Joe: Welcome to Smart Sex, Smart Love. This is our first podcast. I’m really excited about it and even more excited that my first guest today is Justin Lehmiller, and Dr Justin Lehmiller is founder and editor of Sex and Psychology. Dr Lehmiller’s research focuses on topics including casual sex, sexual fantasy, sexual health and friends with benefits. His studies have appeared in all of the leading journals on human sexuality, including the Journal of Sex Research, Archives of Sexual Behavior and the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Dr Lehmiller has run the popular blog, Sex and Psychology since 2011, and it now receives several million page views per year. That’s awesome. He’s been interviewed by numerous media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, CNN, the Atlantic, the Globe and Mail, and the Sunday Times, and has been giving many talks around the world on sex, love and relationships.
His latest book is a New York Times bestseller entitled, Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How it can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. Welcome Justin.
Justin: Hey, Joe. Thanks for having me. And thanks for letting me be here first.
Joe: Oh, yeah. No, it’s great. I really appreciate you said yes. I wasn’t sure you had the time, and I’m glad you could. And I want to say that your blog, I just want to put a plug in personally for it. Your Sex and Psychology blog, to me, even before I knew you, was so helpful, because I always say this to you, you make research understandable. So, here I am, I’m a clinician and I read these research, and I’m like, “I don’t know what the person’s trying to say.” I’ll read the discussion, I’m like, “Okay, but how did they really get there?” And you put it into words.
Justin: Well, thanks. I try, and I can imagine for the average person looking at some of these academic research studies how mind boggling it must be to look at them. And so, it’s an important part of our work to be able to translate that for the average person to be able to understand and show them how they can potentially use that information in their own life.
Joe: That’s a great word. You do. You translate that information. You do it really, really well. I think that’s one of your gifts, really.
Okay, so I want to ask you, you’ve done so much in your study about different sexual fantasies. The one I thought would be helpful and interesting to talk about on this podcast is cuckholding. And I wondered if you could share what that is.
Justin: Sure. Cuckholding is essentially a sexual interest where somebody is turned on or they derive arousal from watching their partner have sex with somebody else. And this is something that’s for example a man might practice where he watches his female partner have sex with another man or it could be a man who has sex with men watching his male partner have sex with someone else, this could be involved in any number of gender and sexual orientation combinations.
Joe: Now tell me, I’m going to ask you some questions that people ask me, and I’d like you to answer. They’ll say, “Well isn’t that a three-way?”
Justin: Well, its different from your basic threesome, because in a threesome, you have three partners who are all sexually involved in touching each other and physically interacting. In a cuckholding scenario, you have one partner who is taking on this voyeuristic role, right? Where they’re watching their partner have a sexual interaction with somebody else.
So, there are three people but they’re not all mutually involved participants in the sexual activity, because you’ve got that one voyeuristic person watching.
Joe: And that would be the cuckhold husband, right?
Justin: Yes. Yeah. You can also have the scenario where it might be a woman who’s watching, and sometimes that’s called cuckqueaning. But, yeah, the cuckhold is the person who’s watching.
Joe: And literally cuckhold means a husband who’s been cheated on, correct?
Justin: That’s kind of the historical definition that’s been used. It refers to a man who’s female partner has become impregnated by another man and so he ends up raising a child that’s not biologically his. That’s kind of how the term has been used in the evolutionary psychology literature, but in modern usage, it’s become this term that’s used to refer to this unique sexual interest.
Joe: I say this a lot, but I don’t know if I’m right. So, I wanted to always ask you this to be honest. I call it Eroticized Cheating. Is it that? Is it the eroticizing of watching your mate be with someone else even though you know about it?
Justin: For some people it may be. So, for example, when I ask people, “Where did your favorite sexual fantasy of all time come from?” I had a couple of people who said that, “My partner cheated on me and then ever since then, I’ve been turned on by the idea of my partner doing that.” So for some people I can see eroticized cheating as being the source. But for other people it might be very different.
So, for example, some people really get off on the idea of seeing their partner be sexually pleased and satisfied, right? So, what is arousing to them is not this cheating thing, it’s just knowing that their partner is satisfied. And then there are also other people who take great pleasure in knowing that other people find their partner to be attractive, but their partner is still going to come home with them, and so there’s this ego boost that comes along with the cuckholding practice as well.
So, I think there can be very distinct psychological motivations there.
Joe: Now how do you distinguish cuckholding than from hotwifing, because your definition sounds like hotwifing to me too.
Justin: Yeah, so, I guess the way I think about it is you got cuckholding and hotwifing and they’re very similar practices and you’ve got one person who’s watching their partner have sex with somebody else. The difference is in cuckholding scenarios, there’s usually a BDSM element involved there, where the cuckhold, the person who’s watching takes on this submissive, sometimes masochistic role at the same time. For example where they might be humiliated in the process. And in hotwifing, you don’t have that BDSM element present, right? And in fact you have more of that ego boost motivation instead.
