Oh dear.

There was an extremely provocative article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail on sex in marriage. The author, a female writer, came up with the brillant title “Sex, or he’s your ex.” I think I just experienced a minor blackout. I encourage everyone to read today’s ensuing discussion in which she claims that woman can own the word “Whore.” I got all teary, really I did…

When an article begins with “The Penis Rules” and finishes with “Be a lady in public and a whore in the bedroom” one starts to wonder whether we aren’t just going in circles. Or maybe we are. In my Theory course yesterday we were (appropriately) discussing Freud, who as we all know, had a minor obsession with the Phallus. Apparently this writer is a closet Freudian (excuse the poor metaphor–Freud was anything but in the closet). Anyway, to return to my course, my professor made the astute observation that the discussion of sex tends to take a circular route–we precede/progress so far only to recoil. This article is a ‘recoiling’ of the most banal sort–back to the primitive ties of a medieval patriarchy, if you ask me. I am sceptical, to say the least, of the claim that women should have to perform two separate patterns of behaviour–why is it we’re always doing more work than men? Why, oh why, do some men, (and women apparently) not realize that the discourse of masculinity that creates the ‘universal’ male sexuality (which informs the male psyche to which this writer refers) is just as constructed as the word whore? When I think of ‘whore’ I think of poor Desdemona and her role of the scapegoat for the fragile male psyche. To me whore has been, and will always be, demeaning; indeed, as we’re all aware, language has a history, whore is a ‘label’ for a reason. You can write on a label, but you can’t undo its origins, and sadly, it seems, its propensity to ‘stick’ to the wrong surfaces…

I don’t know, am I being too demanding here? Is it possible, perhaps, that the Penis should not rule? While I don’t disagree that sex is an important part of any relationship and should be discussed, the suggestion that it is “emasculating” to men not to cater to their sex drive really, well, annoyed me. What year are we in now? 1350?

The penis rules. Or should, anyway. “If men don’t feel respected or loved, if they don’t feel like a man, if they have to walk around on eggshells when it comes to their sex drive, if their horniness is treated like an inconsiderate act of selfishness – like typical male behaviour – then they will reassert themselves with another woman,” says a man I will call Mr. Multiply Divorced.

People who make coitus their career understand this. Ask Lou Paget, sex therapist and best-selling author of books about orgasms and helpful tips on giving blow jobs, among other bedroom matters. “There’s no other time in a man’s life when he is more connected to his masculine self than when he is making love or having sex with the woman or partner of his choice,” she explains.

“And men know this. … It’s a huge part of the male psyche that he be acknowledged for what his efforts are, and he will go elsewhere to get it if his partner doesn’t give it to him. He will get it through sports. He will get it through work by the accumulation of money. I can’t tell you how many men I know who are massively successful but who have crappy marriages. Or they will get it from another woman.”

Furthermore, in today’s discussion the author made this mind-numbing observation:

That said, I do think that child-rearing really takes its toll on women, much more so than on men. We worry about the children, and how they turn out is very much a reflection of us as mothers. It’s just not the same for fathers.

So I do think women, once they become mothers, have a whole new load of considerations to take on, and their energy, and ability to give out to others, shifts. Men can counteract this loss of self, this self-sacrifice every mother understands, with a little love and consideration – like allowing her time off or agreeing to be more involved. I don’t think many men understand what motherhood is like, and the husbands who do, or at least try to, are more likely to be fully and generously loved, if you know what I mean, by their wives.

“It’s just not the same for fathers.” Hmmm this stinks of essentialism to me. Men cannot be nurturing because why? Please note the use of the term “loss of self”; this does imply, dear writer, that the woman had an identity before she became a mother…

It’s children that change the sexual energy of a marriage. I remember an acquaintance of mine complaining about her husband’s expectation of sex. She had two young sons at the time, and she was a wonderful hands-on and attentive mother. There were lunches to be made, laundry to finish, dinner to make, homework to help with, errands to run, and just before she passed out from exhaustion, a husband to do. And she did, because if nothing else, she is highly responsible. (And still married, by the way.) The whole yummy-mummy trend is really a statement of denial, if you ask me. Most young mothers will tell you that after having their bodies taken over by pregnancy, and then the demands of breastfeeding and constant monitoring of a baby, what they would really like at night is to be left alone for a bit, untouched. They’ve overdosed on closeness for the time being.

But husbands still want their wives to view them as the primary relationship. Another man I know – okay, we can call him Mr. Former Boyfriend – told me that in his marriage of 20 years and three children, his ex-wife, who gave up work to devote herself to the care of their offspring, denied him sex so often he had to beg for it. And when she relented, he felt it was out of pity or obligation.

Such a dynamic is common and emasculating, notes Esther Perel, a New York-based couples therapist and the best-selling author of Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic & the Domestic, published last year.

“It’s not healthy for men to feel pathetic about their urges and shame about their desire. It’s not just their masculinity they are expressing through sex but also their lesser masculine qualities, their tenderness, their vulnerability, their desire to give pleasure and receive it,” she explains.

Their ‘lesser’ qualities? Who said anything about lesser?

A wise commentator in today’s discussion observed that using the word ‘whore’ was actually disempowering to women in so much as it insinuates sex is owned by the male of the species in order to be ‘placed upon’ women. The author’s response:

As for women owning their sexuality and their bodies, I think we do. That’s why I, as a female columnist, can write that we should be whores in the bedroom. We can make fun of the labels and use them at our will.

I don’t know that women own the word whore–and neither do I think we should want to. Not that I’m suggesting women should be ‘priggish,’ but rather, that I don’t think re-appropriating demeaning terms is actually a way out of our ‘disempowerment.’ Thoughts?