Sexual Distinctions: Candaulism, Cuckold, Threesomes

by Jason Stotts

In this post, I want to draw some distinctions between different, but somewhat similar, sexual practices.

Candaulism

Candaulism is a term that comes to us from the Greek myth of King Candaules. In the myth, the king surreptitiously reveals his wife to one of his ministers. The sexual practice, then, is when one partner gains pleausre by showing off his partner, whether in person or imagery, to others, whether with the consent of his or her partner or not.

Cuckoldry

Traditionally, cuckoldry is the practice of having sex with a person that is not one’s partner, without one’s partner’s knowledge or consent. Thus, traditionally it was synonymous with infidelity.  However, cuckoldry now has taken a different form and refers to the fetish whereby one partner, almost exclusively the male partner in a heterosexual relationship, derives sexual pleasure from either the knowledge that his partner is having sex with someone besides himself or from watching his partner have sex with someone besides himself.

However, in cuckoldry there is a power imbalance and the man is being “forced” to endure this for his more dominant partner. The practice also has very strong connections to humiliation and shame, as the cuckold is seen as powerless to stop his partner from engaging in this behavior and is, thereby, humiliated. It is also important to note that although this deals with shame and humiliation, the man actually does want his partner to do these things. Paradoxically, cuckoldry requires the cooperation and consent of the cuckold. Otherwise, cuckoldry devolves into simple infidelity and/or humiliation. Indeed, the cuckold derives pleasure from being “made” to watch his partner be sexual with someone else or to listen to stories of his partner being sexual with someone else.

Swinging

Swinging is where a couple is polysexual (non-monogamous) together and seeks out other individuals or couples for sexual activities. In this, the partners predominantly act together as a unit and generally “play” together, although some swingers do play separately. In swinging, there is not a power differential. Swinging is distinguished from a simple threesome by being engaged in over a longer period of time as a “lifestyle.” Further, swingers may engage in threesomes, foursomes, or groups of more.

Polyamory

Polyamory is distinguished from the above by being primarily about loving more than one person at a time. While this usually includes sex, it does not necessarily involve sex.

Threesomes

A threesome is a sexual situation where a couple invites a third person into their sexual relationship, whether for a single night or for a longer term, and then either one or both of the partners engage in sexual activities with this person. In this set up, both of the partners in the relationship consent to the arrangement and have equal standing in the relationship.  There is not a power differential as there is in cuckoldry.

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3 Responses to “Sexual Distinctions: Candaulism, Cuckold, Threesomes”


  1. David Hall

    If cuckoldry requires a power imbalance, what is the term for the practice that is simply “one partner . . . deriv[ing] sexual pleasure from either the knowledge that his partner is having sex with someone besides himself or from watching his partner have sex with someone besides himself.”

    In other words what do you call cuckoldry without the power imbalance?

  2. JasonStotts

    That’s a really good question and I should probably update this to reflect the answer. The term for that right now is “hotwife” or “hotwifing.” Basically, deriving enjoyment from your wife’s attractive looks and her sexuality. Hotwifing is not always letting your wife have sex with other men or women, it could simply be watching others think your wife is attractive and sexy and enjoying that. So, basically, it has elements of Candaulism and Cuckoldry, but is different in important ways.

    ~Jason

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