Feeling Betrayed By Wife’s Sexual Fantasies

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Reader’s Question

My wife (20 years together, 13 years married) and I have always felt something was awkward sexually but we were happy and couldn’t quite understand what. Recently she confided that for many years she’s had to fantasize about other men for “extra stimulation” to facilitate orgasms. In addition, she confided that her most favorite sexual position was “doggy style,” which we long accepted as her least favorite with us. With more probing, we discovered that this was because of promiscuous behavior she exhibited at age 14 with a very well-endowed 16-year-old. Instead of leaving that experience for that time, she’s apparently carried the desires she obtained at that time with her for the past 20+ years.

Although I’ve read that fantasizing is normal and even healthy, I’ve also read that it can be a problem if it hurts someone else. In this case, it hurts me since I feel betrayed and denied the opportunity to please her for many years. In addition, we are somewhat religious (at least we believe the same doctrines) and both acknowledge her fantasies as a form of infidelity and adultery.

She’s not a pedophile or hebephile (as they were close in age at the time sex occurred), but she’s now 38 years old yet but still hung up on the physical aspects of a 16-year-old boy whom she hasn’t communicated with since that time (and who is of course now a 40-year-old man). Again, this is an issue which hurts our marriage, so this is beyond the range of normal or acceptable behavior. What might this be classified as? What might this “condition” (if it’s correct to call it such) be called? Is this a form of pseudopedophilia or quasipedophilia, a sexual disorder, compulsion, etc…? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Psychologist’s Reply

As I read your question, three very important details stood out to me:

  1. Your wife has been faithful to you for 20 years.
  2. Your wife achieves orgasm when she has sex with you.
  3. Your wife trusts you and feels intimate enough with you to share her private sexual fantasies and desires.

Based on these three things, it seems like the marriage and sexual relationship are working well for her. It sounds as if you, however, may be having difficulty accepting the fact that she sometimes thinks about another man when she is with you, and are having trouble separating her fantasy from the reality that she is actually in bed with you — not him.

It also appears that you are angry about your wife’s fantasies, and are seeking justification for your anger. However, as Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. discusses in her book The Dance of Anger [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK], using “below-the-belt” tactics such as pathologizing or labeling partners (e.g., “promiscuous,” “beyond the range of normal,” “pedophile,” “hebephile,” “pseudopedophilia,” “quasipedophilia”) is counterproductive. Engaging in pathologizing and labeling makes it difficult for partners to discuss and resolve the problem affecting their relationship and is not a productive way to express the important and useful emotion of anger.

To answer your question, there is no diagnosis for your wife’s decision to engage in thoughts about another man when she is with you. It doesn’t appear to be interfering with her sexual functioning or her relationship with you. In fact, it actually seems to be helping her achieve a more satisfying sexual relationship, which is critical to a successful and intimate partnership. However, the fact that you feel betrayed by her fantasies is very important to address, perhaps in couples counseling with a licensed mental health professional. I would discourage you from seeking couples counseling with a member of your clergy, as it may be difficult to resolve the real issues that may be at work and instead become stuck on the idea that fantasy = infidelity. If you are willing to approach counseling with her, it may give you the chance for your worries to be heard and for the two of you to find some way to an understanding or to make some changes that could help your relationship.

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