How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘sexual affair’

Adulteress as Villainess

A hundred years ago Hester Prynne of “The Scarlet Letter” was given an A for adultery; today she would rate no better than a C-plus.
—Peter De Vries

Throughout history, women who were caught in adultery have suffered grievous punishments. In India, they might have been burned. In Persia, men favored beheading adulterous women. In Turkey, the traditional punishment was the lash, a painful prospect but one offering more hope than in traditional China, where errant wives might be imprisoned for life.

Under Sharia law in a number of Islamic countries, all it takes is two male witnesses swearing that the woman is an adulteress, and she can be stoned to death even if she never committed adultery.

Countries with Sharia rule.

Countries with Sharia rule. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the literature of the Western world, women who are, as they say, “taken in adultery” are not punished as blatantly, but they don’t fare well. The world’s literature is, of course, written primarily by men and may, consequently, reflect more the position of an outraged husband than it does the sentiments of the outraged wife.

In Dante’s Inferno (ca. 1300), Francesca loved not only her husband but also his younger brother, Paolo; and when they were discovered, both were put to death. This sad tale, repeated in other literary versions, is unusual in that both guilty parties were punished. Usually, the double standard results in the errant woman being the focus of concern and punishment.

In Hawthorn’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne was forced to wear an embroidered scarlet letter on her dress to show that she was an adulteress and then required to stand in the pillory holding her illegitimate child. In Tolstoy’s tragic story of Anna Karenina, the social disapproval of the lovers is so pervasive and extreme that Anna disintegrates and ultimately throws herself under the wheels of a train. There are a plethora of other examples of the same ilk, conveying the message that crime does not pay and that the woman who strays from the domestic hearth will come to a tragic end.

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Sexual Fulfillment: The Erotic Affair

What is it in men that women do require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
What is it women do in men require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
—William Blake, The William Blake Notebook

How is one best advised to proceed in the quest for sexual fulfillment? Although both men and women may ultimately end up preoccupied with the dynamics of sex and love, it seems possible that given differences in socialization and differences in physiology, they reach their quest by different routes. One maxim frequently cited states that among men, sexual desire begets love whereas among women, love begets sexual desire. In the nineteenth century, the French novelist Rémy de Gourmont put it somewhat more precisely: “Man begins by loving love and ends by loving a woman. Woman begins by loving a man and ends by loving love.”

Although many things have changed since then, our cultural traditions are strong enough that this pattern still holds true for many women. For some women, there may be a spontaneous urge of sexual desire, parallel to that which men experience, which is not appeased by masturbation or by conjugal sex. For many others, however, the inclination toward an erotic affair is not so much a generalized randiness as a wish for a man who would inspire randiness. It is not that they are full of desire, but rather that they want to find a man who would make them feel desire. The libido is there, but it needs to be aroused. They suspect, often correctly, that with a different man or a different kind of man or a man who made love differently, they would be much more turned on. Such inclinations may be difficult to reconcile with how nice, ladylike women are supposed to feel; but it is clear that it is how many of them do feel, whether or not they admit it  to anyone else.

It starts with her beauty in my eyes, it moves...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Casual sexual encounters may provide a certain excitement or may gratify a desire to seduce or to make a conquest. However, the thrill or newness is often counterbalanced by a certain awkwardness and self-consciousness not unlike what people experience in their first encounters. As one woman put it: “The first time with a new man is always a bit like the first time ever.” If everything seems right, the best you can usually hope for is the exultant conviction: “This could be the start of something big!” The second time may be better, the third time better still.

The most exceptional erotic experiences are often the result of a long-term evolving relationship in which increased awareness of each other’s body and responses improves rapport and empathy and moves the encounter to a higher and higher pitch. There is time for experimentation and time to incorporate what the experimentation teaches you about what works best for you both. It is in a developed relationship that one can best hope for that special magic where an erotic experience approaches a transcendental one. In this instance, practice may not make perfect, but it does make for better and better and better. And yet . . . there is also the Coolidge effect.

