How to Pick a Lover

Archive for the ‘birth control’ Category

Second Caveat: No Bastard Children

There is no word equivalent to “cuckold” for women.
—Joseph Epstein

In medieval times, a man whose wife deceived him with another man was called a cuckold, a pejorative term which fortunately isn’t used much anymore. The origin of the term “cuckold” is revealing. If you are interested in ornithology, the study of birds, you may have come across accounts of the habits of the cuckoo bird. Cuckoos solve the problem of the perpetuation of their species by the simple expedient of laying eggs in other bird’s nests and departing, leaving other birds of another species to raise the young cuckoos.

Once upon a time, observers might signal the approach of a man who was committing adultery with someone’s wife, or who had designs in that direction, by warning the husband with a whispered “cuckoo, cuckoo.” Eventually, the term got changed around to refer to the betrayed not the betrayer and became “cuckold.”

Calling All Cuckoos

Calling All Cuckoos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shakespeare and other authors perpetuated the literary myth that such a man was burdened with a set of horns on his head, which others could see, but of which he was blissfully unaware. It was another version of the truism that the husband, or the wife, is often the last to know. In Italy, one of the most unforgivable insults still is to make the sign of the “cornu” at someone: taking your index and pinkie and putting them on top of your head to resemble horns.

On the issue of bastard children, there are some real legal and moral differences in the situation of single women compared with married ones. If you are single, you might decide to have a child but choose not to get married. You have a right to become a mother without becoming a wife. It’s the contention of many that, as long as you expect nothing of the father, you don’t need to have his consent or, indeed, don’t even need to inform him. It would seem that, if such is your intent, having a child through artificial insemination would be a better alternative, but there is nothing to stop you using the old-fashioned way if this is your decision.

However, if you’re married, any child you have is legally the child of your husband and is assumed to be so socially and emotionally. A husband has the right to certainty of the parenthood of “his” own children. As the lyrics from The King and I caution, “But blossom never ever float from bee to bee to bee.” A basic assumption is that the married woman having an affair has no right to get pregnant by another man. Her body is her own, as is her sexuality; but her children are to be shared for as long as she stays married, and usually after that.

The married woman must be especially scrupulous and fastidious not to let herself get pregnant by her lover rather than by her husband.

 

 

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Taking Chances: Wives Who Have Affairs

The chains of marriage are so heavy that it takes two to bear them, and sometimes three.
—Alexandre Dumas: fi ls, L’Esprit d’Alexandre Dumas

As Val, whose blog I highly recommend (valentinelogar.com), noted in her comment on my last post, the double standard of sexuality has always been more tolerant of the husband who strays than of the wife who strays. Nevertheless, a large proportion of married woman do have extramarital sex, at least once, during the course of their marriages. Quite a large proportion take a lover and have an affair which continues over time on a number of occasions. Some have more than one affair at a time. How large are these proportions? No one knows, but they would seem to be an increasing minority.

Back in 1948, Kinsey and his associates reported in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female that about 20 percent of all wives had had extramarital sex at least once. In 1972, Hunt published a survey done by Redbook magazine, which suggested approximately the same ratio, with rates slightly higher among young women. In her book The Monogamy Myth, Peggy Vaughan estimates that 40 percent of women will have an extramarital affair while married. The rate is likely to vary depending on the type of women interviewed, with the highest probably to be found among younger wives working in urban areas. While extramarital sex is still a relatively secretive activity, it’s becoming more and more of an open secret. Elaine Denholtz provides an account of women who are Having It Both Ways, based on a series of very intimate anonymous interviews. Mary Anne Wollison does much the same thing in her discussion of Affairs: The Secret Lives of Women, as does Linda Wolfe in her book Playing Around: Women and Extramarital Affairs.

Cover of "The Monogamy Myth: A Personal H...

Cover via Amazon

Some people who commit adultery do incur most unfortunate results, just as the folk literature tells us. However, in real life, many women have affairs which no one knows about except the participants. Many women have affairs which are eventually discovered but which don’t automatically bring destruction and ruin about their heads. Many women have many affairs and live to tell the tale and, eventually, live happily ever after.

The real message may be that it’s not an extramarital connection per se that is bad for one’s mental health, but the wrong extramarital connection, undertaken with the wrong person for the wrong reasons and managed in the wrong way. There isn’t a whole lot of instruction given wives on the important subject of how to have a successful affair, with the result that there’s a lot of on-the-job training. As a married friend of mine told me after she had a disastrous affair, “The trouble with on-the-job training is that you can make so many mistakes.”

Help may be on the way, as women become more circumspect about their sexual needs. In the early 1980s in Los Angeles, psychologist Cynthia Silverman began to offer workshops for married women who are having—or thinking of having—extramarital affairs. While such groups may offer some psychological support and may be useful in dealing with guilt, they are most noteworthy for the changing attitudes they represent.

A married woman who contemplates an affair should take into account all of the rules of safe conduct discussed in my previous blogs. In addition, however, she needs to contend with two other factors: the risk of exposure and the special problems of pregnancy. More to come on that later.

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Rule Two: Accept Responsibility for Birth Control

Without the full capacity to limit her own reproduction, a woman’s other “freedoms” are tantalizing mockers that cannot be exercised.
—Lucinda Cisler, Sisterhood Is Powerful

The sexual mores of the later half of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century are indeed different from what they were in the past. One important development which permits such differences to flourish with a minimum of harm and maximum of pleasure is that of adequate birth control.

When women were at risk of getting pregnant, then the choice of a lover was usually also the choice of a father for one’s child; and a father for one’s child, for the sake of all concerned, had better be also one’s husband. If pregnancy occurred, then the only acceptable solution was a so-called forced marriage. Better, under such conditions, not to sleep with anyone you wouldn’t be willing and able to marry.

There’s no longer a need for these conditions to apply. Adequate birth control is, for the most part, available to everyone who seeks it. There are a variety of different techniques for women of different ages, circumstances, and experiences. Although there’ a powerful segment of social conservatives who want to prevent a woman’s right to birth control, and thereby, to deny her the right to control her sexuality.  As a society we need to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Romney Ryan Plan Birth Control

Romney Ryan Plan Birth Control (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Putting aside the misguided efforts of the few to take away a woman’s right to birth control; whatever you and your physician decide, you should be on the pill or use a diaphragm or a sponge or trust an IUD. It’s, of course, theoretically true that birth control should be the man’s responsibility as well; and as a desirable lover, he should be concerned and cooperative. Nevertheless, no matter how unfair it seems to you, he never risks getting pregnant. You do. You run the risk unless he’s known to be sterile and has had a doctor say so or has had a vasectomy.

A number of years ago at the height of the “zero population growth” movement, men who had had a vasectomy were proud of the fact and would wear a little male symbol of a circle attached to an arrow, but with a break in the circle. Cute and chic and often done in gold, it was worn as a tiepin or label button. It was not unheard of for a man on the make to borrow his friend’s vasectomy pin and wear it as a conversation piece at the local pickup bar. You can’t exactly see his scars but . . .

In every instance, getting pregnant should be a deliberate decision, not an accident or an oversight. Retroactive birth control, such as the morning-after pill, is available for situations in which sex may take place without any birth control. And in the case of contraceptive failure, abortion should be considered as a backup emergency procedure.

You run the risk of getting pregnant unless you have had a doctor say that you are naturally sterile or you have been surgically sterilized or you are already pregnant. As long as you are at risk, you must protect yourself and assume responsibility for birth control at the same time that you assume responsibility for your own sexuality.

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