Belfast Telegraph

An ambivalent view of sex is at the heart of the affair

Men straying is the inevitable result of the permissive |society, argues David Quinn

What do Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Ryan Giggs have in common? No prize for the right answer: all have been making the headlines for cheating on their spouses.

Strauss-Kahn, of course, belongs in a quite different category. If the allegations against him are true, he was not only cheating on his wife, he is also a menace to all women.

So far, Strauss-Kahn's wife is standing by him in spite of mounting evidence that he treats members of her own sex abominably. Schwarzenegger's wife has left him because he had a child with another woman.

The French probably consider this an act of immaturity on her part. Didn't Francois Mitterand's wife stand by him in spite of the fact that he had a child with his mistress? This about sums up the attitude of the French towards the American response to Strauss-Kahn. Why are they being so ‘immature'?

Let's recall how the French tut-tutted at the Americans for being upset at Bill Clinton for having an affair with Monica Lewinski.

And, more to the point, let's recall how France's elite rallied to the defence of film director Roman Polanski when the Swiss detained him for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old.

How, one wonders, is such an attitude ‘mature'? Is it really mature to be laissez-faire about sexually assaulting a 13-year-old, or the alleged sexual assault of a chamber maid?

In fact, we developed rules around sexual behaviour precisely to protect women from people like Strauss-Kahn and Polanski.

Similarly, rules against infidelity itself are a sign of civilisation — one of the very first signs because the taboo against sexual infidelity has been very strong in most societies for a very long time.

The reason it's so strong is because, without it, it would be almost impossible — short of compulsory DNA tests — to know what children belong to what men.

But even if every man suspected of fathering a child was made to undergo a DNA test, without some kind of pressure to be faithful, it would be much harder to make him actually take responsibility for his child.

The taboo against infidelity is probably aimed more at men than women, because men seem more inclined to be unfaithful.

Even anecdotally, try to think up a few famous women who have been unfaithful on their husbands. It's hard. On the other side you've got Giggs, Wayne Rooney, Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, Schwarzenegger, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Strauss-Kahn, Jude Law, Mel Gibson.

But, if the taboo against infidelity still exists, it is much weaker now than it was, because the sex revolution promotes sexual freedom and the taboo against infidelity runs directly counter to that.

This is why it's easier for men like Giggs and company to get away with it. In fact, the taboo against infidelity — weakened as it is — is one of the last vestiges left of traditional sexual morality.

That morality was always aimed, first and foremost, at getting men to commit to the mothers of their children, but also women to commit to the fathers of their children.

The trouble with that morality is that it was often very harshly enforced, but at its heart is an impulse much more civilised than what we have now, because the result of the new morality is huge numbers of children who don't even know the name of their father.

So, the reality is that we are now in two minds about infidelity. We don't like it when we see it. That's why Ryan Giggs hoped that super-injunction would protect his identity. On the other hand, because sexual freedom is the order of the day, we've made it much easier to be unfaithful.

Therefore, we need to make up our minds: which do we value more — sexual freedom or fidelity?

David Quinn is a former editor of The Irish Catholic

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