Is there a Biological Urge Behind the Cuckolding Fetish?

Cockold: The male of a species who unwittingly invests parental effort in raising young that are not its offspring. The word ‘cuckold’ derives from the cuckoo bird’s habit of laying its eggs in other birds’ nests. In evolutionary biology, a cuckold carries the burden while the genetic parent is – quite literally, as ‘free as a bird’!

If you’ve been on Twitter anytime over the last four years, you’ve probably come across the word “cuck.”

The word entered the mainstream rather ignominiously after Donald Trump’s presidential victory gave rise to alt-right repercussions against the achievements of feminism.

These days the most stinging insult you can hurl at a white supremacist or so-called men’s rights activist is to call him a cuck.

Ironically, however, it was Jerry Fallwell, Jr’s fall from right-wing Christian grace that drew renewed public attention to cuckolding as a fetish.

In the world of kinky sex, cuckolding is a sexual practice in which the cuck is actually aroused by watching his partner have sex with another man.

Cuckolding is a sexual practice in which the cuck is actually aroused by watching his partner have sex with another man.
Cuckolding is a sexual practice in which the cuck is aroused by watching his partner have sex with another man.
(Photo: We Vibe Wow Tech/Unsplash)

Cuckoldry in Ancient History

The ideas, fascinations, and anxieties about the sexually licentious wife date back thousands of years and across many cultures. Cuckoldry itself has deep roots in human history and culture.

For example, some scholars have suggested evidence of cuckoldry in ancient Egypt’s Turin Erotic Papyrus, which has been humorously called “the world’s first men’s mag.”

The final two thirds of the ancient scrolls consist of a series of vignettes showing men and women in various sexual positions.

The women are nubile and shown with objects from traditional erotic iconography such as lotus flowers and monkeys.

The men in the illustrations are almost all scruffy, balding, short, and pudgy. That is, except for one special scene, where a man who is bigger and less bald is standing on a chariot beside a beautiful woman.

In the background, another man, this time resembling the scruffy, short figures runs in the vicinity of the chariot.

Scholars have debated the meaning of this particular panel for years.

Egyptologist Carolyn Graves-Brown, who has written a number of books on ancient Egypt, believes the scene might describe a particularly scandalous instance of cuckoldry in the ancient world.

“The chariot belongs to the unkempt man and his belle is cuckolding him on board his military pride,” says Graves-Brown, who is also curator at the Egypt Centre at Swansea University in Wales.

A surprisingly large percentage of married men fantasize about watching their wives in bed with other men.
A surprisingly large percentage of married men fantasize about watching their wives in bed with other men.

Marco Polo gives us several accounts of tribes that practice willing cuckoldry to entertain foreign guests and regale visitors. He describes how the men of Kamul (now Hami), in particular, valued their young, promiscuous wives most happily.

When a stranger takes lodgings at a man’s house, says Marco, the host arranges so that “the stranger stays with his wife in the house and does as he likes and lies with her in bed just as if she were his wife, and they continue in great enjoyment.”

With his characteristic impish humor, the legendary merchant adventurer then adds that “young gentlemen from sixteen to 24 will do well to go” visit Kamul.

Europe developed an obsession with cuckoldry during the Renaissance, when people generally believed that the womb moved independently inside a woman’s body, causing her to lose control.

This archaic bit of misinformation was so widely held that, if a woman was married in Shakespeare’s time, most everyone assumed she was cheating on her husband. 

In Much Ado About Nothing, a play about love, marriage, and deception, Benedick jokes about never getting married because it inevitably meant cuckolding.

The ideas, fascinations, and anxieties about the sexually licentious wife date back thousands of years and across cultures.
The ideas, fascinations, and anxieties about the sexually licentious wife date back thousands of years and across cultures.

Popular Theories on Cuckolding

Not only is cuckoldry an old idea, it is also a sexual fantasy among many married men nowadays. While conducting research for his book, Tell Me What You Want, Justin Lehmiller of the Kinsey Institute found that 52 percent of heterosexual men have fantasized about cuckolding.

In fact, in 2011, researchers discovered that “cuckold porn” was second only to “youth” in heterosexual porn searches.

David Ley, psychologist and author of the book, Insatiable Wives, which delves into cuckolding in detail, says more and more younger couples are getting into the fetish.

“I was collecting data for a study about non-monogamy and, as I was doing that, I encountered these couples who told me that they lived the hotwife-cuckold lifestyle,” Ley says in a podcast. “I had never heard of it.”

Popular discourse on the origins of cuckold fantasies is lively and engaging, mostly because having one’s wife or partner sleep with someone else seems counter-intuitive.

After all, the idea of sexual wantonness runs contrary to the traditional marital fidelity most would assume is key to a happy marriage.  

So, why do so many men fantasize about their wives having sex with other men?

Popular discourse on the origins of cuckold fantasies is lively and engaging, mostly because having one’s wife or partner sleep with someone else seems counter-intuitive.
Popular discourse on the origins of cuckold fantasies is lively and engaging, mostly because having one’s wife or partner sleep with someone else seems counter-intuitive.
(Photo: Dainins Graveris/Unsplash)

Fear, Masochism, or Plain Voyeurism?

Columnist Dan Savage has advanced the view that cuckold fantasies are actually an eroticization of a man’s anxiety that his wife will be unfaithful.

In other words, men deal with with the threat of infidelity by turning their fears into something sexually arousing.

More recently, journalist Anneli Rufus argued that fetish cucks are simply masochists who “revel in the psychological agony” of the humiliating situation.

Psychologists are skeptical about both arguments – and for compelling reasons.

While masochism might apply in some cases, it proves flawed when you consider that most cuckold fetishists rarely desire other masochistic acts like being flogged or insulted.

“Eroticization is a strategy rarely taken with other fears,” says Lehmiller. “So why would it be so specific to cheating?”

For his part, Ley suggests the fetish might actually be premised on old-fashioned voyeurism and a kind of misplaced masculine pride.

A hot, willing, and sexually aggressive wife might be seen as reflection of a husband’s power, he says in an interview for Playboy. “Displaying and sharing one’s sexy wife is a thus a status symbol,” Ley says.

A hot, willing, and sexually aggressive wife might be seen as reflection of a husband’s power.
A hot, willing, and sexually aggressive wife might be seen as reflection of a husband’s power.

A Biological Explanation for Cuckolding

Lehmiller himself tends toward an explanation favored by many scientists. The noted researcher and psychologist is inclined to believe that there is a biological motive for the fetish.

His belief is based on a wealth of scientific literature on sperm competition. Research shows that when a wife mates with several men, their husbands undergo behavioral and biological changes without even knowing it.

Biologist Leigh Simmons and writer Sarah Kilgallon presented evidence of these changes in a study published in 2005.

Their research shows that when men masturbate to gangbang videos, their ejaculate contains more active sperm than when they masturbate to all-female threesomes.

This suggests the provocative possibility that men are “wired” to find cuckold scenarios sexually exciting.

These situations apparently promote physiological reactions that help their own sperm succeed in a wild intra-vaginal competition.

This conclusion is supported by other researchers, who have found that men thrust faster and deeper during sex when they suspect their female partner has cheated.  The theory is that their vigor and heightened arousal are an instinctive reflex to displace rival sperm.

“Based on my reading of the science, cuckold fantasies appear to be a normative male sexual desire,” says Lehmiller. “That said, cuckold fantasies might have multiple motivations, and the factors involved might not be the same across individuals.”

What do you think? Do you have cuckold fantasies, too?


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