Joe: Thank you for that distinction, because that’s what I see in the porn that’s out there, right? The cuckholding porn, the cheated husband, and everyone’s enjoying themselves obviously, but his role-
Joe: Is to be their slave and be humiliated and be at their feet, or being told he has a small penis or whatever it is, right?
Justin: Yeah. And if you look at the cuckholding porn, you do see those themes come out very frequently, at least in the heterosexual world.
Joe: Right, so that’s the next thing. So, I do these presentations on LGBT and I always talk about cuckholding, because I share about how straight men have sex with men or are sexual with men and it has nothing to do with their orientation, and I was talking about cuckholding, and this young guy, this was five years ago stood up and said, “With all do respect, Dr Kort, I just want to tell you that gay men do it too.” And I said, “No, they don’t.” And he said, “Yes, they do.” And I said, “No, they don’t.”
I’m an older guy, and he was younger. So, I had no idea, and he was right. And then I saw you and David Leigh and Dan Savage do this research on gay men that do it. So, can you talk about the difference? Or is there a difference with gay guys that do it?
Justin: Yeah. So, we surveyed, I believe it was around 580 men who were primarily gay identified and we looked at their cuckholding fantasies, and how they were similar to or different from heterosexual men. And one of the things they found was that there weren’t really a lot of BDSM games involved in gay men’s cuckholding fantasies, right? Sometimes there were, but it wasn’t as pervasive as it was for heterosexual men.
Also, another big difference is that in heterosexual men’s cuckholding fantasies, there’s usually this big interracial element, right? So, it’s usually a white man who is wanting to watch his white wife or girlfriend have sex with an African American man, usually a particularly well endowed African American man.
In the gay men’s cuckholding fantasies, that interracial theme was almost nonexistent. So we see some differences there, based on presence of BDSM and presence of that interracial component based on the sexual orientation of the male cuckhold.
Joe: Yeah, when I’ve watched cuckholding porn for gay guys, it used to be on Tumblr a lot, and all of that’s gone. I see it on Twitter, you see, it doesn’t look like the cuckholding, there’s not a humiliation aspect. It looks like the husband’s just watching his husband be with another guy. Isn’t that what it seems to be?
Justin: Yeah. And I would say, more often than not that that seems to be the case. There are some gay men who do have that BDSM element. So, for example, I can recall one of the fantasies that one of our participants submitted, where he wanted to be in the room next door to his partner, where his partner was having sex with someone else. And while he’s in the room next door, his partner is insulting him or humiliating him and calling him a fat pig and he’s sitting in this other room, drinking beer and eating cream filled donuts.
So, there was a humiliation and BDSM aspect in that particular fantasy I’m thinking of, but it wasn’t pervasive across all of the gay men’s cuckholding fantasies.
Joe: Okay, it was a random interest of his. It wasn’t part of the mainstream, is that right?
Justin: Yeah. I guess I would say it was just unique in the sense that it emphasized that BDSM element in a way that a lot of the other fantasies didn’t.
Joe: Isn’t it true, did I read in your study that you did, this isn’t always the case with gay men. This is a newer fantasy for them, right?
Justin: So, one of the things that I think is hard to distinguish in the research is, is this a new fantasy or is it that we now have a consensual, mutually agreed upon terminology for what this sexual interest is, right?
So if you look at google search trend, you can see that they’re just for gay cuckhold pornography has increased in the last several years. That suggests the interest in this area is rising, but like I said, its hard to know whether it’s truly rising, or if people just learned the term and now they know what to look for.
Joe: Oh, that makes total sense. Okay. No, I think its fascinating and what therapists will often say to me is, and I wanted to know if you can speak to this, I have my thoughts, but I want yours. Why would somebody get off on being humiliated? Why would this be erotic for them to feel what most people would feel horrible and we avoid feeling humiliation, but here they’re going toward it. Do you have an answer for that?
Justin: So, I guess the way I think about it, is that humiliation is a form of masochism, right? Masochism is where you derive sexual arousal from the experience of pain. And humiliation is just a form of psychologic pain. Now we know from neuroscience research that physical pain and psychologic pain activate the same centers in the brain, right? And so they have similar effects on people.
So, you can think about this through the lens of masochism more broadly and what is it that people find arousing or appealing about it, and that experience or sensation of pain, whether its physical or psychological has the effect on people of reducing self awareness and changing their mental state and it does this in a way that allows them to relax and let go and enjoy themselves in a sexual experience and I think that’s what draws a lot of people to masochism.
Joe: Yeah, and that’s great. I agree with you. And the whole thing about what you said earlier, cuckqueaning, right? So this would be a woman who gets off on watching her husband be with another person. How common was that in your study?
