make Things WORSE

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In my 37 years as a marriage counselor and sex therapist, I've worked with about 1.3 jillion extramarital affairs. Men and women marry, so men and women cheat. Sometimes it's once, with no emotional attachment. Sometimes it's years with a beloved in the next town—virtually a second husband or wife.

Many unfaithful partners get caught, as their suspicious spouses play Sherlock Holmes. Some cheaters feel so guilty or angry that they unconsciously arrange to get caught. In other cases people unintentionally betray their own secrets; it's very, very difficult to flawlessly deceive the person with whom you live over a long period of time.

And secrecy is lonely, so sooner or later most secret-keepers want to tell somebody. I recall one patient who successfully kept her secret for years, and then finally revealed it to her best friend one night, who told her husband, who…well, you know how that ends.

Lenny Bruce used to joke that if you get caught cheating, you should always deny. In fact, even if your spouse catches you in the act, Bruce advises you to say "Honey, it's not what it looks like, it's really nothing. Who you gonna believe—your loving husband or your lying eyes?"

When both partners agree that one has cheated—whether through detective work, tearful confession, or evidence right in front of someone's "lying eyes"—a couple can take several different directions. Some of the Betrayeds are out the door (or throwing the Cheater out the door) faster than you can say "Ashley Madison."

However, many of my couples dealing with the discovery of infidelity want to reconcile. While there are lots of books and websites about making reconciliation less painful or more effective, I've never seen one about how some people make infidelity's aftermath worse.

It often involves denying responsibility for one's behavior. So here are eight ways that Cheaters, once caught, can make things even worse by evading responsibility for their actions:

* Say "it happened" instead of "I did it"
* Call it "an indiscretion" instead of "I chose it"

When people disapprove of their own infidelity, they don't like to stand up and say "yes, I did it." Through a simple twist of language—which isn't deliberate, although it is effective—Cheaters can create distance between themselves and their choices. Betrayed spouses instinctively resent this, even if they're not linguistically sophisticated.

When kids misbehave we expect them to say "yes, I did it," right? An apology without that is meaningless. It's reasonable to expect the same from adults—"yes, I did it," rather than "that thing that got done."

* Blame your partner for not being sexy enough or wanting sex enough

I've seen unfaithful spouses blame their infidelity on their partners' weight gain, poor hygiene, refusal to dress up, dislike of oral sex, and much, much more. But it never goes over well when adults blame others for their choices. And blaming a person who themselves feels like a victim is especially hurtful.

I'm very sympathetic about the pain of being sexually rejected, and the frustration of one's mate not living up to one's ideals (whether those are realistic or not is an entirely different question). That said, blaming our mate for breaking our promise to him or her reflects a lack of integrity, not to mention sensitivity.

And it certainly doesn't encourage the Betrayed to trust an unfaithful spouse—after all, if you blame my weight or lack of interest in cunnilingus and I know that isn't going to change, why should I expect you're unfaithful behavior to change?

* Blame work stress

Everyone here in Silicon Valley—and almost everywhere else in America—talks about work being stressful. I sympathize—people feel overworked and underappreciated, and they're spending longer and longer sitting in traffic. To make things worse, most people have put themselves on 24-hour alert with umbilical connections to their phone and "smart" house.

Our nervous systems are not evolved to deal with this constant vigilance and stimulation Different people deal with it in different ways—too much TV, too much alcohol, too much shopping, too much porn, too much videogaming…and infidelity.

Of course, work stress (and smartphone stress) doesn't dictate how we deal with it, only that we must. I'm not judgmental about the problematic ways people choose—but I do know that when one's choice hurts others, they're not going to settle for "it's not my fault, blame my job." In fact, they're going to figure, "Oh, even though you've apologized, I guess you may be unfaithful again—because you're still at your high-stress job."

That's not an unreasonable assumption.

* Say "I'm going to try harder" to be faithful.

Doesn't saying "Starting today, I'm going to try harder" mean someone wasn't already trying their hardest? If they were weren't already 'trying their hardest' to stay faithful, why not? And why will they 'try harder' now?

And what does 'try harder' actually mean in this context?

* Say "I feel so guilty I can't stand to go over this again"

The person who cheated may have spoken to a therapist or a clergymember for months or even years. The Cheater may indeed have flogged themselves mentally, done penance, lost a year of sleep, even changed for the better.

But the infidelity is fresh the day a spouse finds out about it. That's the moment the clock is set to zero. Telling a Betrayed "I'm already in so much pain about this I don't have the energy for your pain is saying 'Even though I'm the one who hurt you, my pain is more important than yours.' Nobody in pain—absolutely nobody—wants to hear that. It guarantees outrage and conflict. Blaming the Betrayed for being unsympathetic in that situation is inviting him or her to never trust you again.

