Can Jealousy Be a Turn On?

what turns you own?

What do oysters, chocolate, and pomegranates have in common?

They are all thought to be aphrodisiacs. But what if I asked you to consider adding a non-food item to the list? And what if it’s something you might think of as a bucket of cold water on the fire of lust, rather than something that can stoke the flames?

I won’t keep you guessing any longer: I’m talking about jealousy.

Can Jealousy Be a Turn on?

As you know, an aphrodisiac is something that puts you in the mood for love-making when you weren’t already there. So let’s explore how a facet of jealousy can arouse you and make you want your mate when you might’ve least expected it.

What woke one couple out of what they feared would become a sexless marriage

Gabriel and Marla are in their 40s and have been married for 12 years. They have two children, ages eight and four. Marla is a recruiter for an east coast university and Gabriel is a music teacher. Needless to say, they are extremely busy with the demands of their day-to-day lives. They described their marriage as a solid one, though Marla added, biting her lip, “I’m worried it’s become somewhat of a sexless marriage.” Appearing embarrassed to be talking about this in front of a third party (me), Gabriel objected. “Not true,” he said. “Sexless? C’mon, Marl, that’s an exaggeration.”

“Okay,” Marla conceded, “not completely devoid of sex. But when did we last make love, Gabe? Six weeks ago? Maybe eight weeks, actually. That’s way too long for me.”

“True,” he said, seeming to relax into the idea of discussing this, “I’d like it more often, too. But sex isn’t the only thing that matters in a relationship. We have something special between us. We have a strong marriage.”

Marla nodded. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t work on this issue. It’s important to me. I feel closer to you when we make love. I don’t want to feel like just your housemate.”

Can familiarity breed complacency in marriage and intimate relationships?

We explored all the typical culprits for what they determined was infrequent lovemaking (Marla’s work travel schedule, the demands of their young family, exhaustion), and once they determined that those weren’t the prevailing factors for why they weren’t making love more often (“We have plenty of nights where we’re both at home and yet neither of us makes a move so we just watch TV or read,” Marla said. “We’ve become complacent in the bedroom.”), we had to look elsewhere.

We moved to talking about the positive aspects of their marriage. They agreed that they felt very secure with each other. They described liking that feeling of familiarity, even finishing each other’s sentences at times, often being able to predict what the other would do or say. Therefore, they weren’t pleased when I asked them to consider whether that familiarity might be part of the problem.

“That’s crazy!” Gabriel said. “The fact that we know each other so well is a good thing!”

Marla agreed with him. “It took us 12 years of marriage and two years of dating to get to this point. It’s part of what makes our marriage so strong. We know everything about each other, and we like it that way.”

And I agreed with both of them. “You’re right, Gabriel, the fact that you know each other so well is a good thing. And yes, Marla—part of the reason you have a strong relationship, one where you can safely explore this very issue, is because you have this level of familiarity between you. However, what we’re questioning today is why you’re not having as much sex as you’d like. And I’m just asking you to look at the possibility that the familiarity that nurtures your relationship overall might be taking the edge off your sex life.”

They did not want to explore that, and actually, they didn’t want to explore any more at all that day. They left in a huff. In my experience, couples that have that kind of strong reaction to something posed in a session often (but not always) are pushing it aside because it contains some kernel of truth, albeit a truth they are not ready to look at.

Still, my job is not to force people to address something they’re not ready to address. So I respected Marla and Gabriel’s decision to put the counseling on hold for awhile.

But (you guessed it), the story isn’t over….

“I saw a side of my wife I never knew existed…and it was a big turn on.”

A few months later, Marla and Gabriel returned to my office, clearly eager to talk. They were holding hands and beaming. They took turns telling me about a trip they took recently. Marla naturally travels a great deal for work, and Gabriel typically stays at home with the kids, but this time he asked his mom to watch them so he could accompany Marla. “We figured we deserved some alone time,” he explained.

They planned to enjoy Miami when Marla wasn’t busy with work commitments. One day Gabriel was waiting for her morning seminar session to end so they could go to lunch. The conference room doors opened and people streamed out, but no Marla. He stepped into the doorway and peered into the large room, looking for her.

He saw her in the corner, talking to a man, presumably someone who attended the seminar since he was wearing a name tag and had a folder stuffed with papers under his arm.

“They were the only people in the room, and they were talking and laughing,” Gabriel told me, “and instead of getting annoyed with Marla that she wasn’t packing up her stuff so we could go to lunch together, something else happened the more I watched their interaction…I got turned on.”

“Afterwards,” Marla added, “he asked me if I was flirting with the guy.”

“How did you answer that?” I asked.

She giggled. “Well, at first I thought he was accusing me of something, rather than just asking. But once I realized something else was going on, something that might be good, I told him the truth: I guess I was doing a little bit of ‘innocent’ flirting once I caught on that the man was flirting with me, but I reassured Gabe that he had nothing to worry about. I am totally loyal to him.”

