Jill Pennington has breached lockdown twice to have illicit sex with her married lover. She doesn’t feel guilty about either the affair or her violation of social isolation rules.
The fact is, she insists, there is nothing clandestine about her six-and-a-half-year relationship with Paul (not his real name): his wife is well aware of his infidelity.
‘Paul’s wife knows who I am and I certainly know who she is. She knew about me two weeks after we began seeing one another,’ explains Jill, 52, who owns a glamping site and lives in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire.
Jill Pennington has breached lockdown twice to have sex with her married lover but she doesn’t feel guilty about the affair or her violation of social isolation rules (file image)
‘I don’t feel an ounce of remorse when we happen to bump into one another — because she chooses to stay married. All of our children — my three and her only child — are adults and they know about the situation too,’ she adds.
She is similarly insouciant about flouting the ban on fraternisation between households.
‘After we had both self-isolated for 14 days and knew we were safe, Paul came to my house one afternoon for a couple of hours. Then last week he spent the night with me.
‘I don’t feel guilty or worry about the virus spreading. To the best of my knowledge there haven’t been any cases in our small town and we have both been isolated so we know it’s not possible for either of us to have it.’
Now, in the final part of our groundbreaking series on relationships in lockdown, we discover how mistresses of married lovers are coping with rules that ban clandestine sex — and discover how cheats are proliferating and finding means of self-gratification remotely.
We lift the lid on the furtive online encounters that have been burgeoning since restrictions were imposed, and examine the fallout of both physical affairs and online infidelity.
And we ask: will the coronavirus make us more ethical in our relationships, or create a nation of philanderers?
There is evidence of a rise in online duplicity this April compared with last.
Will the coronavirus make us more ethical in relationships, or create a nation of philanderers? Couples have had time to think about their affairs during lockdown (file image)
Jessica Leoni, of the dating site Illicit Encounters, says this escalation in remote sex suggests there will be an upsurge in the real thing once lockdown is lifted.
‘When we get over this crisis there is going to be a lot of sex going on,’ she says. ‘It will be like the Baby Boom after World War II all over again.
‘Cheats are frustrated stuck at home. They are bickering with their partners and seeking fresh relationships elsewhere.
‘Our own surveys have shown a sharp rise in Skype and FaceTime affairs, with cheats having video sex sessions with new partners on their phones, laptops and home computers.
12% of middle-aged women (35-44) find sexual fantasies more erotic than pornography when they want to get in the mood
As soon as lockdown ends, there will be a huge rise in the number of physical affairs.’
The pandemic, Jessica believes, is also sharpening the resolve of those in unhappy marriages to ‘start afresh’ when lockdown ends.
Of the women who admitted they don’t love their partner any more, our survey found that 20 per cent are considering ending the relationship when lockdown is over.
Consultant clinical psychologist and sexologist Janice Hiller is not surprised about the huge rise in remote sex.
‘The thrill of that initial “meeting” with someone online raises levels of dopamine, the motivation/drive chemical in the brain,’ she says.
Jessica Leoni, of the dating site Illicit Encounters, says the pandemic is sharpening the resolve of those in unhappy marriages to ‘start afresh’ when lockdown ends (file image)
‘Then there is the excitement of waiting for the next clandestine meeting, a sense of feeling energised.
‘But make no mistake: although there is no physical contact, it is still infidelity. You are forming a strong connection with someone outside your primary relationship and it is injurious.
‘The person cheating will betray signs of lack of interest in his partner. He’ll become distracted; he’ll seem uncomfortable. The tell-tale signs are taking the phone everywhere he goes — even into the bathroom — and hanging up abruptly.
‘Research shows people do tend to justify these online encounters to themselves. They will shrug them off as “harmless fun”. After all, they’ll argue, they are not meeting anyone or taking things further. But they are behaving dishonestly and it is a breach of trust.
‘Their partners are likely to feel incredibly hurt and upset. Their reactions are often just as strong as if there had been actual physical intimacy. They experience a profound sense of betrayal. If they have very low self-esteem it can lead to depression, even panic attacks.’
