Is there Virtue in Infidelity?

4 Jul

It’s the 4th of July- let’s have some fireworks, shall we?

I just finished reading this New York Times pieces on Dan Savage and what he considers the virtues of infidelity.  Now, pick your jaws up off the ground, and actually read the piece before you get your torches and pitchforks. Dan Savage is the mastermind behind the “It Gets Better” project, a brilliant writer on his own, and America’s leading sex-advice columnist. Now before we discuss this any further, I insist you actually go read the piece. No reactionary mobbing. Go on… Go!

NYT Magazine: Married, with Infidelities

Did you read it? I know it’s a little bit long, but I found it fascinating. Savage is actually quite conservative and is a proponent of preserving the family- if you didn’t know he was gay, you might occasionally mistake some of his columns as being a conservative pundit. Where Savage is thinking outside the box is in proposing that physical fidelity not be the be-all and end-all lynchpin of what might otherwise be a successful relationship. And oh yes, that certainly does open up a Pandora’s Box of questions…

From the feminist angle, from the religious angle, from the health angle, from the interpersonal and trust angles- everyone has an axe to grind in this argument. There are many, many women I’ve heard say that cheating is the deal-breaker. I’ve heard women state that they would rather their husbands have a fling with a prostitute than have a long-term affair. (I’ve never really talked to men about this… Men? What say you?)

What I find fascinating is the juxtaposition of women I also know who refuse sex, don’t enjoy sex, or simply look at it as something they must do. Certainly there are cases where libidos are out-of-alignment with women wanting more or more varied sex, but I think it’s more common the other way around. Savage proposes that if you don’t want to do it, that’s fine, but let your spouse get his/her satisfaction elsewhere, and maintain your relationship- particularly if children are involved. He suggests that refusing sex, but insisting your partner remain physically faithful is a kind of emotional, physical and spiritual hostage-taking, and ultimately dooms your relationship more than actual physical infidelity.

Savage says, regarding enforced monogamy: In the feminist revolution, rather than extending to women “the same latitude and license and pressure-release valve that men had always enjoyed,” we extended to men the confines women had always endured. “And it’s been a disaster for marriage.”

What do you think?

What other questions does this bring up?  Let the fun begin…

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76 Responses to “Is there Virtue in Infidelity?”

  1. Kevin Barney July 4, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    Good timing; I just raised this question on comment 63 at this FMH thread:

    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=5563#comment-1174260

    I’m sympathetic to Dan’s position, but that’s easier to say in the abstract than in the face of an actual factual situation raising these issues.

  2. Lucy W July 4, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    Savage proposes that if you don’t want to do it, that’s fine, but let your spouse get his/her satisfaction elsewhere, and maintain your relationship- particularly if children are involved. He suggests that refusing sex, but insisting your partner remain physically faithful is a kind of emotional, physical and spiritual hostage-taking, and ultimately dooms your relationship more than actual physical infidelity.

    I’ve thought a lot about this, and yes, I do feel that the spouse who is refusing intimacy is holding the other hostage. If it’s medical, well… Sorry, Other Spouse, but you’re dead in the water.

    In the context of Mormon doctrine, though, I do feel that a spouse who refuses intimacy is a) not fulfilling his/her marriage vows and b) will be judged (hopefully harshly) for it. I believe it’s an obligation to one’s spouse like any other marital obligation.

    I wish there were some way for that to be a vague temple recommend question like “obeying the law of chastity” is on the other end. Somewhere in there by “do you pay your child support and do you refrain from battering your spouse?” “Do you support your spouse in his/her need for intimacy with you?”

    But that could go badly awry.

  3. Lucy W July 4, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    And also: Is it cheating if the other spouse knows and is okay with it (e.g., in a medical situation)?

  4. Fanny A July 4, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    Thanks for the nod over there, Kevin Barney. It is so situational- that’s part of why I brought it up- we tend to paint this issue with a wide-swath brush, and I don’t think that’s particularly helpful.

    Lucy, very interesting- I hadn’t thought of that. It isn’t honoring your vows if you deny your spouse, I would agree heartily. What if Spouse A wants things Spouse B does not? Or vice versa? And why does it often seem Spouse B, who wants something Spouse A doesn’t, get shamed or made to feel unrighteous? I fear this is all too common.

  5. Whitney July 4, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    @Lucy W:
    I have to say, I am very troubled by the characterization of some women as “refusing intimacy.” I’m sure there are a few women who use sex as a tool to manipulate, something they can “provide” their husbands or boyfriends with in exchange for something they want. But it seems to me that most women who “withhold” sex are simply uninterested, either because of a medical issue, or more likely, because they do not enjoy it (in which case she and and her partner need to talk about what they can do to make it more enjoyable for her, and her partner needs to be “generous and game”), or because they do not feel loved and respected by their partner. In this case, she may not be fulfilling her obligation to have sex with her husband, but he has not fulfilled his obligation to love and respect her. And in my opinion, love and respect have to come first.

    I can definitely see merit in Dan Savage’s argument, and I’m all for letting other people do what works for them. For me, monogamy is super important, but if other couples want to be “monogamish,” as long as both partners are okay with it and neither feels coerced, I have no problem with that. But, this being an LDS-oriented blog, I would like to link to a talk given by Jeffrey Holland. In this talk, he discusses how sex is symbolic of the union of two people’s entire lives, their goals, their futures…. In my mind, it is a great argument for fidelity–just to provide a counterpoint to the discussion at hand.

    http://www.familylifeeducation.org/gilliland/procgroup/Souls.htm

  6. Fanny A July 4, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

    Absolutely Whitney. Thank you for your comment. That’s why I said the whole question opened up a Pandora’s box of questions… it’s complicated and multi-dimensional and not easy…

    Men can refuse sex as well as women. In my own marriage, that was the case. My ex-husband would go years without sex- no exaggeration. It will kill a marriage, I guarantee it- and it makes me probably more sympathetic to the men who say this is their experience. It’s a big deal.

