Savage Love

My boyfriend cheated on me with a much younger woman. How can I believe him when he says he's still attracted to me?

By Dan Savage

I’m a man who recently started seeing a wonderful woman. Like me, she’s divorced. While my ex-wife left me for another man, my girlfriend’s ex-husband was controlling and abusive. Our relationship is the opposite — emotionally, psychologically, and sexually.

Here’s the thing: his abusive behavior is my kink — spanking. In all my past relationships, spanking was light, playful, and consensual; with her ex, it was about pain and humiliation to the point of tears and bruising. She knows about my kink (as a Savage Love reader, I knew to bring it up after a couple of weeks) and understands that my motivations around spanking are completely different from her ex’s, but she has zero interest in anything approaching fetish play — and that’s fine, because I feel so connected to her that I don’t need my kink indulged to feel fulfilled. But I find myself feeling guilty for having the kink in the first place. The thought of her enduring what she did brings me to tears. How do I get past this?

— Lacking A Clever Acronym

If your girlfriend’s ex-husband had manipulated or bullied her into vaginal intercourse — if he had repeatedly and brutally raped her vaginally during their terrible, awful, no good, very bad marriage — would you feel guilty about an interest in consensual, vanilla, missionary, penis-in-vagina intercourse? No. You would hopefully have reacted in a similarly compassionate manner, LACA, after learning about her sexual history. You would have been willing to stick to oral, mutual masturbation, and whatever else your new girlfriend was comfortable exploring and capable of enjoying. And you would have looked forward to the day when she felt ready to enjoy sensuous, consensual, and mutually pleasurable vaginal intercourse again. And if that day never arrived, well, then perhaps you would have been willing to forgo vaginal intercourse for the rest of your life to be with her.

But you wouldn’t be sitting there feeling like some sort of monster for being aroused by — and for having enjoyed — consensual, vanilla, missionary, penis-in-vagina intercourse with other women.

Your willingness to drop your harmless kink is evidence that your priorities are in order, LACA, your heart is in the right place, your cowboy hat is white, etc. Any time you start feeling bad about your kink, just remind yourself that consensual kink isn’t abuse for the same reason consensual vaginal intercourse isn’t rape: Because it’s consensual. You can love this woman, LACA, and make this relatively small sacrifice for this woman (spanking ain’t vaginal), without having to shame yourself or retroactively define all your past spanking experiences as abusive.


My boyfriend of five years had a one-night stand with a much younger woman. In some ways, it’s a good thing—we’re having conversations we should have had a long time ago, he’s seeing a therapist to deal with his issues (his idea, not mine), and somehow I know more than ever that I want to be with him (I’ve always been the one in every relationship with one foot out the door). 

Two questions:

1. I recently hit the age where I’ve started to worry about looking older, and it’s been devastating to know that not only did he cheat on me, but that he did so with a much younger woman. He assures me he’s attracted to me, but how can I believe that now?

2. The younger woman sent me — and other people in our lives — an explicit, lengthy e-mail detailing everything they did. (I hate to paint this as “bitchez be crazy,” but sometimes, bitchez be crazy.) It’s not how I found out, but it certainly hasn’t helped. Ironically, our sex life has only gotten better since I found out exactly what they did — it turns out that we are both far more GGG than the other ever knew. But sometimes we’re in bed, and I’ll flash on something she wrote and the vivid mental images her letter cooked up in my head, and it sears me. Dealing with that pain out of the bedroom has been hard enough. It’s devastating that it’s now with me in the bedroom as well. How can I deal with this?

— Salve It, Please

1. LTRs are only possible if we’re willing take “yes” for an answer. He says yes, he loves you, and you will yourself to believe him; he says yes, he’s having sex with you because he’s attracted to you, and you will yourself to believe him; he says he strayed and is sorry and swears he won’t do it again… and you will yourself to believe him. And while the passage of time makes monsters of us all, SIP, it can strengthen a sexual connection even as sex itself becomes less important when weighed against everything else your LTR is or should be about. In the words of singer-songwriter Tim Minchin: “Love is made more powerful by the ongoing drama of shared experience and synergy and symbiotic empathy, or something like that.”

2. Angry cheated partner: “You did what with that person? I would’ve done that with you! And I have kinks and fantasies, too, you know!”

