Ever since the first caveman or woman looked at their hairy partner while they were sleeping in the cave, or during an argument over some fetid mammoth meat, and thought, 'I can do better', illicit encounters have existed.
The King of England was renowned for his many lovers. Nell Gwynne, an actress and a famous wit, was known by many in society to be his mistress - a fact she did not hide. In fact, she dined out on this, and made it the thing that catapulted her into the upper echelons of 15th Century British society.
You might wonder how secret hookups are going to last for much longer into the future - we all have social media, the internet is omnipresent, and with the Internet of Things looming to take all our TVs, fridges and kettles online, everything becomes a potential spy gadget. Surely there's nowhere in this world of the future for someone to keep a secret? However, rest assured that illicit sexual encounters are as old as time itself, and while we still have skin and a beating heart, we'll still keep wanting to fuck in secret.
For every illicit encounter that takes place when two people just meet in a bar and hit it off, but want to keep it on the down-low, there is an opposite number - a high-class, high-profile, high-pressure hookup between two Hollywood stars who can't let anyone know about their attraction to one another, and who involve a huge web of minders, assistants, publicists, bodyguards, drivers and even lawyers to prevent the press and the public from ever getting to know that in their most secret moments they did together exactly what the rest of us do to one another when nobody's looking.
However, for those of us who don’t have a well-paid coterie or entourage to enable us to do the dirty, the internet has become the place to go. But how has this changed our attitudes towards our relationships, and towards casual flings?
Research published in 2016 by academics Andreas Vossler and Naomi Moller from the Open University’s School of Psychology showed that "relationship boundaries can be blurred online. This means that people in a relationship may be uncertain what online behaviours count as cheating."
The study asked people with experience of internet infidelity for their experiences and how it impacted them, providing insight into how online infidelity is affecting relationships in the 21st century. The findings were based on an anonymous online survey. The study gives these examples of responses to an open question, illustrating the survey respondents' experiences:
"I tried to stop but neither of us could, it would start again and since so easy, with all the technology we carry around it was an amazingly comforting and sexy thing to have. With long working hours an online relationship is like fast food, ready when we are, naughty, cheap, very often eaten alone without the exhaustion of social niceties."
"My ex-husband is inherently a very shy man, but online he is able to act much more confidently and attract the attention of other women. I strongly believe he would not have had so many affairs without the internet."
Of course, there are many reasons to seek out trysts and affairs, and not all of them are because of an off-kilter sexual dynamic. It’s worth asking yourself: Why do you want an illicit encounter? Do you want the power dynamic to reflect well on you? Do you seek control, and find you can have it by not letting your hookup know anything about you? Do you want them to be mysterious - is that what excites you? Is it a game? Secret missions like these are a way to explore fantasies and scenarios that you might not feel comfortable confessing to a partner.
In a relationship, it is important to set boundaries. Just as you, as an autonomous adult, have an idea of what you will and won't ever do - or, if you're not that adamant about your personal limits, at least of what you want and don't want - so it's important to discuss with your partner where your hard stops as a couple are. How much sex would you like to have? How often? What would you like to try? Are there big differences between what you and your partner want out of your sex lives? Is an open relationship off the table? How about polyamory? Is it OK for the more sexually voracious partner to seek experiences outside the confines of the relationship, if they require gratification that their other half is not willing or able to provide? What about if one of you got sick? What about exploring illicit encounters together? What about parties, swinging, threesomes, polyamory? Some of these are potential once-offs, and some of them are lifestyle changes, but only by talking about it can you decide what is right for you.