    Of course for a blog post, generalizations are necessary. Love and respect are necessary in both directions, and I wasn’t trying to characterize women with scare quotes. The fact is, most of the emails and comments we get are from men who say this is a problem in their marriages. Certainly it’s a two way street- but claiming there is something wrong with the man, and that makes it okay to withhold sex bothers me just as much as a man claiming there is something wrong with his wife. Communication and honesty are so important.

  7. Randi July 4, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    A (non LDS) friend of mine told me that she and her husband are doing the open marriage thing. Their rationale was very similar to what was said in the article–they love each other and they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other, but sometimes…well. She said that it just means that when they stray–and since they plan to be married for the rest of their lives, they will stray–that it won’t be a deal-breaker.

    Me, personally, though, I don’t really agree with my friend that straying has to happen. Being attracted to someone? Absolutely. You’re married, not dead. But why do you have to act on those feelings? I’ve been attracted to many, many men over the course of my life, even when single, and I’ve somehow managed to restrain myself from having sex with them.

    However, I also don’t disagree that “refusing sex, but insisting your partner remain physically faithful is a kind of emotional, physical and spiritual hostage-taking, and ultimately dooms your relationship more than actual physical infidelity.” I get that one person can’t be everything someone else needs.

    But the idea of condoning or encouraging my boyfriend to go have sex with another woman–that just makes me so uncomfortable. I suppose I would be more understanding if there were some sort of specific kink that I couldn’t indulge–cake smashing wouldn’t be an issue ;)–but I can imagine others I wouldn’t be so okay with. He could go do that with someone who wants to; just like I want him to go to car shows with his friends and leave me out of it, just like he wants me to go shoe shopping with my friends and leave him out of it.

  8. Lucy W July 4, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    Whitney, I find it interesting you assumed I was talking about the wife being the one doing the withholding.

    That cuts both ways, as does this blog. We are not writing a feminist manifesto or being patriarchal apologists. We are talking to people who are in pain, alone, and needlessly experiencing guilt, grief, and loss.

    The first step is to start talking about it, and from what we’ve been reading, here, in private, all over the bloggernacle, this is a serious problem that can’t be solved until we’re actually talking about it in nitty gritty terms.

    Yes. Both men and women use sex as a weapon. In this case, we’re not speaking of physical abuse/violence/rape, but the withholding of it, which produces its own deep pain. Most likely, those people will not be open to discussing the matter with anybody. We want to help the people who’re out in the cold, struggling with righteous desires for their spouses, and being rejected at the most visceral level–and, according to the church, they have no recourse. Not even with themselves.

    These are situations beyond the “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments” talk now because one (possibly both) spouses are too far lost to hear it and see themselves, much less willing to fix it.

  9. Lucy W July 4, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    The fact is, most of the emails and comments we get are from men who say this is a problem in their marriages.

    And I have reason to know (or suspect) that one reason for this is that their wives are full of guilt for those fabulous sexual feelings they don’t know what to do with. How do you coax someone out of unrighteous guilt for feeling something they were built to feel, and are now expected to consummate, but have had a lifetime of conditioning that it was wrong to do that very thing?

    They want to, they do, they feel that wonderful high that only orgasm brings, but then are consumed with guilt. What do you do with that?

    I suspect there are as many women out there hurting, and we have simply not heard from them yet.

  10. Fanny A July 4, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

    Here’s something else, and forgive me if this seems ham-fisted, but it’s something I’m just working out.

    As women, it’s perfectly acceptable for us to complain and gripe about the things our men don’t do for us. We can wrap ourselves in righteousness while we paint the men as Neanderthals who just want sex, or who won’t listen to us, and we can withhold physical intimacy and feel okay since our emotional needs are not being met. Yes, there are absolutely genuine instances of this happening, but I think it’s too familiar a refrain in our domestic dialogue, and I don’t think its helping anyone.

    What if a man said he didn’t want to listen to his wife, that talking to her just didn’t meet his emotional needs? He would get flayed for being a troglodyte. Yet I think sex is just as important to a marriage as talking and communication. There is a double-standard here that’s a big old elephant in the room.

    Both partners owe it to each other to work on their issues. Having sex once a year or dispensing it as a favor is unfair; whomever is refusing to see this as a problem is part of the problem. It gets mighty cold wrapped in a cloak of righteousness all alone.

  11. Lucy W July 4, 2011 at 11:39 pm #

    Randi, honestly, if a couple has a good sex life, I don’t see why they’d need to go elsewhere, either. There are things I wouldn’t do if asked (*koffanalkoff*). There are things my husband won’t do if asked (*koffbondagekoff*). I think that’s reasonable.

    But if one spouse is having to beg or looking at porn or simply shutting down their soul because they don’t want to hurt anymore and they have no recourse…that’s what we’re talking about here.

  12. Sylvia Lyon July 4, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    I am not married, so take this as you will, but I would be open to this idea at some point if the marriage needed it. However, I am also older and very aware of my own sexuality and sexual needs. This being the case, I would make sure I was very sexually compatible with my partner for a good long time before I actually walked down that aisle with him. I think this alone makes what many LDS people deal with a moot point.

    Getting married to someone that you’ve never had sex with (I’m taking the whole Temple Marriage/Law of Chastity approach here in my assumptions) seems like the biggest mistake I could imagine. I just don’t get it. It makes no sense to me. Why would you not want to know if you were compatible in that area? I understand that people change, medical conditions arise, hormone levels vary, but I think a lot of the issues people face in their sex lives within marriage would be non existent had they gotten to know each other first. And yes, it is that big of a deal to know, in my opinion.

  13. Fanny A July 5, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    Sylvia, this is something I find very important too. I don’t know how to reconcile being active LDS with what I sincerely believe about sex being very important. I’ve been in one badly matched sexless marriage- it’s so important. I won’t go down that road again.

