Newt Gingrich, Open Marriages and Writing about Sex in America

Newt Gingrich, Open Marriages and Writing about Sex in America

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.

3 Responsesto “Newt Gingrich, Open Marriages and Writing about Sex in America”

  1. Travis says:

    The only reason I think it’s relevant to the issues is that “marriage” is an issue. Newt has an opinion on who can and can’t get married because it will “destroy traditional marriage”. His behavior shows that he never believed in “traditional” marriage in the first place. Rick Santorum has even brought up Polygamy as a “worst case” scenario if gays are given the right to marry. I’m sure many will bring up Mitt Romney’s religion’s history of allowing multiple wives, but that hasn’t been true within his lifetime, so I don’t feel that is relevant, nor is Newt’s championing the impeachment of Bill Clinton since that, on paper at least, was about perjury, not adultery.

    But as long as these guys wield the sword of “traditional marriage” as a political weapon, as far as I’m concerned, they are living by the sword, and can die by it too.

  2. tiefling says:

    Gingrich claims that only those who believe in God are and can be moral. And then, of course, he cheats on both of his wives. Open marriage carries with it an element of honesty and trust that cheating on your spouse does not. I can’t abide hypocrisy, especially by someone claiming his beliefs make him moral and my beliefs make me immoral.

  3. Ginny says:

    I completely agree with both of you. The things that were really bothering me about all of this was first, that the “open marriage” angle even got any traction in the news when Newt’s infidelity was already common knowledge. I was surprised that this was really supposed the be the new “shocking” revelation and disappointed that the idea of an open marriage was supposed to be morally inferior to carrying on an affair for six years while your current wife battled cancer. The other thing that was bothering me was that really, even according to his second wife, Newt wasn’t asking for an open marriage. He was demanding that she either accept that he had a mistress or get a divorce. I feel sorry for Tristan Taormino for suddenly being put in the position of “defending” Newt Gingrich when she talks about negotiated non-monogamy.