Is sexual liberation over? You may think so, reading Jealousy, the sequel to The Sexual Life of Catherine M. In it, lusty Parisian academic Catherine Millet, who hung out with the whores in the Bois de Boulogne, reveals something controversial: a heart. When her man slept around, she went barmy.
Hypocrisy is the most logical attitude to infidelity, as it fuses many issues, and beliefs about it formed in a world very different to our own. It has a religious dimension. As an infidel betrays God, so infidelity betrays the faith between two people. The assumption is that loyalty in body, mind and spirit are interchangeable. But arguably, people began disapproving of infidelity for a more practical reasons, to stop rows about property.
Avid debauchee Alexandre ‘Three Musketeers’ Dumas lamented, ‘Why is what was called cuckoldry in the seventeenth century called adultery in the nineteenth?’ His answer was inheritance law. Once, first-born sons got it all, then the law changed, giving every child a portion of the estate. So husbands who once worried only about the paternity of their heir grew to fear every cuckoo in the nest. And society grew fiercer about female infidelity, while in men a mistress remained a badge of success.
Female sluts got it in the neck since Eve bit the apple. Katie Price is slated for cavorting with her cage fighter. But male sluts are less tolerated than before. The court of public opinion is still out on randy Ashley Cole, while Cheryl is a latter-day saint for fighting for her love. But for those whose private lives are private, now we have DNA-testing, good contraception, fidelity seems less relevant. With the internet and the liar’s friend, the mobile phone, slipping the marital leash is ever easier. Why can’t we act on passing fancies without breaching emotional loyalty?
I understand infidelity’s fans. Yet I believe monogamy, with the right person, is the least-worst path through life. Even empty sex threatens a relationship, as nobody can guarantee it will not come to mean more. This belief is less old-fashioned than imagining that mind rules body, like 17th-century rationalist, René Descartes. On the contrary, scientists have found neurochemicals released in sex, vasopressin and oxytocin, mean that where lust leads, territorial feelings often follow. Love and sex, mind and body, are as interchangeable as ever.