Is there such a thing as an affair that hurts no one? Jill Pennington would argue that there is.
She says she was reluctant to start dating Paul, who first asked her out at Christmas 2013, even though he was separated from his wife and living back with his mother at the time.
Initially she turned him down, but then succumbed: ‘Even though he ended up returning home and back into the marital bed, we continued to see one another,’ she says. ‘At times it hasn’t been easy, but then what relationship is?
‘Sexually we are incredibly compatible. I’m not ashamed to admit I enjoy sex — and, far from being awkward, it was great fun exploring each other for the first time. That’s why I knew without hesitation that I wanted to continue seeing him.+8
Ms Leoni also said there has been an escalation in remote sex since the start of the pandemic, which suggests there will be an upsurge in the real thing once lockdown is lifted (file image)
‘Six years later, we know each other well enough to have a cosy routine. We chat every day. He runs an agricultural business and the hours are long, so he works every day including weekends.
‘Before the lockdown, we would grab a few hours here and there. Sometimes he would visit early in the morning, sometimes he just appears in the middle of the night. I would see him three or four times a week for sex.
How about since lockdown?
‘We didn’t have an upfront conversation about the impact it would have on our relationship because we initially had no idea how serious it was,’ Jill says, ‘although we knew it would mean we’d have to see less of each other.
‘We live 15 minutes apart in different villages. The lockdown here is strict, with regular police patrols. As a result we’ve only seen each other twice in five weeks.
‘Even so, the situation hasn’t really tested things between us because we’re used to having “restricted access” to one another. That’s why my feelings for him haven’t changed and I know his are the same.
‘We have been together so long it’s like a marriage. Occasionally I have wondered how things would be if we lived together — but then I pull myself together and realise that’s not for me.
‘My daughter is back from university and living with me. We’re busy ensuring that when we can eventually open for business, we’re ready. It’s a good way to ensure the time flies.
‘If anything, the pandemic has me realise I want to see more of him. But I still have no desire to live with him. It would spoil things. His wife apparently was worried that he would leave and choose to live here.
‘Paul might be married on paper but emotionally and physically he belongs to me. Coronavirus won’t change that. I know I’m loved and cherished by this wonderful man. My motto is that we have only one life and I fully intend to enjoy it.’
Is Jill right to absolve herself of guilt about her affair?
Psychotherapist Leila Collins, who practises privately in North London, is adamant that such relationships are destructive: there is no circumstance in which they are to be condoned. Her sympathies lie with Paul’s wife.
Consultant clinical psychologist Janice Hiller is not surprised about the rise in remote sex and says the thrill of an initial online “meeting” raises levels of dopamine (file image)
‘There is no such thing as a wife who doesn’t care about an affair,’ says Leila. ‘She merely looks the other way. And you can’t gain happiness from an illicit relationship at the expense of other people.
‘Neither will your children forgive you. Even if they are grown up, it doesn’t make any difference. You lose their trust and goodwill.
‘Children are very judgmental about betrayal and deceit. They are unlikely to forgive it even if you live to be 100.’
The pandemic, she insists, should not encourage us to seek sexual gratification elsewhere but to focus our minds on the relationships we have.
‘Most people are looking at their partners, seeing them with fresh eyes and appreciating them more than ever,’ she says. ‘They are realising that their children and marriages are far more important than the thrill of an illicit rendezvous with a stranger.
‘When families are losing loved ones in a global pandemic, it’s a good time to reflect on your life and how you are conducting yourself.
‘A lot of couples have stopped picking quarrels because they realise how unimportant trivia is in the grand scheme of things. Thousands are dying, so what does it matter?’ Leila’s hopes chime with our survey of 1,600 women of all age groups throughout the UK, 76 per cent of whom have enjoyed spending more time with their partners since lockdown.
12% of middle-aged women (35-44) find sexual fantasies more erotic than pornography when they want to get in the mood (file image)
‘I hope the pandemic will make couples treasure the person they have,’ says Leila. ‘If you’re having an affair, you are not trustworthy. You have no integrity.
