On the Sly

A few years ago, I started seeing a man twice my age. We’d meet at his apartment in the afternoon, or go for long dinners or drinks at local bars that ended at three in the morning. On one of our first dates, I blew off a girlfriend’s birthday party, making up excuses to keep spending time with him. That was when I realized why my affair was so sexy: I was cheating on my friends. I didn’t tell a single friend about the affair until two months into it, by which time it was almost over. Naturally, they said all the things that made me not want to tell them in the first place: “Is he married?” (no), “Do you love him?” (maybe), and “Where’s it going?” (nowhere long-term). I knew it was dead-end, but it was charged and sexy, mainly because it was mine. There are many secret sluts in New York who lead hidden erotic lives. One girlfriend of mine would regularly go out with men she met on JDate, but on lonely nights, she’d hook up with the beefy Italian counter guy at her local deli. It’s split-personality dating, and it’s more common than you’d think.

“I dated a guy that was really short,” says Sam, 26, an art director. “When we were with my girlfriends, I acted like his friend, but he was awesome in bed. It finally fizzled out because it was too much trouble to keep it secret.” She says her friends would have written him off as “not her type,” so she opted to conceal the relationship.

Of course, sometimes there is a thin line between hot, great sex and hot, guilty sex. Though secret sluts are quick to proclaim that they stay private because they don’t want to be judged, some may be doing it because they are judging themselves—for getting less than they really want from their partner or for sleeping with someone they can’t, or won’t, show in public. Often, those who get us most excited are the ones we feel least comfortable bringing to a party.

Josie, 26, a jewelry designer, has several regular “fuck buddies” she hooks up with on the sly. “Sometimes after a night out with my girlfriends, I tell them I’m going home,” she says. “But then I wink to myself and hook up with one of these guys. It’s nice to have something you can keep to yourself because it makes it sexier.” The secrecy makes the relationship feel more illicit, which adds to the excitement, even when nobody’s cheating.

She had sex with one FB, a musician, at one of his shows, near the stage door between sets. “I didn’t tell anyone because that made it feel more like an affair, and I know for a fact that he didn’t either. A lot of guys don’t talk about their sexual escapades because they don’t need feedback from anyone else. It’s a masculine quality to know how to suppress things.” She points out that her public late-night flings (she’s done it in alleys) are sexually satisfying. “These guys are taking care of me, too,” she says. “I get to live out my fantasies.”

When she tells friends about her hookups, they call her a “man-eater” and seem unable to understand why she does it. So now she stays mum. “I don’t need to hear opinions about my behavior,” says Josie, “because I know why I’m doing it.”

Even within the confines of a monogamous relationship, many women have learned to say less, not more, when it comes to the details. Sam, the art director, told some of her friends that she and her boyfriend were playing around with fruit in bed. “They called me ‘Froot Loop’ after that. I was more embarrassed for them than me, that they thought it was such a big deal. Most women don’t want to know who they are sexually. They think it’s cool to be ignorant.”

Colleen, a divorced 51-year-old marketing consultant, had a yearlong, sexually adventurous committed relationship. She told girlfriends she had discovered sex toys and other products that helped her get in touch with a more liberated side, and they “cringed,” she says. “I thought women in New York were progressive and modern, but mention this stuff and they don’t want to hear it.”

Why was it so important to her to give details? “It was this wonderful experience, and I wanted to share my excitement with them,” she says sadly. “But they don’t want to hear it because they might have to admit they weren’t connected to that side of themselves.”

In cases like this, when a woman wants to confide, the mockery can be downright depressing. “Sometimes I feel like I’m the entertainment for my friends,” says Sam. “It’s like they’re all children laughing at my stories. Every now and then, they’ll have a hookup and it’s great fun and they’ll tell me, ‘Oh, my God, he was smacking my butt! We were getting down and dirty!’ I’m like, ‘Great—if that’s what you think is dirty.’ ”

On the Sly