The Erotic Silence of the American Wife

Dalma Heyn - The Erotic Silence of the American Wife

By Dalma Heyn

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Told in women’s own words, this revolutionary book broke the silence surrounding women and adultery

Dalma Heyn knows that wives have affairs—and why. She’s spoken with hundreds of women who, desperate to break free of their quest to be the stereotypical “perfect wife,” have reluctantly looked outside their marriages to find the pleasure and connection that eluded them. Her extensive first-person interviews and compelling case stories present a nuanced view of women’s sexuality and marriage. Heyn contextualizes these stories with a critique of the cultural expectations placed on women by literature, experts, the institution of marriage, and themselves.

Shocking and revelatory, The Erotic Silence of the American Wife is a groundbreaking book as vital to understanding marriage—and its unspoken effects on women’s and men’s relationships—as it was when it was first published.

This ebook features an introduction by Dalma Heyn and an illustrated biography including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.


Read an excerpt


Women having, or about to embark on, an extramarital affair will find emotional support in Heyn’s nonjudgmental profiles of adulterous wives. From her own informal survey, she concludes that affairs may improve some marriages, particularly those in which women aspire to the idealized role of the “perfect wife.” Sex columnist for Mademoiselle, Heyn uses interviews and case histories to glowingly portray wives who, in their secret romances, feel powerful, equal, reintegrated with their sexual selves. She wrestles with the question of whether a wife should tell her husband about an affair and analyzes the varied effects of adultery on marriage. This formulaic book is buttressed by literary examples ranging from Flaubert to Erica Jong, and by frequent summaries of other studies of marriage and adultery.
Publishers Weekly

This book is about women in adulterous relationships. Using data from first-person interviews, Heyn explodes the usual myths about why women have extramarital affairs. Within a society that believes women have affairs only if they are bad women, or if their husbands “deserve” it, etc., and that adulterous wives feel overwhelmingly guilty as a result, Heyn uncovers a different tale. Women who expected themselves to be monogamous and committed to being perfect wives found themselves, for varying reasons, in extra-marital relationships that brought them much pleasure; a renewed sense of sexuality, vitality, and autonomy; and very little guilt. Readers, especially women, will find the book interesting and thought-provoking.
Library Journal

Through interviews with married women of various ages who have had affairs, Heyn, a Mademoiselle columnist who’s worked in women’s magazines for 20 years, takes a fresh look at female adultery — which she claims is on the rise — and attempts to explode some common beliefs about women and sex (among them, that women are monogamous by nature and that happily married women don’t have affairs). Without claiming to have conducted a scientific study, Heyn draws on anecdotal material that seems to point to a new insistence on sexual pleasure for married women — whether achieved within the marital framework or outside of it. Most of the women queried acknowledge burying their sexual past when they got married and buying into what Heyn calls “the myth of romantic marriage.” Victims of a “Donna Reed” syndrome — trying to be the perfect wife — they begin to experience a loss of self. Eventually, given the opportunity, they attempt to regain their individuality in sexual affairs. Generally, these affairs empower and revitalize the women — who have no regrets. What’s groundbreaking about Heyn’s survey, then, is its indication that women are less willing today to sacrifice their happiness for an ideal (i.e., a monogamous marriage) that, at least in these cases, doesn’t fulfill their needs. Women apparently can love two men at once, and they can love their spouse and have sex with someone else, just as men allegedly do. And an affair can act as a catalyst for positive change.
Kirkus Reviews

“Provocative . . . a study of married women who have affairs and don’t regret them one bit.”

“With the skills of a novelist, Heyn has captured complex, insightful women who are bringing a new dimension to ‘having it all.'”
New Woman

“A whisper of what goes on behind the closed doors of a marriage . . . a thought-provoking look at the taboo topic of women’s sexuality . . . sure to trigger a cross-fire of controversy.”
Milwaukee Journal

“Heyn addresses the sexual double standard as well as current myths about female sexuality.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

“One hell of a good read.”
Larry King, USA Today

“This is a provocative, even a subversive book. Another installment of the many untold stories of women’s lives in and out of marriage.”
Nancy K. Miller, author of The Heroine’s Test

“Because patriarchy has restricted women’s bodies as the means of reproduction — and then assumed these restrictions to be ‘natural’ — we have little idea what female sexuality really might be. Dalma Heyn shows us a new reality and a tantalizing hint of the future — and neither women nor marriage will ever be the same.”
Gloria Steinem

The Erotic Silence of the American Wife is a far more important and
revolutionary book than it would have been a mere fifteen years ago — or in
any culture that has achieved some measure of sexual honesty. Heyn reminds us, in intelligent, reflective tones, that women are sexual beings and that, for women as well as men, sex is a fundamentally lawless creature, not easily confined to a cage.”
Barbara Ehrenreich, Mirabella

“Another silence broken — it’s about time women gave voice to all their dimensions, including the erotic, without shrinking in guilt.”
Gail Sheehy

“Heyn . . . has not only gone the distance but surpassed herself . . . Read the book. It smashes old myths and gives reader brave new insights and freedoms. Read it from the beginning to the end. I did. In one day. I couldn’t put it down.”
–Frances Lear, Lear’s

“Dalma Heyn exposes the lie that men, by nature, play around and women, by nature are monogamous. based on interviews with women who cheerfully embrace sex outside their often happy marriages and . . . smart thinking on the part of the author about why this is so and what it means, Heyn’s book is a deeply provocative breath of fresh air.”
–Louise Bernikow, Cosmopolitan