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June 12, 2013

Sex As Be-All and End-All of Marriage

The Editorial Staff loved this essay by Noah Berlatsky:

How do you maintain desire in a long-term relationship? How can you keep that edge of excitement and danger through long years of monogamy, convention and familiarity? How do you keep rutting like horny adolescents when you're pushing middle-age?

Well now there's a unappealing mental image for the ages. "Get some, Grandpa!" may well be the stuff of which nightmares are made.

Daniel Bergner, author of What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, is asking readers to contemplate such questions at Slate's Double XX. Specifically, he asked, "How can women maintain desire within long-term committed relationships?" In response, readers have written in with a series of predictably titillating responses from the familiar grab-bag of shocking alternative lifestyles and fetish. You've got threesomes, you've got costumes, you've got group sex, and so forth. As of this writing we haven't gotten to bondage or S&M yet, but presumably something along those lines will show up before we're done.

The almost ritual tour of kink suggests strongly that Bergner's question is less an interrogative, and more an excuse. The way the issue is framed—how to maintain desire?—makes the answers inevitable. This is, clearly, good copy—everybody likes to read about sex. But it seems like the predetermined nature of the exercise might, possibly, be leaving something out.

...I read his essay and the responses and I feel like every possible lifestyle choice is validated—except that old, boring one, where you have sex occasionally with your wife and maybe go to Good Vibrations if you're in San Francisco, and generally enjoy your marriage in part because it means you don't have to place desire at the center of your lives. How many people will react to this essay by assuming that my marriage is less stable than I think it is, or by thinking that I'm missing out on real passion and real love and real life? The one sin left, it sometimes feels like, is not being sexy enough.

By far our favorite head exploding comment was this one:

... there are simply too many of us for whom sexual satisfaction is key. For me, it's a pillar of who I am as a man, and whether or not I'm in a committed relationship, I deserve a fulfilling, rewarding, and exciting sex life, period.

When we wonder what has happened to marriage, it might help to look at attitudes like this. How does anyone come to believe they "deserve" a fulfilling/rewarding/exciting sex life regardless of their relationship status? Such self absorption boggles the mind. If you "deserve" something, are others obligated to provide it to you? Or does this simply mean that you're entitled to it, that whole for better or for worse thingy be damned?

Married sex can be many things: joyous or simply comforting, elevating or debasing, magical or tawdry, selfish or generous, cherished or regretted. But a pillar of who we are as human beings?

We must be more screwed up than we thought. We can think of many things that make us who we are, but up until now we wouldn't have said that having an exciting sex life was one of them.

Good Lord.

Posted by Cassandra at June 12, 2013 07:45 AM

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If you "deserve" something, are others obligated to provide it to you? Or does this simply mean that you're entitled to it, that whole for better or for worse thingy be damned?

This has always been my key objection to the leftist view of Rights. To me Rights are something that you have inherent and inalienable to you, not granted to you by someone else, that requires nothing from anyone else. You have a right to your Life, no one is authorized to take it from you. You have a right to your Liberty, to freely travel in public with no "by your leave", to come and go as you please. You have a right to your Property, to gather and dispense as you will. Personally, I think the right of Pursuit of Happiness is the same, boiled down, as Liberty; you have a right to seek happiness as you will. But all these rights have one hard limit, you do not have the right to take these rights away from anyone else. You are free to seek property as you will, but you may not take it from another against theirs. You have a right to travel as you will, but not if it infringes on someone else's rights (normally to their property).

But the leftist view of Rights are generally rights to goods and services. A right to housing, to food, to healthcare, and some even believe they have a right not to be offended. But these rights all require that you be given something that belongs to someone else. For you to have a right to housing, someone else must give of their time and resources to build that house. A right to food requires someone provide that food to you. A right to healthcare mandates that a doctor give of his time to keep you healthy. A right to not be offended requires infringing on someone else's right to speak their mind. All these rights, by their very nature, steal rights from others; either by taking their property to give to you, taking their liberty to do and say as they please, or even taking some of their life (as we all have a limited time on this planet, taking hours of labor from someone without recompense is stealing some of their life). And to me, that's unconscionable.

