Tag Archives: sex


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.



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Did greedy doctors invent sex addiction to grab a piece of the divorce lawyers’ action?  I only ask because commitment anxiety is rising, and not just adultery is being diagnosed as a disease.   Fidelity, too, is suspect.  Are you married, cohabiting, eyes for no other?  Might you be – whisper it – co-dependent?


I am married and I am independent.  Or so I thought.  However, my spouse and I depend on each other.  So the increasingly common term ‘co-dependence’ worried me. It sounds vague.  But my dictionary says that a co-dependent couple features one who is an addict, and another who is addicted to their relationship with the addict.  So me and my husband are okay.  But then it struck me the definition is slippery.  What if the addict is addicted to the relationship?  And what if a co-dependency therapist had advised Victorian poet Robert Browning? Would he have eloped with ageing, invalid opium addict Elizabeth Barrett?  Would we have their great love story?


‘In a codependent society,’ warns therapist Robert Burney, ‘everyone has to have someone to look down on, in order to feel good about themselves.’  Sounds like human nature.  By this measure, love between any two imperfect or unequal individuals is unhealthy, and caring is suspect (caring could be ‘looking down’ in disguise).  Is there such a thing as a relationship without any power imbalance?  Isn’t one of the benefits of a relationship that you don’t have to be best at everything?


Burney is not the first to view love with a surgeon’s suspicion.  ‘My love is as a fever, longing still/For that which longer nurseth the disease.’  In this sonnet Shakespeare described a disorder called romance, which traditionally occurred outside dull marriage (which was for babies, money, and dynasties).  Only in the seventeenth century did married love come to be regarded the summit of human fulfilment.  In our crowded world, such a belief is less tenable.  


Twenty-first century romantics must commit to their job, friends, home, kids.  Even had we the time, it is harder to be confident about prioritising one relationship.  Fear of monotony, worry about monogamy, have increased our faith in other people’s right to talk us through our lives, and tell us how to live them.  But if we over-diagnose our emotions, our love stories may end before they’ve begun.



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For shame

Initially, Botox foxed me.  Setting aside botulism’s unknowable long-term beauty impact (a side order of tumour with your otherwise smooth brow, madam?), I was unconvinced that facial paralysis is attractive.  Didn’t self-expression connect us with people?  Then I grew older and wrinklier.  Then I heard that Botox stops blushing.  Should I, could I…


Red is great.  It’s the colour of romance and squashed cars driven by short men with hilarious, forget-me-not hair.  Roses and Ferraris are red because it embodies sex, life and danger in efficient pigment code.  That’s why most women wear blusher.  But as a serial face-melt offender, I used to hate involuntary blushing. What bothered me was the message that it sends.  Namely, that something has got under my skin, and a shameful part of me is screaming to get out.  


But embarrassment is a valuable social emotion.  Only humans blush, a puzzle that primatologist Frans de Waal reckons to be one of the few mysteries that Darwin’s theory of natural selection cannot solve.  I disagree.  Since embarrassment transpires when social rules are broken, you could consider blushing a weakness, because it announces our feelings.  However, such weakness, such honesty, is attractive.  Men have long got hot over flushed maidens, which indicates that our species evolved to favour flushers.  Why? 


Humanity’s survival stems from our ability to follow social rules, co-operate, and be more than the sum of our parts.  And embarrassment is social sensitivity in action.  For every Alpha leader who can smile through his plausible lies, we need at least ten people who respect boundaries, and wince when they tread on toes.  Not only do we know where we are with Beta blushers, but their embarrassment, like a flashing stop sign, helps keep us in line.


Kingsley Amis observed that history is the tale of man, an animal, trying to convince himself that he isn’t an animal.  Emotions remind us of the truth. Yes, when you put your foot in it, you may long for the earth to open and welcome you back, like the worm you were before life grew so complicated.  But sensitivity is appealing, and all emotions convey information.  So if somebody embarrasses you, listen to the feeling.  



As seen in ES magazine

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