Contrite cheating partner: “I was afraid to ask you to do that! I was afraid you would hate me — wait, you have kinks and fantasies? What are they?”

Conversations like that one are why affairs — if the relationship survives the betrayal — sometimes kick-start a couple’s sex life. With all the kink-and-whatever-else cards on the table, the couple starts going at it like they have nothing to lose — because in that moment when breaking up is on the table, they actually don’t have anything to lose.

As for those troubling mental images: The passage of time is your body’s enemy on the physical-perfection front — and his, too — but it’s your best friend on the searing-mental-images front, SIP. The more time you two spend doing, enjoying, and perfecting X, Y, and Z sex acts, the more X, Y, and Z becomes about you two and your connection. As you take ownership over X, Y, and Z, and over each other again, the mental images will come to you less often, they’ll be less vivid, and gradually they’ll cease. Give it time.


A letter in a recent column was from a guy who’s trying to figure out how to get into gay BDSM. You suggested some advice from a gay BDSM blogger — Ben In Leather Land — and it was awesome. Do you have any suggestions of similar blogs for women into BDSM?

— Looking Lady

Sex writer, blogger, thinker, and haver Tristan Taormino, who is publishing a new book about BDSM and kinky sex (The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge), recommends fetish icon Midori’s column in SexIs magazine for women who are just beginning to explore kink.


HEY, EVERYBODY: We’re seeking sordid and tragic stories of holiday sex for an upcoming episode of the Savage Lovecast. Ever been caught having sex at Mom and Dad’s over the holidays? Ever put a “For Grandma, from Santa!” card on a wrapped box that contained a sex toy you bought for someone else? Did your older brothers stick your vibrator in the tree before a Christmas party, and you had to leave it there because reaching into the tree to remove it would only attract attention to it? Call and record your story at 206-201-2720! Please keep it under three minutes, if at all possible!

Find the Savage Lovecast (my weekly podcast) every Tuesday at

@fakedansavage on Twitter

Commentarium (51 Comments)

Dec 14 11 - 1:56am
HipHop Hippo

+1 for the Tim Minchin reference. *sigh*
Dan, you are perfect <3

Dec 14 11 - 2:13am


Dec 20 11 - 10:20am
Oh yes. Genius.

Tim minchinis a god.

Dec 14 11 - 6:56pm

I don't understand how people can take someone back after they cheat. It just doesn't compute. How can you move on knowing the person is fundamentally untrustworthy?

And while I personally find nothing wrong with a good spanking, the original LW's ex sounds like she went through hell. There's no reason to feel guilt, but he should definitely proceed with caution. Maybe he could ask her to spank him first to take some of the fear out of it?

Dec 14 11 - 7:43pm

+ 1

Dec 14 11 - 8:22pm

Everybody is fundamentally untrustworthy. That's not why we risk romantic relationships.

Dec 14 11 - 11:27pm

It's a lot harder when it's someone you love.

That's what she said!!!

Dec 15 11 - 11:15am

It amazes me that people will find ways to excuse every form under the sun of emotional and verbal abuse, ethical failing, professional irresponsibility, and other deeply toxic thing. But succumb to one of the most fundamental human desires -- the desire for genuine novelty in one's sexual life -- and you're apparently considered "fundamentally untrustworthy".

I'd rather have a partner who screws other people with his/her genitals than someone who screws other people with hedge funds, or guns.

Dec 15 11 - 4:23pm

Quote from Coketalk "It's not about the sex, it's about the lie."

Dec 15 11 - 8:50pm

I could never take a cheater back, no matter if it was drunk or otherwise. It's inexcusable. Maybe it's how seriously and passionately I take relationships and how reluctant I am to be even be in them that a betrayal of trust so severe would leave me scrambling for the door. Seconds chances are wastes of time.

Dec 15 11 - 9:26pm

My wife cheated on me eight years ago. That time she was contrite and open about it, it ended up setting the stage for having our relationship blossom. A year and a half ago she did it again. This time she was secretive, evasive, closed, self-justified, and it dragged on for more than a year. Now I am leaving.

