At 49, I experienced a tsunami of disrupting events: I separated from my husband of 23 years, began my slide into midlife, and experienced a libido surge so intense I became unhinged if I didn’t get sexual release several times a day. This kind of horniness happens to some of us midlife women, though it’s not getting talked about much. We’re not told by our doctors to expect aching bouts of desire to accompany our hot flashes in the run-up to menopause. Depending upon one's circumstances, this surge can be a blessing or a burden. If you have someone who is willing to have sex with you three times a day (or more) you might be fine. If not, you’ll need to get creative.
I went through this experience, which lasted over a year, when I lived in the UK. I didn’t want a relationship; I was too wrapped up with grieving my marriage and taking care of my young son, who is now aged nine. But my body wasn’t letting me off the hook when it came to sex. Fortunately, I lived near London. Finding men to have sex with was like walking into a sweet shop with a pocket full of cash. I set up profiles on Tinder and OKCupid, but as a woman wanting only casual sex, the sheer volume of questionable men on those sites was intimidating. The website that offered me the clearest route to my no-strings requirements was IllicitEncounters.com, a dating site for married people.
Unlike other dating websites, I found a “cheaters” site to be populated by men who were more straightforward and unselfconscious about their intent. It was understood that this was about sex, not finding a relationship. It was about companionship for only a few hours. It was almost universally about experiencing a level of intimacy we weren’t getting at home. But all the men I encountered there insisted they didn’t want to disrupt their family lives.
Some of these men had the permission of their wives to find sex elsewhere. Anyone on a site like IllicitEncounters is there because they don’t want to be condemned on other sites for seeking out what they need: sex. And anyone who insists we can live without sex is welcome to do so. But I can’t do it. Clearly, a lot of us can’t. Whether we can be honest with our spouses about sex is everyone’s own decision.
I learned that dating sites for married people were places to interact with potential partners without the harassment and judgement they received on other sites from those who view the issue of infidelity as black and white. I see the many shades of grey around the topic. And because I was so randy, I couldn’t imagine trying to jump through the hoops of another person’s apprehensions, had I been married. I was cautious. After I accepted a man’s request for a conversation, I vetted each one to be sure they were still committed to their marriage, even if that commitment didn’t include sexual monogamy. I accepted that by sleeping with me they could be putting their marriage at risk. But I was fairly clear-headed with my choices. I only slept with men who told me they loved their wives and were certainly not about to leave them for me. They almost always said they wanted to have sex with their wives, but their wives wouldn’t have sex with them.
What I found about dating married men was how edifying our conversations were around why we were doing what we were doing. They weren’t afraid to talk to me about the reasons they were in my bed instead of their own. I pressed them to explain why they weren’t having this conversation with their wives. Most had tried - many times. But it’s such a painful thing to discuss; why a spouse is no longer interested in sex. It became a topic of silence. Which led to hurt, sorrow and even resentment. Which led to IllicitEncounters.com.
One of my most memorable married lovers lived in the Middle East. He described his wife as lovely and beautiful. They had two teen children and he worked as an engineer in the oil industry. He was Oxford educated, articulate with a sonorous voice. He measured the weight of his words and told me the story of his desires. He wanted to explore kink, group sex, bondage.
“Does your wife know how you feel?” I asked over the phone before we met.
“Yes.” he said. “She even tried some of these things with me. I was so grateful to her for trying. But she’s not comfortable with it. It’s simply not possible for her to enjoy the kind of sex I do.”
“Does your wife know you are looking for this outside your marriage?”
“We don’t talk about it.” was all he said. And I didn’t press for more.
He flew to London for business and we met at a cafe. He was a beautiful, dark-skinned man who was as gentle-looking as his words. Desire wafted between us like the steam coming off our hot drinks. Back in my flat, we propped the full-length mirror against the wall and watched ourselves having sex; his cocoa body against my ivory.
What’s was so wonderful about having sex with an unavailable man was the way it took me out of my thinking head and put me squarely in the moment. Without the possibility of our coupling leading to anything that required attention or emotion, I was able to experience the simple pleasure of the act. Sex that was not fraught by an earlier argument, a difficult child or the shared burdens of the domestic upkeep. Just a few hours of unencumbered, uncomplicated bliss. It is no wonder married women are on these sites as well.
Women, though, have more to lose if found out. We women are still judged more harshly for transgressions against our culture. But a lot of us are out to change that. I say women are in more need than men for an escape valve from the constant requests for our attentions. We care for other people’s needs too much, spend a large chunk of our lives with small humans hanging off our bodies, don’t get enough help around the house (and often find it hard to ask for help). A clandestine affair, I imagine, is easy for a woman to justify. Why not find someone to ravish her? Give her pleasure without expectations. Remind her of her appeal as a sexual being, not simply a mother or a wife.
Infidelity is not going away. If anything, it will become more prevalent with so many ways to seek relationships online. What I think we need to do is not disparage the adulterers. We need to talk about the issues around adultery. My experience tells me the asymmetrical desire for sex is at the root of most cheating. My libido surge didn’t result in any broken homes. It gave me what I needed without being judged by my married partner and, in kind, I didn’t judge him. But in the future, when I’m partnered again, I will bring up any desire I have to stray outside that partnership. It will take courage and patience to have a conversation about this. But surely that’s easier, in the long run, than divorce and busting up the family.