Be honest: have you ever fantasized about having extramarital sex? If there was a completely safe, confidential place for you to indulge in it, would you do it? I'm not talking about hooking up in a shady motel for a three-way or tossing your keys in a bowl at a swinger's party. I'm talking about a luxury, reputable establishment that caters to such desires. No STIs, no psychos following you home and boiling your kid's bunny. Might such a place help you keep your marriage together by letting you fulfil your fantasies in a way that won't come back to bite you in the ass?
M.S. Shadlock's controversial sexual thriller, The Inferno, is about just such an establishment: a "sex hotel and casino" in Las Vegas where you gamble with sex, not money. It explores -- among other things -- what happens when couples push the limits of their sexuality in an effort to spice-up their marriages. Would couples really go to a place like this? Could it really exist? The debate seems to be ramping up on Facebook, at least.
The Inferno boasts that erotic exploration within the hotel, and sexual gambling in the casino, is safe and confidential. In fact, it prides itself on providing an important service to society. After all, singles need a place to hook up and play -- something classier and less risky than the bar -- while couples need a non-threatening way to scratch that bothersome seven-year itch. When you think about it, it makes a twisted sort of sense. Sex is a basic biological need. Isn't it better to satisfy it in a controlled environment than take your chances with disease, unwanted pregnancies, affairs, scandal, family breakdown and divorce? The book is full of such rationalizations and the characters are soon drawn in by them.
The fact is, many long-term couples struggle with boring sex and there is a an entire "spice it up" industry -- from sex guides and adult toys to magazines and websites -- that serves this demographic. It isn't inconceivable that a place like the Inferno could really exist in mainstream society. Indeed, the book's publicity website -- The Inferno, Las Vegas -- looks like a real hotel destination. And life does imitate art.
In real life, many couples do experiment with extramarital sex in an effort to reinvigorate their passion -- or at least dodge divorce. A "threesome" is probably the most common route, although swinging and "open" marriages are other choices. As in the book, couples often rationalize their reasons for trying these things. They might say that it adds variety and prevents boredom, makes affairs unnecessary, satisfies an instinctual need for multiple sexual partners or increases trust between partners.
But such rationalizations have a way of falling apart when the sun comes up. There is a dark side to extramarital sex, even the type that is informed, consensual and carefully arranged. It's a classic case of "it sounded good at the time." Whenever you blend fear (that is, the fear that your relationship is losing its spark) with sexual arousal -- and especially if you wash it all down with alcohol -- your judgment plummets while your chances of doing something you will later regret skyrockets.
My caveat isn't directed toward those who have adopted open marriages or other forms of extramarital recreational sex as a lifestyle -- it does work for some. My caveat is directed toward more mainstream couples who are thinking of experimenting with such activities as a way to fan the flames of a waning sex life. In over a decade of practice as a couples' mediator, I don't think I've ever seen this work out as planned. Human feelings are not always rational. Jealousy, insecurity, regret, guilt, shame and profound sadness are often the emotions that follow consensual extramarital relations. Whatever problems you had before the experience are now compounded by the fallout of the experience itself.
As a sexy and escapist read, The Inferno is great; however, some of the rationalizations about sexual exploration presented by its characters are best left in the world of fiction. Toying with these ideas are fun for their fantasy value, but rarely play out so well in real life. After all, what happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas.
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