Posted by: MikeD at June 12, 2013 11:01 AM

Anthony Wiener: Husband, Father, Pillar of the Community

George Washington: "The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government. Just ask Martha."

Pliny the Elder: "Hope is the pillar that holds up the world. Hope is the dream of a waking man."

Pliny the Younger: "Fair enough, Dad. But now there's Viagra, too."

Shall I go on?

Posted by: spd rdr at June 12, 2013 11:21 AM

SWIM has found that when the wife reads erotic romances, the couple have more sex. For women, reading about sex makes her want to have it. Guys... well they don't need a lot of excuse. It seems to work out.

The benefit to marriage is being able to have sex pretty much whenever you want with no guilt and with pre-accepted consequences. Some people think it's good for the physical body; in that case, have more. Go nuts. Just keep it at home. Think about everybody's welfare here, not just your own.

Posted by: alwaysfiredup at June 12, 2013 11:41 AM

All I got to say is that if you need other people to get variety, then you are doing it wrong.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 12, 2013 11:45 AM

Over the years, I've learned never to read (or even think about) one of spd's comments during a conference call :)

All I got to say is that if you need other people to get variety, then you are doing it wrong.

Bingo. Also, what alwaysfiredup said.

Every time I see someone (male or female) bragging about how "sexual" they are or how they couldn't possibly face a life devoid of continual sexual variety and stimulation, or how their sexuality controls them (instead of things being the other way 'round) I think, "Wow - I know you think that makes you look incredibly ... umm... not sure how you see yourself, but it makes me think you have what we politely call "issues"."

I also find myself wondering if a few of these folks don't spend more time talking about sex/watching other people have sex/fantasizing about it than they do actually having sex :p

But then I'm judgmental that way....

Posted by: Cass at June 12, 2013 11:51 AM

I've also decided that my sexual life will never be complete until I persuade the Spousal Unit to ravage me in a dirigible hovering somewhere over outer Mongolia whilst dressed up like Carrot Top.

Maybe we can take pictures (or video!) and post them on Facebook and Instagram to commemorate the experience. Because nothing enhances a private moment like sharing it with a gazillion of your closest friends.

Posted by: Cass at June 12, 2013 11:59 AM

Well, someone giving a flying f*&( in that region of the world would be a laughing matter.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 12, 2013 12:02 PM

Yahoo directed into my news feed a follow-up to one of those pieces this guy is responding to, I'm guessing the one by Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins (as she is an academic philosopher who normally writes not on cuckoldry but epistemology and metaphysics).

I can't find it now, but she wrote in the follow-up piece that she was aghast by the reader comments to the article. Especially upsetting were the comments by female readers, who thought she was actually letting her husband date outside their marriage! Heavens no! No self-respecting woman would do that! No, this was just a think-piece...

I stopped reading after that, probably because I was having trouble catching my breath from laughing so hard. :)

Posted by: Grim at June 12, 2013 12:45 PM

Having trouble sorting out exactly whom in the balloon is playing "Carrot Top." I guess that I have to wait for the video.

Apropos of that, may I suggest a locale perhaps better suited to your special moment? You only live once, I'm told.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 12, 2013 12:48 PM

...she is an academic philosopher who normally writes not on cuckoldry but epistemology and metaphysics

And here we were thinking the fields were intimately intertwined :p Coming soon to a federally subsidized university near you: "Cuckoldry Studies".

Posted by: Cass at June 12, 2013 01:03 PM

Having trouble sorting out exactly whom in the balloon is playing "Carrot Top."

Sooooooooooo dead.... :)

Posted by: Cass at June 12, 2013 01:15 PM

Well, Grim, it looks to me like Ms. Carrie's may be having second thoughts about letting her dog off the leash at Marriage Park. As far as I can tell from this 2011 interview, Carrie & Husband are presented as a courageously non-monogamous couple, who, when not busy being self-absorbed, find time to cooperatively rationalize their, admittedly, somewhat peculiar marital arrangement.
Here's our happy couple now!

