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Cuckold historically referred to a husband with an adulterous wife and is still often used with this meaning. In evolutionary biology, the term cuckold is also applied to males who are unwittingly investing parental effort in offspring that are not genetically their own.[1] Since the 1990s, the term has also been widely used to refer to a sexual fetish in which the fetishist is stimulated by their committed partner choosing to have sex with someone else.[2]

History of the term[edit]

Ca. 1815 French satire on cuckoldry, which shows both men and women wearing horns.

Cuckold derives from the cuckoo bird, alluding to the alleged habit of the female in changing its mate frequently and authentic (in some species) practice of laying its eggs in other nests within its community.[3][4] The association is common in medieval folklore, literature, and iconography. The original Old English was "kukewold". It was borrowed from Old French "cuccault", which was made up of "cuccu" (old French for the cuckoo bird itself) plus the pejorative suffix – "ault", indicating the named person was being taken advantage of as by a cuckoo bird.

English usage first appears about 1250 in the satirical and polemical poem "The Owl and the Nightingale" (l. 1544). The term was clearly regarded as embarrassingly direct, as evident in John Lydgate's "Fall of Princes" (ca. 1440). In the late 14th century, the term also appeared in Geoffrey Chaucer's Miller's Tale.[4] Shakespeare's poetry often referred to cuckolds, with several of his characters suspected they had become one.[4]

The female equivalent cuckquean first appears in English literature in 1562, adding a female suffix to the "cuck". One often overlooked subtlety of the word is that it implies that the husband is deceived, that he is unaware of his wife's unfaithfulness and may not know until the arrival or growth of a child plainly not his (as with Cuckoo birds.)[5] Another word, wittol, which substitutes "wete" (meaning witting or knowing) for the first part of the word, designates a man aware of and reconciled to his wife's infidelity and first appears in 1520[6]

Metaphor and symbolism[edit]

In Western traditions, cuckolds have sometimes been described as "wearing the horns of a cuckold" or just "wearing the horns." This is an allusion to the mating habits of stags, who forfeit their mates when they are defeated by another male.[7] In Italy (especially in Southern Italy, where it is a major personal offence), the insult is often accompanied by the sign of the horns. In French, the term is porter des cornes, which is used by Molière to describe someone whose consort has been unfaithful. Rabelais wrote the Tiers Livers of Gargantua and Pantagruel in 1546, by which time the symbol of the horns was "so well-known and over-used that the author could barely avoid making reference to it."[8] Molière's L'École des femmes (1662) is the story of a man who mocks cuckolds and becomes one at the end. In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (c. 1372–77), the Miller's Tale is a story that humorously examines the life of a cuckold. In Chinese usage, an altogether different allusion is used, when the cuckold (or wittol) is said to be "戴绿帽子" (wearing the green hat), which derives from the sumptuary laws used in China from the 13th to the 18th century which required the males in households with prostitutes to wrap their heads in a green scarf (or later a hat).[9]

Cultural usage of horn metaphor[edit]

In many countries "horns" are a metaphor for suffering the infidelity of a partner, not limited to husbands in modern usage. The gesture of the horned hand can be used to insult the cuckold.[citation needed]

Cuckoldry as a fetish[edit]

Unlike the traditional definition of the term, in fetish usage a cuckold is complicit in their partner's sexual "infidelity" and takes masochistic sexual pleasure in it. Cuckolds in the fetish sense also need not be male, and need not be married, although some level of pair-bonding intimacy or commitment in their relationship is necessary.[11] Among fetishists, the pose of reluctance—the victimization of the cuckold—is a major element of the paraphilia. (Which may be the reason for the use of the term "cuckold," with its connotations of victimization and inadequacy.)

In the fetish cuckolding subculture, it is most common for the female to take on the sexually dominant role and the male the submissive role, however, female subs, sometimes referred to as cuckqueans,[2] also exist. The wife who enjoys cuckolding her husband is frequently called a "hotwife," or a cuckoldress if the man is more submissive.[12]

Fetish cuckolding can have a wide range of expression, from pillow-talk fantasy between monogamous partners to extreme "alternative lifestyles," depending on the couple. It is also often mixed with other fetishes in practice, such as voyeurism, denial, etc.

Cuckolding can also be mixed with other non-monogamous relationship arrangements with which it has substantial overlap such as Swinging, wife-swapping, open relationships, and polyamory, etc. It is distinguished from these concepts in that the cuckold's thrill in their partner's acts is specifically masochistic; as such it is considered a category of BDSM fetish.

