How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘sexual revolution’

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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Safe Conduct: Guidelines for an Affair of the Heart

It’s a wise man who profits by his experience, but it’s a good deal wiser one who lets the rattlesnake bite the other fellow.
—Josh Billings

In times of war, when it is necessary to venture into hostile territory, one is sometimes issued a “safe conduct pass” which is supposed to assure that the bearer can pass through the danger zone unmolested. Women who venture into the uncertainty of new relationships based on new social norms don’t have any more guarantees of fulfillment than their grandmothers did. There are, however, some guidelines that can serve as a kind of safe conduct pass which, if followed, will help you to actualize as fully as possible your nascent affair with the new lover you have selected.

Love Affair (1939 film)

Love Affair (1939 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Logan Smith, the American epigrammatist, points out, “There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second.” There is no foolproof formula for a perfect love affair. There are, however, guidelines which, like other kinds of safe conduct documents, may offer more protection. In the tradition of commandments, I’ve listed a Decalogue of rules which you would be wise to consider carefully when pursuing an affair of the heart. I will address each of them separately in future posts.

DECALOGUE: GUIDELINES FOR AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART

RULE ONE: ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE AFFAIR.
RULE TWO: ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR BIRTH CONTROL.
RULE THREE: BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR INTENTIONS.
RULE FOUR: PICK THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE RIGHT REASONS.
RULE FIVE: ACCEPT THE INEVITABILITY OF CHAUVINISM.
RULE SIX: DO YOUR PART TO MAKE THE AFFAIR SUCCESSFUL.
RULE SEVEN: RESPECT PRIVILEGED INFORMATION.
RULE EIGHT: MINIMIZE JEALOUSY.
RULE NINE: BEWARE THE MONSTER THAT IS HABIT.
RULE TEN: TAKE TIME TO SAVOR LOVE.

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.

Keeping Score

How many arms have held you,
And hated to let you go?
How many, how many I wonder
But I really don’t want to know.
—Don Robertson, Howard Barnes

Sooner or later, everybody always asks, “How many men have you slept with? How many affairs have you had?”

If you are about to enter into your first affair and are still virgo intacta, then you probably should tell your prospective lover that you have chosen him for your first time. The loss of one’s maidenhead can be a momentous occasion, and if he knows of your innocence, he may be more solicitous of it.

If you have had one affair, you can say demurely, “Only one.” Nowadays, only a minority of men is likely to insist upon a virgin bride although they might prefer such a circumstance. Unless you are about to marry a Mormon missionary, admitting to one previous affair is probably safe.

The trouble with the more-or-less-acceptable answer of “only one” is that you can use it only once. When the truth is that there has been more than one previous lover, the truth becomes more treacherous. Under those circumstances, you might admit to “a passel.” This term is appropriately vague, referring to an indeterminate number. And if he insists upon a specific number, then there is only one correct answer, which is to give a range: more than one, less than five hundred.

Why does your man want to know? What difference does it make to him what your scorecard reads? Why does he want to view a scalp collection? Don’t buy the “I’m-just-curious” answer from anyone except a researcher from the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, and then, only after you have seen his interviewer identification badge. The man to whom it’s not very important he will not press the issue; the man for whom it’s very important he will keep pressing, and that alone tells you that any answer will be the wrong answer.

Don’t be led into the trap of the man who confesses all (all?) of his affairs and then insists that since he has told you, so you must tell him. Wrong. If he wants to confess his sins or brag about his conquests or whatever he is doing for whatever reasons, fine, but that doesn’t obligate you to do the same. The entire game of “Did you ever . . . ?” is a dangerous one. It leads to other games like “Who all did you sleep with? Did you ever make it with Jack? Did you ever have a black man?” (Or a white man, depending on your race.) That leads to still more games like “Who was the best? Am I the best? Was Jack better than me?” Some conversations are just not worth having, and this is one of them.

Ashley Madison 74%

Ashley Madison 74% (Photo credit: thelampnyc)

It would be nice if teenagers could fall in love once and once only and then live happily ever after, remaining true to each other year after year for fifty years. It would be nice, and it does happen, but it isn’t the way to bet. Men, including husbands, have long retained the option of pursuing more than one woman. More recently, women in general, including wives, have begun to realize their potential to do the same. Evan Esar, the American humorist, predicts, “In the future, a woman who sticks to one man will be regarded as a monomaniac.”

The Penultimate Test: Take Him Home

A woman’s home is her hassle!
—Jayson VanVerten

When you have found a prospective lover who seems in many ways to be the real thing, or at least close to the real thing, take him home. Well, not necessarily home to meet your mother unless you are only seventeen, but home to where you live or work.