Did I do wrong in forgiving her last time because she did it again? No, I would do it again if it had happened in a similar way. Did I do wrong in not forgiving her because I had done so before? Again, no; it has brought up a wedge between us for too long and whatever she might say or do now, I do not trust her.

Dec 16 11 - 10:59pm

@AAC -

"But succumb to one of the most fundamental human desires -- the desire for genuine novelty in one's sexual life -- and you're apparently considered "fundamentally untrustworthy"."

There's nothing wrong with succumbing to the desire for "genuine novelty in one's sexual life" - provided you're upfront with your partner. But lying to your partner and pretending to be monogamous when you're anything but - yes, that is fundamentally untrustworthy. I'm not backing down from that.

And please don't pretend this is about hedge funds or guns, WTF? Really?? If you're cool with having a partner who screws other people with his/her genitals, that's fine. Pick partners who are cool with the same thing. But if you pick someone who's not, don't lie to them and pretend you're on the same level. That is the definition of cheating and yes, it makes you a massive fuckface and fundamentally untrustworthy. Deal with it.

Dec 17 11 - 12:52am

^ well said, JCB.

Dec 18 11 - 1:39am

"But I've always, always thought the basic premise of monogamy is bullshit."

Again, it's bullshit for SOME PEOPLE. And for others (including yourself by default) it isn't. So don't you think it's a good idea for both groups of people to be honest with each other so people don't get hurt and lives don't get ruined? Again, you keep bringing it around to monogamy when it's actually about honesty.

If my partner decided he wanted to have sex with a third party, I would be open to it provided precautions were taken. If he lied to me and said he was fucking ONLY ME (while potentially leaving me open to STDS by being dishonest), damn right I'd be upset. That's taking a fundamental choice away from a person, as well as betraying their trust - and you don't think that's untrustworthy? You don't cheat because you're afraid of STDs, yet you don't think other people deserve to have that choice? Hmmm....

Dec 18 11 - 2:53am

I didn't say I don't cheat because I'm afraid of STDs; I said I don't cheat because I don't want to be in the position of giving one to my partner. STDs are an excellent reason to insist upon monogamy, especially since condoms don't provide complete protection against HPV, herpes, crabs, and so forth, and because most of us would prefer to have condomless sex with our partners.

But if it weren't for STDs (and pregnancy), I don't see how any of us would really have a say in what our partners do with their own bodies. Obviously you have the right to complain if you're being neglected, or if your partner gets involved with someone within your social circle or family. But if I'm away for two weeks on business, meet someone in a bar and have a great one-night stand? Or if, while I'm away, my partner decides to have a casual encounter with someone? How is that anyone else's business, if STDs were off the table?

Monogamy is a beautiful gift to give someone VOLUNTARILY, because you feel so strongly about someone that you don't want to be with anyone else. But most people demand exclusivity as a precondition for a relationship; women are especially likely to demand it before they'll have sex with someone. So something that should come out of deep connection, instead becomes simply the price of admission -- a thing to which we all pay lip service, despite the fact that there's abundant evidence that most of us would rather be able to fuck whomever we want. Is it any wonder that sex is such a commodity? We've made it one -- a thing purchased with lies and obtained by deceiving others and, perhaps, ourselves.

Of course, the missing component in this is ego, because the prohibition on infidelity is really about that. We talk about trust, but people lie to their partners in innumerable ways every day: "The business is doing fine (we'll be broke in six months)", "I need to stay late at work (I find your company tedious and want to hang out with some co-workers)", "Sure, I'd love to do that with you (I think your interests are stupid and boring)", "I love you and you're the only one I want (I feel guilty and obligated to stay with you, and I can think of a dozen people I'd rather have sex with)". As House MD famously says, everybody lies. But branding this particular lie as unforgivable, when so many of us commit the act in question (and most of the rest want to), just seems like the worst indictment of the thoroughgoing hypocrisy that characterizes American life.

Dec 18 11 - 11:34am

First off, STDs are never off the table. STDS or as they are now called STIs are apart of Sex, and everyone's sex life. To take STIs "off the tabel" is simply unrealistic.
Again, generalizing, SOME women expect it at defult, some do NOT. Speak for yourself.

Dec 18 11 - 11:36am

Fist you say "the whole premise of monogamy is bullshit" and then you say "it is a beautiful gift we give someone voluntarily?" Make up your damn mind!