‘I make no apologies for saying this. I see the effects of infidelity on my patients.
‘So I’d urge anyone contemplating an affair at this time of crisis —or at any time — just to evaluate what they have. The grass is not always greener. If you’re married with children, it really couldn’t get any better.’
And she has unequivocal advice for those in the throes of an affair: ‘Either stop it completely or get a divorce.’
For Lucy Johnson and her married lover Alex (not their real names), the coronavirus crisis has certainly had a galvanizing effect.
Lucy, 35, single and an IT consultant from London, has been having an illicit affair with Alex, also 35, for the past 18 months.
They have both decided that after lockdown they cannot continue to drift on as they have been doing.
‘We’ve agreed that once this is over we need to start making some serious decisions,’ says Lucy. ‘Either we take a leap of faith or we stop for good and cut contact.’
Their friendship dates back to childhood: ‘When we were babies, our mothers attended parenting classes together and my attic is full of photographs of us together.
28% of women aged 45-54 living apart from a partner revealed they have had phone sex during lockdown but only 11 per cent have been intimate online (file image)
‘We shared bathtimes, sleepovers, birthdays, trips to the park or the farm. If anyone had told me back then I’d have ended up being his mistress, I’d have been horrified.
‘But here we are, 35 years later and he’s cheating on his wife of five years with me, his lifelong friend.’
She says their wildly different personalities — he is calm and logical; she creative and mercurial — made it seem preposterous that they would ever end up together.
‘But something changed at Christmas 2018. We were in a bar together — just the two of us — having met up for a catch-up, and Alex was asking me why I hadn’t come to his grandmother’s funeral.
‘I hadn’t gone because his wife Sarah, a particularly jealous woman, had banned any of Alex’s female friends from attending. I didn’t want his family to go through the drama of her kicking off, even though we weren’t having the affair at that point.
‘ “She was my Grandma. I needed you,” he said. “You’re the only person my whole life that I’ve ever really needed.” ’
In that moment, Lucy says, ‘our eyes locked and something changed.’ Six months later, he visited her flat one weekend when Sarah was away and they became lovers.
‘One thing led to another and the next thing I knew I was waking up to him making me coffee. I know you’re supposed to remember every detail about the first kiss with your lover but I don’t. All I remember is that it felt like coming home. Like something we should have been doing all along.
‘The two of just fit — I’ve never felt anything like it and I doubt I ever will again.’
Although to begin with Lucy resolved the encounter should be a one- off, her determination evaporated as soon as she saw Alex again.
Lucy, 35, who is single, has been having an affair with Alex, also 35, for 18 months but they have decided that after lockdown they cannot continue as they have been (file image)
They began a routine of covert encounters: ‘Mostly he’ll come to my flat. Sometimes we’ll go away — time our liaisons with trips to see our families in our home town, then add a few sneaky days on the end at a hotel, that nobody will miss.’
Neither of them has breached lockdown, which has added more complications.
‘It has been hard,’ she says. ‘It’s weird what you miss about someone when they aren’t there and you can’t even see them.
‘It’s not the sex — although I do miss that — it’s little things. Alex doesn’t mind it when I guess the ending 15 minutes into a film, or the fact that I struggle to tie my own shoelaces sometimes! Those are the bits about me he loves. I miss his voice and his hugs.
We’ve been texting a lot. I tend to wait for him to contact me, when the coast is clear. He does, without fail. But my heart aches for him all the time and that’s a new feeling.’
This enforced separation has made Lucy re-evaluate her affair. Impelled by a sharpened sense of her own mortality, she is starting to think about what is really important to her. The suburban house and children she once disparaged as ‘boring’ now have more appeal.
‘Living alone and having contact with your lover based on someone else’s schedule is no way to live. It’s no way to love. Not in your 30s,’ she says.
‘I’m not jealous of Sarah but I’m very sad Alex and I can’t share the lockdown experience together.
‘However badly it’s going for them (and it is going badly), that’s a shared experience they’ll have that we never will. And that’s what solid relationships are about, isn’t it? Shared experiences.’22