Theories in psychology[edit]

Psychology regards cuckold fetishism as a variant of masochism,[13] the cuckold deriving pleasure from being humiliated. In Freudian analysis, cuckold fetishism is the eroticization of the fears of infidelity and of failure in the man's competition for procreation and the affection of females.[citation needed] In his book Masochism and the Self, psychologist Roy Baumeister advanced a Self Theory analysis that cuckolding (other forms of sexual masochism) among otherwise mentally healthy people was a form of escapism. In this theory, cuckold fetishists are relieving themselves of the stress of the burden of their social role and escaping into a simpler, less-expansive position.

According to these theories, the cuckold fetishist seeks pleasure both from the act of being humiliated and by giving pleasure to his lover(s). But cuckolding can be summed psychologically as "distributing sexual humiliation to the cuckold".[citation needed] If a couple can keep the fantasy in the bedroom, or come to an agreement where being cuckolded in reality does not damage the relationship, they may try it out in reality. However, the primary proponent of the fantasy is almost always the one being humiliated, or the "cuckold": he usually convinces his lover to participate in the fantasy for him, though other "cuckolds" may prefer their lover to initiate the situation instead. The fetish fantasy does not work at all if the cuckold is being humiliated against his will.[14]

Humiliation is "the feeling of being put down, made to feel less than one feels oneself to be."[15] Psychologist Evelin Lindner calls humiliation "the nuclear bomb of the emotions", claiming it is an order of magnitude more powerful than any other, causing everything from interpersonal conflicts to international terrorism."[15] According to psychoanalysis, any feeling can become sexualized if it is somehow favorably associated with sex, especially in childhood. Because humiliation is such a powerful emotion, if an individual sexualizes it, they can in turn obtain intense sexual feelings.

Theories in evolutionary biology and psychology[edit]

In evolutionary biology, the term cuckold is also applied to males who are unwittingly investing parental effort in in offspring that are not genetically their own. As noted above, the term cuckold is derivative of the mis-directed parental investment of birds who direct parental investment to the eggs that cuckoo birds have laid in their nests.[1]

In his somewhat controversial[16] book Sperm Wars, biologist Robin Baker speculated that the excitement and stimulation of the cuckolding fetish emerges from the biology of sexuality and the effects of sexual arousal on the brain, although it is important to note the word "cuckold" does not appear in the book "Sperm Wars". According to one of his theories, Baker believes that when a man thinks that his female mate may have been sexual with another man, the man is prompted by biological urges to copulate with the female in an effort to "compete" with the other man's sperm. Baker is also one of the few proponents of the theory of Killer Sperm, the idea that sperm compete not only for first access to the egg but by "attacking" other sperm. Although this idea appears frequently in cuckold fetish material, very few biologists share this view.[17][18]

Baker and his proponents views conflict with the hypothesized foundations for sexual jealousy in evolutionary psychology, which is rooted in the idea that men, specifically, will react jealously to sexual infidelity on the parts of their mates.[19] Infidelity is also the number one cause for divorce.[20]

Different forms of cuckolding[edit]

Some cuckolds derive excitement in being control of the adulterous relationship the female partner has by having a say in every aspect of their relationship they are commonly known as Dominant cuckolds.

Cuckolds who choose not to have any say in the adulterous relationship where only the adulterous partner chooses the new partner and the circumstances and type of relationship maintained are known as Submissive cuckolds. Submissive cuckolds love the aspect of the female being in control of their relationships and can derive pleasure by any mild to extreme torture whether its physical, emotional or financial in nature. Most of these cuckolds like being forced to do sexual acts or other acts which can normally be insulting and degrading, while the female is encouraged to boast about the physical superiority of the male lover. In these relationships usually the female partner would or is expected to view the cuckold as a resource to use financially and otherwise (like helping in house work, taking care of the kids etc.,), but less as a physical partner. Many cuckolds in this relationships enjoy being denied a physical relationship with the female.

Entrance into cuckolding[edit]

Cuckolding is usually initiated by the male partner in the relationship but also in many instances are introduced by the female partner too. Most important ingredient of a successful cuckolding relationship is the trust the couples have on each other. Most relationships with lack of strong bonding between the cuckold couples are likely to lead to the failure of the marriage or relationship. Cuckolds view the physical relationship between the female and the lover to be similar to the female playing a game of tennis or other entertaining activity, with the added benefit of pleasure and excitement for the cuckold and see it as a non threat to their original relationship. These cuckolds view the act of their spouses going to dinner with her lover as a bigger threat than them having a physical relationship and they view the dinner to be romantic and emotional while the physical relationship as an entertainment gateway.

Other variations cuckolding[edit]

Active cuckolds - These cuckolds like to be present in the room the physical bonding of the female partner and her lover takes place. They mostly do not join in, but derive pleasure on watching the female enjoy the bonding. Some cuckolds enjoy taking photographs and videos of these acts and derive pleasure by sharing them online. Some submissive cuckolds also like to be tied up so that they are unable to move and feel helpless to do anything but to witness the act.

