In a compelling and hypnotically well-written article in this month’s Esquire magazine, John Richardson valiantly argues against the artificial societal restraints put on sexual activity in modern, supposedly-“civilized” society, and in favor of true sexual liberation.
I want to suggest that sex, be it adulterous or premarital or deviant or polyamorous, is a good thing, not a bad thing, and that sex itself is the moment of grace. And that our sterile idea of perfection is the actual sin. To start with the subject on the table, adultery is a brave rebellion against the invisible prison we build for ourselves. When the sad little man Larry Craig widened his stance in that airport bathroom, it was probably the most honest and courageous act of his life. When Clinton got that blowjob in the White House, he wasn’t indulging a weakness (and an eager intern) but enacting the hero’s journey of reconciling inner and outer, risking all to break through the wall of hypocritical purity he had spent years building and projecting to the world in the effort to get elected. By risking martyrdom, in fact, he lifted himself up into an exaltation we still refuse to understand. He was the Martyred Jesus of Oral Sex with Interns and all we see is a mean little sin, as all the sexual deviates pretending to be puritans gathered around in an orgy of denunciation and scandal. In our condemnation, we focus on the supposedly broken vows and the supposed pain of his wife when in fact we know nothing of his wife’s true feelings or her knowledge and tolerance of his “frisky” side (frisky being one of the endless array of demeaning expressions we use as invisible prison bars, along with dog and pig and you only want one thing). We never consider that our reaction is the punishment and the meanness is all in our eyes. Every single time we play out this ritual, we replay the Old Testament rite in which the pious transferred their sins to goats, which were then driven into the wilderness, just as we drive David Petraeus and a parade of other scapegoats out the gates of our smug little village of lies in the hope that we can put the “sin” outside the gate — when it is, of course, always inside. That’s what happens when you put up gates.
In perhaps his most shrewd and astute passage – and one of the most sagacious passages I’ve ever read anywhere, on any subject – Richardson continues:
What we’re afraid of is the truth. We live in a world in which men and women are buried up to their necks and stoned to death for these same impulses. We recoil at such barbarism with smug assertions of our superior level of civilization while cheerfully meting out our own version of punishment for the same supposed crime — anything to avoid looking at the deeper questions of why adultery exists and what exactly all our endless sexual prohibitions and inhibitions are supposed to do for us. Because if they are there to stabilize the family or inhibit sexually compulsive perversions or avoid the conflicts attendant in jealousy, they’re failing spectacularly and they always have.
He does spend some column inches arguing in favor of adultery – not promoting it necessarily, but arguing for its acceptance as an inevitable corollary to the social strictures we’ve created in the institution of monogamous marriage, and that for a cheating husband we have only ourselves and human nature to blame – and that, I have to say, is a tough nut to crack. The presence of such an argument might make it difficult for some readers to get behind his treatise here, myself included. But in confronting us with the darker, animalistic side of our nature, particularly at a time when we are celebrating and relishing in our civilization and patriotic xeno-supremacy like never before, Richardson’s assertions are both challenging and helpful – even healthy, I think – to consider. With his writing, he lays out his argument with a beautiful intuitiveness that makes perfect and complete sense while being dissonant to what we thought we knew, and, at times, somewhat despicable. I dare you to read it.
And the real sadness and tragedy is not that we overreached, that we tempted fate with our imitation of the gods — the real tragedy is that we have been made ashamed to declare ourselves as gods, which is why a man like the otherwise estimable General Petraeus martyrs himself and fires himself when most of the world is finally happy to put the barbaric past behind us and admit it’s just a personal matter, that we’re beyond that spouse-as-property social contract now, that husbands and wives in the modern world have to learn to listen to each other and accommodate their different and changing needs. Trained in a religio-military ethic to honor discipline above life, he feels so guilty for his one eruption of rampant unsublimated manhood that he turns his eyes from the truth that his social prominence and brief rebellion reveal to so many great men: The real failure is not sexual vitality, the real failure is all in the eyes of the mean little scolds who drag us down from the throne and tell us we are hateful, our desire is hateful, that our essential vitality is a sin.
They know in their hearts that this is a lie, which is why they immediately pivot to celebrating the invisible bars. It’s his wife or her husband who is the victim, they say, it’s the lie he told, the promise he failed to honor — always the forms and not the substance, never mind that we’re interposing ourselves between him and his wife and reading into their privacy our own broken oath. That’s the essential tell that shows we don’t really give a damn about their private life. It’s about us. We’re the ones who feel violated, who feel threatened. Tiger Woods owed us. We wanted him to be pure, to be perfect, to be an example and not a man, and definitely not a god worshipped by the groupies we will never have. We wanted him to be more and less at the same time, the sanitized definition of a saint, but especially less because we knew he was more and we hated him for that. So we tried to abstract the vitality out of him and make him less, more like us. Anything to drive that goat out the gates of the city — because the last thing we want to do is face the goat within. Because if the Big Dog and the Tiger are out there fucking eager women and that’s not a terrible shameful sin, then why aren’t we out there fucking eager women?
Quickly, before we can think too deeply, let’s come up with reasons why!