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Swinging lessons: A beginner’s guide to candaulism and cuckold fetishes

In a previous blog on exhibitionism (i.e., individuals who expose their genitals to other people), I briefly mentioned a sub-type called candaulism that I defined as referring to people who expose themselves to their sexual partners (e.g., a wife or husband) in a sexually explicit way. Since writing that blog I had an email from one of my regular blog readers saying that the definition I provided wasn’t as detailed as it could have been. In response to my (friendly) critic, I decided to take a more detailed look.

The first place I looked was Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Interestingly she defined candaulism as “a group of three people where only two of them engage in sex and the other watches, sometimes from a closet”. She then spent the rest of her text basically discussing troilism where three people typically comprise a sexual couple and a third person where one of the three (typically the husband or male partner of the couple) watching the other two have sex. Nothing of what was written was based on anything I would call empirical and research-based (although it was an interesting read).

Next it was on to my favourite text on sexual deviation – Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Dr. Aggrawal described candaulism as a variation of exhibitionism [where] persons do not exhibit themselves but their spouses – usually a male exhibiting his wife”. He also cited the work of Polish psychiatrist Dr. Z. Marten who published a case study in 1986 on candaulism in a Polish psychiatric journal. On the basis of this, Aggrawal said that candaulism also involves “getting sadomasochistic pleasure when the husband exposes his wife, or pictures of her, to other voyeurist people.” I have no idea how representative this case study is of candaulism as this paper appears to be the only academic case study that has ever been published and was published in the author’s native language (so all I have to go on is Aggrawal’s second-hand account). Dr. Aggrawal had also researched where the word ‘candaulism’ was derived. He reported that:

“The term derives its name from Candaules, king of the ancient kingdom of Lydia from 735 to 718 BC, who was so proud of the beauty of his wife, and so much did he want to impress others, that he made a plot to show his unaware naked wife to his bodyguard, Gyges of Lydia. Discovering Gyges while he was watching her naked, Candaules’ wife obviously became enraged and ordered him to choose between killing himself or her husband in order to repair the vicious mischief. Gyges chose to kill the king. The queen married Gyges subsequently and fathered the Mermnad Dynasty”.

It was the German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebbing that then coined the term in his book Psychopathia Sexualis. Aggrawal claimed that husbands (which I am assuming covers all male sexual partners within a heterosexual couple) take the “paraphilia to the extreme and enjoys other people having sex with his wife” (which I am assuming would include a female partner within a heterosexual couple). Aggrawal then adds that: “This practice can take the form of swinging, in which husbands exchange wives for sexual intercourse and watch each other. In certain cases the relation evolves into a stable union of these persons, known as troilism”.

In the third edition of Dr. Ronald Homes and Dr. Stephen Holmes’ Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behaviors, the authors discussed candaulism in their chapter on ‘nuisance sex behaviours’. Holmes and Holmes link candaulism to ‘swinging’ (i.e., the swapping of sexual partners). More specifically, they noted:

“Swingers, or mate swappers, are often termed triolists, and at other times it is termed candaulism. In candaulism, a man exposes his partner, or pictures of her, to others. Sometimes women are coerced into the swinging scene to fulfill the desires of their husbands (Bowman, 1985; Jenks, 1998; McCary, 1978)…There are other triolists who seek pleasure by sharing a sexual partner with another person while the triolist looks on. An estimated 8 million couples have experienced this type of sexual behavior (Avery & Johannis, 1985). Triolism may also take the form of two couples having sexual relations at the same time in sight of each other. While there are single swingers, usually when one speaks of swingers in this con- text we are speaking of married or committed couples (Cargan, 1986)”.

In the description of candaulism by Holmes and Holmes, it is turned into a nuisance sexual behaviour by the addition of coercion (something that isn’t explicitly mentioned in other definitions that I have come across). Having said that, the Wikipedia entry on candaulism has a more negative take on what the behaviour involves and is also the most detailed I have come across:

“Candaulism is a sexual practice or fantasy in which a man exposes his female partner, or images of her, to other people for their voyeuristic pleasure. Such a practice is widely regarded as a breach of implicitly placed by the female in her sex partner. The term may also be applied to the practice of undressing or otherwise exposing a female partner to others, or urging or forcing a female partner to engage in sexual relations with a third person, such as during a swinging activity. There have also been reports of a woman’s partner urging or forcing her into prostitution or pornography such as in the case of Karen Lancaume and others. Similarly, the term may also be applied to the posting of personal images of a female partner on the Internet or to urging or forcing a female partner to wear clothing which reveals her physical attractiveness to others, such as by wearing very brief clothing, such as a microskirt, tight-fitting or see-through clothing or a low-cut top”

Dr. R. Jenks in a review of the ‘swinging’ literature in the Archives of Sexual Behavior reported that swingers are “generally nondescript members of the community” but had a number of common characteristics including the fact that they: (i) had moved often in the past five years, (ii) were relatively new to the community, (iii) were members of the middle class, (iv) were conservative in their political views, (v) identified little with religion, and (vi) belonged to more community groups than non-swingers.

One online list of the ‘most disturbing fetishes lists an alleged fetish they called ‘cuckold fetish’. The snippet of text notes that although the adultery is commonplace “fetishized infidelity is a lot less common”. Cuckold fetish appears to be a form of candaulism as cuckold fetish is “when a man becomes sexually aroused by the knowledge that his wife is having sex with another man. In some cases, this may involve him setting up the affair, but not being around while it occurs, but in other cases, he may watch or even join in”. There is also a fair amount of sexual slang associated with cuckold fetishes. For instance, a ‘Jack Gagger’ is a husband that procures other men to have sex with his wife. Such fetishes may overlap with another sexual paraphilia known as zelophilia (i.e., individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from jealousy or being jealous).

From this brief overview it is clear that although there has been some academic research on ‘swinging’, and a little academic writing on candaulism. However, empirical research into candaulism is close to non-existent. As with other sexual behaviours that I have covered in my blog, one of the first issues to untangle is a more precise and agreed upon definition – particularly around the issue of whether candaulism is a coercive or non-coercive sexual beahviour.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Avery, C., & Johannis, T. (1985). Love and marriage. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Bowman, H. (1985). Marriage For Moderns (7th Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Cargan, L. (1986). Stereotypes of singles: A cross-cultural comparison. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 27, 200–208.

Harness, J. (2010). The 12 most disturbing fetishes to keep you up at night. Oddee, September 12. Located at: http://www.oddee.com/item_97279.aspx
Holmes, S.T. & Holmes, R.M. (2009). Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behaviors (3rd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Krafft-Ebing, R. von (1886). Psychopathia Sexualis (C.G. Chaddock, Trans.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Jenks, R. (1998). Swinging: A review of the literature. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 14, 507–521.

Marten, Z. (1986). Candaulesism – Case report Psychiatrica Polska, 20, 235-237.

McCary, J. (1978). McCary’s Human Sexuality. New York: Van Nostrand.

Wikipedia (2012). Candaulism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candaulism