How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘sexual desires’

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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Beware of the Great Ghost Lover

There is sanctuary in reading, sanctuary in formal society, in the company of old friends, and in the giving of officious help to strangers, but there is no sanctuary in one bed from the memory of another.
—Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave

There’s nothing quite so wondrous, quite so awesome, quite so interesting as the first time you fall in love. It may not be with the first man whom you take as a lover . . . indeed, such emotional monogamy is more likely the exception than the rule. The intensity is partly due to ignoring or refusing to accept the possibility that such a feeling can end—not only on his part but also on yours.

If, in addition, the thrill of first love is combined with the thrill of first making love and if that initiation is a satisfactory experience, then it sets up the conditions for a powerful kind of imprinting. Newly hatched goslings will imprint on any moving object they happen to see—a moving wooden cube, the heel of their keeper, a ball of wool—and they will follow that object with all the persistence and devotion that nature intended them to bestow on the mother goose that hatched them. In the same way, a woman whose first love experience coincides with her first sexual experience, or at least her
first erotic and wonderful sexual experience, may for the rest of her days be imprinted upon a certain kind of man.

The man who was your first love may provide an idealized model for masculinity in general. If the first eyes that you loved loved you back, and said so, were let’s say, slate gray, then twenty years later, slate-gray eyes across a crowded room will still seem more riveting than they actually are. If the first kisses of great passion were enclosed in a full beard, then twenty years later, a full beard is still a special male plumage of particular appeal. Whether he was tall or short, handsome or gnome-like, muscular or slender, there’s a body type, a body image, which continues to hold for your extraordinary potential appeal.

English: Man with beard sleeping.

English: Man with beard sleeping. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If, by chance, you meet someone who seems almost the same as your first great ghost lover from the past, he’ll almost win your heart just by standing there and breathing in and out. Beware. Looking the same doesn’t at all mean that he’s the same. You pick him not for what he is but for the man he reminds you of, which isn’t very flattering to him when he figures it out. You will then project on to him the other traits of the great ghost lover and will be duly disappointed when, quite naturally, he doesn’t live up to these uncanny expectations.

If you find your first great love reincarnated, recognize the source of your attraction. Talk to him if you can’t resist the temptation to do so or if you should want to spoil your illusion with a little reality shock. Take his picture. But don’t take him to your bed in an attempt to go back in time. Even if he looks the same, he won’t be the same and you’ll both be disappointed—you, by his failure to mimic a vanished man he has never met, and he, by your failure to appreciate the fine and unique person that he, in fact, is.

And while you are thinking about your great ghost lover, remember the words of warning from the often-quoted author Bill Vaughan: “It’s never safe to be nostalgic about something until you’re absolutely certain there’s no chance of it coming back.”

“Marriage Reminds Me of Death”

I never will marry,
I’ll be no man’s wife.
I expect to live single
All the rest of my life.
—Fred Brooks, “I Will Never Marry”

In the old days, when a man came a-courtin’, a young girl’s father might take him aside in the parlor and inquire, “Are your intentions honorable? Are you seriously considering my daughter as a wife, or are you wasting her time?”

In the new courtship, which doesn’t necessarily lead to marriage, the question is still relevant. While you may harbor no intent to commit matrimony, it doesn’t mean that your lover harbors no such intent. If it so happens that your lover is in serious pursuit of a wife, he has a right to know if you would ever consider getting married, and if so, if you would ever consider getting married to him.

The cultural stereotype in our society affirms that, generally, it’s the woman who wants to get married and it’s the man who must be coaxed or snagged or snaffled into making that commitment. If that was the case in the past, it’s not necessarily so today when unmarried women can lead quite different lifestyles than did the spinsters of the past.

Cover of "The Marrying Kind"

Cover of The Marrying Kind

Some women don’t want to marry ever. They concur with the spinster aunt in Somerset Maugham’s Mrs. Craddock who exclaims, “Marriage is always a hopeless idiocy for a woman who has enough of her own to live upon.”

Other women, once burned, never want to marry again. Yet despite being misogamists—one who hates marriage—they sometimes find themselves succumbing to social pressures to marry again. Such women should belong to Divorcees Anonymous, modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. When they feel the urge to get married again, they could call an emergency number, and Divorcees Anonymous would immediately send over a fat man in a T-shirt, with a six-pack of beer, who settles down in the living room to watch football on the tube.

Women who are ideologically opposed to marriage would go along with Gloria Steinem’s commonly quoted maxim: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” If, whatever your reasons, you are adamantly not the marrying kind, then it’s important for you to make that clear to any man who becomes involved with you. The folk wisdom has been justly critical of the man who seems to court a woman but whose intentions are not honorable—that is, he has no intention of marrying her. A woman is equally at fault if she lets a man hope to marry her when she knows from the start that marriage to anyone—or at least marriage to him—isn’t for her.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line: it is my bottom that has the honey pot!
—Jadah Vaughn, “The Bottom Line”

Throughout most of the recorded history of the Western world, there’s been an implicit assumption that men owned women and that men especially owned a woman’s sexuality.

