Fifty Shades of Extramarital affairs
By Mel Phillips
It’s 10.30am on a Wednesday morning, perched on her brown suede recliner in front of me is 31-year-old Courtney. Between us sits a low line coffee table sprawled with magazines and colouring in pencils, on the wall nearby hangs a quirky family portrait of Courtney, her husband and her two young boys. This is definitely not what I was expecting when I found her listing online.
’30-something married woman seeks fit and adventurous partner for secret affair. Must be available between 9am-2pm Monday – Friday. Discretion is a MUST!’
I don’t know what I was expecting to find when Courtney agreed to speak with me – a scantily clad, dishevelled woman sitting provocatively on the end of a bed in a dodgy motel room perhaps… Obviously not the well dressed, put together, loving and caring wife and mother in front of me.
I get over my initial shock and get down to business. Surprisingly Courtney doesn’t hesitate to answer any of my questions and promises to be honest in all of her answers in return for one simple request, “Don’t judge me before you hear my story.”
No judgement, just discretion – that’s more what I was expecting to find.
“I love my husband and children very much, I would never do anything with the intention of hurting them.” Courtney confidently shares, “There’s more to my affairs than the risk of hurting my family… without them [the affairs] I would be dragging them all into an unhappy relationship, and that’s not fair on anyone.”
Courtney continues on to explain that she does not want to leave her husband and that they are not having any marital or physical problems. Instead she explains that she has always felt as though she needed more excitement in her life and the bedroom, but she doubts her husband would handle the self-doubt issues he would face if he were aware of the situation.
“I don’t want him thinking he’s not man enough or anything like that,” she says, “it’s just these encounters make me feel more alive and sexually fulfilled… I’m much happier now than I was before and I actually think my relationship is benefiting from it.”
Statistics released by the RedHotPie.com.au Great Australian Sex Census of 2010/2011 show that Courtney is not alone, 45.1% of males and 41.7% of females out of the 15,000 who participated in the online survey admitted to cheating on a partner.
A quick search on almost any online dating site brings up a bevy of married or attached women looking for affairs, and these are only the women using online dating and relationship sites as opposed to the purpose built affair sites such as Ashley Madison.
Courtney says something to explain the guidelines in her listing, “I schedule my affairs so my husband is at work and my boys are at school, I know other mothers who lie about personal appointments and meetings so they have time for their lover, I think my way is much safer for all involved”, it explains the schedule but it still doesn’t explain why she and many others like her have taken to having affairs to meet their sexual desires.
I remember what she said about other mothers and ask why she thinks they started their affairs, “I’m not entirely sure, I know some are unhappy in their relationships… I have one friend though who confided in me that it wasn’t until she read [the adult novel] Fifty Shades of Grey that she decided she wanted to see someone in addition to her husband.”
There it is, an affair attributed to the pop culture erotica novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L James, a novel that has sold over 40 million copies worldwide. I wonder pretty quickly if this is a one off but with 40 million copies floating around I highly doubt it.
‘Affairs only’ online dating site Ashley Madison also highly doubts it. In the first three months of the novel really taking off popularity wise (April, May and June 2012) their female signup rate rose by 50% daily with over 10,000 women signing up in June alone.
“It’s no coincidence that just as the majority of the book’s sales are via e-readers so people can enjoy erotica discreetly, those same people have joined our discreet website to find someone with whom they can experience the fantasies they’ve read about and now aspire to,” says Ashley Madison CEO, Noel Biderman.
Intrigued by the growing signup rate, Ashley Madison surveyed 2,700 of these new signups and found that 72% had read Fifty Shades of Grey and 62% admitted they feared their husband would be shocked if they asked them to explore a submissive/bondage based sexual relationship.
Despite these admissions, sexologist and relationship expert Dr Gabrielle Morrissey says women don’t need to stray to have their sexual desires fulfilled and makes recommendations of how couples can support one another, “Indulge in each others fantasies, role play, and create sexual alter-egos for yourselves – you can be monogamous while acting out fantasies of sleeping with a myriad of other sexy personalities.”