Justin: So, this was a separate study for my book, Tell Me What You Want. I surveyed almost 4200 Americans about their sexual fantasies and one of the questions I asked was, “Have you ever fantasized about watching your partner have sex with someone else?” And I found that for heterosexual men it was more than half of them had had this fantasy before, whereas for heterosexual women, it was about a quarter of them, right? So women were less likely to have had this fantasy than men were. But certainly there’s a significant number of women who have these fantasies. And if you look at non-heterosexual persons, you see that gay and bisexual men are even more likely than hetero men to have cuckholding fantasies, and the same is true for lesbian and bisexual women. They’re more likely to have these fantasies than heterosexual women as well.
So, we see there’s a gender difference and a sexual orientation difference. So, if you identify as male, if you identify as non-heterosexual, you’re more likely to be into cuckholding.
Joe: That’s fascinating, and I can just hear and I know clients and friends who had been cheated on or had that experienced infidelity, “Why would anybody at any point play with that or have fun with that?” And I always say to them, “That’s the difference. You’re in control of it here. Its all agreed upon.” Real infidelity and real cheating is, “I didn’t agree, and you did this behind my back and broke the relationship contract.” Whereas with this, everybody’s on board, correct?
Justin: Right. And I think it’s important to make this distinction between cuckholding and cheating, right? Because cheating by definition is non-consensual. Somebody is sneaking around and doing something behind their partner’s back, and cuckholding it’s all about [inaudible 00:13:43], and everybody knows and agrees to what is happening. So, that’s a huge, huge difference there.
Joe: Yeah, they’re playing with it. They’re not engaging in it in a secretive way.
Justin: Right. Now, I would say that there is in cuckholding, there is this taboo element to it, and I think that’s also part of the appeal for a lot of people, right? Because there’s this expectation in our culture that you’re going to be in a monogamous relationship with one person forever, right? And so, cuckholding is a way of subverting the traditional expectations for marriage and relationships by bringing someone else into the bedroom. So, that taboo element is part of the appeal for many people as well.
Joe: Yeah, no. That’s very important to remember. And you said that cuckholding is the number two, or the second most searched heterosexual porn category on the internet. Is that right?
Justin: So, that was a finding that was reported, I believe in the book A Billion Wicked Thoughts where they analyzed the contents of over a billion searches on the world’s most popular porn tube sites, and they found that cuckhold porn was incredibly popular. Also if you look at Pornhub’s insights year in and year out, you see that cuckhold porn tends to be pretty high up there on the list as well. So, this is something that is very commonly sought out in the world of porn.
Joe: Do you know what the number one search is?
Justin: So, the number one search it differs a little bit, depending on which search engine you’re looking at, whether you’re looking at men’s searches versus women’s searches, but lesbian is usually way up there, both for men and for women in terms of their searches.
Joe: Okay. That’s interesting, and from your book, because I listen to your presentation, I went to one of your talks, and I was stunned. I was just stunned in your audience listening to the fact that in your survey, you found that I think you said 60% of women enjoy pegging? Pegging their husbands, is that right?
Justin: Yeah. I don’t remember the exact statistic off the top of my head, but it was somewhere around 60% of women who had had a fantasy about anally penetrating a partner before, right? Which tells us that there are a lot of women who are aroused by that idea of taking on that particular role. And so pegging is this practice where you’ve got a woman who is wearing a strap-on and she’s penetrating a male partner. So, it does seem that a lot of women are interested in that idea. And also a lot of men, right? Heterosexually identified men fantasize about anal eroticism. So, you have people on both sides here who seem to very open to this idea.
Joe: Is that part of cuckholding ever, where the woman is doing that?
Justin: It might be. I would never say never.
Joe: Okay, true.
Justin: But I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily part of the mainstream or most common cuckholding porn that’s out there, but I think that part of the appeal of pegging is also that it’s a taboo, right? That it’s the idea of a woman penetrating a man and it’s subverting traditional gender role expectations. And again, we’re just seeing that taboo element is very arousing to a lot of people.
Joe: Yeah, and the reason I was stunned, and this is what we’re taught, right? We shouldn’t generalize from our practices that this is the way the general population is, but we do it all the time. Therapists always do that, and I’ve been guilty of it. And so, in my practice, the women that come in that find out their husbands want to be anally penetrated, have a prostate orgasm, for her to wear a strap-on and peg him, they’re mortified. Sometimes they’ll divorce over it. It’s that much of a disgust response. So, for me to hear that there’s 60%, or whatever, it was a high percent of your data showed that women are interested in it was a turning point for me, to realize it’s not all women. Who I’m seeing in my practice don’t represent the generalized woman.