Passive cuckolds - These cuckolds by their choice or their partners are not allowed to enter the place of bonding. These cuckolds are very imaginative in nature and would expect their female partner to share their experience with their lover to them and they derive pleasure by imagining every aspect of their partners encounter. One of the important aspects of such cuckolds are that they enjoy the act of getting their spouse ready for the date as a very important part of their routine.

Pros and Cons of cuckolding[edit]


STD's are a very real risk these days, Hence a barrier method of protection can be used when the medical history of the new lover is unknown.

Pregnancy risk, as no contraceptive method is 100% safe. The couple should have an arrangement where they mutually agree for a plan of action should the pregnancy occur, whether they would be to keep the pregnancy or to abort it. If the couple decide to go ahead with the pregnancy who will be ultimately responsible for the financial and emotional cost of raising the child should also be discussed in advance. Many would be cuckolds are encouraged to sign financial agreements with their spouses (usually with more benefits payable to the female) which determine what happens should the female get pregnant and a child is born and also what happens if the husband decides to leave the wife after starting the lifestyle. A financial agreement acts like a 2 edged sword, as if the cuckold is not keen on signing it, it is a clear sign that the cuckold is not really prepared for the lifestyle and pursuing that direction is likely to lead to the failure of the marriage or relationship. If the cuckold signs the agreement it benefits all parties as it avoids litigation costs should the situation occur. Many cuckolds are also encouraged to have a vasectomy done to avoid the confusion of who the biological father is if the pregnancy occurs.

Emotional risk, There is a possibility that the male partner can get jealous about the amount of attention his partner is getting from her lover and the female partner is likely to reduce the attention or importance she gives to the husband/male partner. The relationship is likely to fail in this scenario if the cuckold is not able to handle this situation. There is also a risk that the female partner might get emotionally attached or attracted to the lover she is mating with and may ultimately lead to the failure of the primary relationship. Once the child finds out his father is not biological this may cause future problems and or complications in the child's life which may lead into adulthood.


Cuckolding can be an experience which couples can enjoy, if the maturity of their relationship can handle it. The primary couples can bond better and become closer by the act of cuckolding. This lifestyle can also suit couples who were previously considering divorcing on physical grounds by keeping the marriage intact while exploring the world outside. Example would be couples who are separated for employment reasons or couples where the prospective cuckold has impotency issues.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Steven M. Platek and Todd K. Shackelford (Eds.), Female Infidelity and Paternal Uncertainty: Evolutionary Perspectives on Male Anti-Cuckoldry Tactics. Cambridge University Press: New York, 2006.
  2. ^ a b "Lifestyle Definitions". 
  3. ^ 'Cuckold' at the Online Etymology Dictionary
  4. ^ a b c Williams, Janet (4 July 2009). "Cuckolds, Horns and Other Explanations". BBC News. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  7. ^ E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
  8. ^ LaGuardia, David P., Intertextual Masculinity in French Renaissance Literature, Ashgate Publishing (Franham, UK 2008) p. 133
  9. ^ Sommer, Matthew Harvey (2002). Sex, Law, and Society in Late Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford University Press. p. 218. ISBN 0-8047-4559-5. Retrieved 2008-07-27. 
  10. ^ "Antropólogo: Heráclito quer ser cabra-macho na cornolândia". Terra Magazine. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  11. ^ "Savage Love: Gentlemen First". 
  12. ^ Ley, David (2009). Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-4422-0031-9. 
  13. ^ Anneli Rufus (Jul 29, 2010). "The Intellectual Sex Fetish". The Daily Beast. Retrieved August 30, 2012. 
  14. ^ Klein, Donald C. (1 Dec 1999). "The humiliation dynamic: An overview". The Journal of Primary Prevention 12 (2): 93–121. doi:10.1007/BF02015214. 
  15. ^ a b Lindner, Evelin, Making Enemies: Humiliation and International Conflict. London, England: Praeger Security International, 2006.
  16. ^ "Sperm Wars reviewed and Appraised". 
  17. ^ Birkhead, TR; Martínez, JG; Burke, T; Froman, DP (Sep 7, 1999). "Sperm mobility determines the outcome of sperm competition in the domestic fowl". Proceedings. Biological sciences / the Royal Society 266 (1430): 1759–64. doi:10.1098/rspb.1999.0843. PMC 1690205. PMID 10577160. 
  18. ^ Baker, Robin (1996). Sperm Wars, the Science of Sex. Diane Books Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7881-6004-2. 
  19. ^ Harris, CR (January 2002). "Sexual and romantic jealousy in heterosexual and homosexual adults". Psychological Science 13 (1): 7–12. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00402. PMID 11892782. 
  20. ^ Wolcott and Hughes, Working paper No. 20, Australian Institute for Family Studies, 1999, p. 8.