As you may have noticed here at The Charlie Tonic Hour we are all about good drinks and good conversation. Some of the most engaging conversations we’ve had on the podcast so far have had to do with my experience of sexuality and America’s complicated relationship with this subject, as in this post and in the discussion we had on Episode #3. Sex is the perfect topic for a conversation based show because it is something that everyone has some degree of experience with, even if it is a decision to abstain from it, and therefore has an opinion about. It’s fascinating also because the only other thing that has changed as drastically as sexual attitudes in my lifetime is technology, another of our favorite topics. Sex is interesting because, like religion, a person’s or a culture’s attitude towards it is a fascinating glimpse into how they relate to the world as a whole.
Writing about sex is tricky for just this reason. The act itself is deeply personal but the rules, opinions and taboos surrounding it cut right to the heart of how we collectively define our world. I am just an outspoken novice in this area, still as likely to stick my foot in my mouth as to make a salient point. That is one reason why I am so appreciative of Tracy Clark-Flory’s writing over on Salon.com. Given the potentially landmine ridden landscape of sexual attitudes in America, it is refreshing to find a writer who can deftly navigate the terrain without succumbing to salaciousness or fits of vapors. Clark-Flory maintains a factual, non-hysterical tone while at the same time taking a firm stand for equality, pleasure and morality in our sexual lives, be it while taking on reader’s questions in her Am I Normal? column, exploring national trends like “manscaping” or what the recession means for sex.
I was especially enjoying her tone and style of writing this week. The major and minor news outlets were all abuzz with the “bombshell” that Newt Gingrich had allegedly asked his second wife for an open marriage when the six year long affair with the current Mrs. Gingrich was discovered. In an ideal world I would have preferred that the media ignore this piece of information and focus on the vast number of more legitimate reasons why Gingrich is unfit for the presidency. Barring that it would have been preferable to see people being more shocked and uncomfortable about the serial infidelity and callousness of his behavior than focusing on an offer that was, if anything, asking permission to continue his affair and not an attempt to negotiate an open marriage. But as it is I have been seeing article after article with the breathless headline “Newt Wanted Open Marriage” asking “Do Open Marriages Ever Work?” I congratulate Clark-Flory for instead running with the headline “Newt Gingrich’s Traditional Values” wherein she interviewed several people who have done actual research on the subject, presented the information in a factual manner before wryly ending with a quote from a psychologist who pointed out that public monogamy and clandestine adultery were in fact very traditional behavior.
This was an opinion I was very glad to see echoed in Amanda Marcotte’s article in the XX factor blog on Slate.com, who pointed out that powerful men have always expected to have a wife who looks the other way when he keeps a mistress on the side. Marcotte is right on the money when she says “There’s nothing nontraditional about what Gingrich was asking for, which is why the traditionalist voters didn’t hold it against him…With Gingrich’s serial adultery we’ve gotten an ugly glimpse of what upholding tradition actually means, though I doubt the lesson will actually stick with many.”
These are the kind of conversations that I am talking about when I say that I enjoy talking about sex and sexuality. The dirty details are fun and believe me, I love to dish them out, but the national conversation we are having on adultery and open marriages right now says much more about our values as a nation than they do about what we actually do in the bedroom. Hats off to writers like Tracy Clark-Flory and Amanda Marcotte for furthering the dialogue in a mature and insightful manner.