“Peak Sex Shaming” & the AM Hack

I really shouldn’t be surprised by the self righteous morality being expressed over the Ashley Madison hack, but I am.

Sometimes I think we’re maybe about to get our shit together as a species and then something like that happens and it’s like we’re back in the Puritan era shaming other people about what they do (or don’t do) when it comes to sex. Ask asexual people how often they feel judged for not wanting sex; ask monogamous people how difficult it can be; ask poly people how much they’re judged. We are all of us in glass houses.

But at least Dan Savage has something good to say:

There are a lot of people out there who have good cause to cheat. Men and women trapped in sexless marriages, men and women trapped in loveless marriages, men and women who have essentially been abandoned sexually and/or emotionally by spouses they aren’t in a position to leave—either because their spouses are economically dependent on them (or vice versa) or because they may have children who are dependent on both partners.

Mary Elizabeth Williams is making sense here, too:

The Ashley Madison hackers have written, “Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion.” But yeah, I think cheating dirtbags do. I think that just because you make a lot more money than I do doesn’t mean you deserve to be outed. I think just because you had sex with someone who’s not your wife on your last business trip, you not are accountable to anyone but your wife. Because where does this line of “Let’s drag you into the public square and pelt you” get drawn? Is it OK to out someone as a cheat? Is it only OK if he’s a high-ranking businessman? Is it then OK to make fun of a woman executive when her “crotch intensive” shopping list is leaked? Where does it stop? I don’t know, maybe we just put cameras on all the public toilets and then wait to collectively judge the next person who gets food poisoning. How would that be? Sounds fun, right? Or maybe instead we could try being grown-ups. And maybe we could remember that we all have private lives; we all have sex lives, and as long as they’re consensual, they’re nobody else’s damn business. Not Gawker’s. Not Twitter’s. Not mine.

Every single time we, as a culture, get up on our moral high horses to condemn whoever it is without asking a few essential questions: did we assume monogamy or did we know that was the agreement? Marriage does not automatically imply it, not even a little, and throughout history some cultures more than others have assumed marriage was a social contract, not necessarily a sexual one. There have always been swingers and ‘agreements’ and looking the other way. There is not always a victim when a married person is having sex with someone who isn’t their spouse.

If there was an agreement to be monogamous, then what are the details? When my wife decided she had too low a libido and zero interest in sex anymore, plenty of people would have declared that a deal-breaker and would have gotten a divorce. End of story. I knew she still loved me, and I – after I got it through my head that her lack of libido had nothing whatsoever to do with me or how much she liked me – still loved her. Monogamy, of course, implies actual sex happening between the two parties who are agreeing to be monogamous, and once someone cuts off sex entirely, that contract is due for renegotiation.

There are an awful lot of husbands and wives out there who are lonely, rejected, staying together for the kids or the companionship or the health insurance, who could not and would not have the nerve to bring up non monogamy with their spouses. Plenty don’t even want it for themselves (sometimes because they know that and other times because they have never experienced non monogamy or don’t know it’s possible). Online profiles to find someone with whom to exchange some intimacy or excitement are written during dark nights of the soul, sometimes out of self pity and other times out of entitlement but so often out of a deep, deep wish: to be happy, to be noticed, to feel loved, to be special, to be excited again. Therapists who work with couples who have experienced infidelity say that people in happy marriages cheat because they miss something about themselves, something they wanted to be and never became or used to be and aren’t anymore. There are a million reasons someone might try to find another naked person to lie next to, to talk to, to be vulnerable with. There is the erotic and there is that always deep human ache for communion; and sex is one of the ways to try to make that kind of connection.

And all I can think tonight is about all the people who created an Ashley Madison profile late one night, in despair and loneliness or just sheer goddamn desire, who never did anything but who are now scared to death they might lose everything. And I hope – I really do hope – that so many of the spouses out there who might find out something like this would lead with compassion instead of self righteous anger.

Oh, I am so tired of the superiority of the perfect. So, SO tired. & Yes it’s goddamned personal. More to come.

One Reply to ““Peak Sex Shaming” & the AM Hack”

  1. That was excellent Helen!! I myself do not think I could cheat on my wife, but I understand how one can get to that place. Hormones have killed my libido like your wifes, I don’t know how my wife feels about that, she doesn’t say much. For me it’s actually a nice respite for a bit to not have that libido. I do hope it comes back however as I miss the intimacy that comes with the libido. 🙁

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