Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fidelity, Autonomy: Where does your body end and your spouse's begin?

When you agree to be monogamous, you promise your S.O. that you won't have sex with other people. This amounts to signing over some control over your body.

But how much?

This is a very tricky question for Mormons because the LDS church has taught that masturbation is a sin. So it's common for Mormons to think that marriage only makes it OK to have sex with your spouse, and any deliberate solo sex is cheating.

I think that attitude isn't conducive to a healthy marriage. It's not realistic to expect your rhythm and schedule to match up with your spouse's throughout your life, and whenever they don't match up, the result isn't fair to either spouse: the one shouldn't have to feel pressured to be available 24/7, and the other shouldn't be made to feel like his/her needs are irrelevant or that any impatience in getting them fulfilled is just selfishness.

On the other hand, I don't want to dismiss worries about masturbation as completely stupid. If your rhythms never seem to match up, it can be a symptom of a problem in your relationship. Additionally, I think there's a very real gray area on the question of cheating. Of course it makes sense to grant your spouse bodily autonomy (allowing him/her control over his/her own bodily functions), yet granting your spouse 100% bodily autonomy (saying anything goes) means allowing your spouse to be with other people. Some people are OK with non-monogamy, others aren't. If you don't believe me that there's a gray area, I've put up another new post at The Visitors' Center gleefully exploring the whole region. But if you've ever been monogamous and either you or your S.O. has ever been aroused by someone else, you know what I'm talking about. Precisely where do you draw the line?


Lars Larson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lars Larson said...

I just don't get the prohibition against self-pleasure in the LDS as well as most other religious traditions. It then extends to an issue in a relationship.

If you want a 14 year-old boy to not think about sex all day...let him jerk off once in a while...tell him it's a good thing and he won't be trying to get into the pants of the first girl that he has a crush on. If you tell him he can't touch something that is attached TO HIS OWN are already asking way too much.

The only reason I can come up with to explain the taboo in one having to do with control. The Church is trying to OWN the sexual pleasure of people from a very young age because if they do not OWN it and cede it to the person themselves they will lose control over them.

Same with a spouse who thinks its bad for their partner to masturbate. If cedes sexual control to their spouse and it makes them feel as though they aren't needed. You are right, rhythms and schedules differ but if one spouse has a lesser libido than the other and simply expects their partner to accept it, not understand them enough to provide what they can they be upset that they try to take care of the extra themselves? And why don't they even participate in it as a loving gesture? It could only be about control.

It took me a long time to come to terms with this idea and I have a wife who isn't threatened by it. Though I would always prefer making love to HER to going SOLO I understand that sex for her while not "in the mood" isn't good for me either. Short of making love with my wife I would prefer just have her around in some capacity to being by myself.

But for one partner to screw up their nose, be grossed out or be horrified by the revelation that masturbation happens is just cruel and should be a taboo unto itself.

How dare they?

Show me someone who doesn't like to masturbate once in a while and I will show you someone who isn't any good in bed anyway. And not being good in bed or not TRYING to be good in bed for one's partner (eternal or otherwise) should be the biggest taboo of all.

AnnM said...


Really? Is that what happens when you marry a French man?

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey ErlyBrd!!!

I agree completely.

Hey Sam-I-Am!!!

Hahaha!! About England -- I was making a reference to this post from The Visitors' Center. Isn't everybody following The Visitors' Center? I guess I shouldn't make allusions without including the link. ;^)

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Fidelity, have you seen the puritanical ranting over at a website called "The Art of Manliness?

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Fry!!!

Poor Ben Franklin! ;^)

But seriously, if the author of this article feels this way about his own sexuality, then really there's nothing wrong with that. There are a lot of men who naturally prefer physical intimacy only in the context of emotional intimacy, and that's okay. His only error is projecting that and assuming all guys' sexual and emotional responses are like his.

Well, there's that problem and then there's his use of the standard trope about sex "disrespecting" women. Because women may think they want casual sex, but they don't. They're just too dumb to "connect the dots" about how casual sex is making them depressed, so they need people who understand these things (eg. men) to protect them from themselves!! To his credit, he tempers this by (correctly) pointing out that men can also end up heartbroken by jumping into sex they're not ready for. But again I think in that whole paragraph he's talking about his own emotional responses and projecting them on to others (this time women).

Joe said...

Ben Franklin was a horny bugger and followed his other guidelines only when convenient.

(The line about sex disrespecting women cracked me up. Hurray, let's expand the Mormon cult of virginity!)

beatdad said...

I was complaining to a friend, the other day, that I can't cut my beard off because it is wholly owned by my DW, this also applies to my hair.

When I went to donate my genetic material to a couple of friends, they insisted that we get my DW's permission. So, my genetic material is apparently also owned by her.

With that in mind, I know that no other person, besides my wife, can enjoy any of my sexual skills. Masturbation though, is ok.

Anonymous said...