Sexual Affairs: The Extramarital Connection

We don’t call it sin today—we call it self expression.
—Baroness Stocks, British politician

At the same time that premarital sex was becoming increasingly tolerated, there was a gradual recognition that nice people—even otherwise normal, moral, and successful people—did have affairs and had them without necessarily suffering dire consequences. In 1948, Alfred Kinsey and his associates published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, followed in 1953 by the equivalent book for the human female. The implications were shocking. If the data were accurate, nearly one-half of married men had had extramarital sex at some time in their lives. Worse, of all wives, about 20 percent did so. That represents one in five. Suburban housewives were shocked and surreptitiously viewed each other with suspicion and each night faithfully checked their husband’s coat pockets.

ACTION Magazine..October 1954..PAGE 11...the K...

ACTION Magazine..October 1954.  (Photo credit: marsmet462)

Albert Ellis and other liberal psychologists of the 1960s began to suggest that under some circumstances, extramarital sex could be beneficial to the individual and even to the marriage. In 1966, John Cuber and Peggy Harroff published Sex and the Significant Americans, which showed that many supposedly successful marriages involved covert liaisons often of long duration. Moreover, even when these affairs were exposed to the light of day, their revelation did not necessarily precipitate a divorce. The flower children of the day were beginning to bloom and to talk openly about such unheard of alternatives as “swinging” (couples having sex with other couples) and “open marriage” (where one or both partners in a marriage permit their partner to have lovers outside the marriage).

The jig was up. Americans began to understand what the French seemed to have known all along. Marriage is one thing, involving a long-term partnership for children and real estate and social status. Sex is something else, and love is something else again.

Sometimes, love and sex and marriage go together; sometimes, only two are found together; and sometimes, they are totally separate. Sometimes, they start out together with love’s young dream and get separated later on. A very few lucky people find sex and love and marriage all at once in one relationship; a few unlucky ones never really find satisfaction in either sex or love or marriage.

Female Sexuality: Vanquishing Virginity

There was a young girl from a mission
Who was seized by a dreadful suspicion,
That “original sin”
Doesn’t matter a pin
In this era of nuclear fission.
—Rev. J. A. Davidson

In the not too distant past, a good girl—the kind fathers and mothers wanted for a daughter—was chaste and pure. If she did not marry, she remained virginal as her status slowly changed from nubile maid to simply old maid. The good girl modeled her virginity on such celebrated celibates as the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I. Whatever Good Queen Bess did or did not do with Leicester or her other courtiers, the official story was that she remained unsullied. To suggest otherwise was treasonous; to suggest the defloration of any good girl was libelous.

If the good girl did marry, then she became a good wife, which meant, most of all, a faithful one. She might be unloving and unlovable, an unpleasant companion and an incompetent helpmate; but if she was sexually monogamous, she was, by definition, good.

Cover of "Sex and the Single Girl"

The counterculture revolution of the sixties and the widespread use of the pill changed such definitions for many people. Helen Gurley Brown dared to talk about Sex and the Single Girl. Instead of being pilloried, she became famous and went on to expound the same ideas in the very successful magazine Cosmopolitan. Premarital sexual involvement became an open secret. It was no longer considered of great consequence as long as there was no pregnancy and as long as the girl in question permitted sexual encounters only with one man with whom she was in love and whom she planned or, at least, hoped to marry.

The Clairol company, which manufactures hair coloring, was immensely successful with an advertising campaign focused around a provocative question with a double entendre: “Does she or doesn’t she?” The world has changed,
and the question has become less provocative. Most of the time, we assume that she does or has or might.

Now, a more relevant question is, “Will she or won’t she?” As it is realized that an affair—or even more than one affair—is not necessarily beyond the pale, the open secret of premarital sexuality has become simply open. California psychologist Irene Kassorla affirmed that “nice girls do” and no one has to ask, “Do what?”

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