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Designing Women S4 E15 Extra Sugar - The Evolution of Fidelity, Its Inverse & the Dreaded “M” Word

Updated: May 9, 2023

This week’s episode was all about infidelity, which opened the door to some (uncomfortably) interesting questions about the origins of monogamy, marriage, cheating–and how our perception of these concepts has changed over the course of human history. It’s messy! So, you know, get messy with us!

Dig deeper with our references:

Come on y’all, let’s get into it!



Salina: Hey, Nikki.

Nikki: Hey, Salina.

Salina: And hello, everyone, and welcome to this week's edition of Extra Sugar. So episode 15 maybe - the Mistress okay - that episode, the one we covered this week.

Nikki: We'll resolve it before our next recording. Maybe I think it's my fault.

Salina: No, I'm sure it's mine because I come up with these. It treated us regardless of the number, okay? Regardless of the number, The Mistress - That's the name of the episode. It treated us to a little bit of a switcheroo where the sugar bakers entangled themselves in a web of I don't know what we call this? 1.0 open Marriage I'm not sure because we don't really know if the husband knew that.

Salina: The wife also, we don't know, but it's possible anyways.

Salina: Both spouses

Nikki: A marriage mystery.

Salina: Yes, both spouses have paramores lovers, friends with benefits.

Salina: I don't know.

Salina: The episode calls Gabby a mistress, so we can call Harlan a manstress.

Salina: And Wikipedia tells me that if he's younger and given the Pollard's wealth, her man friend could be a sugar baby, a kept man or a toy boy.

Nikki: I love toy boy.

Salina: Yeah, I've heard.

Salina: Boy toy.

Salina: Toy boy.

Nikki: I think toy boy is the British version.

Salina: Well, I do love the British thing.

Nikki: Where have I heard that?

Salina: It's my toy boy?

Nikki: I've heard that somewhere, but I like it.

Salina: So, for what it's worth, even the dictionary recognizes that the term mistress is outdated, sexist immoralizing.

Salina: So I do not use it lightly, even though I keep using it a lot.

Salina: It's not my fault, but I don't use it lightly.

Nikki: Not lightly, just frequently, just all the time.

Salina: Rather, I thought that this topic could open the door to something uncomfortably interesting because concepts like fidelity raise a lot of questions.

Salina: Questions about monogamy, about morals or culture, what is and is not accepted over time.

Salina: So I'm hoping we can look at all of these things and, as always, ask ourselves why we do what we do.

Salina: I'm not here to advocate one way or the other, but rather to explore the rules that are in place and why we follow them.

Salina: Are the rules fair to everyone involved?

Salina: I think you know, they're probably not.

Salina: Okay.

Salina: They're definitely not.

Salina: Nikki, before we jump in, as always, please be the voice of our audience.

Salina: Please be the voice of you.

Salina: What the hey?

Salina: And let me know, like, do you have questions?

Salina: Do I need to provide you answers?

Salina: I will do my very best.

Salina: Again, this is our 18th hour of recording.

Nikki: Okay, fair enough.

Salina: So let's start with the concept of monogamy or being with one person.

Salina: Whether that's a marriage or not, you're only having sex with one person, and that person is only having sex with you.

Salina: I think we're off to a wonderful start.

Nikki: Sounds delightful.

Salina: Kit Opie, an evolutionary anthropologist from University College London.

Salina: That does not roll off the tongue.

Salina: Okay, kit, are they the one that said toy boy?

Salina: Probably Kit opie.

Salina: You know, they have a toy boy.

Salina: Anyways, so Kit told CNN the modern monogamous culture has only been around for just 1000 years and it may be the predominant choice just and it may be the predominant choice these days, but it is far from universal.

Salina: Polyandry.

Salina: polygony.

Salina: Polyamory and open relationships are practiced in different places around the world.

Salina: Go ahead, say it three times fast.

Nikki: So many polys whoo.

Salina: I read a bustle article that interviewed five experts and I think you'll like what they had to say.

Salina: Yes, monogamy is a social construct, but who cares?

Salina: If it works for you, do it.

Salina: If it doesn't work for you, don't do it.

Salina: It's social science, not rocket science.

Salina: So we constructed it.

Salina: Great, but like, why so there could be a few reasons according to this CNN article.

Salina: But I think once we get through these, the sum up might really be we are nothing if not practical and pragmatic.

Salina: Some researchers think monogamy was a reaction to the proliferation of you'll never guess, but sexually transmitted disease.

Salina: Oh.

Salina: As societies grew larger, so did the chances of getting or spreading STDs, which could cause infertility.

Salina: There were no treatments.

Salina: Blah blah blah.

Salina: Basically, researchers posit that monogamy was instituted as a form of self preservation.