    And yet, how do I balance that out?

  14. Whitney July 5, 2011 at 12:34 am #

    @Lucy W: I didn’t really assume you were talking about women, but, as Fanny A mentions, the story we tend to hear is about the woman doing the withholding. Though certainly it goes both ways. I really like your point about women feeling bad about their sexual feelings–I think this feeds into the “she’s not enjoying it” aspect, which is why they need to TALK about it. And it’s why we need more forums like this, where we can talk about sex as a good thing, and open up opportunities to talk to their partners about some of these things.

  15. Lucy W July 5, 2011 at 12:48 am #

    Yes, Whitney, exactly. How do we parse out “I don’t like this”/”This is not what I expected” and “I think I like this more than I’m supposed to”/”This is SOOO not what I expected–do it again–no, wait, don’t. I think that’s bad”?

    It’s the “This is not what I expected” part we are trying to mitigate.

  16. Kevin Barney July 5, 2011 at 5:53 am #

    I agree with Sylvia about the importance of determining sexual compatibility before marriage. And as Fanny A. says, doing that is pretty fundamentally inconsistent with LDS marriage norms. I’m not sure how to juggle those contradictions, either, but were I in that position of considering remarriage I’d try to figure something out.

  17. mfranti July 5, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    Fanny,

    I think I know the answer to your problem. I’ve heard it a few times and it goes like this:

    If you just pray hard enough and you’re really righteous and faithful, things will work themselves out.

    /levity

  18. mfranti July 5, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    Kevin,

    You’re not 15. You’re a responsible adult and I think what you do in your very private adult time should remain private.

    No guilt necessary. God understands. Eternity is a long time to share a bed with someone.

  19. Anna July 5, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    while i think the idea sounds nice in theory, like some of the feminist scholars in the post, i’m just not sure it would work out well on the ground. whether it’s biology or culture, women and men function differently sexually in our culture. how often would this sort of arrangement turn into men running around and women staying home, feeling like they couldn’t tell their men to stay lest they not be GGG?

    i know of course women COULD run around all they wanted too, but i suspect they wouldn’t enjoy it as much as the men. and the stereotype is that women get attached to people they have sex with – which would complicate a relationship much more than the simple, meaningless sex men are stereotypically so good at.

    i’m not saying it wouldn’t work for anyone, or that those stereotypes are unequivocally true. but savage’s perspective is unapologetically masculine. there isn’t anything wrong with that, but i don’t think his worldview takes women’s needs and desires into consideration much.

  20. Anna July 5, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    i’m also a little uncomfortable with the idea that husbands and wives OWE each other sex. what are we making sex into with that assumption? a commodity? i don’t like the idea that anyone other than myself has a right to my body, especially in such an intimate, personal way. what is the difference between a wife who doesn’t want to have sex ‘submitting’ to her husband because they are married, and rape? where is she going in her head for those moments? what does it say about the value of her body, her feelings?

    a sexless marriage is a nightmare for anyone, and i am not advocating that, certainly. but i think if sex is a problem in a marriage, it reflects deeper psychological issues on the part of the withholding partner (which is often a woman, i admit) that should be looked at before we simply decide they are a frigid b***. how much more seriously would feminist issues be taken if we could show how they affect men’s sex lives? if our culture didn’t mistreat women so seriously, maybe they would not have so many problems in the bedroom.

  21. Lucy W July 5, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    Anna, you bring up some very good points. I’ll have to think on those a bit.

  22. Fanny A July 5, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    “a sexless marriage is a nightmare for anyone, and i am not advocating that, certainly. but i think if sex is a problem in a marriage, it reflects deeper psychological issues on the part of the withholding partner (which is often a woman, i admit) that should be looked at before we simply decide they are a frigid b***.”

    ABSOLUTELY.

    I hope you didn’t think anyone here was painting a women as frigid b*****s. Not at all. It’s acknowledging the importance of sex, and figuring out what those underlying problems are that is so very, very important. If a woman doesn’t want/interested in sex, brushing it under the bed is not helping.

    Of course no one should be forced against their will to do something- that is rape. What I’m advocating is being aware that sex is incredibly important to a marriage- it IS THE THING that differentiates marriage from other friendships. If a marriage is lacking in sex, it’s simply a friendship. I have lots of those. This is something that I think some women miss- again, speaking stereotypically- so figure out why you don’t want sex, why its uninteresting, and get some help. Men are culpable for this too. It’s a two-way street.

  23. Lucy W July 5, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    Which leads me to believe perhaps we should also be encouraging the uninterested spouse to seek help of some sort, starting with a doctor. I don’t think any of us want to BLAME the person who won’t put out.

    But there are too many variables to say anything conclusively. That’s why we sister-wives are feeling a bit overwhelmed at the number of issues that have cropped up since we started this blog.

  24. Zaissa July 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    Anna THANK YOU. You nailed a whole bunch of what I was thinking and said it well.

  25. Anna July 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    thanks, zaissa 🙂 and others for your comments. you are right fanny i don’t think anyone here wants to just paint the withholding partner as a frigid b. i do think, though, that’s the conclusion a lot of people in our culture jump to on hearing about sexless marriage.

    which is part of the problem with fixing it. and i think in lots of sexless marriages the withholding partner is not always very interested in finding help. that may be stubbornness on their part, or it may be a reflection of the fact that our society (particularly within lds contexts, ie bishop’s counselling) is probably not very understanding of women who aren’t interested in sex, and would just jump to the frigid b conclusion (or maybe just frigid within lds contexts). how much quality help is there for women who have issues with sex out there? i really don’t know.

    and there may well be women out there so disinterested in sex they would prefer their partner to have a cheap and easy affair. so to that extent, dan is correct – it might save a marriage, superficially at least (for the record i don’t think every instance of nonmonogamy is this pathological, but i think many would be). but i don’t think it is very helpful. to men, maybe, but not to women, not in terms of solving the deeper issues of how our society shapes and discourages women’s sexuality.

