Sex Marks the Marriage

A cultural upside: Apparently we are among “the most puritanical nations” as we have been resisting “the notion of adultery most rigorously.”

Catherine Hakim, writing in the Telegraph based on a new book she’s written, is perplexed by

the sour and rigid English view of affairs. Marital love and passion only rarely provide an equally rich source of the exalted feelings, transports of delight and misery associated with love and romance. Affairs are about excitement, being alive, seduction, flirtation, love, affection, sexual bliss, lust, caution, eroticism, fantasy, danger, adventure, exploration and the determined refusal to grow old gracefully.

She believes that the next big thing for the Internet connecting Mars and Venus is to dive into a deeper exploration of sexual gratification, insisting that will be a help to marriage if partners go find someone else’s spouse online for some illicit play:

The setting is the quiet corner of an Italian restaurant in the City; the players are George, an IT specialist, and Zoe, who wears a pretty dress and a big smile; they drink an especially good bottle of wine and when they get to coffee he reaches over and kisses her on the mouth. She surprises him by kissing him back. To onlookers it might be the classic opening scene of a traditional romance.

Yet both parties are married to other people, whom they have no intention of leaving. Although they will go on to enjoy all the spoils of a relationship, from intimate phone calls to Christmas shopping trips and, of course, regular sex, this is understood from the outset. They are in fact launching into a “playfair”, a 21st-century affair in which would-be adulterers meet, via specialist dating websites, to enjoy the excitement of an illicit relationship without any of the domestic fallout.

Alongside the internet dating revolution, these “playfairs” are evidence of a potentially dramatic shift in British marriage. As dating websites open up a global shop window of sexual possibilities, as life expectancy continues to rise and we become increasingly sexually aware, how can we still take the crushing old rules of fidelity, that turn marriage into a prison, for granted? Why should we not be able to recapture the heady thrills of youth, while protecting a secure home life?

The time has come, alongside the technology, to redraw the rules of marriage for the 21st century. Just as the Pill opened up premarital sex in the Sixties, the internet is opening up a whole new culture of affairs among married people. Sex has become a major leisure activity of our time, accessible to everyone, married or not, rich and poor. It’s time to start honing our seduction skills and join the playground.

But Hakim’s view of marriage plays on a pop-song understanding of it at best, where it’s all supposed to be fireworks and urge satiation. Gone is the pursuit of happiness (or a healthy understanding of what that is), winning the future becomes surrender to sexual pursuit, divorced from the truth of marriage.

The good of the other? A journey together to perfection in Christ? Huh?

Why this is so interesting to me is that her evaluation of the Internet, dating sites, marriage and their correlation seems so off. What I’ve found most fascinating about the topic from a casual viewing is the number of more traditionally minded who go to the Internet to find a real marriage — based on shared values and friendship. They have conversations about children and goals and philosophy early, so there are no misunderstandings (well as much as anyone can ever be in the clear here).

The Internet can be the worst of the Sexual Revolution made manifest in workplaces, dens, and bedrooms. It can also be a tool in cultural and relational renewal.

It’s a matter of choice, I suppose. We can use the Internet to further tear away at marriage with playfairs and other forms of adultery-seeking online or we can use it to plant the seeds of good marriage, support for marriage, sharing about marriage.

I’m just done writing a review for the next issue of National Review of Mary Eberstadt’s new book, Adam and Eve After the Pill and Hakim’s view strikes me as so very dated, as I see young people in some of the hottest cultural spots around actively seek something better than what the Sexual Revolution has had to offer. And yet, the federal government is adamant about the institutionalization of those dated values, as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services abortion-inducing drug, sterilization, contraception mandate.

The choice is indeed ours to make. Be alert and spread the word as someone else makes it for you, by government edict.

  • Elizabeth Scalia

    Great Post, Kathryn!

  • http://pursuedbytruth.blogspot.com Theresa

    Yes, that is exactly what a marriage needs – more affairs. Huh?! Catherine Hakim also wrote a book encouraging women to use “erotic capital” to get ahead in the work place.

    Somehow I think this is more about selling books than it is about making a real academic contribution to society.

  • http://www.midorisnyder.com Midori

    Hakim’s description of marriage is so sterile and on the face of it doesn’t include children. After forty years of my own marriage and two children, I am continually surprised by how much more there is to learn about this deep and abiding relationship.

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  • http://www.patheos.com Deacon Tom

    “Just as the Pill open up premarital sex in the Sixties ….” “Affairs are about excitement, being alive, seduction, flirtation, love, affection, sexual bliss, lust, caution, eroticism, fantasy, danger, adventure, exploration and the determined refusal to grow old gracefully.” I hope Hakim does not really believe this cr_p, and she is “merely” prostituting herself to sell books. If she does believe what she is saying, how ignorant and sad! Has she not considered the negativesocietal impacts of adultery and “recreational sex”? What about the broken marriages, single-parent families, abandoned children, STDs, “unwanted pregnancies,” and abortions that have plagued the sexual revolution from its beginning? Small concerns in Hakim’s minds eye for a few moments of sexual bliss!

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  • Walter Von Ahn

    I agree with you until the end when it’s the same gripe about HHS. This is a complex matter of providing health care via public/ private enteties in a pluralistic society. Cardinal Dolan is using bumper sticker rhetoric when he acuses Obama of waging ” war on religion” it’s just silly and more appropriate coming from a political hack than a prince of the church.