Justin: Right, and its possible that the women who are going out and seeking counseling and therapy on this, they’re a different subset of women, right? So, of course with anything in human sexuality there are no universals, but I think a lot of the things that we’ve been led to believe about men and women and sex just aren’t true when we start digging deeper into the data that’s out there.
Joe: Yeah, its very, very interesting, and now I teach it this way so that people have permission to know that there are studies that there are women that like to do this, that want to do this. And what do you say about the fact, some people who say, “This is gay.” It says on the fluidity area, this is on the orientation continuum. Do you agree with that?
Justin: I wouldn’t say that just because say a man wants to be anally penetrated that that makes him gay or bisexual, or I wouldn’t say it necessarily says anything about his sexual orientation, right? Anal eroticism is something that people can find arousing or appealing regardless of their gender or orientation. I just think that the reason people have this association between a man who loves to be anally penetrated and homosexuality is just that we’ve been culturally conditioned to think that anal sex is gay sex, right?
And so, if we started getting rid of some of these stereotypes we have about sex, I think that would go away.
Joe: Yeah, I always say, “Your anus doesn’t have a sexual orientation.” Right? It doesn’t know whether it’s gay, straight or bi.
Joe: It just knows it likes pleasure. And the whole idea that the two men may have sexual contact during cuckholding, some people say, “Well, that’s just gay.” But what I’ve been told by these men over and over again, if the woman isn’t involved, or she doesn’t show up or she leaves, the two men are left cold. They’re not interested in the fantasy. She must be present. Is that what you’ve seen?
Justin: Yeah, and I would also say that that’s a true more generally for threesome and group sex encounters. For heterosexually identified men, they’re only comfortable in a threesome or group encounter or cuckholding scenario to the extent that there’s at least another woman present.
Joe: Okay, that makes sense. What else would you like us to know on this podcast about your book or something you think is really important that would be a take away for the people listening?
Justin: So, I think one important take away that I find in my research on cuckholding that people who act on those fantasies report being more satisfied in their relationships and happier in their relationships and they say that this experience of opening the relationship actually improved it in a lot of ways. And we see that in my other data on sexual fantasies that I collected for my book that this is true for other sexual fantasies as well. So, getting in touch with our sexual fantasies, sharing those desires with our partners and potentially acting on them when its mutually agreed upon is something that can benefit our relationships in a lot of ways.
Joe: I love it, that you’re taking away the stigma, the shame, and allowing people to experience sexual pleasure, which is what’s so important for people to do. I think I read something you wrote that the shame is what causes problems for people and inhibits their behavior. Isn’t that what you say?
Justin: Absolutely. And one of the things I find in the book is that the rarer people think their sexual interests are, the more shame and guilt they tend to feel about them. And when they feel that shame and guilt, that prevents them from talking to their partners about them and then ultimately that prevents them from getting what they want when it comes to sex. And then this creates this cycle where people are dissatisfied in their relationships because they’re not getting what they want, but they don’t feel like they can actually ask for it, because of that shame.
Joe: I love that. That’s a great, great quote actually from you to say. And the last thing I want to ask you, how best should a partner share with another partner about their sexual fantasies? Did you have discussions about that?
Justin: Yeah, and this is something I’ve been teaching workshops on, and there’s a lot that I could say on this, but a couple of quick points would be, one is that when it comes to sharing your fantasies, you first have to feel good about yourself, and that’s something that I think my book can help with in terms of normalizing a lot of the sexual fantasies that we have, because it turns out the things that you think are rare and unusual are probably actually pretty common. So, once you feel good about yourself when it comes to sharing your fantasies with your partner, choose the right time, place and setting. Don’t do this out in a crowded restaurant. Do it in a private, distraction free environment, and start low and go slow, right? You don’t want to dump all of your fantasies out there all at once. Start with the more vanilla ones and think of this as a mutual process. It’s self disclosure, where you’re building trust and intimacy over time and then you can work up to the more advanced ones later.
Joe: This is great. It’s great, this is what I do with a therapist. This is how I train other therapists to do, and I agree wholeheartedly, and love that you found that in your work. Okay, so, we’re going to wrap up. I just want to make sure that we promote your book. It’s a great book. Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How it can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. And can you tell the listeners where they can find you online?
Justin: Yup. You can visit my website. It is Sex and Psychology. It’s at sexandpsychology.com. And I’ve linked in all of my books and social media channels and I blog about the latest sex research three times a week, every week. And I’ve done this for the last eight years. So, there’s a mountain of data on there for you to explore.
Joe: There really is a mountain and I’ve been reading that mountain for years, and I really appreciate it, and I appreciate you. Honestly, I’m not just saying this, you make it interesting. You make me be able to understand it, so I can relate it to the work I do as a therapist. I really appreciate your work, Justin.
Justin: Well, thanks Joe. And it was pleasure to be on a talk to you.