  26. Fanny A July 5, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    I really appreciate your comments, Anna. All of them.

    Part of why the other women and I started this blog was because we felt the dearth of information and support out there, particularly for lds women. It’s a complicated and multi-faceted issue, and there is no one easy solution- or even one easy question to ask. Talking about it is at least a start.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to men either- it’s too easy to say they only want sex. It’s just not true, and paints men with the same broad brush we hate it when they use on us. How our society shapes and discourages women’s sexuality is just as vital to men as it is to women, when looked at holistically.

  27. fuzzyoctopus July 5, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    What’s funny is that it’s the very idea that I’ve had drummed into my head since youth of eternal polygamy, (I was always taught, “we may not have polygamy in this life but you’ll have to share your husband with someone in the eternities partially because there aren’t enough righteous men to go around.”) I had years to cope with this idea. For this very reason the idea of an open or poly-amorous relationship is not outside the realm of possibility for me. I find this juxtaposition *hilarious*.

    Although I am married to one of the most monogamous men in the world, he might hit his mid-life crisis and who knows?

  28. Fanny A July 5, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    Ooooh, fuzzycotopus, that opens up a whole new dimension to this discussion as LDS women. Now there’s some fireworks for you…

  29. mfranti July 5, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    Anna,

    for the sake of argument, lets not assume women are the victim.

    If a woman is always uninterested in sex, she may not be obligated to put out, but she is obligated to get help.

    also, I don’t agree that a therapist would discount her as a frigid bitch. If she’s a professional,she’ll know that withholding partner has some issues that go way deeper than what’s on the surface.

    sexual abuse,
    body image
    good girl syndrome
    years of stupid lessons by her church

    whatever it is…he/she will know

  30. mfranti July 5, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    Also, this doesn’t have to be a feminist issue.

  31. mfranti July 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    …whatever it is, the therapist will know to dig deeper. It’s not 1956 anymore.

  32. mfranti July 5, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

    And another thing…

    I swear to Gawd that if your ( collectively speaking) girlfriend’s husband absolutely refused to give it up and also refused to seek help, you’d have a lot of opinions on the matter.

    I know that if my husband didn’t want sex with me, I’d take it personally. I bet most feminists would too.

  33. Zaissa July 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    I know the article is presenting Savage’s arguments second hand, so I might not have a clear picture of them. But what I am getting is that on the one hand he advocates that there is not one-size-fits-all recipe for a happy marriage and a fulfilled sex life. I can agree with that. But then I find it bothersome that he then makes big population and practice generalizations, for example “men do this” “women do this” and “this practice is this way for people” and so on.

  34. Amelia July 5, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    So much to think about here. But I think there are a few problems with basic premises in the piece about Savage and in Savage’s positions.

    1. Is the problem here really with monogamy? or is it with how we construct monogamy? In other words, do the pressures that build up in our conventional monogamous relationships happen in *any* relationship in which it’s expected that both partners will be physically faithful as a condition of the relationship continuing? Or is it a result of many other factors? For instance, I know plenty of people who have some sort of crazy notions about what counts as being cheated on–like a husband masturbating or looking at porn, a wife having a close personal friendship with a man, etc. (and feel free to reverse sexes). I know people who can’t handle the idea of their significant others openly finding others sexually attractive. And that’s not even touching about sexual practices within the relationship. There are lots of people who are simply unwilling to even entertain the idea of experimenting with sexual practices that they’ve always thought of as outside the boundaries of what’s proper. I think if we understood “monogamous” to actually only mean physical and emotional fidelity, without making such enormous hedges around the law, then a lot of what Savage is talking about wouldn’t even be quite so much of an issue.

    2. I also think that in his commitment to opening up our discourse about sex and what is sexually acceptable, Savage is going from one extreme to another. For instance, take a look at the last quote Fanny A presents in her post:

    In the feminist revolution, rather than extending to women “the same latitude and license and pressure-release valve that men had always enjoyed,” we extended to men the confines women had always endured. “And it’s been a disaster for marriage.”

    Savage seems to be suggesting that we chose the wrong option–that this was an either-or situation in which we would either impose the strict confines women always endured or we would allow the freedom men always enjoyed. First, I think it’s a complete mistake to act as if there was a dichotomous relationship between acceptable sexual behavior for women and for men–historically that’s just not true. There were historical moments in which women were almost as sexually free as men. Second, as with most things the proper ground was more likely in the middle than at one extreme or the other. Granting women the freedom historically granted men is no better an answer than confining men in the way we imagine women have always been confined. No matter how admirable GGG is as an ideal, I think it’s a mistake to universally adopt the attitude that one partner owes it to the other to indulge every desire or to give them permission to indulge it elsewhere. The reality is that relationships require give and take. There’s nothing wrong with expecting one partner to forego certain sexual fantasies or indulgences in the name of a solid relationship as long as the give and take happens in both directions. In other words, is it really so much that I ask my partner to forego indulging his fantasies to do with cutting or urination (both of which I find utterly repugnant) if I’m willing to explore others of his fantasies or curiosities even though some of them might push my boundaries? I don’t think so. Clearly one of the things one partner might be willing to give in the give and take of their relationship is advance permission for their partner to indulge physically outside the relationship, but I don’t think there’s anything especially virtuous about that. It’s just one option among many.

    I also have to agree with some of the feminist arguments against Savage’s call for more openness and for complete GGG attitude. I think that far too often it could easily lead to a situation that violates women’s autonomy and trust, rather than sustaining them.

  35. Tracy M July 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    This is fascinating. I read Savage as saying this was possibly a good thing for SOME couples, who otherwise have a healthy relationship worth saving. It didn’t seem like he was saying this was a fix-all or a good idea for couples with serious problems stemming from other ares, or for couples where sexual issues are just the tip of a monstrous iceberg.