* Say "I'm ready to put this behind me, so please don't dwell on the past"
* Say "It happened so long ago ("She's dead!") there's nothing to say anymore"

Yes, looking at the future together is great, and planning your new life together is very positive.

Assuming, of course, that the other person is ready. If they aren't, they won't appreciate the Cheater dictating (or even gently suggesting) the timetable for 'moving forward.' In my experience, Cheaters almost always want to 'move forward' more quickly than Betrayeds do.

Showing concern and sympathy about the Betrayed's timetable for 'moving forward' is one of the first tangible things a Cheater can do to demonstrate their willingness to deal with the infidelity as a team. Actually slowing down and grasping a partner's experience, rather than judging how they 'should' feel, is essential for building trust—far more than the recitation of details about which positions, which restaurants, and what kind of lingerie.

The discovery of infidelity almost always precipitates a crisis in a relationship. Too many couples waste that crisis by focusing on trivia, or deciding who's more blameworthy, or who did what eleven years ago.

Since most of us only get one or two marriages, a marital crisis really is a terrible thing to waste.

* * * If you liked this piece, I think you'll also like
"Is that infidelity?" Why that's the wrong question
After the Affair…What?

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Shaving, Waxing, or Bushy—Letting Women be Women

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I recently spoke in Vancouver, Canada, at one of the city's most progressive hospitals. Everyone was very nice to me, and my talk ("What health care professionals need to know about sex") was very well received.

Afterwards, several medical staff came up to ask questions or thank me. One gynecologist said she appreciated my practical suggestions for how professionals can ask about and support patients in whatever their sexual expression involves.

"But," she said, "I'm uncomfortable with so many women shaving or waxing their pubic mounds. Maybe I'm prejudiced," she continued, "But it just looks to me like women responding to cultural pressure—mostly men and porn—to look like little girls."

I thanked her for sharing her concern, especially since she was slightly concerned about its validity. I admired her honesty, but her assumption made me sad and frustrated.

Of all the explanations for why women do something she doesn't understand, why would she choose this one—the one that trivializes women's decision-making, and pathologizes their sexuality? And pathologizes male sexuality in the bargain?

"Have you ever asked your patients why they shave or wax?" I asked. No," said the doc. "I wonder why," I gently said. "Perhaps I'm not as comfortable with sexual topics as I assumed," she said thoughtfully.

"So why," she asked, "Do you think women shave or wax?"

"I suppose there are a few women who do it to look like little girls," I said. "Although I've never heard one single woman ever say that."

"What about men?" she asked. "Don't you think they're pressuring women to wax or shave so they look like young girls?" Would we put up with Europeans thinking the same nonsense about American women shaving their legs or underarms—that they do it under pressure to look like young girls? Not for a second.

Only someone who thinks women have nothing between their legs would think a shaved adult woman looks like a little girl.

"Actually, no," I said simply, "Of course, a lot of men prefer a grown woman to look like a grown woman without hair."

To her credit, the curious doc was still curious. So why do women shave or wax their pubic mound? And why did this style develop when it did?

I suggested several historical facts:

* More cunnilingus: Every survey indicates that there's more oral sex going on in America today than ever before. Many women find it more pleasurable when there's less hair in the area. Many men do, too. It's certainly easier for a woman to indicate how she wants to be touched or licked when the area is visible.

* Changes in fashion: For better or worse, young women wear their jeans lower on their hips than they used to. And their panties (and bathing suits) are skimpier than ever, revealing a lot of pubic area and thigh (and butt, of course) that used to be covered. American women have never liked the look of pubic hair sticking out of their underwear or bathing suit, no matter how much skin is covered.

* More athletics: More women than ever are exercising, whether at the gym or elsewhere. Their concerns about pubic (and underarm) hair trapping sweat also contributes to hair removal.

* Yes, porn: While there are plenty of porn actresses who sport bushes—trimmed or voluptuous—many actresses appear hairless. Some men like the trimmed or hairless look and encourage (as opposed to "pressure") their partners to try it; many women view it in porn (or locker rooms) and decide to do so themselves.

* * *

According to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, the rate of adult-child sexual exploitation has decreased at the same time that pubic waxing and shaving have become common. That makes it even harder to argue that the adult appetite for little girls (real or pretend) is growing.

