Tuesday, November 22, 2005

What's marriage got to do with it?

I'm against pre-marital sex.

Not that I have anything against sex per se [1]. It's the pre-marital bit that I have trouble with. It's such a ridiculous and reductive notion - this idea that it's okay to have sex if and only if there's a marriage somewhere in the offing. It's a classic bait and switch deal - first celebrating sex out of proportion, then adding a sting to its tail. You know how HP sells you its printers at throwaway prices and then makes money on the ink? It's the same kind of thing.

Okay, look, let's put aside for a minute the whole debate about whether marriage is desirable at all. Let's ignore the problem of how this pre-marital business is to be contracted for, or what may constitute a breach of that agreement (is it okay to have sex with someone who you're going to marry as long as they die before you marry them?). Let's not even think about going into what exactly constitutes a sex act and why, but for a neolithic preoccupation with virginity, penetration matters.

The thing I have trouble with is why the two events - sex and marriage - should be conditional on each other in any way. That's not sexual liberation, it's a more insidious servitude. At least with the old chastity argument you had the implicit sense that sex wasn't something worth getting hot and bothered about. The pre-marital sex argument merely emphasises the notion of sex as something monstrous and sinful, a vicious dog that must be kept firmly on a chain, except now it's important enough to get married over [2]. People who don't have the courage to accept sex for its own sake may as well not have it; and those of us who see it as little more than a source of harmless pleasure don't need to be scaffolded to some defunct institution in order to enjoy it.

Understand that I'm not making a case for that most terrible of catch phrases - casual sex. I'd be the first to agree that choosing a sexual partner is an act of meditation and discernment, if only because sex without trust or intimacy strikes me as being a dubious pleasure. I'm simply saying that the choice of sexual partner and the choice of spouse are fundamentally different decisions and require both distinct criteria and different cut-offs on the criteria that are common. Take financial prudence, for example - do I really need someone I'm having sex with to have a good credit history? Or be someone I'm willing to share a joint checking account with? Yet surely these are things I would look for in a spouse. Why then should the choice of one be related to the other? It's like saying you need to have a degree in accounting before you can drink at a bar.

The problem, I think, is primarily semantic. The trouble is that in the dichotomous black-and-white world of the moral police, there are only two categories - sex within the confines of marriage, and promiscuity. This is like saying that anyone who doesn't own a Merc is a pedestrian. The fact is that it is possible to have sexual relationships that are not linked to marriage but that are otherwise far from casual. Let's call such relationships 'passionate sex' (okay, okay, so that's a loaded term, but it's a hell of a lot better than calling it formal sex - as opposed to casual; besides, it's about time someone did a little marketing for the other side). Passionate sex is sex with emotional involvement but without the tyranny of social definitions. It may or may not be exclusive (yes, MR, I knew you were going to bring that up) in the short run, but it rejects both a commitment to longer term exclusivity and the ignominy of random selection. Understand that I'm not saying this is a new idea that someone should try - I think, correction, I know, that Passionate Sex is a reality of the world we live in. It's just that we don't have the right word for it.

Bottomline: The point about the whole pre-marital sex discussion is that the real issue is not sex, it's marriage. If the advocates of pre-marital sex seem locked in an irreconcilable battle with those who aver a stricter 'moral' code, it's only because they're the only two groups still backward enough to think sex is an issue. It's like watching two schoolboys fight during detention - the rest of us have already left the building.

Notes:

[1] Mom, Dad, if you're reading this, just keep repeating to yourself that stuff about this blog being mostly fiction.

[2] I seriously worry that there are people out there whose entire will to get married is born out of sexual frustration. It would explain so much.

19 comments:

Jabberwock said...

Great post! Right up there (or down there?) with the how-to-commit-suicide-during-a-flight one.

Falstaff said...

jabberwock: Thanks. Though I'm curious - is it just coincidence that your definition of great post is highly correlated to posts that will cause my parents to panic and make transatlantic phone calls?

Mrudula said...

Good post. Also this stupid fact about men having sex before they get married is ok, because they are men. But women shouldn't (gnashing teeth). Sex and marriage goddamit. I mean what are we supposed to do, supress our desires until we find this elusive right guy. I may find somebody I want to marry at 40, what should I do until then? On second thoughts I can't say what I'd do, not here!

Neela said...

Falstaff not sure about the sexual frustration bit, but there ARE people out there whose entire will to get married is born out of parking frustration. do you realize how seductive a good parallel parker is?

n!