“When I saw her with that guy,” Gabriel said, “saw her touching his arm when she made a point, laughing at something he said, leaning toward him when he spoke…well, I felt a twinge of jealousy. That was no surprise. What was a surprise was that seeing her that way, as a sensual, sexual person apart from me, as someone who might have interest in someone else as well as men having an interest in her (and it was clear that guy was totally into her), made me feel aroused.”

He went on. “Don’t get me wrong: I always knew Marla was a beautiful, vibrant woman and that men would recognize that and be drawn to her. But having an intellectual understanding of that is very different from witnessing it. And witnessing it was hot for me!” He squeezed her hand. “She does this thing when she’s excited ‘in that way.’ This thing where she curls her hair behind her ear and leaves her hand up there a little longer.”

“I’m not even aware I do that,” she added.

“It drives me crazy,” Gabriel admitted. “And she was doing it while talking to that man in the conference room, and I realized then that I hadn’t seen her do it in awhile. I also realized that what you said, Doc, about maybe our familiarity being the thing making our sex ho-hum could be true. Because seeing this side of Marla out in the world made me have this incredible hunger for her. It was wild.”

“After that, we ended up seeing a lot of our hotel room, but not much of Miami,” Marla said. “And I missed that whole afternoon of the seminar.” She blushed.

“The hottest thing about it,” said Gabriel, “was the way we talked about it, how we revisited it in conversation and it drove me wild, and how that was as powerful as the initial event.”

Marla said that thinking about another woman flirting with Gabriel was not at all arousing for her (“quite the opposite; it makes me anxious”), and he respected that and said what’s powerful for him was seeing Marla in that flirtatious role with a man, not for him to be in that role with a woman. “Maybe I have a little voyeur in me,” Gabriel theorized. “But I guess as long as we both agree on it and it works for us, I don’t have to know the origins.”

We spent some time discussing how Gabriel’s twinge of jealousy wouldn’t have been exciting if he didn’t trust Marla so deeply. “Oh, if she had given me reason to mistrust her,” Gabriel said, “seeing her with that guy would’ve crushed my libido, not sparked excitement in me. So even though part of the turn-on was me seeing her from the outside and not fully knowing her in that moment, it was only possible because of the deep sense of security I have with her.”

Can jealousy ignite a flame in your sex life?

Since there are no two people exactly alike, there are no two relationships exactly alike. And that means there is no one-size-fits-all approach for how to spice up your marriage or relationship. What excited Gabriel and Marla might not work for you. The point is to give yourself permission to think about possibilities and potentials, and consider them in light of your relationship.

Jealousy proved to be an aphrodisiac for Marla and Gabriel, but it is important to note that their particular dynamic (Gabriel getting turned on when he saw Marla as an object of desire for other men, but not vice versa) worked for both of them, and also that it was not a destructive, damaging form of jealousy. Let’s look at the difference between harmful jealousy and seductive jealousy…

When jealousy is toxic:

  • When you do not trust your partner (or vice versa) and therefore feel there is a chance s/he will act on those impulses with someone else, rather than bringing them back to you and the relationship.
  • When the jealousy is used as a disrespectful taunt instead of a mutually-agreed upon enticement. For example, saving the details about something that might make your partner jealous for the middle of an argument and using those details to make him/her feel inadequate. Jealousy should never be used to hurt your mate!
  • When jealously stops turning you on and instead triggers anxiety, insecurity, and suspicion.
  • When jealously feels like a disruption in your daily life and your sex life, instead of a means of enriching your lovemaking and mutual erotic exploration.
  • When one or both of you hates the idea of jealousy as an aphrodisiac but goes through the motions anyway.

When jealousy can spice up your sex life:

  • When you mutually agree upon using jealousy as a fun means of foreplay and seduction.
  • When you trust each other deeply and implicitly and feel secure that this means of sexual play will not result in infidelity.
  • When your relationship is a safe place, safe enough to say if/when you need to stop using jealousy to heighten eroticism.
  • When your union is built upon openness and therefore celebrates mutual exploration.
  • When you regularly check in with each other to find out how the other feels about your sex life and what the other is needing. (Since needs and desires will naturally change, this check-in should not be a one-time event.)
  • When you don’t do away with the familiarity that is so vital to long-term relationships, but instead nurture that and bring in the spice of the unknown at times as well.

Spice Up Your Marriage Sex Tip:

Like anything that can benefit your relationship, this idea can’t be forced. So start by playing with the idea that you may not know everything about your partner and that maybe that can be an enticing thing.

Instead of denying the fact that your partner, in addition to being committed to you, is an individual that garners the attention and admiration and attraction of others, acknowledge it and try to embrace it. See how reflecting upon that feels to you. If it feels safe to do so and if you feel moved to do so, have a discussion about this with your partner and see where it leads. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Until next time,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

(Featured [top] image Flirtatious female turning back” by Stockimages/