Why I’m skeptical about “negotiated infidelity”

Transcript after the jump.

Folks just can’t get enough of Holly Hill. The Australian mistress turned-author’s new book Sugarbabe is a great big public service announcement for what she calls “negotiated infidelity,” where partners develop rules in the context of a marriage to have affairs with other people. While this sounds good in theory, the costs of possible STIs may outweigh the benefits. Further, all this talk about negotiating infidelity may be obscuring one possible reason some marriages may be sexless.

While I included one portion of Hill’s debate with Frankel, Hill made a comment later in the debate about STDs that needs to be addressed.  Hill’s take: “If you take control of the reins, you aren’t going to have STDs, because you’re in control of the situation and you’re making sure that they use protection.” Newsflash: Herpes and HPV are two STIs that women can get from skin to skin contact. And, men still do not have a widely available test available for HPV. This means that husbands could unknowingly transmit an infection that causes cancer to their wife after an affair. The risk for STDs becomes an even greater issue when married couples don’t re-institute condoms into their sexual affairs after they take on other partners. So, STDs is an issue that couples still have to watch out for.

Additionally, in the midst of the negotiated infidelity debate, I hear another issue that I think deserves attention: sexless marriages. While women are often talked about as crossing their legs as a form of denying men sex, consider another reading from an article I penned about female sexual pleasure.

According to an article in the June 2008 Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics Journal, only 30 percent of women “almost always” or “always” achieve orgasm during sexual activity. Compare that to the 75 percent of men who “always” or “almost always” do.

This reveals that there may be something really problematic about the way Sugarbabe is even talking about the role of sex in relationships. Sex in marriage is not simply a vehicle to keep men from cheating. It’s an activity that involves mutual participation where women bring their own sexual subjectivity to the table. In the case of sexless marriage, maybe negotiated infidelity isn’t the solution at all to getting more sex. Maybe engaging a woman in more pleasurable sex might lead her to participate on a more frequent basis. In the end, I am more inclined to agree with Sarah Symonds, “If you are negotiating with somebody you probably are in the wrong relationship. Anything that needs that much negotiation probably isn’t right and you should get out of it.”

Transcript here:

ALI WENTWORTH, GUEST HOST: Now if you’ve ever been in a relationship you’ll want to stay right here because we are talking about monogamy. It’s been a hot topic on CNN.com all day.

Should couples have open relationships and disclose affairs? Could letting your man sleep with another woman actually help your relationship?

Well, that’s what we’re going to ask our guests tonight. Bethenny Frankel is here. She’s a star of Bravo’s “Bethenny Getting Married.” She tied the knot in March.



WENTWORTH: Holly Hill is the author of “Sugarbabe.” She says women should negotiate infidelity with their husbands. And Sarah Symonds is an author and infidelity analyst.

Hello, women, and welcome to a hot topic. Infidelity. I want to — I want to first ask, have any of you been cheated on?

FRANKEL: Yes. I was cheated on. His — he had a girlfriend while he was — well, he was actually sleeping with her. I was his girlfriend. And she called me in the middle of the night at about 2:00 in the morning and said, can I speak to Michael?

I guess he’s going to be listening. Hi, Michael.

Hi, can I speak to Michael, and I said, who is this? And she said, I’m his girlfriend. And we hung up the phone and I waited two hours and I star 69’d her so I can call her back and get all the details.

WENTWORTH: And she gave you all the details?

FRANKEL: And she gave me the details. You need the details.

WENTWORTH: Well, you always need the details.

Now, Holly — Holly Hill author of “Sugarbabe,” you actually think that’s OK. You think that if you negotiate fidelity with your spouse or lover that actually makes for a long and successful relationship. Am I right?

HOLLY HILL, SAYS WOMEN SHOULD LET MEN CHEAT: Yes. Absolutely. And those details that we talk about, if you’re meeting the women that your partner is being with, you’re not building her up to be some kind of supermodel in your head.

And we always want to know the details. And the best way to get the details is ask her out for coffee and be adult about what is a very educated and natural thing to be doing.

FRANKEL: See, I think that was a low point in my relationship, in my life to be talking to that girl. It really had nothing to do with her. I was in the wrong relationship because I was with someone who was cheating. And I think that negotiating within your relationship about being allowed to cheat is absurd.

WENTWORTH: You know, Holly, it’s one of the things that I — I’m married. And one of the things that I think of in my marriage is that, you know, I can go to my girlfriends for emotional support or my shrink, and there are other venues where I can sort of get what I want.

But I feel that marriage, the one thing I have with my husband, which is sacred, is a sexual physical relationship. Otherwise, why be married?

HILL: I guess the only reason it’s sacred is because it’s — there’s old-fashioned rules that we’re obeying. And if you want to have a lifetime relationship with someone — which is what we all want — it’s about negotiating things within their nature and their biology.

WENTWORTH: Now, Sarah, you say that — you started a fantastic Web site, MistressesAnonymous. But you’re not saying that that’s a good thing. This is really a support group for a lot of women that have been brokenhearted because they had an affair with a married man or wanted to be with a married man. Am I right? SARAH SYMONDS, AUTHOR & INFIDELITY ANALYST: Absolutely. And first of all, hi, Ali, thanks for having me on. Hi, ladies. I can absolutely resonate with Holly, I’ve been through certain, you know, similar experiences that she has.

But I have to say, if you are negotiating with somebody you probably are in the wrong relationship. Anything that needs that much negotiation probably isn’t right and you should get out of it.

And that’s who my Web site is about, that’s what my support group is about. It’s called MistressesAnonymous, which is like Alcoholics Anonymous. But in my group we can drink, and trust me, you need to.

It’s, you know, a 12-step program. And literally I help women get out of their toxic affairs with married men, with unavailable men, with bad boys. It’s a phenomenon that’s going over America. You know women are attracting to these wrong guys. And I hear from women every single day. It’s unbelievable.

WENTWORTH: Now I want to sort of open this debate up to all three of you, which is that a lot of people say, men and women clearly are different, and we have different needs and men really biologically, physically, their urge is to spread their seed throughout the land, and ours is to kind of, you know, incubate.

And when you put that in its very kind of specific scientific DNA kind of way, do we allow men because it is their physical urge to go out and have at it?

FRANKEL: I think women — first of all, men are sleeping with the women. And I mean, speaking of the sharks that are going to be on the show tonight, there are a lot of women going out and preying on men. So I think it’s equal. I think a lot of women have a big sexual appetite.

Join the Conversation