David J. Ley's Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them is a book concerned with the history and prevalence of "cuckoldry" and nonmonogamous relationships and marriages. "Cuckoldry" can be described as a lifestyle in which the woman in a relationship sexually interacts with other men, at the approval and satisfaction of her partner or husband.
In Insatiable Wives Ley describes the lifestyles of several couples that he interviewed in order to better understand "cuckoldry". The interviews are mixed with the history of "cuckoldry", the history of female sexuality, evolutionary theories of sexuality and discussions concerning mental health. Ley discusses how lifestyles such as "cuckoldry" and swinging are becoming more and more noticeable and common, much thanks to the availability of both material and possible sexual partners on the internet.
As Ley describes both past and present couples and how they favor the "cuckoldry" lifestyle, he also discusses the ups and downs of this lifestyle and the choice of a nonmonogamous sexual relationship. It must be noted that in comparison to swinging, many couples involved in "cuckoldry" have a more emotional bond to the third party person. While the woman is the one who usually is involved in the sexual interaction, her partner sometimes participates either through watching his partner and the other man, listening to her telling stories about her sexual encounters, taking photographs or videotaping or by also interacting sexually.
Ley spends some time talking about the many positive sides of the lifestyle such as almost extreme trust and deep communication, sexual pleasure for both the man and the woman, as well as general feelings of happiness and emotional connection. On the downside, not all couples can manage a lifestyle in which jealousy and the sharing of one's partner can become a problem. Ley also discusses how such a lifestyle is likely to lead to the couple being ostracized by their community or by people who do not approve of their sexual choices, if they make this information public or available. Ley also mentions that it is common for people to assume mental health problems in couples or individuals who support "cuckoldry" or "wife sharing".
What is positive about this book is that Ley writes in a humorous and interesting manner without placing judgment on the couples he interviews. He never appears to judge or disapprove of their lifestyles and presents his view on the topic without forcing his opinion on the reader or lecturing about sexual intimacy and what is should be or should not be.
On the downside is the prevalent use of evolutionary theories in order to explain and empirically support this type of sexual behavior. With a focus on female sexuality it is odd that Ley so greatly makes use of evolutionary theories that discuss female sexuality and sexual behavior as a consequence of, or as the result of, male sexuality or certain male sexual behaviors. For example writing that: "Wife sharing and the cuckold lifestyle may serve an adaptive function for the couple by increasing and maintaining the husband's virility and sexual interest in his wife, along with the level of attention he pays to his wife" (p. 256) suggests that women's sexual behaviors are driven by men's sexual behaviors.
Secondly, evolutionary theories often fail to include social factors, which this book is not as concerned with. It at times becomes quite biologically driven and explanatory without providing both sides of the story (social constructionism together with evolutionary theory) or succeeding to convince. While reading the book it becomes quite clear that Ley overestimates the male partner's altruistic sexual behaviors while focusing almost solely on "cuckoldry" as feminine sexual empowerment and as the celebration of female sexual infidelity. In fact, the book states that the male partner usually introduces the idea or the topic and that the men derive intense sexual pleasure from both the idea and the act of sharing their partner. Thereby, the altruism that Ley discusses can be questioned. Also, many of the men confessed to introducing the idea in order to innocently gain access to bisexual or homosexual feelings and experiences while some men viewed their partner's sexuality as their property in that they dominate and control their partner and decide who she is going to be sexually involved with, or who they are going to "lend" her to. Lastly, many of the men acknowledged pleasure stemming from the knowledge that their partner was off pleasuring other men but eventually came home to him. Thereby, many husbands and boyfriends also felt powerful of other men and felt like the "alpha" since "wife sharing" gave them a mental ego boost. Some of the men that Ley interviewed stated that they were also interested in sexual interactions outside the marriage or relationship but that it was too much "work" to find women who would agree to the lifestyle. All the above comments make me question the husbands/partners behavior as completely and truly altruistic.
Insatiable Wives might not be appropriate for all readers since it contains quite graphic sexual descriptions, together with some complicated language. It is although very informative and is suitable for individuals interested in the topic of sexuality and the history of sexuality.
© 2012 Elin Weiss
Elin Weiss has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Women's Studies from University College Dublin.