Cheshire Cat said...

I find your views alarmingly conservative. Rightly, you reject the hypocrisy of associating sex with marriage, but you uphold in its place some vague platonic ideal of an 'emotionally fulfilling relationship'.

"..sex without trust or intimacy to be a dubious pleasure"
"ignominy of random selection"

But don't you see, randomness is the very point of it - new, all new, an act without history. Miraculous anomaly. A splinter of life, but the most brilliant of splinters! And nothing afterward - no doubts, no regrets. Surely you are aware of the aleatory pleasures of art, of poetry - can you not imagine that experience transmitted to the realm of life, of sex?

Honestly, if you were given the opportunity to fuck a mysterious stranger to whom you are deeply attracted, someone you have never met before and are unlikely to meet again, would you deny yourself? What would come of that denial? What?

aquamarine said...

Well, the question of indulging in pre-marital sex is a personal choice. Moral policing is nuthing but a load of Bull***, where the rules don't apply to you, but to the rest of the world.
Yep, I am with Mru on the issue of men indulging in pre-marital sex and that's perfectly fine. But women are branded as slutty. It is like saying, "it's alright. The guy is a Dickhead, and dat's fine, because he is a guy and that's normal". Mayb that's all he has to offer...marriage borne out of sexual frustration...please!!!!!

Accidental Fame Junkie said...

I do agree that Passionate sex is the reality of the world around us. And yes sex and marriage are two concepts which get confused or fused time and again. Sex is a personal choice within and without a marriage. And marriage as we know is an economic arrangement most of the time.

Btw, methinks you have started the post on a personal note to get everyone's attention! :)

meditativerose said...

Falstaff: This is fine and all, but pray tell - why does any discussion of non-exclusive sexual relationships *have* to refer to me??
Also, I take issue with your dismissal of casual sex ... even controlling for skill and attractiveness, I think the two can provide very different experiences ... think of it as joy vs. exhiliration. Of course, you do need to factor in that a complete stranger might be an axe-murderer ... but that's also a new experience, right ... how many axe-murderers do you meet at school?

Mrudula: Honey, I would hope you mean what I *do*, and not what I *would do*. Unless you're 39 years, 11 months, and 3 weeks old ... in which case ... spilt milk I guess

Neela: See what you're saying. But I think the solution to that is not getting married, but moving to Manhattan - that way you can do without a car, and hence, marriage. Trust me - I considered getting married to get someone to carry my groceries, but then I discovered peapod - there's a way out of everything :)

Cat: I wouldn't say one is better than the other (casual vs. passionate), but they are clearly different, and both add value

Aqua: umm ... ok. Though methinks if one starts thinking less about what *society* thinks (even to the extent that what you say is true), and internalise that a lot of things are really personal choice, a lot of these issues might become irrelevant.

AFJ: Re sex being a personal choice within a marriage - Yeah, but if you end up getting married and don't even get effortless sex out of it, what's the point? And no, no - Falstaff is shy and retiring and doesn't enjoy attention - I'm sure he's regretting putting up this post .. and this blog ... umm .. well..

Falstaff: I'm just trying to get back at you for the hijacking of my blog ... this is not because I especially enjoy the subject of this post or anything like that ...

Falstaff said...

Mru: Errr..last time I checked, the reason men could get away with having sex before marriage and women couldn't wasn't as much about societal mores as it was about the possibility of verification.

Meanwhile, if you really want to have sex by the time you're 40, I strongly suggest you start working on it now.

Neela: :-). Suit yourself. Personally, I think if you find someone showing off how quick and accurate they are at parking cars, you have to wonder - what are they compensating for?

Cat:

"To make love with a stranger is the best.
There is no riddle and there is no test. --

To lie and love, not aching to make sense
Of this night in the mesh of reference.

To touch, unclaimed by fear of imminent day,
And understand, as only strangers may.

To feel the beat of foreign heart to heart
Preferring neither to prolong nor part.

To rest within the unknown arms and know
That this is all there is; that this is so."

- Vikram Seth.