Dec 18 11 - 11:41am

"Full disclosure: unless you count the "hook up with person B immediately before breaking up with person A" pattern most of us go through in young adulthood"
Umm... not everyone goes through pattern in "young adulthood" and by definition that still IS cheating. If you are doing sexual things with someone without your partner's knowledge or go-to, that is still cheating. Do not act like such a moral compass when your waves are completly off this length.

Dec 18 11 - 12:23pm

@Person #1: Well, duh. STDs are here to stay, it seems. But my point is, without them, would we really have a case to demand control over our partner's bodies? It'd be interesting to trace the correlation between normative monogamy and the rise of STDs.

@What?!!: Not too hard to understand. I think that COMPULSORY monogamy, as practiced by 95% of the adult population, is bullshit. I think that VOLUNTARY monogamy, that comes out of loving someone so passionately that the idea of being anyone else seems silly, is beautiful. The trouble is that we insist everyone pretend they're doing the second thing, when it's really the first.

@Amy: Spare me your moralizing. I'm talking about the usual succession of flighty, 1-3 month relationships most people have in college and young adulthood. Usually, when one of those is in its death throes, the two people start avoiding each other and looking for a way to end it, and meeting someone else who's interested is a very, very common way to do that.

It may be cheating if you then GO BACK to your partner and have sex with them before breaking up (since that potentially exposes them to STDs), or if you string them along, but if you immediately break up without further physical contact? Anyone who has a problem with that is a sanctimonious fuckface, since you're not putting your partner at any risk.

Dec 18 11 - 5:37pm

"It'd be interesting to trace the correlation between normative monogamy and the rise of STDs."

STDs and normative monogamy have both existed from the inception of recorded history. Historically, normative monogamy or externally regulated polygamy was enforced for the protection of children and the reproductive lineage. Monogamy was expected of women so that men weren't stuck raising other men's children, and expected of men so that women weren't abandoned after childbirth. There is no human culture on record where people were allowed to screw whoever they wanted with no social regulation. Margaret Mead tried to invent one and got caught out. Of course its purpose has changed over time, but it historically it had little (if anything) to do with STDs. You don't even seem to understand the institution you're railing against, so please read a book before ranting.

But in general, your arguments are so full of cliches, contradictions, gross and offensive generalizations, and statistical inaccuracies ("COMPULSORY monogamy as practiced by 95% of the adult population"; "MOST people demand exclusivity"; "women, especially, are likely" etc.) that you're pretty much impossible to converse with. So I'll step away and let you enjoy your soapbox.

Dec 18 11 - 9:16pm

"There is no human culture on record where people were allowed to screw whoever they wanted with no social regulation."

You might consider reading up on the history of prostitution. Hint: there have been plenty of cultures, and periods in history, in which men were freely permitted to patronize sex workers. The rise of syphilis in Europe, which historians generally agree was brought over from the New World, has a hell of a lot to do with the shift in mores. So yes, actually: there have been plenty of time periods where men, at least, were allowed to screw just about whomever they wanted, as long as they had the cash.

As for comments about soapboxes and gross generalizations, I direct you to your first comment in this thread: "I don't understand how people can take someone back after they cheat. It just doesn't compute. How can you move on knowing the person is fundamentally untrustworthy?"

I've known plenty of people who have cheated, and plenty of people who have been cheated on. Sometimes I've even known both parties. And you know what? When I look at the situation, usually it's pretty obvious that Person A didn't just wake up one day and say, hmmm, I think I'll cheat on Person B. Usually Person B did something to alienate Person A, whether it's constant jealousy, emotional or physical abuse...or just the daily litany of small disappointments that characterize a relationship with someone who isn't willing to try hard enough to be their best self. You speak of lies and trust; how often have any of us said things like "I promise I'll do better next time", "This year will be different", "I'm quitting drinking", and not come through?

But of course, infidelity is the worst lie of all, because it implies something we find intolerable: that our partners have managed to briefly break out of the miasma of unhappiness and disappointment in which we keep them, and find excitement and pleasure in someone else's arms. Demonizing them for infidelity is easy; realizing that we ourselves are not really worthy of the faithfulness we demand -- that we don't offer enough to sustain another human being's passion, interest, affection -- is hard. It's a lot easier to call someone else "fundamentally untrustworthy" than to look in the mirror and realize that, as a romantic partner, we're fundamentally a disappointment.