In the beginning, fathers owned daughters; later in life, husbands owned wives who had been given away by their fathers. The wife was a chattel. It would be an overstatement to say she was a slave, but she was a possession. In effect, she sold her sexual services at the time of marriage for the rest of her life. If a husband was made a cuckold by some other man, he had a right to be aggrieved and sometimes even a right to sue for damages. The law gave him not only a right to his wife’s body at all times, and under all circumstances, but an exclusive right to it. The wife had control of the husband’s honor. If she was wayward, she brought disgrace to him as much as a wayward daughter would bring disgrace to her father. In some cultures today, “honor killings” are based on that assumption.

Even at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there remains a truism which still needs to be endlessly proclaimed. A woman owns her own body. She may decide to share it with a man, or she may not. She may promise to be sexually monogamous, or she may not. She may conceive a child if she wants, or she may not. Having conceived, she may carry that child to term, or she may not. A woman owns her own body.

Whose Body?

Whose Body? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you own your own body, then the decisions about what to do with it are in fact up to you. You may give your body to someone in an act of love, but you do not deed it to him for time and eternity.

Self-ownership involves two related principles. The first is that you don’t have to give your body to anyone if you don’t want to; it’s a form of rape, even if the man is your husband, if you are taken against your will. The second principle is that you have the right to give your body to whomever you want.

The bottom line: it’s your bottom that has the honeypot.

Freedom Of Choice, Freedom To Choose

You cannot decree women to be sexually free when they are not economically free.
Shere Hite

If you ask a young man his thoughts about being a gigolo, he would likely reply with some scorn that this isn’t a role for a “real man” and that the man who does take up such a role must not be good for anything else. The same young man, however, would be pleased if his sister were dating a rich man who was generous with her, even if that rich man was of questionable physical appeal and devoid of personality.

If you asked the same young man what he would think of finding a rich woman to marry, he would likely reply with some variation on the aphorism, “The man who marries for money earns it.”

Gold Diggers

Gold Diggers (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

For the man who thought of this homily, it was, perhaps, an insight. For women, however, marrying money and then having to “earn” it is a fact of life that every girl of sixteen has already considered to be a clear and present option as well as a clear and present danger. If she marries for money, she expects to earn it. She is expected to give up control of her life in exchange for a comfortable lifestyle which will be afforded her as long as she submits to her husband’s will.

The young man who arbitrarily rejects a money marriage for himself sees no inconsistency in his profound hope that his cherished little sister will have a “good” marriage, which means a marriage to a man of means even if he is a little dull. For the woman of few resources, a husband to take care of things may be the only solution. With limited education and paltry self-confidence, it may well be better for her to marry for money than to work for peanuts.

If a woman is financially dependent upon a man, she is in his power, no matter how generous he is with her. It’s the degree of financial dependence which determines, in large part, the degree of power. Women need to obtain their own resources and to be content to live on them, however modest. If they can achieve a minimum standard of living for themselves, then sexual barter is not necessary.

If a woman has sexual freedom and has a degree of financial and social independence, then she has a new option. She has the luxury of choosing someone to love, and perhaps to marry, not because he is rich and not because he desires her, but because she desires him. Or better still because they desire each other.

Billie Holiday says it well when she sings ruefully, “Mama may have, Papa may have, but God blessed the child who’s got her own.”

Don’t Be a Working Girl

The prostitute is the only honest woman left in America.
Ti-Grace Atkinson

While there may be nothing intrinsically wrong with selling your body, there is something wrong in ending up in an exchange of sexuality for some sort of gain when the situation occurs unintentionally.

There’s something decidedly wrong in selling your body when you are not fully aware of what you are doing. You’re being exploited when you’re conned or manipulated into a “deal” you didn’t want to make.

There is something decidedly unwise, and perhaps wrong, in selling your body when the rewards are slight and the exchange is unnecessary. Such selling is usually not worth the price in terms of its psychological and emotional costs.

The well-known feminist, Ti-Grace Atkinson, undoubtedly overstates her case when she claims that the prostitute is the only honest woman in America. However, it is valid to observe that there are many women who don’t think of  themselves as working girls who are dishonest about the extent to which they use their sexuality for nonsexual reasons. If you find yourself in a situation where you end up having sex for reasons other than the anticipation of a good sexual experience, then you are in fact acting like a working girl.

Working Girls (2010 film)

Working Girls (2010 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Margaret Sanger pioneered the Planned Parenthood movement and fought for birth control to free women from the tyranny of pregnancy. However, she also fought for freedom from sexual coercion. Writing way back in 1917 when such sentiments were not usually expressed, she declared, “A mutual and satisfied sexual act is of great benefit to the average woman, the magnetism of it is health-giving. When it is not desired on the part of the woman and she has no response, it should not take place. This is an act of prostitution, and is degrading to the woman’s finer sensibility, all the marriage
certificates on earth to the contrary notwithstanding.”

