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A cuckold is the husband of an adulterous wife; the wife of an adulterous husband is a cuckquean. In biology, a cuckold is a male who unwittingly invests parental effort in juveniles who are not genetically his offspring. A husband who is aware of and tolerates his wife's infidelity is sometimes called a wittol or wittold.
History of the term
English usage first appears about 1250 in the medieval debate poem The Owl and the Nightingale. It was characterized as an overtly blunt term in John Lydgate's "Fall of Princes", c. 1440. Shakespeare's writing often referred to cuckolds, with several of his characters suspecting they had become one.
The word often implies that the husband is deceived; that he is unaware of his wife's unfaithfulness and may not know until the arrival or growth of a child plainly not his (as with cuckoo birds).
A related word, first appearing in 1520, is wittol, which substitutes wit (in the sense of knowing) for the first part of the word, referring to a man aware of and reconciled to his wife's infidelity.
An abbreviation of cuckold, the term cuck has been used by the alt-right to attack the masculinity of an opponent. It was originally aimed at other conservatives, whom the alt-right saw as "insufficiently committed to racism and anti-Semitism", according to The New York Times.
Metaphor and symbolism
In Western traditions, cuckolds have sometimes been described as "wearing the horns of a cuckold" or just "wearing the horns". This is an allusion to the mating habits of stags, who forfeit their mates when they are defeated by another male.
In Italy (especially in Southern Italy, where it is a major personal offence), the insult is often accompanied by the sign of the horns. In French, the term is "porter des cornes". In German, the term is "jemandem Hörner aufsetzen", or "Hörner tragen", the husband is "der gehörnte Ehemann".
In Brazil and Portugal, the term used is "corno", meaning exactly "horned". The term is quite offensive, especially for men, and cornos are a common subject of jokes and anecdotes.
Rabelais's Tiers Livers of Gargantua and Pantagruel (1546) portrays a horned fool as a cuckold. In Molière's L'École des femmes (1662), a man named Arnolphe (see below) who mocks cuckolds with the image of the horned buck (becque cornu) becomes one at the end.
In Chinese usage, the cuckold (or wittol) is said to be "戴綠帽子" dài lǜmàozi, translated into English as 'wearing the green hat'. The term is an allusion to the sumptuary laws used from the 13th to the 18th centuries that required males in households with prostitutes to wrap their heads in a green scarf (or later a hat).
The Greek hero Actaeon is often associated with cuckoldry, as when he is turned into a stag, he becomes "horned". This is alluded to in Shakespeare's Merry Wives, Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, and others.
Cuckoldry as a fetish
Unlike the traditional definition of the term, in fetish usage a cuckold is complicit in their partner's sexual "infidelity"; the wife who enjoys cuckolding her husband is called a cuckoldress if the man is more submissive.[page needed] The dominant man engaging with the cuckold's partner is called a bull. If a couple can keep the fantasy in the bedroom, or come to an agreement where being cuckolded in reality does not damage the relationship, they may try it out in reality. However, the primary proponent of the fantasy is almost always the one being humiliated, or the "cuckold": the cuckold convinces his lover to participate in the fantasy for them, though other "cuckolds" may prefer their lover to initiate the situation instead. The fetish fantasy does not work at all if the cuckold is being humiliated against their will.
Psychology regards cuckold fetishism as a variant of masochism, the cuckold deriving pleasure from being humiliated. In his book Masochism and the Self, psychologist Roy Baumeister advanced a Self Theory analysis that cuckolding (or specifically, all masochism) was a form of escaping from self-awareness, at times when self-awareness becomes burdensome, such as with perceived inadequacy. According to this theory, the physical or mental pain from masochism brings attention away from the self, which would be desirable in times of "guilt, anxiety, or insecurity", or at other times when self-awareness is unpleasant.
In contrast, a related but distinct fetish is the so-called "stag and vixen" scenario, in which the non-promiscuous partner is not humiliated, but actively enjoys seeing their partner have sex with others with no masochistic element involved.
In Islamic cultures, the related term dayouth (Arabic: دَيُّوث) can be used to describe person who is viewed as apathetic or permissive with regards to unchaste behaviour by female relatives or a spouse, or who lacks the demeanor (ghayrah) of paternalistic protectiveness. Variations on the spelling, including dayyuth, dayuuth, or dayoos. The term has been criticised for its use as a pejorative while also suggestive of acceptance of vain paternalistic gender roles, stigmatization of sexuality or overprotective intrusive sexual gatekeeping.
- Beta male (slang)
- Crime of passion
- Cuckoldry in fish
- Erotic humiliation
- Female dominance
- Female promiscuity
- Feminization (activity)
- Human sperm competition
- Non-paternity event
- Open marriage
- Paternity fraud
- Polyandry, marriage to plural husbands
- Pregnancy fetishism
- Steven M. Platek; Todd K. Shackelford, eds. (2006). Female Infidelity and Paternal Uncertainty: Evolutionary Perspectives on Male Anti-Cuckoldry Tactics. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139458047.
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Cuckolding can also be mixed with other non-monogamous relationship arrangements with which it has substantial overlap such as swinging, open relationships, and polyamory. Again, it is distinguished from these concepts in that cuckold's thrill in their partner's acts is specifically masochistic
- Baumeister, Roy (2014). Masochism and the Self. New York: Psychology Press. ISBN 978-1138876064.
- Reid, Rebecca (2018-06-04). "Stag & vixen sex is super popular - but what is it?". Metro. Retrieved 2022-05-24.
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- Media related to Cuckold at Wikimedia Commons
- The dictionary definition of cuckold at Wiktionary
- Una McIlvenna (December 20, 2017). "From the 16th-century to men's rights activists: The history of the insult 'cuckold'". ABC. Retrieved December 20, 2017.