In the wake of allegations that he spent years watching his wife have sex with another man, Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned this week from his post as president of Liberty University. Falwell has denied the specifics of those allegations, but if they’re true, he would be neither the first nor the last conservative man to take pleasure in sharing his spouse or partner while he looks on, a sexual practice known more commonly as “cuckolding.” In fact, a disproportionate percentage fantasize about just that happening to them.

They’re not alone, of course. Cuckolding routinely ranks among the top searches on the world’s biggest porn sites, as reported by neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam in their book “A Billion Wicked Thoughts,” for which they analyzed the contents of hundreds of millions of Internet searches. But as my own research has shown, reports of that sexual fantasy exhibit a surprising ideological pattern. For my book “Tell Me What You Want,” I studied the sexual fantasies of 4,175 Americans from all 50 states. I asked my participants to report how often they fantasized about hundreds of different people, places and things — including cuckolding.

A majority of heterosexual men (52 percent) said they had fantasized about watching their partner have sex with someone else. Heterosexual men who identified as Republican were the most likely to report having had a cuckolding fantasy at some point — and they fantasized about it more often than Democrats. Fewer than half of Democratic straight men (49 percent) reported having ever fantasized about cuckolding, and 19 percent said they fantasize about it often. By contrast, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of heterosexual Republican men reported having had this fantasy, and 30 percent said it is a frequent fantasy. Republican men also reported more fantasies about infidelity, swinging and a wide range of sexually taboo activities, including voyeurism.

One way to understand why these desires are so much more common for conservative men is through what sex therapist Jack Morin termed “the erotic equation,” which he spelled out as follows:

Attraction + Obstacles = Excitement

The basic premise here is intuitive: When we are told we cannot do something that we want to do — even if we do not have a particularly strong desire for it — those restrictions make us want to do it even more. Violating taboos creates risk — and taking on a certain amount of risk can heighten arousal and excitement. This is precisely why public sex (or semipublic sex) was another extraordinarily popular fantasy in my survey: The thrill of potentially being caught in the act amps up the intensity of the situation.

Because those on the right tend to have more restrictions placed on their sexuality in general, it stands to reason that they have access to plenty of potentially appealing taboos. And among those many paradoxically pleasurable roadblocks to sexual gratification, cuckolding is one of the most prominent. They are really, really not supposed to let themselves become cuckolds, let alone to long for it.

According to this logic, a man who shares his wife with another man doesn’t just violate social and moral dictates for monogamy, but he also violates traditional notions of masculinity. In the eyes of many men, cuckolding is the ultimate form of emasculation. This sentiment is precisely why many on the right have taken to using the term “cuck” to denigrate men they see as giving up their own power and control, or humiliating themselves. It is also why many of them use the term “cuckservative” to refer to conservative men they see as caving to the left.

It may, paradoxically, be precisely because of all this that cuckoldry fantasies are so appealing. People on the right tend to place a very high value on their freedom. For example, consider conservative views on wearing masks during the covid-19 pandemic: Surveys find that Republicans are more likely to refuse to wear masks than Democrats, citing it as an attack on their liberty. This tendency is an effect of the psychological concept known as reactance, the idea that when one’s individual freedoms are threatened, one tries to reassert autonomy and independence.

Resistance to restrictions, in this mode, becomes a way to reassert personal freedom, and that’s a big deal for those on the right. As the mask resisters show, conservatives may be willing to put themselves at risk to merely assert the fact of their freedom. Likewise, it seems possible that some are open to violating erotic norms — even those that might expose them to mockery or humiliation — to demonstrate to themselves that they’re not bound by the rules. While such behaviors may seem to contradict the expectations and norms espoused by those who practice them, they actually serve to reaffirm a more fundamental conservative value, the emphasis placed on freedom itself.

With all of that said, it is certainly not the case that all Republicans and conservatives are fantasizing about cuckolding or other taboo sexual activities, nor is it the case that they’re alone in expressing such wishes. As I report in “Tell Me What You Want,” one of the kinks that Democrats report more often than Republicans is BDSM: bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism. In other words, those on the left fantasize about things like power play and rough sex more than those on the right. For Democrats, subverting ideals of equitable and fair power relations is a major taboo. The same could be said for visualizing a scenario in which the lines of sexual consent might not be explicit. After all, people on the left tend to be much stronger supporters of the #MeToo movement and have more vocally advocated for models of enthusiastic sexual consent. Flirting with this taboo may therefore be why BDSM is more tantalizing for them.

In short, while the specific content of our sexual fantasies and the particular activities we pursue in our bedrooms may differ to some degree according to our political affiliations, the factors that feed our erotic desires might not be so different after all.