If you are in a relationship contrive some situation in which he’ll meet your husband or your current lover dangerous as that may initially seem. See him when you’re with your children. Put him in the same group with other significant people in your life, be they coworkers or a brother or whomever. This strategy is, of course, irrelevant if all that’s involved is a one-night stand or a one-afternoon tumble.  This strategy is only important for a lover that you hope to keep for a period of time.

Lover

Lover (Photo credit: Squirmelia)

First of all, you’ll see how well he behaves under moderate pressure before there is any real pressure. Can he talk baseball scores with your husband without glowering? Does he show deference to your husband and his domain? Does he treat your children as miniature people or as little irritants that get in his way? Can he be cool and poised in a situation in
which, you hope, only you and he understand the real nature of the dynamics that are going on?

If a man bungles initial meetings before any events of real significance have occurred, you cannot trust him to be cool and to remain discreet when at some future date there may be more violent emotions and more significant events to cover up. What’s really involved here isn’t only a test of sophistication but also a test of potential possessiveness and jealousy. Some unworldly boys of twenty can manage the situation with good grace and good humor; while some apparently worldly men in midlife are transparent and awkward.

The good lover must have a certain amount of guile, a certain talent for ambiguity. It’s paradoxical, but what you want is a contradictory qualification: the ability to dissemble to the world at large and the ability to project to you that with you, he speaks and shows only the truth and all the truth.

In 1984, George Orwell called it double think, a dubious trait you must both possess. You must be willing to believe: “Yes, we lie to the outside world, by omission if no other way. But no, we don’t lie to each other.” Like good theater, a good affair requires a certain suspension of disbelief.

Taking a prospective lover home also helps him to concretize the day-today reality with which you have to contend. Not just a husband, but Harry the husband. Not just three kids, but Mollie and Mattie and Maryanne. When you have to get home for a Girl Scout meeting, he knows who it is for and what it will be like. When you have to get home to make cunning
little stuffed mushrooms to stuff into your husband’s cunning little stuffed business associates, he can visualize the kitchen where you work and the room where they are served. The obligations are made real, and the more they are made real, the more he’s able to take them as seriously as you must.

You also need to take your lover home to demystify him for the people you work and live with. A mysterious gentleman caller is quite romantic and attractive if you’re a single girl who delights in collecting beaux just as your grandmother did. But if you are of a certain age and especially if you are married, collecting beaux isn’t exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, however delightful that pastime may be.

When someone finally asks, “Who was that man?” you need to be able to say casually, “Who? Oh, him. You remember him. That’s Tony. You met him at the Smith’s party. He’s in landscaping. He’s trying to talk us into a new pool.” Or whatever.

The best alibis are those you create before you need them, not afterward.

Her Sexuality: His Sexuality

Show business is like sex. When it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful. But when it isn’t very good, it’s still all right.
—Max Wall, The Listener

Its true that the sexual revolution has led to an increased permissiveness regarding many kinds of sexual encounters, including relatively casual ones. The so-called new morality, however, doesn’t yet take into account all of the implications of the discrepancies between male and female patterns of sexual response.

Even if 90 percent of young women are now orgasmic and proud of it, there remains another fact of life to be taken into account. The sexual response patterns of most women are different from the sexual response patterns of most men. This difference may be innate, or it may be simply due to different socialization patterns. Whatever its origin, it is nonetheless real.

Generally speaking, men tend to be more sexual creatures than do women. His sex drive tends to be stronger than her sex drive; his sexual urges are more frequent and more urgent. The differences that men and women experience in erotic desire are most pronounced when you compare the rapacious enthusiasm which is often characteristic of teenage boys with the reticence often characteristic of teenage girls.

Most young women may very well seek love or affection or contact comfort; but they are, for the most part, less driven by the overt need for sexual release. While recent studies have shown that teenage girls have sex almost as often as teenage boys, they do so for very different reasons. Teenage girls are far more likely to have sex to please their boyfriends or to experiment or because of peer pressure or because they want to feel loved, whereas teenage boys are far more driven by an overarching physical desire for sex.

For the most part, men are more easily turned on than are women. Alex Comfort, the noted British sexologist, observes, “Male sexual response is far brisker and more automatic. It is triggered easily by things—like putting a quarter in a vending machine.” At seventeen, a young man may be turned on by anything vaguely suggestive although he may not be able to do anything very effective with all his erotic energy.

