Magazines, Sex, Marriage, Permission

Go read Steve, Jen, and the commenters.

I’ve been thinking about this since Steve posted it up, and here’s the thing. I have a Catholic girl’s porn squick, an instinctive and irrational “yuck” reaction that’s about as understandable as it is mature. Before my mind can process all the feminist arguments one way or the other (exploitation! empowerment!), my gut says, “Ew.” A boyfriend in college liked Japanese animated tentacle rape movies, and while it wasn’t in the top ten of the 67 reasons we broke up, I didn’t exactly relish an evening with him watching cartoon people get it on. That’s not entertaining for me. Doesn’t mean I want to stop you partaking, but I’ll pass up that particular entree on the sex buffet.

My irrational reactions aside, what bothers me is the way the author of the article Steve quotes framed the question of what’s okay, in terms of porn of any flavor, in a marriage. Where is your line? What’s OK for your husband to see? It’s not that I don’t appreciate that she’s trying to encourage women to outline a comfort level for themselves and talk about this stuff with their spouses if it makes them uncomfortable. But something about the way it’s said bothers me, taps into another major knee-jerk squick of mine, and that’s the notion of the Spouse as Jailer, granting indulgences and permissions and enforcing rules. And this stuff seems to come up as much with porn as with anything else, including but not limited to money and jobs.

I can’t tell you how much, as a wife, I hate this idea that my husband is a pet or a child and I am to say where he goes, who he sees, what he says. I called it The Wife Thing after we got married, the sudden assumption that I was in charge and he did what I said. “You’d better ask the boss,” somebody would say when he agreed to go somewhere, and I’d think, Jesus tits, I’m not his boss. I’m barely my boss, and he outweighs me. If he wants to go somewhere there’s no way, short of shooting him, that I can stop him. Add to that a comment an aquaintance made once, about my needing to make sure he wouldn’t cheat on me. How the fuck am I supposed to do that? A GPS implanted in his ass? Why is this stuff my responsibility? Does that make it my fault then, if he does go out and find some girl? And how the hell does that track? Last I checked when men got married they got rings, not lobotomies. They’re still in control of their limbs and their car keys.

I think this attitude develops, and people buy into it, because it’s seductive, this idea that in a marriage you can control your love’s behavior, that you can somehow prevent your spouse from becoming an asshole or betraying you. If it’s in your control, then you don’t have to deal with the yawning fear and insecurity relationships are really all about. You get married, you hook your life to somebody else’s, you have to trust them to a degree that seems insane in our universe of paranoia. And what you have to trust is that they love you enough to not want to betray or hurt or upset you, the same way you love them enough to do the same. That’s so fucking hard, right, when you’re taught in all other things to measure and count and make sure and verify? It’s easier to think if one person makes the rules, all the other one has to do is follow them.

Just as with money, with jobs, with everything, when it comes to sex, when it comes to things like porn and strip clubs and other people and the Internet and chatting with strangers and hooking up in dark hotel rooms, you can talk about what you’re comfortable with and come to an arrangement, but that’s all you can do. You can’t force someone to love you, you can’t force someone to respect your wishes, you can’t force someone not to get the SI Swimsuit Issue if it’s what he or she wants more than anything. This debate isn’t about porn at all. It’s about knowing what you want and what your spouse wants, and being able to talk about it and have respect for one another’s views. It’s about being able to ask the question, “How important is this to you?” and really, really listen to the answer.

Rules get broken. When you’re in a relationship you are each other’s responsibility, and if you don’t feel that, there’s no threat on earth will make your behavior reflect it. Framing this, as well as everything else in marriage, as a question of permission and transgression demeans both people.