What Sanger is talking about is nothing like rape in the usual and violent sense of the word. It’s nothing like prostitution in the stereotypical sense of streetwalkers standing under streetlights and taking on all comers. What Sanger refers to is the not uncommon practice of women going to bed as a result of feeling sexually intimidated.

Respectable women, who don’t think of themselves as working girls, may have sex for many nonsexy reasons: for protection, for a new diamond necklace, for drugs or a fix, for simple companionship. Many young women act like working girls without realizing it. And having accepted this role, they wonder why it is that under these conditions, they don’t enjoy sex very much. They’re not in helpless situations, yet they continue to use their sexuality as an informal medium of exchange. Or sometimes they continue to put out simply because they feel they don’t have a choice.

If a man asks you to have sex with him, you need not be offended, but neither need you be obliging. A working girl may have sex in the absence of desire and may be tactful and cheerful in putting up with men who are unappealing or who are simply inept lovers. As a non-working girl, you don’t have to, and you shouldn’t. If you don’t want to have sex, your negative reply should be as polite as possible but also firm and unambiguous. The absence of desire is in itself sufficient reason to decline.

The correct answer to continued pressure and harassment from someone you don’t feel passionate about is quite simple. “Harry, you’re a toad. I don’t sleep with toads!” But even if the Harry in question is a toad, nice girls are too considerate and nice to say so in quite those terms. They might even imply it and have Harry look so injured and tearful they then have to go to bed with him just to provide reassurance that he’s not a toad.

The correct answer may be that you would rather watch television. That the room is too hot or too cold, and you are too energized or too tired, and he’s too big or too small, too young or too old, too this or too that. In any case, the correct answer is simply, “No, thank you, I don’t want to.”

It’s fine to let yourself be seduced, if you decide that’s what you want to happen. It’s not so fine to let yourself be coerced by force or by emotional blackmail. It’s not so fine to let yourself be bribed by presents or trips or dinners or promises of introductions or other benefits. Real sexual freedom, instead of the ersatz kind, is the ability to say no for the simple reason that this particular person, at this particular time, is resistible. When responding to a man’s unwanted advances, Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl, had this witty response, “You’re really lovely, but do you honestly suppose I can sleep with every man who asks me?”

If you pick a man because he really does understand pork-belly futures and he has the Swiss bank accounts to prove it, then you don’t have a right to complain that those are the only bellies he understands, and that he couldn’t find a clitoris even if he had a global positioning system at his disposal. If you want to enjoy your own sexuality, don’t be a working girl.

The Oldest Profession

It is a silly question to ask a prostitute why she does it. These are the highest paid “professional” women of America.
—Gail Sheehy, Hustling

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with selling your body. It is, after all, the oldest profession. And it is, after all, your body and you have a right to do with it what you will, including making some choices that others may think unpleasant or unwise.

There are a number of circumstances in which some or another variation of prostitution may be a rational choice. If you are young and powerless, if you are young and powerless and poor, then you use what you have. Eva Peron, who became a political icon in Argentina, was a major spokeswoman for los descamisados (the shirtless ones). She herself was born into a slum family and, it’s alleged, began her career as a teenage prostitute. Under such circumstances, when all that a woman has is an attractive body, it’s difficult to condemn her for doing the best she can with what she has.

Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe from the ...

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a less dramatic level, the trade-offs involved in sexual exchanges can be very useful. Using your sexuality for nonsexual goals is a question of individual choice and is often a legitimate way to get what you want. In Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Anita Loos quite rightly points out that “kissing your hand may make you feel very good, but a diamond is a girl’s best friend.” It’s more or less acceptable for nice girls to prefer men of wealth. While they may be considered gold diggers, they are also considered smart.

Granting sexual favors may not be necessary for survival, but it can be expedient. If the sex acts involved are at least not unpleasant, then having sex can be a convenient way of paying for dinner or of being nice or of exerting control or of creating a useful obligation.

If you want to get money from men, then there is no question about the kind of lover you should pick. Pick a rich one. The richer, the better. If you want to get favors from men, then there is no question about the kind of lover you should pick. Pick an influential one.

The exchange of sexuality for other favors can have important consequences. The legendary Hollywood “casting couch” is based on reality and has its equivalent in many other industries. Television celebrity Barbara Walters assures young women, “I didn’t get ahead by sleeping with people. Girls, take heart!” Perhaps she did not, but many have.

Many young women have come to realize that like Sally Stanford, the last grand “madam” in San Francisco who later became mayor of Sausalito, they too are “sitting on a fortune.” The folk wisdom is full of references to such exchanges, which don’t involve explicit prostitution but which do involve the trading of sex for nonsexual considerations.

It’s not only that one is advised to “go along in order to get along.” Women are also advised to “give head in order to get ahead,” and that happens at all levels. In a 1981 book The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, Irving Wallace reports that when Marilyn Monroe signed her first major contract, she is alleged to have exclaimed, “That’s the last cock I’ll have to suck.”

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