When sexual betrayal enters a relationship, it deeply impacts the betrayed partner’s sexuality. Each individual experiences the impact in different ways, but almost all betrayed partners report damage to their sexuality as the result of experiencing infidelity. Below are some of the ways that sexual betrayal impacts partners.
Loss of Sexual Desire
Many partners lose their sexual desire due to the hurt and pain of being betrayed. Most partners express fear about making themselves sexually vulnerable again after feeling rejected, unwanted and not good enough as a result of the betrayal. They fear being taken advantage of and once again feeling foolish or ‘duped’. Partners also fear being compared to other sexual partners or pornographic images. They express insecurity about their bodies and fears about contracting a disease or compromising their health in some way. These fears deaden sexual arousal and desire. As a result, these issues combine into a cocktail of suppression making it very difficult for betrayed partners to connect to their own libido.
Loss of Sexual Voice
Many betrayed partners report that they have either lost or never known how to have a sexual voice in their relationship. This is particularly true for those who have come out of homes where sex was never talked about or where sexual abuse or violence occurred. These sex negative environments create an unconscious but deeply held belief that sex is taboo, not to be spoken of, shameful or bad. These environments make the task of sexual development incredibly challenging and many individuals and couples find that they still feel like confused young children or teenagers when talking about sex.
In addition, our culture trains women to be passive sexually and to prioritize male sexuality over their own. If you stand in the grocery store and read the average women’s magazine cover you will find all kinds of advice about how to please your man sexually. You will almost never find a headline that talks about female sexuality for the sake of itself and on its own merits. This bias negatively impacts both men and women, and makes the task of developing sexual health as an adult challenging.
Combine these dynamics with a relationship fraught with the hurt, anger and confusion resulting from betrayal and it frequently adds up to a loss of voice and sexual power within the relationship. Partners often do not know how to say yes or no to sex. They do not know how to speak about sexual preferences, problems, or feelings. They do not know how to articulate their own wants and needs around sex. As a result they often remain silent or attempt to communicate through other non-verbal means that are frequently missed or misunderstood.
Body Image Issues
In our culture, women are socialized to wage a war of dissatisfaction with their bodies from a very early age. For betrayed partners, the self-doubt or body-insecurity that already exists is put on steroids when betrayal enters the relationship. The knowledge that your partner has been viewing other airbrushed or ‘picture perfect’ women or has been with another person live immediately introduces comparison into the relationship. Even for women who may have felt relatively at peace with their bodies, betrayal can create a new level of pre-occupation and concern with being beautiful or sexy enough for one’s partner.
If women’s inbred self-doubt and insecurity were not enough to stack the deck in the wrong direction there is also the cultural belief that if a man is straying sexually then it is the woman’s fault. These cultural forces are a large part of what drive betrayed partners to report feeling that they are to blame when they discover their significant other’s unfaithfulness. They report feeling that some inadequacy in them, their sexuality, their body, or their personality has not been enough to keep their partner’s sexual attention. It takes a lot of time and work for betrayed partners to be able to put down the burden of this belief and instead hold the cheating partner accountable for his own behavior.
If you have experienced any of these impacts to your sexuality as a result of betrayal, my advice to you is to be very kind to yourself and give yourself the space you need to heal. After experiencing sexual betrayal many partners need some time, whether a couple of weeks or a few months, to abstain from sex, heal, and begin to reassess their thinking about who they are sexually and how they want to participate in their sexual relationship. Giving yourself whatever space and time you need is a gift that will facilitate your ability to repair, reclaim and heal your sexuality.