Nikki: I thought you were going to say it was a way to hold women back.

Salina: We'll get there.

Salina: Okay.

Salina: Another theory is that it evolved from males trying to protect their offspring from infanticide.

Salina: It was easier to do that paired up.

Salina: And then the third reason wait, what does that mean?

Salina: Infanticide killing the baby, them killing the baby, other people.

Salina: I don't know if you call it a clan or whatever, but it would be like guys with a person who has a baby and someone else tries to kill that baby.

Salina: What?

Nikki: Who was trying to kill babies?

Salina: That's a thing?

Salina: Oh, gosh.

Salina: Well, this is 1000 years ago.

Salina: So when we were much more like baby killing.

Salina: Well, I just don't think we were much more in our early development of codes, laws, things like that.

Salina: Yeah, people kill babies.

Salina: So the third reason preservation.

Salina: I did not expect that to be the thing that threw you.

Salina: Preservation.

Nikki: I was just trying to follow what the no, why people were killing the babies.

Nikki: And then my mind went to is it because but that didn't make sense.

Nikki: I got some research to you.

Salina: Carry on.

Salina: I didn't look into that.

Salina: But my guess is like, it could be like someone else that could take power from them or something if they're like the lead of a clan or something.

Salina: But the thought is that if they.

Nikki: Had a partner, they were a stronger team protection regardless of the reason the baby was killed.

Nikki: Which I'm going to find out in my research.

Salina: Yeah, okay.

Salina: I encourage you.

Nikki: When you said infanticide, I knew it was killing a baby.

Salina: And I was like, but who's killing babies.

Nikki: It didn't make any sense to me.

Nikki: So then I thought it was the father trying to get the mother to protect him from killing his own baby.

Nikki: Like, hamsters eat their baby hamster, males eat their babies.

Salina: Yeah, I thought that's what it feels like.

Salina: A little bit of a foreign concept now.

Salina: Yeah, no doubt.

Salina: Wild so that third reason is the preservation of wealth through marriage or is again going back to Kit opie, the anthropologist also said, quote, monogamy is a marriage system, not a mating system.

Salina: So marriage also has roots that are more practical than romantical, if you will.

Salina: So marriage for love is only about 250 years old and mutual attraction in marriage is coming in hot at only about a century old.

Salina: Basically not even a blip in the larger history of the world.

Salina: And if you think monogamy and marriage are complicated, wait until you get a load of cheating.

Salina: The myriad of ways we try to unpack it is astonishing.

Salina: But first, what is cheating?

Salina: And I say that because I do think it is subjective.

Salina: If I pulled ten people right now, there would be commonalities, sure.

Salina: But I'm willing to bet there would be a lot of nuances in different lines in the sand.

Nikki: There was an entire storyline recently on King of Queens about cheating where two characters were like, that's not cheating, that's definitely cheating.

Salina: CC you get it?

Nikki: I get it.

Salina: Okay, so Glamour tells me that there are four types of cheating today physical, or what we'll call for the purposes of today's segment, the classic, which is pretty much nailed down by this line from the article while the definition of physical cheating varies.

Salina: The important component is that few of us want to imagine our partner touching or caressing another person on the DL.

Salina: Agreed.

Salina: Then there's emotional, or what we'll call the new kid on the block.

Salina: Not its existence, but perhaps our collective ability to identify this as an issue.

Salina: Emotional cheating is, quote, sharing intimate details about your life or marriage with someone you have an attachment and or attraction to, and it can escalate to something physical.

Salina: Next up, e.

Salina: Cheating, or what we'll call the NSYNC, you know, the digital digital get down.

Salina: Oh, no.

Salina: Digital digital get down.

Salina: Sorry, that's a layered one.

Salina: And also, weren't little kids singing that song back all the time?

Salina: All the time.

Salina: Gross so this occurs when people seek out connection and relationships with people they meet or reconnect with over social networks, dating sites, email or text, you know what I'm saying?

Salina: People are basically trying to slide into them.

Salina: DMs yeah.

Salina: Finally, there's mental cheating, or what I was calling the it's when fantasizing, which can be very healthy, crosses over into concerning territory, and that is that you're consumed with them.

Salina: So, for example, you're always imagining yourself escaping with them when you're with your significant other.

Salina: So not that you've done anything wrong, per se, but it could be a clue that something might be going on in your relationship that you should dig into a little bit.

Salina: So the next thing that I looked into was like, how frequently are people cheating?

Salina: I tell you that this was an uncomfortable set of Googles for me.

Nikki: I bet, yeah.

Salina: And I kept telling bringing Casey into it, I'm like, let me tell you about this weird stuff I'm doing right now.

