Alain de Bot­ton muses on the na­ture of sex and its im­mense power over our lives and emo­tions.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - The Fashionable Life -

We are un­likely to be able to get a grip on this no­to­ri­ous sub­ject if we don’t first al­low our­selves to ac­knowl­edge just how tempt­ing and ex­hil­a­rat­ing adul­tery can be, es­pe­cially af­ter a few years of mar­riage and a cou­ple of chil­dren. Be­fore we can begin to call it ‘wrong’, we have to con­clude that it is also very of­ten – for a time, at least – pro­foundly thrilling.

Let’s go even fur­ther and ven­ture that (con­trary to all public ver­dicts on adul­tery), the real fault might con­sist in the ob­verse – that is, in the lack of any wish what­so­ever to stray. This might be con­sid­ered not only weird but wrong in the deep­est sense of the word, be­cause it is ir­ra­tional and against na­ture. A blan­ket re­fusal to en­ter­tain adul­ter­ous pos­si­bil­i­ties would seem to rep­re­sent a colos­sal fail­ure of the imag­i­na­tion, a spoilt im­per­turba­bil­ity in the face of the trag­i­cally brief span we have been al­lot­ted on this earth, a heed­less dis­re­gard for the glo­ri­ous fleshy re­al­ity of our bod­ies ... Wouldn’t the re­jec­tion of th­ese temp­ta­tions be it­self tan­ta­mount to a sort of be­trayal? Would it re­ally be pos­si­ble to trust any­one who never showed any in­ter­est at all in be­ing un­faith­ful?

Too many peo­ple start off in re­la­tion­ships by putting the moral em­pha­sis in the wrong place, smugly mock­ing the urge to stray as if it were some­thing dis­gust­ing and un­think­able. But in truth, it is the abil­ity to stay that is both won­drous and wor­thy of hon­our, though it is too of­ten sim­ply taken for granted and deemed the nor­mal state of af­fairs. That a cou­ple should be will­ing to watch their lives go by from within the cage of mar­riage, with­out act­ing on out­side sex­ual im­pulses, is a mir­a­cle of civil­i­sa­tion and kind­ness for which they ought both to feel grate­ful on a daily ba­sis.

There is noth­ing nor­mal or par­tic­u­larly pleas­ant about sex­ual re­nun­ci­a­tion. Fidelity de­serves to be con­sid­ered an achieve­ment and con­stantly praised – ide­ally with some medals and the sound­ing of a public gong – rather than dis­counted as an un­re­mark­able norm whose un­der­min­ing by an af­fair should pro­voke spousal rage. A loyal mar­riage ought at all times to re­tain within it an aware­ness of the im­mense for­bear­ance and gen­eros­ity that the two par­ties are mu­tu­ally show­ing in man­ag­ing not to sleep around (and, for that mat­ter, in re­frain­ing from killing each other). If one part­ner should hap­pen to slip, the other might forgo fury in favour of a cer­tain be­mused amaze­ment at the stretches of fidelity and calm that the two of them have oth­er­wise suc­ceeded in main­tain­ing against such great odds.

Ul­ti­mately, sex gives us prob­lems within mar­riage be­cause it gives us prob­lems ev­ery­where. Un­for­tu­nately, our own pri­vate dilem­mas around sex in mar­riage or oth­er­wise are com­monly ag­gra­vated by the idea that we be­long to a lib­er­ated age – and ought by now, as a re­sult, to be find­ing sex a straight­for­ward and un­trou­bling mat­ter.

But de­spite our best ef­forts to clean it of its pe­cu­liar­i­ties, sex will never be sim­ple in the ways we might like it to be. It can die out half­way through a mar­riage; it re­fuses to sit neatly on top of love, as it should. Tame it though we may try, sex has a re­cur­ring ten­dency to wreak havoc across our con­ju­gal lives. Sex re­mains in ab­surd, and per­haps ir­rec­on­cil­able, con­flict with some of our high­est com­mit­ments and val­ues. Per­haps ul­ti­mately we should ac­cept that sex is in­her­ently rather odd in­stead of blam­ing our­selves for not re­spond­ing in more nor­mal ways to its con­fus­ing im­pulses. This is not to say that we can­not take steps to grow wiser about sex. We should sim­ply re­alise that we will never en­tirely sur­mount the dif­fi­cul­ties it throws our way.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.