It does seem clear that more men than ever want to see female genitalia unconcealed, whether live or in porn. This would seem like unambiguously good news. But the religious right and neo-feminist Sexual Disaster Industry—as it does with things like the declining rate of sexual violence both on and off campus—hides good news about sex and promotes its brand of dangerism.

Accordingly, it can even spin an increase in cunnilingus as bad for women.

With friends like that…

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If you enjoyed this article, I bet you'll love my piece, Steam-Cleaning Your Vagina–and Other Insults

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Can Sex Save a Divided America?

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In 2018, sex is the only thing left that people do without ear buds or a screen. This makes sex one of the last havens of actual human-human contact.

Sex is the last place left where Amazon isn't telling you "If you like this thing, we think you'll like that thing." Perhaps it's a matter of time before we'll be told "People who enjoyed your wife also enjoyed this…"

Sex is the last place left that Waze isn't telling you how to get there faster. Siri isn't helpful, either ("Siri, does my husband like his nipples pulled or pinched?"). Someday virtual reality will enable you to feel like you're having sex with, say, Eleanor Roosevelt or Attila the Hun. But VR will never replace the thrill of an actual woman agreeing to have actual sex with you for the first time.

Paradoxically, sex can be revolutionary precisely because it can be a place without politics. Assertive women can ask (demand?) to be dominated. Men can lose erections and still be men. People of different races can get together without having to negotiate racial issues. People can state "I am not a category, I am not a demographic, I am not a social class. I am, for 10 or 20 or 90 minutes, a sexual being not bounded by any ideology or cultural imperative."

Some people can actually enact this utopian vision. Most of us inhibit ourselves, rejecting the revolutionary potential of sex. I see it in my patients all the time: Not care about orgasm? Not worry if they drool or wet the bed? Not keep track of whose leg is whose? It's too scary. People say "what if I drown?" I think what they really fear is "what if I don't drown? What if I fly?"

The Church, of course, mistrusts sex (well, when non-priests do it). They have two thousand years of scary stories why, but it comes down to this: sex is the place where humans can experience actual autonomy. In sex, no one's watching (unless that's your thing), no one can insist you're ineligible, no one can critique you or deduct points for style or preference (or degree of difficulty).

Sexual autonomy is exactly what the Church hates. If people actually experience their bodies as lush rather than unclean, and a-la-carte sex as emotionally nourishing rather than spiritually debilitating, what other parts of Church ontology might they reconsider? Life-affirming, self-directed sexuality on a large scale could upend centuries of consensus about the nature of sin.

* * *

While Americans become ever-more adventurous in their bedrooms (and swinger cruises and raves), the war on sex rages in the rest of America.

Birth control, sex education, strip clubs, porn, the morning-after pill, HPV vaccine, sexual health information on government websites, transgender rights—Congress, state legislatures, and influential religious lobbyists have limited our access to each one. As I said in my 2006 book America's War On Sex, the Religious Right has created a powerful political issue out of regulating ordinary sexual expression. The ruling Republican party is fulfilling its 1973 post-Roe sacred vow to strangle Americans' sexuality as profoundly as possible.

And so sex is more politically subversive than ever. Italians understand this in their classic saying "bed is the poor man's opera." They mean that it is a form of self-expression no less available to the poor, the talentless, the powerless, and the ordinary as it is to the rich, the beautiful, and the powerful. Maybe all that wine and pasta are a great equalizer.

Has there ever been a single Italian film that did not have sex in it?

Meanwhile, Amazon and Walmart have accomplished their goal of putting a vibrator in every middle-class home in America. Parents still hide the things from their kids, fearful that they'd have to actually explain that mom and dad actually pursue sexual pleasure a few minutes per month. Or that they pleasure themselves once a week. Explaining these things would be revolutionary, would lead to empowered, healthier kids, and would put a real dent in the incomes of psychotherapists 20 years from now.

Instead, parents complain that their kids are getting their sex education from porn. The typical parents' solution is to try to limit porn. You might as well try to stop the tides. Better to learn how to swim, no?

So not only is sex revolutionary right now—sexual information is, too. It's a pity that most parents collaborate with the government and the Church to keep their kids as sexually ignorant as possible. Sorry, you don't get to call yourself liberal or progressive if you hide the lube.

In the book 1984, George Orwell wrote about a totalitarian society in which sex is forbidden. Why? Because it "creates private loyalties apart from the government." Sexual desire competes with loyalty to the State. And so when protagonists Winston and Julia make love they think of it as a political act, "a blow struck against the Party."

Ah, if only Americans would take sex that seriously.

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If you enjoyed this, check out my post Underpants In a Painting—Always About Sex?

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