Sex Cheating Hearts
posted by May 7 at 9:34 AMon
There was a piece in the New York Times “Sunday Styles” section this weekend about the fallout from the Washington Madam scandal—particularly for Randall L. Tobias, the latest Bush administration official to be exposed for a lying sack of shit
Tobias, you’ll recall, was out there stumping for abstinence and insisting condoms don’t provide protection against sexually transmitted infections—and all the while he was visiting prostitutes for “massages.” Just another case of GOP’s sex-ed program, a.k.a. “Abstinence for thee, not for me.”
Anyway, the “Sunday Styles” piece is about what happens when a man gets caught cheating—Mr. Tobias, for example (and for the moment), is a married man. How do couples like Mr. and Mrs. Tobias survive infidelity? How do a husband and wife put the pieces back together after he strays?
The piece doesn’t go into female infidelity. Because as we all know—thanks to Oprah and Dr. Phil—that all cheaters have dicks, all wronged parties have uteruses. “Sunday Styles” queries a panel of female authors, shrinks, and guest experts. (There’s one guy, for window dressing, but he’s not allowed to say much.) The women dissect husbands and boyfriends who cheat and all agree that men suck, cheating is never okay, and nothing can justify it.
The anti-male, anti-sex bias is laid on pretty thick. Take, instance, this graph:
“They have a very healthy sense of denial,” [Norma Hotaling] said [of men that get caught with prostitutes]. “They blame the people they’re in relationships with. ‘My girlfriend won’t do this. My wife is a bitch.’”
Those statements could be rationalizations, sure. Maybe they are most of the time But are they always? Just as some husbands are thoughtless, selfish brutes, some wives are, well, bitches. Some wives aren’t very nice and there have been cases—go with me, Oprah—where men have stayed with women for their kids’ sake or for some other equally legit reason. In these cases, sex lives tend to wither and die and the guys may seek sex elsewhere. (And so may the girls.) Maybe we needed a quote to balance this graph out?
Likewise, some wives simply won’t do things that some husbands don’t merely enjoy, but view as central to their sexual expression. Does that excuse cheating? Well, not in all cases. I urge men into cross-dressing, bondage, feet, etc., who are burdened with non-GGG spouses to get permission to indulge their kinks discreetly—and with pros if the wife is threatened by outside emotional entanglements. There’s a reason why sex workers’ stories about married men confiding in them about the Wives Who Won’t are a cliche: They’re usually true.
Meanwhile in the same issue of the New York Times, Randy “The Ethicist” Cohen tackles a question that touches on issues I’ve been covering in Savage Love lately…
My wife of 30 years and I are in our 60s. A few years ago she asked that we no longer engage in sex. “It’s not such a big deal anymore,” she said. She would not see a doctor or consider other help. I began an affair with a widow. Recently my wife found out and went ballistic. If she can casually renounce sex, can’t I seek it elsewhere?
So the wife cuts the husband, because sex is “not a big deal anymore,” and goes ballistic when she discovers that her husband has gone elsewhere for some no big deals. Randy tells the man that he was at fault for being dishonest—he needed to tell the wife that he would be going elsewhere—but then comes down, appropriately, on the wife…
What your wife wants is not merely fidelity, of course, but the repudiation of what for many people is a profound and exultant part of life. So be it. People change, even about something so fundamental, even when they pledged, at least implicitly, through their conduct, to live in a particular way. Your wife may wish to live differently at 60 than she did at 30…. But she may not unilaterally impose on you the abnegation of erotic happiness.
And that gets to the meat of the matter.
If you expect fidelity then when you marry—or commit to someone for the long-term—then you must take responsibility for your partner’s sexual fulfillment, just as he or she must take responsibility for yours. Yes, there will be dry spells. No one can or must be sexually available at all times. “My wife has the flu” or “my husband threw his back out”—anything that sidelines a partner for a few days, weeks, or even months (like pregnancy, Charles)—is not a justification for adultery.
But being unilaterally cut off from sex, being trapped in a loveless and/or sexless marriage (there are loving, sexless marriages out there), or being denied a kind of sexual expression that’s central to your erotic fulfillment… these things are not “rationalizations” for infidelity.