  36. Lucy W July 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    Zaissa, for my part, I took Savage’s article as a jumping-off point to discuss issues peculiar to us.

  37. Zaissa July 5, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

    I think this issue is easy to see as unfair to women because of context it was given in the article and some of the examples.

    I found it interesting that Savage acknowledged that this is a male perspective he’s giving and so s this works idea works out better for men than for women. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think if you expand his points (and examples) to include the female side, men would not like this idea better than women do.

    For instance, a marriage may hit a point when the woman (mid-thirties) hits her sexual peak and wants it several times a day. Perhaps her husband, often it’s the case he’s going to be a few years older, is physically incapable of proving the length of a session she needs, or the number of sessions she needs in one day. Should she be allowed to get the “just sex” from the emotionally immature but more sexually capable 19 year old pool boy and then turn to her husband for her stability needs? After all, it is just a woman’s nature to “need” more sexual fulfillment at that age, right?

    Or a man with ED, shouldn’t his wife be allowed to get intercourse elsewhere?

    Or if his sperm count is low, and she wants children, but the couple does not have the financial resources to get in vitro?

    I think in the context of some examples, men might be a little less receptive to the whole idea that when a person “needs” sexual things their partner can’t provide, they should be allowed to go elsewhere for it.

  38. Zaissa July 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

    Lucy, I know you meant the article as a jumping off spot…but you said to read it. You even double spaced to allow for reading time!!!! 😉

    Anyway, I think the discussion within his frame work (as well as other ones) is worth having.

  39. Fanny A July 5, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    it’s a complete mistake to act as if there was a dichotomous relationship between acceptable sexual behavior for women and for men–historically that’s just not true.

    This is wrong. Historically, the dichotomy is absolutely true. Throughout civilization, with only small pockets of exemption, women’s sexuality has been controlled and constricted far tighter than men’s. Fertility, progeny, child-rearing- all fall within controlling women’s sexual behavior, and a man cannot be certain of the genetic parentage of his potential offspring without controlling women’s sexuality. There is far too much invested, evolutionarily, in rearing the next generation, for men to want to raise offspring not his own. That’s biology.

    It’s also beside the point for the purposes of this discussion. End my own threadjack.

  40. Lucy W July 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    Zaissa, I didn’t write the original post.

  41. mfranti July 5, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    My dear friend Tracy said what I was too busy to say.

    Thank you, T.

  42. Zaissa July 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    Sorry Lucy, I realized you probably did not right after I posted that. I meant “SHE” left a double space.

    Anyway, I think the questions in the OP are good, but hearing them out of Savage’s context changes them a little I think…

    I don’t think the questions are better answered in or out of his context, but I chose in for that particular comment.

  43. Amelia July 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    Fanny A, my point is not that there were not, historically, boundaries and controls on women’s sexuality and sexual activity. I agree that there absolutely were. My point is more that there was a spectrum of acceptable behaviors, not a strict dichotomy of one universal standard for all women in all circumstances (and that the standard was strict physical fidelity) while there was another universal standard for all men in all circumstances (and that the standard was the freedom to seek release outside of their marriages). It’s pretty well documented that women in the British Prince Regent’s circle in the late 18th and early 19th centuries indulged often in sexual relationships outside of their marriages, just as one example. I raise this to support my larger point, which isn’t a threadjack, that Savage is taking a far too strongly either-or approach to the sexual standards imposed on women and enjoyed by men. To be clear, I don’t disagree with the basic generalization that historically women have been confined while men have been granted permission to find extramarital release; I just think we need to nuance that understanding in order to recognize that there is middle ground–a middle ground that I’m not so sure Savage acknowledges adequately.

    Tracy M, I totally agree that Savage is careful to point out that a nonmonogamous relationship should not be assumed to be universally appropriate. I appreciate that about his approach. I do think, however, that he fails to acknowledge adequately that there is nothing inherently wrong with one partner drawing a line s/he won’t cross when it comes to sexual behavior. The absence of that acknowledgement lends a bit more of a universally applicable feel to his call for nonmonogamy being acceptable.

  44. Zaissa July 5, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    So I can agree that monogamy and total fidelity don’t have to be the thermometers for a healthy union and if partners going in or later both agree that these things are not key. I think that we as a culture can accept that for some people, more open sexual experiences may even enhance the health of some relationships. People could be more honest with themselves when choosing a mate and establishing relationship parameters.

    For me cheating, even a little, is an automatic deal breaker. I want a relationship with a mutual understanding that it desired on both parts that the relationship be monogamous. If my husband’s feelings were to change on this, and he felt to be fulfilled he needed occasional random sexual encounters of any degree, this would mean I do not have a relationship that meets MY needs. I entered a relationship because of the life, emotions, and securities that come with sexual and emotional monogamy as we have defined it. If he wanted something for himself that was outside of our parameters, for me this would create insecurities and negative emotions. Why would my emotional needs be less important than his sexual ones? I don’t believe they would be. So I would hate to see that the societal expectation become that a person who feels the way I do should be expected to place preserving the marriage by allowing his or her partner to seek sexual fulfillment over seeking his or her own fulfillment. If the needs that both partners value most are conflicting, I would say that that is a broken marriage and should probably isn’t worth preserving.

    I don’t think that Feminism lead to impractical ideal of fidelity as Savage suggested either. He is saying that womens’ push for equality and egalitarian had the side effect of causing men to forgo the sex live they used to enjoy. But hello! They enjoyed them while expecting complete (almost to the point of ownership of their wives body…oh wait, sometimes it was not an almost) fidelity from their wives, and wanted to use women they slept with and abandon any responsibility to subsequent offspring because those children are “bastard” children.

    I think if men want to continue to have wives and children and sex lives on the side of this, the Feminism has not said they can’t do this. It has just made it harder by creating a generation of women who don’t think it’s OK to be locked up at home while her husband is sleeping with other women.

