Make flirting work for you
How often I hear women lament that their husbands can’t seem to go anywhere without flirting with women. Early on, they accepted this behaviour as part of their men’s ebullient personalities, and often their girlfriends appreciated the attention, complimenting the wives on how hot they assumed their sex lives must be at home.
As the years evolve, however, and the heat of early sex wanes into what can often be routine encounters, men’s attention to other women can sting when it feels like others get more attention than we ourselves do. Couple this with the lack of esteem we can feel if we’re recovering from childbirth or breastfeeding, or if we haven’t had five minutes of personal time since the arrival of those children, and we can be quick to rankle if our husband notices someone else when he doesn’t seem to be noticing us.
We wonder why other women get the attention that used to be ours, and we feel foolish for being jealous of strangers, jealous of women who are or could be our friends, but now become our rivals by default. Yes, we are the ones our men are having sex with, but are they the ones he is fantasizing about? We drive ourselves crazy with our doubts and insecurities.
It’s not really that we want to have more sex. Better sex, maybe. But we are quite clear that we are the one we want that man to want, to desire, to chase after, and no one else.
How do you react?
We let him know clearly that we disapprove of his flirting. We give him the silent treatment—and certainly no sex—after a party where he pays “too much” attention to other women. We tell him that watching porn is one short step away from cheating (and there are plenty of talk show hosts who will back us up on this one—though you’ll be hard pressed to find a sexologist who will support this myth), and if we catch him with his pants down and the computer screen lit, we call him a sex addict. Little by little sex becomes a battle ground as we make his erotic desire (for anyone other than us) a problem.
How does that play out?
When he feels guilty for feeling aroused, he eventually learns to shut down his erotic feelings, or to associate them with shame. They certainly no longer hold the thrill they used to. If, while making love to us, he should fantasize about someone or something unrelated to us, he connects those fantasies not to higher but to lower arousal. He may even lose his erection. Now a negative feedback loop begins in which intimate contact with us is paired with performance anxiety. He starts to avoid the situation by withholding initiation.
In a cruel and ironic way, we’ve “won.” By trying to extinguish our man’s erotic interest in other women, we snuff it all out.
What’s a better plan?
Just as a group of women can enjoy an evening out at a male stripper bar and then go home horny and happy to their loving husbands, so can it work in reverse. Men do not remain faithful because they are not allowed to stray; they stay loyal by choice.
If we have solid, happy, mutually-fulfilling relationships, we have little reason to fear cheating. Happy men—and women—desire sex with their partners. Flirting with others, and seeing our mates flirt with others, reminds us of our mutual value in the dating market. Being reminded that someone else finds our partner sexy and attractive is a good thing. It reminds us how lucky we are to have landed such a catch, and having someone flirt with us while our partner looks on boosts our own sense of desirability.
Smart couples use this little bit of non-threatening jealousy to boost the ante on sexual anticipation. Pointing out a woman you know your husband will find attractive indicates to him that you appreciate his erotic interests but do not feel intimidated by them. It tells him you trust his behaviour and your mutual bond. Not insignificantly, it lets him know that you are confident enough in your own sexual abilities that his appreciation of someone else can’t possibly rattle you. This makes you a highly desirable partner.
Underscoring all this is the tiniest current of anxiety, instilled by years of cultural dogma telling us that desire is finite, dangerous, and potentially uncontrollable. That’s untrue, of course, but we don’t experience the rewards of challenging those old fears until we recognize them.
What to do when your husband is a flirt
The truth is that desire is infinite and feeds itself. Provided your husband is not actually cheating on you, but is simply “a terrible flirt,” examine your fears and approach the situation differently.
Have a talk about how flirting can be made safe for both of you and can enrich your appreciation of each other. Incorporate safe words or gestures to sidestep situations getting out of control or being misinterpreted. Then start with baby steps and watch your sex lives explode after flirting moves from the “terrible” category to the “harmless” one. You’ll be glad you did.