I think the line is really just what makes both people happy. If someone doesn’t want to have sex as often as his or her partner, then allowance needs to be made, either for masturbation or opening the relationship up. And, on that point, I’m not sure that there should be a requirement to want sex with a partner over masturbation every time. In some ways, masturbation can be easier, and being that we know our bodies best, the pleasure can be just as good, albeit different. And as long as your partner feels fulfilled by the sexual attention he or she is getting, there’s no real problem.

I do think a lot of the animus surrounding masturbation is more that it is the pre-eminent example of non-procreative sex. There seems to be this idea that sex purely for pleasure is deeply immoral. I think moving past this idea can help to be more accepting of a wide range of sexual behavior, which can, in turn, help in ensuring that each person in the relationship is getting what they want and need.

Another issue is the way some people use sex to substitute for other things. For example, a man might just want some comfort, perhaps to be held for awhile, but doesn’t feel comfortable asking for that, or doesn’t know how, and seeks sex instead. That can cause problems, too, by giving sex a neediness and importance that it wouldn’t ordinarily have. In that case, though, the problem isn’t necessarily a sexual one as much as addressing the underlying emotional issues.

Anonymous said...

A discussion that my wife & I have been having lately is about shaving some or all of your pubic hair? Is it wrong because it is thought to have originated in pornography? What are your thoughs?

C. L. Hanson said...

Wow, you guys are getting ahead of me. It looks like I'm eventually going to have to give up this "reply to every comment" habit. ;^) Great comments and insights though!!!

Anonymous -- this question has been covered on The Visitors' Center here. Apparently this custom did not come from porn. But really, if it's what she wants to do, then so what if people say it came from porn? When it comes to your own bedroom and intimate life, don't place other people's judgements of what you're doing above your own.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
C. L. Hanson said...

OK, David, you've already been warned once. And actually, I would have forgotten to bother to go back and delete your earlier spam comment if you hadn't reminded me with this one.

Next time you post spam on my blog, I'll delete it without warning (and really I'm being a lot nicer than the average blogger by even bothering to address you about this before deleting spam comments...).

Anonymous said...

You know Chanson, this is such a massive conversation with so many ramifications that it totally boggles the mind to even approach it. I believe that religion has made a mess of sex and we are kind of doomed to be forever cleaning it up.

In an ideal sexual world, which I tend to live in since I live alone, each person's body is their own to do with as they please. Partnering on an intimate level does change everything though. So what part of me do I hand over to my partner? How much of my ownership of my orgasms do I forfeit or transfer?

I can't see a single answer to any of these questions that could be laid down over everybody with any expectation of uniform results. All I see is couples working it out amongst themselves figuring out what works for them and what doesn't.

That said, I doubt I could be in a relationship with a guy who had problems with my self-pleasuring. It's inconceivable to me at this point (based on long partnered experience) that I'd be willing to concede any say in the matter to anybody else for any reason. It just seems to me that my orgasms are wholly mine and if I choose to share them with somebody that sharing still needs to be on my terms, albeit in context of what works for my partner and what doesn't. I know, that sounds confusing...

In other words, I won't force my orgasms on you but you don't get to control them or have any say in how I get to them unless they're being gifted to you. I can understand if you don't want me to have orgasms with other people, which is a zebra of a different stripe. But when it comes to the daily ups and downs of my dick I need autonomy.

When we share my orgasms then you getta have all the say you want to in terms of how "we" get there. But when you're not involved, you're not involved.

I offer to my partner the same freedom in managing his orgasms that I require in managing mine. I'm an equal opportunity selfer.

Mormons and masturbation is a theme that I've been working on and writing about for a very long time. It's such a tall and steep mountain to climb though and sometimes I get discouraged because there's so much there to tackle.

In a nutshell, mormons and other religionists need to butt the fuck out of the masturbation conversation. They have hopelessly distorted the thing to the point of doing infinitely more harm than good with their hands off policies.

Whenever guys have problems with their prostates, what's the first thing their docs tell them to do???

And mormons know better?

Here's a punch in the nose to every fucking mormon who ever told me to stop masturbating. And to those who made me feel quilty about it, here's a punch in the nuts to go along with the punch in the nose. :-)

My body, my life, my choices.

That does not mean I disrespect the person I love and am sharing my life with. It means I make a clear distinction as to how they get to participate in my orgasms.

I'm coming off sounding like a jerk and I'm really not. Sigh... I love giving my orgasms to people I like or care about or love. I also love giving them to me.

Anonymous said...

Sex, blah, blah, blah. You know what's a really big deal compared to sex? Going into business with somebody. But people go into business with other people all the time without thinking twice. It's a much bigger deal to go into business with somebody than to have sex with somebody. Sex isn't quite as meaningless as having lunch with somebody, but it's right down there.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Tom!!!

I think you have a positive and healthy take on this, as usual! :D

Hey John!!!

LOL, probably true! Though having a kid with someone might be closer to the going into business together scenerio. But I have to write about sex instead because I've never gone into business for myself, with or without partners.