Section:GDN FY PaGe:2 Edition Date:121110 Edition:01 Zone: Sent at 7/11/2012 14:58cYanmaGentaYellowblack
Saturday Guardian 10.11.12
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1725 nov 2012
≤Is monogamy dead?
Can one relationship be hot and warmat the same time? It seems, to put itmildly, unlikely. Does good intimacymake for hot sex? asks Perel. Again,unlikely: they don’t sound like diﬀer-ent rules, but diﬀerent sports.Conjugal felicity didn’t used to beso conﬂicted, argues Alain de Bottonin his new book How to Think MoreAbout Sex. Before the bourgeoisieintroduced the idea of love-basedmarriage in the 18th century, heargues: “Couples got married becausethey had both reached the proper age,found they could stand the sight of each other, were keen not to oﬀend both sets of parents and their neigh- bours, had a few assets to protect andwished to raise a family.”The new love-based conception of conjugal felicity, involving being physi-cally aroused by the other’s appearance,wanting to read poetry to each other bymoonlight and yearning for two souls tofuse into one, changed all that.Later, increased sexual expectationsnecessitated that the physical arousaland great sex you had at the start of your relationship be continued overyears of your monogamous relationship– even though, frankly, most nightsyou’d rather watch The Great BritishBake Oﬀ in old undies than tear oﬀ yourpartner’s lingerie with your teeth.Such expectations explain whyyou’ve got The Position Sex Bible: MorePositions Than You Could Possibly Im-agine Trying by Randi Foxx (possiblynot a real name) unread on the shelvesnext to the unwatched DVD of Dr SarahBrewer’s Secrets of Sensational Sex.And so it was that monogamy be-came made up of two equal parts – oneinvolving endlessly deferred goodintentions, the other nostalgia forWhen It Was Better. If it ever was. De Botton applauds monogamy’sunsung heroes, writing: “That acouple should be willing to watchtheir lives go by from within the cageof marriage, without acting on out-side sexual impulses, is a miracle of civilisation and kindness for which both ought to feel grateful every day.Spouses who remain faithful to eachother should recognise the scale of thesacriﬁce they are making for their loveand for their children, and should feelproud of their valour.”Of course, not all monogamouscouples have kids, neither are they allmiddle-aged, middle-class or hetero-sexual: but all of them, De Bottonargues, deserve medals.That said, De Botton also counselsthat extra-marital aﬀairs may benecessary. It’s a thought shared byother anatomisers of that modernmalaise, monogamy.Former London School of Econom-ics sociologist Catherine Hakim arguesthe following in her new book, TheNew Rules: Internet Dating, Playfairsand Erotic Power: “The fact that weeat most meals at home with spousesand partners does not preclude eatingout in restaurants to sample diﬀerentcuisines and ambiences, with friendsor colleagues.“Anyone rejecting a fresh approachto marriage and adultery, with anew set of rules to go with it, fails torecognise the beneﬁts of a revitalisedsex life outside the home.”If you’re a 45-year-old woman or a55-year-old man, you should probablystop reading this article immediately.Now is the peak time for you to have anaﬀair. You should be on the pull for thesake of your marriage. Or whatever it isyou call your relationship.
akim cites twoeconomistswho estimatethat increasingthe frequencyof sexualintercourse fromonce a monthto at least once a week was equivalentto £32,000 a year in happiness. DavidBlanchﬂower and Andrew Oswald alsoestimated that a lasting marriage pro-vided the equivalent of £64,000 a year.“If you add the two together, an aﬀairproviding lots of sex and an enduringmarriage, that’s a recipe for a lot of happiness,” Hakim concludes.But this Panglossian summationof sexual happiness will only workif you keep schtum about yourtransgression. “I am happily married,and I would hope that if my partnerhad an aﬀair he would be so discreetabout it that I wouldn’t notice any-way,” Hakim told Jane Garvey on BBCRadio 4’s Woman’s Hour.So Hakim does not recommendopen relationships. Indeed, she isrelationship? Barker says many of thecouples who come to her seeking sextherapy expect that she will teachthem how to have the great sex theyhad at the start of their relationship orhave never previously enjoyed. “Sexis our whole idea of the barometer of a relationship’s healthiness. So sex becomes this imperative. It needn’t be.Sex is often portrayed as though, be-cause you’ve had sex, your sex partnerwill know how you’re feeling andrespond perfectly to every situationin which you ﬁnd yourselves.”This assumption that sex is the causeof and solution to any relationshipproblem is widespread in popular cul-ture. In the recent ﬁlm Hope Springs,for example, Meryl Streep and TommyLee Jones play Kay and Arnold, a sixty-something couple who approach atherapist (Steve Carrell) because Kay isconcerned about the lack of intimacyand sex in their long-term monoga-mous relationship. “The therapist inHope Springs seemed to assume thatKay and Arnold had to recapture theirsexual relationship, rather than reallyexploring whether this was somethingthat they wanted and, if so, why it wasimportant, and the diﬀerent possibleways of doing this,” says Barker.When Arnold loses his erection, Kayassumes this means he doesn’t ﬁndher attractive. Later, when they havewhat Barker calls “penis-in-vaginaintercourse”, their problems areresolved. “Penis-in-vagina intercourseis represented as ‘real’, ‘proper’ sex,and sex is seen as requiring an erectpenis and ending in ejaculation,” saysBarker. “There isn’t, for example, thepossibility of sex which is focused onKay’s pleasure or the possibility of Kay and Arnold enjoying less genitallyfocused forms of pleasure. Also,erections are equated with attractionwhen these things may, or may not, berelated.”Quite so. Is she saying it’s OK not tohave sex in a long-term relationship?