    The Feminist movement has just empowered women who feel like I do about fidelity to NOT put up with it for fear of being called failures or bchs if they leave the marriage. And it’s given us opportunity to demand what WE want out of relationships without fear of being beaten or left penniless when we protest.

    The Feminist movement says that men who want to live like that probably ought to pair up with women who want the same thing. Which means they might have to accept that those women won’t be waiting with a hot dinner when they get home, and “Pedro’s” scent may still linger on the pillow case.

  45. Amelia July 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    I think that in order to have a really useful discussion of nonmonogamy as an option, we’d have to tease out the various nuances of withholding, too. It takes a lot of forms–some have to do with honest sexual realities like one partner not being able to indulge certain kinds of sexual proclivities that some people understandably find distasteful (even Savage draws lines at feces, for instance) or a case of imbalanced libidos; some have to do with psychological problems like Good Girl Syndrome, etc.; and some have to do with intentionally withholding sex as a form of punishment or only granting sex as a reward or favor. I think only the last is actually a case of one partner holding the other hostage by demanding physical fidelity. And I think only in the first is conscious nonmonogamy a viable alternative.

  46. Anna July 5, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    mfranti – hm. i certainly never implied that sexless marriage is acceptable, or desirable, or that if someone i loved was being held out on i wouldn’t care. i’ve known several marriages, one of which was very close to me, that have dissolved under the pressure of one-sided celibacy (in that case the man was doing the withholding). don’t assume people’s unstated opinions.

    and you are right, to a degree, this doesn’t have to be a feminist issue. there are many individual cases where i’m certain it isn’t. women are most definitely not always the victim. some are selfish, stubborn, vindictive, manipulative, etc.

    but i’m surprised at your reticence to admit that in our culture (both american and lds), sexless marriage (and therefore the response to it, savage’s or anyone else’s) so often DOES have feminist implications. the way we teach sexuality (both american and lds), the views we have toward women’s bodies, the gravity we give (or don’t) to women’s sexual issues and complaints. all of these things are cultural, and all of them will affect the way any one woman responds in her marriage. looking at the cultural roots of sexless marriage, specifically why mostly men seem to be the victims of it, most certainly does require feminist thought.

    and i am certainly not against therapy. you are correct, it is no longer 1958. but it seems naive to believe the psychiatric establishment has shaken off all the constraints of earlier sexist views (i know the medical establishment certainly hasn’t). even if it has advanced to where it can competently treat women’s sexual issues, doubt of that may well still exist in women’s minds and make them hesitant to take their problems to “the experts”. and that in itself is a feminist issue, as well.

    so i guess what i am saying is that, if we take dan’s GGG ethic to heart (and i know he gives lip service to couples whose monogamy works for them, and to full communication and disclosure for non-mongamous couples, though at the same time he’s been known to give advice to cheat behind the spouse’s back if they aren’t GGG), culturally, women may once again be receiving the short end of the stick.

  47. Fanny A July 5, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    This is all very interesting, and I have some different points of view to consider now. When i wrote the post, I was really looking at it almost frivolously, just saying, “hey, what do you think of this- it’s interesting” because clearly, any LDS woman (or man) honoring their covenants cannot go outside the narrow bonds of marriage as we have it now set up. That doesn’t mean the pain and suffering of all parties, in all possible scenarios, is not legitimate.

    It also does not rule out people redefining what their own vows mean, or couples redefining their own rules. The presupposition was “heathy couples” though- from the original article. Although I suppose even what that means is up for debate- what one would define as perverse, another would call healthy. What a bag of crazy puzzles we’ve opened up.

    We’re learning, as we grow this little blog, how vast the scope is of the pool we’ve jumped into. Let’s keep learning from each other.

  48. Amelia July 5, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

    Fanny A, I totally agree–this whole thing really is a bag of crazy puzzles. I think the real point has to be that a lot of what constitutes “healthy” is contextual and particular to individual relationships. I was just reading a mormon swingers blog the other day and making the argument in yet another forum that it’s entirely possible that swinging could contribute to a healthy relationship for some couples. I don’t think it’s something I’d ever be interested in, but I’m perfectly happy to concede that it might work for others. And I agree with you that it’s so important that we stay open to learning from each other in such conversations. I so appreciate what you and your sister wives are doing in this space.

  49. Moriah Jovan July 5, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    a mormon swingers blog

    Linky!

    (You knew I couldn’t let THAT go by!)

  50. Jeremy July 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    I’ve been listening to Savage’s podcast for a while now and most of his advice usually comes down to a basic version of what he says in this article, partners should do what they can to satisfy each other’s needs, and if those needs can’t be satisfied, you should look elsewhere. How you resolve this with LDS teachings is another story though, holding tryouts until you find the one that can satisfy those needs doesn’t necessarily work, so making sure you marry someone that is OPEN to finding new ways to satisfy their partner has to be important. My wife and I felt like we’d been dropped into the deep end of a pool when we got married, and ended up having to really educate ourselves (which I admit wasn’t horrible) to figure out what worked for the two of us. When you’re battling Good Girl syndrome, Sex ed in Utah, and fear of the local sex shop I can see how people might give up or decide they can’t satisfy each other’s needs. Right now infidelity is a dealbreaker to both of us, but is pre-arranged cheating really cheating?

    I was just reading a mormon swingers blog the other day and making the argument in yet another forum that it’s entirely possible that swinging could contribute to a healthy relationship for some couples.

    A good (LDS) friend hit age 36 about four years ago and he says it was like a switch had been flipped. He and his wife went from having a great sex life and being very intimate to him not wanting anything to do with sex. It wasn’t a loss of interest in her, but a loss of interest period. He went to a therapist, doctors, etc and tried various things but they both felt like it was just getting worse. After about a year they decided his wife would find another way to satisfy her needs and she now has had a boyfriend for the past three years. He says their marriage is more important than sex to him and they are as intimate as ever, just not having sex (he says he’s a great cuddler). I have a hard time wrapping my head around it, but he really does seem happy.

