In this last of the four-part series on defining infidelity, I want to share with you the third common component in affairs- sexual alchemy.

What is sexual alchemy?

Sexual alchemy is the term that Esther Perel uses to describe the erotic nature of affairs. The term is used in place of simply sex because so many affairs do not include sexual acts. It avoids the narrow definition utilized by those such as Bill Clinton.

Sexual alchemy is about so much more than just sex. Esther says that the kiss we only imagine giving can be more powerful than hours of actual love making. After all, our mind is truly our most powerful sexual organ.

“We didn’t do anything!”

Often the defense of those accused of straying, this phrase often misses the mark when it comes to sexual alchemy.

Rob went out one night with colleagues. Being too drunk to drive home, he accepted the invitation of a coworker to stay at her apartment nearby. The next day, he told his wife, Angie, that nothing had happened. When she pressed for details, he admitted that he had slept in her bed.

“But nothing happened. I swear!”

Where do we draw the line? When does something happen? Is it a longing gaze? A brush of the arm? A flirtatious text? A fantasy? Watching porn? Oral sex? Sexual intercourse?

Sexual alchemy is present in all of these activities and more. Does that mean that each of these is a betrayal of the relationship? Aren’t we entitled to some freedom to explore eroticism?

Erotic freedom in modern couples

Erotic freedom or erotic independence is the notion that one can never fully divulge the extent of one’s erotic thoughts to their partner- nor should they.

When Amanda told Tom that she had dreamt she was having sex with one of Tom’s friends, he was furious. He felt angry, sad, betrayed… but should he? His wife felt that it was unfair. After all, she could not control the content of her dreams. She didn’t want to have sex with another man.

If she had known how her husband would react, she likely would never have shared what she thought was a harmless dream.

Dreams aside, is it okay to fantasize about those outside our primary relationship? Imagining what it would be like to see a colleague naked? Thinking about what it might be like in the embrace of someone other than our partner?

Some say yes, others no. What makes the difference? And even if we tell our partners that we are uncomfortable with these acts, we still can’t stop them from occurring. What we will stop instead is our partners feeling comfortable sharing them with us.

How much should we share?

When it comes to our own eroticism, how much should we share with our partner? Should we share every fantasy, every turn-on, every fond memory of a former lover?

While there is no simple answer to this question, what I have found is that those couples who are able to share without being impeded by feelings of anger or jealousy are those same couples who have the healthiest of sex lives.

It’s all about dialogue- feeling comfortable having a conversation about what seems to remain a taboo subject in our society. In an ideal world, one should feel comfortable exploring their sexuality with their partner- sharing with them the depths of their erotic world.

At the same time, the flames of eroticism are often stoked by mystery and intrigue. The fact is you can’t possibly strike a balance between openness and mystery if you don’t talk at all.

More posts in this series:

What is Infidelity?

Part One: Secrecy

Part Two: Emotional Involvement

Mark Cagle, LPC

Mark Cagle is a father, husband, and expert marriage counselor in Dallas. He is passionate about helping couples to overcome the heartache of infidelity and betrayal so that they can heal the hurt and rekindle their relationship. Mark believes that by specializing in couples counseling he is able to dedicate himself and hone his skills in order to have the greatest impact on the couples he works with.