Dec 18 11 - 10:14pm

TL;DR - if you get cheated on, it's your fault. Do you also extend your wordy, sanctimonious blaming of the victim to victims of rape, abuse and molestation, or does it only apply to victims of infidelity? Does it also apply to women who contract HIV when their husbands cheat? I guess it's their fault, they must've been too boring or something. You are seriously fucked in the head.

And prostitution is one of the most socially and politically regulated forms of sexual commerce in existence. There's nothing free about it. Keep trying though, it's kind of funny.

Dec 18 11 - 10:25pm

P.S. "But of course, infidelity is the worst lie of all, because it implies something we find intolerable: that our partners have managed to briefly break out of the miasma of unhappiness and disappointment in which we keep them, and find excitement and pleasure in someone else's arms."

"Our"? Wow, speak for yourself and your own shitty relationships. I prefer to be with people who are actually attracted to me, who add value and joy to my life, and who have the goddamn basic respect to fix things or walk away before it gets to the point of silently hating each other and creeping around behind each other's backs. But hey, that's just me.

Dec 18 11 - 11:12pm

"TL;DR - if you get cheated on, it's your fault."

Not exactly, but if you get cheated on, it's probably not 0% your fault. It might be 0.01% if you're an absolute saint who's GGG and a great partner; it might be 99.9% if you're an emotionally abusive piece of shit and a terrible lay, who tortures his/her partner with jealous suspicion so much that eventually (s)he gives up and lives down to her expectations.

But people think that as soon as their partner fucks someone else, they get to be the Holy Martyr Who Does No Wrong and get a free pity party, and the other person gets to be demonized and should consider themselves lucky not to be sexually maimed for it.

I'm deliberately being polemical because your original post is polemical. God forbid that you should take a look in the mirror and figure out WHY someone decided to cheat on you, and figure out that maybe your own behavior contributed to the situation! Aha, no, it's because they revealed themselves to be "fundamentally untrustworthy", which means they were no good all along, so it's definitely not your fault in any way. Phew, problem solved.

And: you just likened infidelity to RAPE and child molestation? Are you seriously that fucked in the head? BTW it's very telling that you refer specifically to women who contract HIV from their husbands that cheat -- you could've easily adopted a gender-neutral terminology, since men certainly get HIV from women too, but nope. I think, as I've thought from the beginning, that your stance in this conversation has a lot to do with a chip on your shoulder against the opposite sex.

Dec 18 11 - 11:30pm

P.S. "First you criticize me for saying I would leave if someone cheated on me, and now you're saying people only cheat because they find their partners boring, disappointing and unworthy of honesty!"

Actually, I'm not saying either of those things: it's fine to leave, I just loathe your self-congratulatory, polemical tone. I know people who've cheated on their SOs with whom I'd trust my life; I know people who are 100% faithful who I wouldn't trust to tell me the sky is blue.

Claiming that sexual fidelity is a black-and-white moral issue is bullshit: people cheat for as many reasons as there are stars in the sky. And some of them are pretty damn good reasons, and some of them are shitty. Who are you to judge?

Jan 02 12 - 10:39am

In retrospect, now that the emotion has receded, I'll concede on a couple points, but I'm not continuing this overgeneralized thread any longer.

May 15 12 - 11:13am

That was not me posting above. "now that the emotion has receded", WTF?

Dec 14 11 - 11:05pm

when are people going to learn that some dogs you got to let run away

Dec 15 11 - 5:20pm

AAC said. Our culture has been brainwashed to think and feel that monogamy, even at it's worst, is better than any other arrangement. A lot of potential happiness goes unrealized because of this.

Dec 15 11 - 7:21pm

Having an open relationship is not the same as cheating.

Dec 16 11 - 11:01pm

That's ridiculous. Nobody said anything about monogamy, the conversation is about CHEATING - i.e. pretending to be monogamous when you're not. Don't smear genuine polyamorous people by equating them with cheaters.