    Anyway, great discussion and blog, I’m glad Melanie started linking it on Facebook.

  51. Amelia July 6, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    Here you go, Moriah:

    http://mormon-swingers.blogspot.com/

  52. Fanny A July 6, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    I saw that site, and I have to say I’m skeptical. It’s sparse, not upkept and some of the posts are basically wack-off letters to Hustler. Not a fan. Click at your own risk, folks.

  53. Amelia July 6, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    thanks for the warning, Fanny A. I should have included one. I’m not terribly impressed by the site, either, and I’m not a hundred percent certain it’s authentic (for instance, when I perused it I noticed a couple of different spellings of the wife’s name by the husband–of course that might be because it’s a pseudonym). But I figured since I mentioned it and Moriah asked I should provide the URL.

  54. Moriah Jovan July 6, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    Went there. Questionable theological justification. Well, okay, I’ll say it (because that’s what I do) : I call bullshit.

  55. Christine Alonso July 6, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    Interesting discussion.

    I just want to protest the majority here who are saying that sexless marriage is such a huge problem, such an unbearable trial for the spouse and so on. I’d quote comment #s but I do not see any on this blog – sorry! – I just read the whole thread and I’m trying to fairly summarize.

    Some couples are happy that way. It is possible to have two people with especially low sex drives, who are therefore well-matched. It is also possible that spouses *both* have the of of the various physical, hormonal, or psychological issues at play that would make them desire a marriage without (much? any?) sex. And I just don’t like the comments above that sound like that’s not a valid choice, or that somehow that’s a less valid way to be married.

    Different strokes, you know?

  56. Fanny A July 6, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    Christine, thanks for your comments. If both people are fine and comfortable with a sexless marriage, then perfect. That’s wonderful. What we’re talking about here is when one part of the couple is most definitely _not_ happy with that, and what they can do about it.

    If one is evenly matched with a partner, I can’t think of much better. It’s the being unevenly matched that’s painful and problematic.

  57. Moriah Jovan July 6, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    Gives the Pauline theology of not being unequally yoked a new spin, dunnit?

  58. Christine Alonso July 6, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    OK, then we are on the same page. I was reacting to this sort of thing

    “a sexless marriage is a nightmare for anyone”

    Not if that’s what you’re looking for!

    ” What I’m advocating is being aware that sex is incredibly important to a marriage- it IS THE THING that differentiates marriage from other friendships. If a marriage is lacking in sex, it’s simply a friendship. I have lots of those. ”

    This is what I meant about calling some marriages “less valid” than others.

    Many people spoke of sex as “a need”. The 2nd comment calls it a “marital obligation”. While I totally get that sex can feel like a need, that is not true for everybody, male or female, and I don’t agree that any thing can be both “a need” and an optional part of the human experience. Obviously most people feel strongly that they want a sexual life. But, IMO, since some people don’t feel the need, and some people voluntarily abstain all their lives, than I’m not comfortable agreeing that sex is “a need”.

    And I do appreciate your blog. I’m just trying to speak up for a crowd who may be overlooked when addressing sexual issues, you know?

  59. Fanny A July 6, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

    Thanks Christine. We’re feeling this out as we go, and are finding all sorts of complicated issues that we never thought of, both in comments and in private emails we’ve been getting. There is a huge need for discussions, clearly.

    To me, sex is very important. Of course it’s not vital for my survival like water, air, or sleep- but for me to feel fulfilled in a marriage, it is something I am comfortable labeling a genuine _need_. I also have no problem with people who don’t share my opinion- but I would have a problem being married to them.

    I hope you continue to contribute to the discussions here.

  60. Amelia July 6, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    Moriah, I’m calling bullshit right along with you on the theological justification at the mormon swingers site. I think it’s impossible to justify swinging given the current definition of chastity in the Mormon church. I’m fine with individuals and couples redefining chastity for themselves (I happen to privilege the individual’s relationship with God far, far above the individual’s relationship with God as mediated through the church). But I find it problematic to use legalistic reinterpretations of semantics to justify doing so.

  61. Jeremy July 7, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    From the LDS swinging site

    Since both of us are consenting and participating in the activity, it makes our activities permissible. Religious teachings about sexuality address sex prior to marriage and fidelity within marriage, but do not forbid swinging.

    I guess the big question is, does swinging have anything to do with fidelity in marriage? I’m pretty sure I know what the answer would be if you asked a bishop or stake president.

  62. Zaissa July 7, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Hey, how do you do a quote in a comment on this site?

  63. Fanny A July 7, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    Use HTML

  64. Lucy W July 7, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    I guess the big question is, does swinging have anything to do with fidelity in marriage? I’m pretty sure I know what the answer would be if you asked a bishop or stake president.

    Arguably, everything we talk about on this blog would be verboten by that standard. Commenters on this post have already called me to account for it, and that’s just an opinion.

  65. Zaissa July 7, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    Christine,

    I was thinking on the same lines you were about sex not being a “need”. I don’t think it is for everyone and, to share something rather personal, my husband and I both often hit points of having lower libidos (and for the record, we hit the opposite of that too!). Fortunately our luck has been good that generally our low and high libido points have been in sync. There have been points in our marriage where our relationship is great but there is little to no sex for extended periods. In some ways it brings our focus to other things we share. Which is nice. (Not that we don’t connect this way when we are having it more often). But what I am saying is I can easily imagine a couple who share the same nil libido feeling quite happy with that and who also feel that they have special, only for them, connections as a married couple that makes them more than friends. I don’t think for all couples sex is the difference between friends or not. I, like I think many wives, would be hurt if he shared a handful of things that are not sexual, but are “ours” with another woman.