“For some couples that may work, butnot others. One possibility I address inthe book is making a ‘yes, no, maybe’list of all the sexual and physicalpractices that they are aware of, andwhether they are interested in them.That may help.”Barker counsels periods of solitudein order to work out what you wantfrom a relationship – or if you want out.“It’s easy not to think critically aboutwhat’s happening. It helps to createspace to reﬂect on what you want.”Sex may well not be the biggestproblem in a long-term relationship.“One of the biggest problems in arelationship is that it can be foundedon someone validating the other,completing you by enabling you. Soyou have this idea that one partnerin a relationship is a rescuer, or amentor of a sweet young thing. It’sin Fifty Shades of Grey – the brokenman I made better. Fixing somebodylike that or ﬁxing yourself like that isto treat a person as a thing, which isalways a mistake. If you’re in a rela-tionship for a long time it’s harder tosustain those roles.”Indeed, Barker ﬁnds that a lot of couples come to her for counsellingwhen these roles have started to fray.“The challenge then is to remake therelationship without those roles.”Tricky – like rebuilding a boat at sea.But not impossible. “Monogamyis not an easy option. There’s alwaysgoing to be a sacriﬁce because thereis a struggle between freedom and belonging. And at the outset youdon’t really know how much of oneyou’re prepared to sacriﬁce for theother – or if you’re prepared to makeany sacriﬁce at all.”Freud wrote about this in Civili-sation and Its Discontents in 1929:civilisation, he thought, is a trade-oﬀ between security and freedom. Weswing one way and then, disenchanted,the other. On and on we go, aiming forperfect equilibrium without achievingit. Monogamy is similar.Barker recommends that we abandonthe old rules of monogamy and embraceuncertainty, guiding our relationships by means of creative negotiation. Thatway relationships can be made better if not perfect.This chimes with what the psycho-analyst and writer Adam Phillips writesin his book, Monogamy: “All prophetsof the erotic life are false prophets because every couple has to invent sexfor itself. They are not so much makinglove as making it up.”
Esther Perel: Does good intimacymake for hot sex? Not necessarily
dubious about them. “All the literatureI have read suggests they are imposed by men on women, or by promiscuousmen on their gay partners.”Instead, Hakim tells me that if you’re going to have an aﬀair, youmust play by French rules. “First andforemost, they must remain hidden atall times and never be visible enoughto embarrass the spouse. Second,you never do it with someone in yourown ‘backyard’ – neighbours, friends,work colleagues etc – where the risk of exposure is greatest.”But surely there are other risks of exposure? What if sleeping Mr Hakimlustfully groans the name of his loverin the marital bed, while Mrs Hakimsits bolt upright, eyeing him narrowly?At least a £64,000 reduction in happi-ness, is my guess.Hakim’s more serious point is thatsexless, celibate relationships areunsustainable without some kind of sexual outlet. Across the Channel,sensible continentals realise that theanswer to this condundrum is furtiveinﬁdelity. This is the main reason behind the sudden expansion of internet-dating websites that focus onmarried people seeking aﬀairs.“Only two ﬁfths of Italians say aﬀairsare completely unacceptable. Onequarter of Spaniards do not regard sex-ual ﬁdelity as important. The majorityof the French – two thirds of men andhalf of women – believe that sexualattraction inevitably leads to intimacy.The incidence of aﬀairs is informed bysuch tolerant attitudes.”Meg Barker, for one, is sceptical of the deceit such tolerance entails. “Whyis deceit taken to be a good thing?The answer is to communicate. Todaythere are things like hook-up culture,friends with beneﬁts, relationshipsthat are monogam-ish, lots of diﬀerentpolyamorous possibilities. These kindsof things are up for negotiation.”What Hakim does, in eﬀect, isuphold one of the bad old rules of monogamy that Barker seeks to junk,namely that the rules should not beexplicitly discussed or negotiated.Barker, by contrast, ﬁnds in monog-amy’s very indeterminate rules a spacefor confusion about what is permissiblewithin a relationship. “One person maythink it’s all right to stay friends withan ex-partner. Another may think it’sall right to ﬂirt with or have sex withanother person. Another may think it’sOK to look at porn. What’s important iscommunicating so you know what theother expects.”How important is sex in a long-term
The Joy of Sex andothermanualsreviewed by JohnCracePage 5
Catherine Hakim: Sexless, celibaterelationships are unsustainable