CARRIE:[Polymory is]a bit different from the kind of non-monogamy we’re exploring (at least, at the moment). We aren’t looking for romantic love outside our marriage; extra-marital dating and friends-with-benefits relationships are more our thing.

"Our thing,"Carrie? Um... Let's check in with Husband about that.
JONATHAN: Yes, non-monogamy ought to be performed responsibly. But the same goes for pretty much all of life. For some of these purposes, I think it’s helpful to think of non-monogamous partnerships as similar to being single, rather than being in a monogamous couple.

Uh huh. That's what I thought. She's married. He's single. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to which of these two lovebirds hatched this idea and then sold it to the other? Ah, but what difference does that make! Because what really matters is honesty. Honestly.

CARRIE:There are emotional risks (jealousy being the most obvious) that we work hard to understand and avoid. But honesty solves and avoids the majority of problems, in my experience.
JONATHAN:Carrie is right that one of the most important things is to communicate your situation, feelings, and intentions clearly and honestly. That’s probably my first piece of advice to single people who want to date responsibly, too.

Oh, and by the way, honey. Don't hold dinner for me tonight. I've got a four-way with Mistress Scarlet and the Tarlton Twins down at the Strap-N-Go. I'll just grab something while I'm out.

Oh, girl.

What's the over-under on this marriage? Never mind, I'll take the under.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 12, 2013 02:10 PM

Warped...err... *great* minds.... :p

Whilst munching a piece of fried chicken earlir, I Googled her name and found the same article. Som of the comments were absolutely hysterical. But I loved this one:

Although an analytic philosopher I have some sympathy with the one above who says “They over-rationalize literally everything, even their own lives”. This is something it is difficult to rationalise, particularly on a blog comment box. It’s not so much a matter of ethics, it’s a matter of things that can easily go wrong, like smoking or taking heroin. And it’s a matter on which it is difficult for anyone one to tell the truth, even to themselves. Years ago I was in a relationship with some left-coast type person, v. liberal, thought jealousy was irrational, believed in total openness and honesty. So one day I told her about my other two relationships. That was the last time I ever saw *her*.

That pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

Rationality isn't the right yardstick for the profoundly irrational realm of feelings and relationships.

Posted by: Cass at June 12, 2013 02:40 PM

"Whether or not I'm in a committed relationship, I deserve a fulfilling, rewarding, and exciting sex life, period."

Slippery word, "deserve." If he means that he's not likely to listen very attentively to anyone who tries to persuade him that his strong sex drive is inherently illegitimate and something he should simply forget about or deny, I have some sympathy for him, even though obviously sex is not as central to my life as it is to his. If he means that he's entitled to constant excitement and self-gratification without troubling himself over any other considerations, he's just an infant. I'm no more interested in that notion than if he'd said he deserved an exciting heroin high 24-7 for the rest of his life.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 12, 2013 05:40 PM

I do not know about you people, but when the Spousal Unit gets back home I plan to greet him with, "I *deserve* to have an exciting/fulfulling/rewarding sex life!!!"

And then I'll hand him the Carrot Top wig. I am *so* worth it.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 12, 2013 06:32 PM

Hi Cass,
spd is correct, Mongolia is not a great idea. Even up aways in a balloon there would be wind blown sand in unwanted places.
also not much of a garden spot on the ground . . .

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at June 12, 2013 09:13 PM

"Whether or not I'm in a committed relationship, I deserve a fulfilling, rewarding, and exciting sex life, period."

That's what the other hand is for, son.

Posted by: Evil Twin at June 13, 2013 01:33 PM

Hi Cass, spd is correct


Please do not incorri...encourage him, Capt. Mike. I'll never hear the end of it :p

Posted by: Cassandra at June 13, 2013 10:18 PM

I don't know. The Mongols have been historically great horse riders. I bet they could teach you some things you can do on the back of a horse with your SO that could be quite "fulfilling, rewarding, and exciting".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 14, 2013 09:26 AM