    But I want to add that love is not necessarily a need in a marriage for everyone either. Some people are fine with the legality of marriage for a myriad of reasons that do not include love. But if one person is not fulfilled without romantic love, I think our culture understands how dissatisfied and miserable that person would feel. I think we would also possibly understand how the person would seek love outside of a marriage where they are not loved by their spouse. I imagine sex carries the same weight for some people, especially because I don’t think everyone can entirely disassociate sexual intimacy from love. One thing that I don’t think gets said enough, because we are so focused on this idea that men have an animalistic type need for sex, sexual status, etc., is that many men DO associate being desired by their women, and having their woman sexually available to them, with being loved by their women. A lot of men who have had affairs report that it was not about the sex, but about feeling desired and wanted.

    So I think it is important to note that the comparison of a woman withholding sex to a man withholding emotional support is not a juxtaposition of two opposites. Sex goes beyond just a bestial physical need in humans, and when a woman holds out on her man sexually, she is also holding out on him emotionally. When you look sex as an emotional need for men too, I think it is easier to elevate a man’s desire for sex with his wife as a “need” because if it were purely physical, self gratification would probably do in many cases.

  66. Zaissa July 7, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    Fanny,

    Digging out my “HTML for Dummies” book now…

  67. Christine Alonso July 7, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    Ok Zaissa, I can agree with that

  68. Fanny A July 7, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    Sorry Zaissa! I actually included the code, but for some reason it didn’t show it. I wasn’t trying to look like a smartass. 😉

  69. Fanny A July 7, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    Sex goes beyond just a bestial physical need in humans, and when a woman holds out on her man sexually, she is also holding out on him emotionally. When you look sex as an emotional need for men too, I think it is easier to elevate a man’s desire for sex with his wife as a “need” because if it were purely physical, self gratification would probably do in many cases.

    Amen.

  70. Jeremy July 7, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    Zaissa, code doesn’t show up in comments so it’s hard to explain, but you do a blockquote then put your quote in and then a /blockquote at the end of your quote. Those two words have to be surrounded by >< with the alligator mouths open toward the word blockquote

    your quote goes here

  71. Patty B July 7, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    Like this:

    quote goes here

    but without the extra spaces–the carrots go right up against the text between them.

    Other easy, good ones to know: i is for italics, b is for bold, u is for underline. There are lots more, but those are the ones most people like to use for emphasis, etc. when commenting.

  72. Patty B July 7, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    well, I guess extra space doesn’t interfere with the html. 😛 Learn something new every day.

  73. Jeremy July 7, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Arguably, everything we talk about on this blog would be verboten by that standard. Commenters on this post have already called me to account for it, and that’s just an opinion.

    My Mission President did a pretty interesting thing in our exit interviews, basically telling us our mission was done and it was time to find a mate. So he gave little tips on budgeting, cooking, arguing, etc. One of his tips was “You and your wife in in this together, and nobody in the church needs to know what you do in the bedroom, and it’s my belief that God doesn’t care what you do as long as you’re both comfortable with it”.

    A Stake President told my wife basically the same thing. One night early in our marriage she suggested something and then said “do you think that’s ok?”. I was fairly clueless as well and during her next recommend interview she asked what married couple had to worry about when it came to the LOC. He said “You help your husband be happy, he helps you be happy, and as long as you’re both happy things are great and we’ll never ask you more than that during these interviews”.

    So I guess what I’m saying is those people complaining to you should do exactly what they want in their bedroom, which may be nothing at all, and stop worrying about yours.

  74. Jeremy July 7, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    This quote thing is getting funny. Go here http://www.w3schools.com/tags/tag_blockquote.asp

  75. Zaissa July 7, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    OK I know I have commented like a mad woman on this thread, but there is one more thing that’s buggin’ me, so I gotta say it. Then I can maybe hush and go read about virginity or the big O or something…
    But, one thing that bugs me about Savage, and some of the comments, is that there is a basic assumption that monogamy is brutally hard. Savage even goes out if his way to emphasizes this concept (albeit he also admits any non-monog, or monogamish relationship has complications). But the emphasis he gives that monogamy is hard is based on his supposition that people naturally have a strong desire to have sexual encounters with multiple partners.
    I think that this characteristic varies in humans too. No doubt, some people assume they are supposed to grow up, get married, and magically, they will be fulfilled and happy, the end, and they are shocked to learn they are still sometimes attracted to other people, or that they sometimes find they are not as satisfied with their relationship as they expected to be. I just don’t like his jump to the conclusion that because this happens to people, it means that people who choose monogamy are choosing so suppress a part of themselves, and will be in a constant battle between their commitments and their natures.
    I think our sexual “natures” are not a totally separate animal from our attitudes toward love and sex, and I think (at least speaking for myself, and I am not prude on this matter, despite the conclusions I have drawn) that monogamy adds a definite depth of emotion to sex that is not achieved outside of it, and that depth of emotion creates and excitement I would not otherwise have. I am still human, but my attraction to others is always momentary, fleeting, and more of a visual rush of “oh la la” than a desire to engage. I am not suppressing a desire to have sexual encounters with people other than my mate, I don’t have it. I am aware that I could try it, and get something sexually enjoyable out of it, and there is always a “thrill” of trying a new partner you have never tried before, but I don’t think that I would be getting a more satisfying sexual experience than I get with my mate, who knows intricately what I like. There just is not much appeal there for me. And I know it would diminish the emotionally experience I have. I don’t think I am alone in this camp and I think this feeling spans members of both genders. I don’t think everyone is like me either, but I don’t think I am particularly rare.
    I rather than labeling monogamy as some sort of marathon challenge, I think it would be more constructive to promote more self-sexual understanding, and more education on options, and what sex is or can be both physically, emotionally, lifestyle wise, etc. I think this would allow people to get in touch with whatever their real sexual and emotional needs and feelings are, rather than giving monogamy a reputation as something that you have to beat into yourself, stick with when you don’t want to, swim upstream to achieve, and that is basically a long shot for most.

  76. Zaissa July 7, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    Thanks! for the help guys!

    Testing!

    Fanny, no worries, I thought you just figured I know HTML 🙂

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