Salina: It just feels like I should.

Salina: So the numbers were all over the map, ranging from percentages as low as 5% among women to as high as 50% among men.

Salina: Here are a couple of things that I anecdotally noticed on my own.

Salina: Men are cheating more than women.

Salina: Almost universally, across everything that I read.

Salina: People within marriages still cheat, but less so than single people.

Salina: At least one study showed that women cheat for longer once they do cheat, and they're also upset more by emotional affairs.

Salina: Men are more likely to be upset by physical affairs.

Salina: Right.

Salina: But like, why are people cheating?

Salina: I found a 2021 analysis that's not on the list published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy.

Salina: Found eight primary reasons among them, or all of them exactly, if you will, anger, anger, self esteem, lack of love, low commitment.

Salina: I think what you're saying is circulating in these a need for variety, neglect, loneliness.

Salina: We're in there sexual desire, and situation or circumstance.

Salina: Here's what stood out to me.

Salina: Unsurprisingly emotional attachment was significantly more common in those who reported suffering from neglect or lack of love in their primary relationship.

Salina: Participant satisfaction with sex differed depending on the reason for their affair.

Salina: So people reported feeling more sexually fulfilled when they cheated because of desire, lack of love, or a need for variety.

Salina: Rarely did infidelity lead to a real relationship, only one in ten of the people surveyed.

Salina: So a couple of things did surprise me.

Salina: Most participants reported kissing and cuddling, but only half of those who cheated reported vaginal intercourse.

Salina: It's also fair to say that a limitation of the study is that it was mostly heterosexual couples.

Salina: So it doesn't tell us anything about same sex or other relationships.

Salina: Only one in five or 20% of relationships ended because of the affair.

Salina: They gave a myriad of reasons for this that I'm not going to go into, but most of these people wind up saying together.

Salina: So taking the wider view, experts have been cheating on everything from biology, evolution, and anthropology to what I would call increased opportunity, depending on things like community size and technology.

Salina: So if you live in a bigger place, there's less scrutiny, there's more people.

Salina: It's not just math, but there's definitely math in it.

Salina: And then there's things like the Internet.

Salina: And that has at least theoretically, dramatically widened the dating pools.

Salina: But I want to touch specifically on this idea of cultural variation as an explainer for cheating.

Salina: So we were born in the US and in the south and in the Bible Belt and I think that sets us up to think about concepts like monogamy and infidelity in a very specific way.

Salina: So I didn't mention this earlier, but certainly in the software so many people is religion, JudeoChristianity is the experience I can speak from and as the predominant religion in the US, it can wield a lot of influence on the culture at large.

Salina: The 7th Commandment dictates thou shalt not commit adultery.

Salina: So there's not a ton of wiggle room there and yet we are one of many in the world.

Salina: The truth is that different societies view extramarital affairs differently.

Salina: Jealousy also differs.

Salina: So I actually read an example about Danish society and they lean more culturally liberal, including their views on infidelity.

Salina: So having sex doesn't necessarily imply emotional attachment and therefore infidelity doesn't carry such severe negative connotations as it can in the US.

Salina: Thank you, Wikipedia, that was really helpful because this was a hard thing to track back about this cultural variations.

Salina: But that is just one example of how it can vary from being so severe in one place and some places it's like it's just part of life cheating over the years.

Salina: So acceptance of cheating also shifts with time.

Salina: I'm going to use pop culture references that I immediately thought of when thinking about this change over time.

Salina: So the TV show Mad Men, Men of Means had kept women in the city in addition to their wives in the suburbs.

Salina: This was like a foregone conclusion.

Salina: Or I was also thinking about Goodfellas famous quote in that movie.

Salina: Saturday night was for wives, but Friday night at the Copa was for the girlfriends.

Salina: Again, it's lovely, isn't it?

Salina: Again, it's a foregone conclusion.

Salina: It's like part of the culture.

Salina: Yes, one is a TV show and the other is a movie, but these concepts were not plucked from thin air.

Salina: I ran across a 2012 Big Think article that helps put some of this into perspective.

Salina: This first bit I'm going to read directly from the article.

Salina: Here's a snapshot of how various moments in history might have completed this sentence.

Salina: Getting some on the side is blank.

Salina: So in the first instance instance, getting some on the side is dot, dot, dot punishable by death.

Salina: The last person to be hanged for adultery in England was hanged in 1654.

Salina: The latest, and probably not the last woman to die for it in Afghanistan was two weeks ago.

Salina: I don't know who she was, but she's been on my mind.

Salina: Same planet, different worlds.

Salina: So that's directly from the article back to me.

Salina: So two really important things here in history.

Salina: Adultery has meant death.

