Arousal and order

Arousal and order July 16, 2005

In Bed and Board , Robert Farrar Capon points out how disordered sexual relations are deeply engrained in contemporary life. Capon wrote the book 40 years ago, but what he says is more true today even than it was then. Men, he says, “come to marriage after years of being conditioned to respond to certain more or less irrelevant features – the height of heels, the length of hair, the size of waistlines, the prominence of busts. When they become husbands, however, they find that what they have learned to consider Sexy is not too dependably supplied by marriage. Waistlines thick as the years go by, and busts fall and fashions change. But husbands still wait to be aroused, and not infrequently they wait more than they do anything else. They grow impatient. They complain.” The problem is precisely that they are waiting. Even when they respond to their wives’ allure, there is something deeply wrong, because they are not created to respond but to initiative: “No human being can afford to settle for being only the occasion of somebody else’s pleasure. No wife can long endure being treated as if her chief sexual function were to arouse her husband. That puts the shoe on exactly the wrong foot. She is, after all, a person; if her husband never grows from passion and response into action and love – if he doesn’t stop waiting to be aroused and realize he’s got to making something of a career of arousing – she is not going to find being a wife much of a fulfillment.”

Though he does not at all endorse adultery, he notes that affairs in some sense put things back into proper order: “In an affair, it is precisely the real roles of Man and Woman, of Lover and Beloved, that are temporarily, if impossibly restored. For as long as it stays fresh, the thing constitutes a restoration of the relation of courtship, and people respond to it mightily. He feels like a man for the first time in years; she reojoices to find someone who will treat her as a woman.”

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