Four reasons why I wouldn't 'fuck a mysterious stranger':
a) I'm paranoid and would worry about waking up to find my house cleaned out or not waking up because my throat had been cut and my kidneys were on their way to Singapore (that incidentally is what I meant by trust)
b) I'm a snob, and long years of observing married couples has convinced me that bad taste is sexually transmitted. What happens if you sleep with someone and then find out they like Celine Dion. How do you live with the guilt afterwards?
c) For me, personally, attraction (even sexual attraction) is a mostly intellectual thing. The key value that I see another person bringing to the sex act is that of an alien intelligence at play (What was it Frost said: "what it wants/
Is not its own love back in copy speech,/ But counter–love, original response"), so it's hard for me to relate to the idea of finding a stranger attractive.
d) One night stands are too much investment of time and energy for too little gain. The key value of a relationship is that it allows you to amortise the investment you put into a person over multiple time periods - so the rate of return is much better.

All of this is not to say, of course, that if I walked into an empty apartment in Paris and found Maria Schneider there, I'd walk away. On the whole I'm not conceptually / ethically against sex with strangers (I'm not really ethically against anything - except DIY poetry), it just doesn't interest me.

AquaM / AFJ: Ah, personal choice. I was wondering how long it would be before someone rolled out that old chestnut.

AFJ: You think I used the starting just to be provocative? Really? You don't say! How perceptive of you! I'm sure I would never have thought of that.

MR: Right, like you weren't going to bring it up if I didn't. Don't disagree that casual sex and passionate sex are fundamentally different experiences - I just don't think the former is interesting. Not all new experiences are value-adding, you know. By your argument I should be out there buying the new 50 cents album!

Btw, I suspect you'll find that Neela has the whole marriage / Manhattan thing worked out better than you think!

What's with responses to all the other comments though? Personally, I think you're just saying all of this stuff to get everyone's attention!

absolutely clueless said...

:)
...and then u ask WHY he refers to your ridiculous views, my dear characterless friend!!!

Neela said...

ya, the WORST is when you marry someone for their parking prowess and then they move to Manhattan...

but to put a bright spin on things it makes them work harder at other things. so I'm not complaining (at least now, and anyway when i do complain, I get a new flute or some other pretty bauble, says she with a smug grin).

MR: you need to GET online with peapod or freshdirect and make all those choices yourself. Now imagine sipping a cup of chai (not made by you of course) and having someone ELSE do that AND accept the delivery AND tip the deliveryman AND put stuff in the fridge and wherever else its supposed to be AND cook up a hearty homecooked meal for you.

n!

Neela said...

falstaff and colleagues,

a word of warning in all this; if you plan to have casual sex with the Fresh Direct Delivery guy, DON'T! read some horrid story about how the delivery man was demanding a higher tip (for delivery) and wouldn't leave the persons house, though tipping is optional.
n!

Falstaff said...

Neela: ya, ya, rub it in why don't you? Will resist making jokes about how if you called the FreshDirect Delivery guy (such a wonderfully evocative name) to have sex with him, surely he's the one required to provide the extra tip.

Mrudula said...

MR: It is definitely not a case of spilt milk :)

Falstaff: Men have no clue about 'verification'. I know.

Cheshire Cat said...

"To lie and love": exactly, to reveal yourself and yet to reveal nothing, that's the magic of it.

As for the "reasons":
(a) Can't think of a better cure for your paranoia...
(b) The point is that you never find out. There are so few people out there who are interesting intellectually that it is better to imagine someone is of that select band and never have the opportunity to be proved wrong.
(c) Since you don't know the woman, what you're doing is making love to an idea, the idea of that stranger. Which is certainly more a matter of the intellect than what happens in a relationship, where there are persons involved, not ideas.
(d) The opposite is the case: you put in hardly any effort, in return you get a pleasant memory to last a lifetime. The worst thing about a relationship is that it must end. A one-night stand neither begins nor ends, it just is.

I suspect the real reason is (e), perhaps what you refer to in your next post.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Logical progression: if sex and marriage are unrelated, what about sex with a person other than one's (current) spouse?

Explore, my friend.

J.A.P.

Falstaff said...

Mru: So you're basically saying men you've been intimate with (such a wonderful euphemism that) weren't particularly discerning.

Cat: If all I want to do is make love to the idea of a woman I can manage that perfectly well on my own, thanks. (What was that line about masturbation being the ultimate form of abstract expressionism?). At least my imagination doesn't have to be taken to dinner afterwards and won't use my razor to shave its legs.

JAP: Eerily enough, that's exactly what my mother asked me.

Personally, I'm all for extra-marital sex, especially when it involves other people's spouses. Given that I'm not married and not likely to be, I figure a greater incidence of extra-marital sex improves my chances without costing me anything. It's the ultimate in social loafing

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