Salina: That's pretty serious.

Salina: And number two is in some places that's still the case.

Salina: So what someone experiences even today can vary greatly depending on where they are.

Salina: The article talks about the 17 hundreds as an interesting moment.

Salina: This was the Enlightenment period and things were more quote unquote pro sex.

Salina: Some historians even thought you were going to say enlightened.

Salina: That too.

Salina: Some historians even label it as the first sexual revolution.

Salina: And because people were no longer punished for adultery, there was suddenly a lot more sex outside of marriage.

Nikki: They adultered.

Salina: That's right.

Salina: So quoted directly from the article, it was a heyday for the mistress, the Kept woman and the Mary Body Houses.

Salina: Little whorehouse in Texas.

Salina: What was the name of that movie?

Salina: Little Texas.

Nikki: Best little whorehouse in Texas.

Salina: There we go.

Salina: Thank you.

Salina: No.

Nikki: The best whorehouse in Texas.

Nikki: Not the little house of horror.

Nikki: Best whorehouse in Texas.

Salina: One of those.

Nikki: It's tough out here.

Salina: Now we just keep saying whores.

Nikki: That's why I called it whorehouse.

Salina: In the 18 hundreds.

Salina: Getting some on the side is described as a best little whorehouse in Texas.

Salina: There we go.

Salina: So moving on to the 18 hundreds, getting some on the side is described as a necessary evil.

Salina: So in this time it's taboo for men and women, but it's definitely still happening.

Salina: It's secretive and therefore was worst for, quote, vulnerable working class women, domestics or prostitutes.

Salina: And I'm just going to say all that makes me real sad.

Salina: Then we move on to another time period.

Salina: Getting some on the side in the Is in the 1940s and 1950s.

Salina: By this time, it's an open secret.

Salina: This is more in line with what I was thinking when I was thinking about Mad Men.

Salina: This idea like where it's known, but not everyone is a willing participant, and for God's sake, don't talk about it.

Salina: By the 1980s, getting some on the side was strictly immoral.

Salina: I don't know if you've heard, we weren't even born yet.

Salina: But my sources tell me it was a pretty conservative time in America.

Salina: So we just went with the strict moral line.

Salina: Then how about today?

Salina: Well, my interpretation of the author's argument is that women have more choices today, both economically and geographically.

Salina: Now more than ever in many places, women have more agency to be a part of the decision making around the kind of relationship they want, monogamous or not.

Salina: I agree it's not the 18 hundreds anymore, but I also think there are miles to go before we sleep.

Salina: And then before we wrap up, I do want to talk specifically about the M word or mistresses.

Salina: So I ran across this book written by Victoria Griffin from 1999.

Salina: It's called the mistress histories, myths and interpretations of the other woman.

Salina: She is actually a self proclaimed mistress and she logically stated, without marriage, there wouldn't be mistresses.

Salina: Marriage has been around a long time and so have mistresses.

Salina: We are reminded of this through quotes like this one from the fourth century BC.

Salina: We have mistresses for our enjoyment, concubines to serve our person and wives for the bearing of legitimate offspring.

Salina: As Griffin also pointed out in her book in this scenario.

Salina: We are defined by men, we are placed in our roles by men, and we exist for men.

Salina: But our feelings on the matter are pretty irrelevant.

Salina: It's not uncommon for the position of the mistress to be romanticized and even glamorized in entertainment, and it's not surprising it has a lot of common trappings something forbidden, the promise of potential luxury, the allure of love and romance, all outside of the shackles and mundane responsibilities of marriage.

Salina: But I get the sense it's not as pleasurable as depicted in art house movies and the seductive pages of novels.

Salina: It reads more like inequality between the sexes and incomes and maybe, just maybe, a false sense of freedom, but with, like, great shoes and an even better apartment.

Salina: The strategy of divide and conquer, as in divide the women and then conquer them, is as old as the art of war.

Salina: And if you think I'm referring to some kind of ancient history like Venetian cortisans, we'll look no further than the problematic realities of mistress culture in China, which were widely reported on here within the last decade.

Salina: And I don't care if you're talking about a mistress or a mastress.

Salina: No matter how you spell it, the word stress keeps coming up.

Salina: Monogamy, non monogamy, whatever you choose, make sure that your chosen partners are willing participants and not pawns in a game they never wanted to play in the first place.

Salina: And that's this week's extra sugar.

Salina: Also, are you enjoying the show?

Salina: Please rate and review us wherever you listen or if you're feeling extra frisky, find more substantial ways to support us from

Salina: Follow us on Instagram Facebook TikTok subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Salina: The choices are endless.

Salina: DM us with your thoughts, or email us at

Salina: We'd love to to hear from.


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