The March 2012 statistics from The Great Australian Sex Census say that Aussie couples are failing to take Dr Gabrielle’s advice though as only 44% of married people say they are satisfied by their bedroom activities.
Running with the idea of couples fulfilling each other’s fantasies and still slightly shocked by the number of Ashley Madison signups since Fifty Shades of Grey, I decide to continue poking around in online listings.
This time I look at online dating site Plenty Of Fish, filtering 40km within my location and people listed as married. I am greeted by over fifty-one listings of women looking for affairs. Thirty-two of them specify that they are looking for a purely physical relationship and nineteen take the time to state they are happily married with no intention of divorcing their partners before going into what they are looking for in a lover.
As I scroll through the listings I start noticing something different. Eleven of the fifty-one listings are actually in use by couples looking for another person to join in on the fun. I wonder if the Fifty Shades phenomenon has influenced any of these couples to expand their sexual horizons into the online dating world and decide to contact a handful of them to see if they’d be happy to talk.
Three days have passed since I first asked about an interview and I now find myself sitting in the lounge room of another beautiful home. Not unlike Courtney’s, this house has no signs of illicit affairs or dodgy hotel room debauchery; it’s a modest apartment in a complex not far from the CBD, the neighbour smiled as I walked through the foyer and the walls are scattered with pictures of smiling faces.
I’m talking to Nathan about the listing he and his wife share on Plenty Of Fish, “Neither of us have any desire to separate, we both love each other, but we both equally feel that sexual monogamy is not for us,” he explains, “it was actually my wife who came up with the idea of a shared listing online.”
Maybe you’re not so good in bed; my personal judgement internally chimes in. Nathan continues to explain, “She started reading Fifty Shades of Grey in April after a friend gave it as a gift for her birthday, it was brought up in conversation all the time and I eventually did the ‘un-manly’ thing and read it too. I know more about women now than I thought possible, but luckily I took it in my stride and realised there were some things I’m just not inclined to do.”
Nathan goes on telling me that inviting an additional party to the bedroom isn’t just for his wife and he gets to enjoy the benefits too. Rather than being riddled with guilt and second-guessing his wife’s actions when they are apart, Nathan and his wife decided that maybe it was something they could do as a couple.
“Some couples play tennis or have a date night every other week to keep things exciting – we don’t need those activities, our relationship is great as it is. We just know that after reading Fifty Shades it’s unrealistic to think that we should be burying our fantasies and desires in the back of our minds, and while I’m confident in who I am, I’m not a billionaire business man with the sexual drive of Christian Grey,” Nathan justifies.
I can’t help but ask how they manage the logistics of it all, “We sit down together and read through the profiles of different people that contact us on the site, we craft responses together and make all of the decisions together,” he explains.
“At first we both found it a little awkward and uncomfortable starting online conversations but we’ve actually found a good common ground to discuss with people that contact us – the book. We’ve had people tell us straight out that they were inspired to consider something different after reading Fifty Shades. To be honest, it still surprises me a bit but I’m definitely not complaining.”
Nathan’s partner walks through the front door as he’s explaining the situation and is very quick to let me know that their relationship doesn’t revolve around the shared affairs, “We have a great sex life with or without a guest appearance. It’s not something we do all of the time, but when someone comes along that we both like talking to it’s something we consider.”
“I’m sure Nathan has told you that before ‘the book’ things were great, just like they are now, like they would be even if we stopped this… But, I can say, I am grateful for having read something that inspired me and taught me it really is ok to have these desires. I think it’s much better we act on it together rather than in secret affairs where we are lying to each other,” she explains.
After some more chatting and discussions on other people they know who thank Fifty Shades of Grey for their sexual prowess and encounters it’s time to leave. As I take the car trip home I realise that I really am shocked, for a book that doesn’t talk about infidelity or online dating Fifty Shades of Grey sure is sparking a ton of online lovers and affairs… and they’re just the ones occurring in our own back yard.