Dissertation Abstracts


Author: Walker, Alicia , AliciaWalker@MissouriState.edu
Department: Sociology
University: University of Kentucky, USA
Supervisor: Dr. Claire Renzetti
Year of completion: 2015
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: women , infidelity , clandestine , extramarital
Areas of Research: Family Research , Women in Society


The purpose of this study was to examine the experiences and meaning-making of women who intentionally sought out an outside partner online. Using a sample collected from Ashley Madison, a niche online dating site catering to married individuals seeking an affair partner, the researcher collected interview data from 46 women between the ages of 24-65 located across the country. Most of the women in sample reported having children, and more than half of the sample reported their marriages as either sexless or having sexual activity which did not result in an orgasm for themselves. This predominately White, married sample provided in-depth data on their experiences with outside partners and how those relationships work alongside their primary one. All of the participants spoke of the power of feeling wanted and the force of knowing the freedom to explore sexual personalities and interests their role as ‘wife’ did not permit. Findings reveal that the women perceive their outside partnerships as providing a level of freedom to be a different self that their primary partner did not. Many women opt to juggle multiple outside partners concurrent to their primary partnership. For the women in this study, the recognition that they could not get all of their needs met by their primary partners was a critical one. The women reported that their outside partners help them manage their emotional life and emotional responses to their primary partner. These relationships not only served as a break from their daily responsibilities, they soothed the women’s often wounded self-esteem, damaged by their primary partner’s rejection. Ultimately, the women in this study rejected the binary proposition of marriage, which assumes that we either work on our marriage and remain monogamous within it, or we break up the relationship and take up other relationships. These women retained the master status and privilege associated with their primary partnership, but they secretly reject the social norm of marriage as monogamous. Through this experience, they redefine “commitment” to mean a resolution to remain in the primary partnership. Thus, under this paradigm, sex and even emotional intimacy with another partner does not violate their commitment. The women in this study conceive of an alternate solution to a primary partnership that is not wholly working, where their own needs are ignored, unmet, and not prioritized. Ultimately, for the women in this study, outside partnerships are a workaround to avoid the pain, inconvenience, financial ramifications, and stigma of divorce. Thus, the women in this study are engaging in secret defiance of the expectations of marriage and primary partnerships.