The discrepancy in sex drive tends to be less pronounced when you compare older men and women. With age and with lowering levels of testosterone, the male sex hormone, a man’s sex drive becomes less compelling. With experience and perhaps with resulting loss of inhibition, a woman’s sexual responsiveness may increase with age. She may be more of a sexual creature at forty-five than she was at fifteen or at twenty-five. In spite of this rapprochement, however, for most men compared with most women, sex per se is more compelling and important.

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

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Differences in sex drive also relate to differences in sexual satisfaction. For men who are potent, which is most of them, achieving an orgasm is seldom a problem although postponing one may be. In contrast, for women, having an orgasm is something that has to be learned, and it is not always easily achieved. Except for the very lucky, doing what comes naturally just doesn’t work.

A woman, especially an inexperienced woman, often needs a longer time and a particular frame of mind to be able to achieve an orgasm. She needs a lover who is patient and sexually skilled enough to provide the right kind of stimulation. With time, she becomes experienced enough to know what she wants and comfortable enough to tell her partner what works for her. Most often, she also needs a partner whom she trusts enough so that she may feel psychologically secure.

Viewed from this perspective, the shopping list of a woman’s sexual “needs” is, in fact, quite extensive. Without all of these components present all at once, having sex may not be all that appealing to her and, on many occasions, she would really prefer not to have sex at all.

The British comedian Max Wall may think that, for him, “when it isn’t very good, it’s still all right.” But legions of women would disagree. For them, when it isn’t very good, it can be annoying, intrusive, degrading, painful, or just plain boring.

The New Courtship

The pleasure of love is in loving. We are happier with the passion we feel than in that we arouse.
—François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims

For decades, for centuries, for a millennium, men have had the right and privilege of choosing as sex partners women who turned them on. If they wanted a partner who was young or mature, short or tall, blonde or dark, quiet or bold, curved or slender, they could pursue the women most pleasing to them.

Of course, not all men were successful in winning the kind of women they most preferred. And of course, some men didn’t allow themselves such indulgences but made pragmatic choices of wives who were heiresses or the daughters of bosses or women who were otherwise useful for disparate ends. Such marriages did not necessarily preclude their simultaneous quest for other women who would be mistresses. In most instances, the women selected as sex objects or as love objects were selected because they were judged to be sexy or lovable.

In contrast to this pattern, women for a millennium have selected men for practical considerations. A woman needed a provider for herself and a provider and father for her children. In most instances, the most valuable commodity a woman had, to negotiate with in the world, was her body. She used this marketable asset to her best advantage, offering virginity and then fidelity in exchange for protection and security.

It wasn’t so much that men had to be attractive as that they had to have attractive compensating features, such as money or power. For the good wife, sex was business, and sexual intercourse was work. Many good wives were happy in their work, but it was work all the same. If she refused her husband, she could be out of a job. In fact, she couldn’t refuse him. He provided for her, so he had a right to her body. She had been, in effect, sold to him and couldn’t be used by anyone else without his permission.

Supposedly, North America has experienced a social and sexual revolution over the past thirty years. Supposedly, there are now different options for women – compared to our grandmothers and mothers –  who are liberated in many new ways and who have given up old stereotypes. If this is indeed the case, then, shouldn’t we now think about sexual encounters from a new perspective.

sexual revolution

Photo credit: cdrummbks

Let’s assume for a start that the new woman is enough in tune with her body and its erotic potential to really like sex. Touching feels good, arousal feels good, and orgasms are nonproblematic. Sex for her is or can be joyous. Fun. Wonderful. At a minimum, nice.

Let’s further assume that the “new woman” is enough in charge of her life and destiny that she can make her own way. If she has enough resources to support herself and her children at a level she considers to be adequate, she can then afford the indulgence of evaluating men as sex objects in the same way that women have been evaluated over the centuries. Whether she works as an executive secretary or is herself an executive, she has a living wage which comes to her in some other way than trading her body for favors or protection.

Such a woman can afford to pick a lover because he’s sexy or lovable, not because he owns three apartment buildings in prime locations. She can try to find the kind of man most to her liking, using intrinsic rather than extrinsic criteria. She’ll have to pay her own bills, but in return, she has control of her own body and a wide range of opportunity for personal and erotic development.

The woman who is not physically or psychologically forced to have sex when she doesn’t want to has a new kind of freedom. She can opt for celibacy if she wants, but she can also opt to have sex for purely sexual reasons. For many that is a revolutionary idea. It’s an idea that is long overdue. It’s an idea whose time has come. It’s an idea that needs to be openly acknowledged.

I will explore this paradigm shift in female sexuality in future posts in greater detail.

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