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Sex, Lies, and Podcast Audio

Jo Piazza’s podcast She Wants More gets women to open up about their extramarital relationships. Photo-Illustration: Vulture

Affairs are in the air these days — or so it seems to Jo Piazza, who feels like she’s been hearing more and more female friends opening up about their extramarital adventures in everyday conversation. “I mean, I’m hearing about it at school drop-offs and on the playground,” she told me on a recent Zoom call. “It feels like something in the Zeitgeist.” Possibly, but it could also just be the specific confluence of her cohort and class: Piazza is 42, lives in Philadelphia, has been married for eight years, and by any metric should be deemed a successful writer and podcaster in that she’s able to do those jobs for a living. Indeed, women appear to have been closing the infidelity gap for a while now, but now that it’s manifesting tangibly to Piazza, she’s come to feel an inexorable pull to explore the subject.

And so she did. Through a podcast, naturally. In She Wants More, an eight-part series produced with iHeartMedia that wrapped up last month, Piazza strings together a collection of interviews with a variety of women who discuss their extramarital experiences, often for the first time. The show is a little bit of Death, Sex & Money, a little bit of Esther Perel (who wrote a book on the topic in 2018, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity), but the podcast’s brevity makes a good case for being an effective primer of sorts on the subject.

She Wants More opens with a story that’s kind of an Ur-text. It follows a white-collar worker who, unsatisfied with the relatively vanilla nature of sex with her husband (she’s interested in rougher play; he’s uncomfortable), embarks upon on a journey through the infidelity matchmaking site Ashley Madison to find an interested (and safe) partner with whom to meet her needs. Speaking with Piazza, she talks through her screening process, which involves making robust spreadsheets (extremely relatable), and then the emotionality and heights of getting into several tightly regimented engagements. As an obsessive person, the tale struck me as hot and steamy for both the infidelity and the rigorous planning.

There’s conceivably a version of the show that mostly sticks to this type of story — along with the undercurrents of class, race, and default norms quietly attached to them — but the series ultimately fans out to illustrate other models of female infidelity. One episode focuses on an older woman from a working-class environment who, feeling isolated in a marriage where her husband’s off at work a lot, realizes an affair more in the form of companionship. Others grapple with open marriages, the argument of affairs as an expression of “self-care,” the role of technology, the potential mess of affairs. There’s a minor academic spine to the construction of the podcast, owing to a clear point of inspiration: Piazza draws heavily on the 1993 ethnography A Passion for More by Susan Barash, who appears on the show as a talking head. She told me that the original idea for the podcast involved adapting the book more directly, using actors to perform the stories compiled by Barash. “But that felt so flat to me,” said Piazza.

So Piazza and her team turned toward conducting original interviews, hitting their networks to get the word out on sourcing real stories for the podcast. “We didn’t have a shortage of women who wanted to talk to us,” she said. “But our biggest concern was making sure we stretched across different ages, backgrounds, races, geographic locations. Like, I didn’t just want a bunch of Brooklyn moms who wanted an open marriage.” The point, she emphasized, was to talk about female desire, infidelity, and expectations around marriage in ways that were expansive and nonjudgmental. Which makes sense: Affairs are as universal as a subject matter as they are infinite in variation.

It was like a dam opening: Since the show’s release, the team has been hearing a lot from listeners weighing in with their own tales. From what they can tell, the messages primarily come from women — but not exclusively. “We’ve also heard a lot from couples who listen to it together,” she said.

Given the seeming overabundance of new stories, you would think producing a follow-up season would be a no-brainer. But circumstances are such that Piazza can’t really be sure. “I don’t think iHeart wants to do them,” she said. “I don’t think the show is necessarily a priority for them.” In fact, after a long-standing production relationship resulting in shows like Committed and Under the Influence, Piazza is parting ways with iHeartMedia altogether. “I want She Wants More to continue, and I will work my ass off to figure out how and where that will happen if iHeart doesn’t want to do it,” she said. “The response from listeners has been so intimate and tremendous I think there is a hunger for this kind of content.”

Piazza’s also been busy with a few other projects. She’s currently finishing up a novel based on the murder of her great-grandmother in Italy, the real story of which she’s trying to develop as a nonfiction podcast later this year, and she’s also producing an upcoming podcast series about Laura Ingalls Wilder hosted by the writer Glynnis MacNicol that’s due out later this year. (That will be her final project with iHeartMedia.)

However, if she were to return to She Wants More, it seems likely that she’ll stay within the realm of affairs. The inherent project of rethinking marriage might logically lead to further explorations of polyamory and open marriages as a sequel, but to Piazza, there’s something particular about affairs as a subject. After all, there’s a distinct steaminess about the secrecy and transgression embedded in stepping out, and that makes for great material.

➽ Speaking of Death, Sex & Money … The WNYC Studios show has partnered up with On the Media for an episode about Tasha Adams, the wife of convicted Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes.

News and Notes

➽ It’s awards season! Well, in a sense, it’s always awards season, except maybe less so right now, given the WGA strike. Anyway: The Pulitzers were announced earlier this week, and the Audio Reporting prize went to Gimlet Media’s Stolen: Surviving St. Michaels. (Relatedly, New York Magazine’s very own Andrea Long Chu bagged the prize for Criticism, which rules.) Stolen was also one of three audio projects announced yesterday that won Peabody Awards, for which, quick disclaimer, I’m a juror. The other two were the On the Media limited-series project The Divided Dial and This American Life’s “The Pink House at the Center of the World.” Congrats to everyone! Full list of Peabody winners here, and Pulitzers here. (Stay True!!)

➽ More Perfect, the Radiolab spinoff all about the Supreme Court, returned with a new urgency last week. How does one tell stories about a powerful legal institution whose legitimacy is being ground into dust — often from the inside? Now hosted by Julia Longoria, this newly revamped More Perfect is going to find out.

➽ Speaking of Radiolab, nice bit of feed drop collab with Allie Ward’s Ologies the other day. A good fit!

➽ Brett Goldstein’s popular movie podcast, Films to Be Buried Withis now affiliated with Will Ferrell’s Big Money Players network. Relatedly, I’ve largely sat out of the current Ted Lasso season. Is it any good?

➽ New Megan Tan joint dropping tomorrow: an Audible original called Now or Never that sees the Snooze and Millennial host serve as dating coach to her mother, who’s in her 70s. Seems adorbs.

➽ Oh shit, there’s a new season of Decoder Ring out?

➽ Quick request: Could you hit me with the most esoteric podcast in your subscription roll? I’m looking for something weird.

Sex, Lies, and Podcast Audio