Dec 17 11 - 12:28pm

Like I said, having an open relationship (polyamory or whatever) is NOT the same as cheating! Do not be so quick to shut people down, they might be on the same page as you!

Dec 17 11 - 12:29pm

oh, and nobody said anything about monogamy= "that Monogamy....." from what!

Dec 18 11 - 1:35am

Err jil, I was agreeing with you...did you not get that?

Dec 15 11 - 6:44pm

What's GGG? Sorry to ask but someone - please enlighten me...

Dec 15 11 - 6:48pm
Alex Heigl

It's one of Dan's coined acronyms — stands for "Good, giving [and] game."
In his words: "Good in bed, giving equal time and equal pleasure, and game for anything — within reason.'"

Dec 15 11 - 9:05pm

The fact that someone would actually write a letter detailing what you did with someone else's significant other and send it to them--and a bunch of other people!--boggles my mind. Talk about degrading yourself.

An aside--LOVE that picture up there. That's my favorite place on a dude to bury my face. Mmm... arms.

Dec 16 11 - 3:57pm

That's what I was thinking to, how DUMB of that immature girl to send an email like that!

Dec 20 11 - 6:25pm

Why is it dumb and immature? Should she sue him in court? Cut off his balls? Spend lots of money she probably doesn't have on therapy? Oh I know she chose the option of enacting her revenge on him by letting everyone around him who may have a high opinion of him know the truth_ that he's at least deceitful regarding one major promise he made which would be being monogamous with his wife. We have no idea how he hurt her. Of course she was complicit in in the affair but hey he got his wife, his life etc. If she wants to send a letter to his friends detailing what they both did as payback, I say kudos to her!! I can't think of a better revenge.

Dec 16 11 - 7:42pm

I believe that there are instances where infidelity is forgivable, but that doesn't sound like one of them. I personally would be offended that the person I love would choose to sleep with someone stupid and trashy enough to send a letter of sexual details to people the couple knows.

Dec 16 11 - 8:37pm

Agreed... I might be able to move past the cheating, but receiving a letter that probably sounds like bad smut, discussing who did what to whom in-depth? No. Just no.

Dec 16 11 - 10:22pm

I cheated on my boyfriend almost two years ago. We "broke up" for about a week and he took me back. After some therapy on both our parts and many, many long conversations, our relationship has never been better. Our communication skills were terrible, there were things I wasn't receiving from him emotionally, so I would find them in someone else to fill the void rather than talking to him about it.

We're still together, 4+ years strong, and cannot wait to spend the rest of our lives with each other, and only each other.

Not every person who cheats is a terrible, "fundamentally untrustworthy" human being. We are just that. Human beings. Who happen to make some mistakes, just like every other human being.


Dec 16 11 - 11:03pm

I'm happy for you and your boyfriend. The comment I made was personal; I wouldn't be able to trust someone after they cheated. If your boyfriend was able to do so, more power to him.

Dec 17 11 - 12:33pm

It should not take a terrible event for people to be the best they can be when they are in a relationship. Despite that, I am glad you and your boyfriend worked things out.

Dec 19 11 - 5:29pm

I agree, but it helps a lot when it gives reason to therapy/talking to each other/being better for each other. It's easy to coast through a relationship at "good," but when you both realize that there is something wrong, it makes it more important to be "great."

Dec 16 11 - 11:04pm

P.S. Just curious - now that the dust has cleared, who do you think was more responsible for the situation that provoked the cheating? You, him or both?

Dec 19 11 - 5:26pm

I'd say me. Sure, he did things wrong, but that doesn't mean I should have cheated on him. I should have given more effort to discussions and problem solving, not avoiding the issue at hand, which both of us did.

Dec 17 11 - 11:38am

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Dec 17 11 - 12:31pm

Stop advertising one here!!!!

Dec 20 11 - 9:29pm
Just sayin..

What woman worth her salt would want a man who wants a girl?

Dec 24 11 - 6:23pm

I am actually in the situation where my wife, the mother our two small children, was having an affair all year, and fell in love with this man. We are working hard to build a new marriage that can be the basis for a healthy home/environment for our children. I have a really hard time believing that she loves me, is attracted to me, satisfied by me, or would even have stayed with me if it weren't for our kids. It sucks when the "love of your life" falls in love with someone else....