Monday, August 11, 2008

Sex Education John Edwards Could Have Used -- Like Others Before Him

As we were stuck with weather delays on returning from the Canadian Rockies on Friday, we watched the John Edwards story unfold on the TV monitors in the airport. Once again, my initial response was that this is private behavior, that the press should not be involved in such stings, and that our prayers should be with the family. But, the possibilities that the Edwards campaign hired his mistress for a job she had little experience for or paid her money to keep her quiet moves this into a public realm in a different way. And I shudder to think what this might have meant if Mr. Edwards was now a candidate for the Presidency.

And I remembered a column that I had written for the Huffington Post after the revelations about Eliot Spitzer...or was that John McCain...or Senator Craig...or?

So here with some updating are some basic guidelines for politicians -- or any sexually healthy adult.

Honor your commitments to your partner. A sexually healthy marriage is based on honesty and trust; only you and your spouse know what you have agreed to, but don't put her in the position of having to stand by you at a microphone while you confess to the entire world. Keep that picture in your head as you are considering your behaviors. I have great respect for the way Elizabeth Edwards responded this weekend.

Understand that you can have a sexual feeling without acting on it -- without even telling anyone about it. Think about it -- if Bill Clinton had thought to himself, "Cute Intern. Too Young, Too Risky" and moved on, he would not have been impeached. If your partner isn't interested in exploring a particular part of your eroticism with you, the safest thing is to explore it only in the confines of your mind.

Nothing, really nothing, is ever private between two people. Someone always tells someone. And the less the other person has to lose, the more likely they are to tell more people. In fact, unless it's your life partner, only have sex with someone who has as much to lose as you do. Sex workers don't. Neither do women or men in their twenties. Oh, and the scrupulous use of birth control and condoms are not alternative behaviors. One can only hope that Mr. Edwards knows for sure that this is not his child.

Sexually healthy adults discriminate between sexual behaviors that are life enhancing -- for themselves and their partners - with those that could be destructive (of themselves or their partner(s). If there's a chance that the behavior could cost you your partner, career, reputation, just say no. Visiting a sex club, a sex worker, having sex with an employee, soliciting someone in a public bathroom or park, putting a lover on a payroll: chances are it's going to land you on the front page and you'll lose your job or your reputation .

Remember that a moral sexual relationship is consensual, nonexploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable and protected. Does the relationship meet those criteria? If you can't answer yes to all of these, say no.

Always ask if the behavior consistent with your values, expressed and internal. If you're found out, will you be accused of hypocrisy? More importantly, can you live with yourself -- and the impact of the world and your family finding out? It is painful to think about the conversations this weekend at the Edwards' home.

Of course, these ethics apply to all of us, not just people in political power. Remember that Scripture counsels us to be careful about throwing the first stone.

6 comments:

ms. kitty said...

Debra, I hope this wonderful post is going out in some huge venue. Everyone ought to have a chance to read it.

Rev. Carl Bowers said...

Debra, all well said. I'd only point out that the linkage between the use of conception control and being "certain that this is not his child" is not absolute; no method of conception control is infallible. So another part of the moral calculus must be for both partners to be aware and accepting of the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy, and of further difficult moral choices which may arise from it. Also present is the inevitable, if small, anxiety present until it becomes clear that no pregnancy has resulted; one more strain upon all connected relationships.

Dr. Neil Cannon said...

Debra,
As always your comments are right on target. I would also say that we need to raise cultural conciousness related to sexual minorities, i.e., gay, lesbian, transgendered, and practitioners of BDSM (bondage, domination, sadomasochism). In other words a couple can meet all of the important criteria you described for a healthy relationship however if their lifestyle doesn't meet the cultural norms for sexual expression, they wrongly remain targets of the press as recently occurred in the UK to Max Mosley.

Mary said...

Debra, the parts of this that really stood out for me were, "A sexually healthy marriage is based on honesty and trust; only you and your spouse know what you have agreed to, but don't put her in the position of having to stand by you at a microphone while you confess to the entire world. Keep that picture in your head as you are considering your behaviors," and also, "Remember that a moral sexual relationship is consensual, nonexploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable and protected. Does the relationship meet those criteria? If you can't answer yes to all of these, say no."

I honestly don't care what goes on between consenting adults, I consider that ethically neutral. It can annoy me that he did this behind Elizabeth's back, but I think one can be a good president and still struggle with sexual impulse like that. However, if there was exploitation, use of money to keep power, etc. . . . well, I'm a bit more squicked by that.

@Rev. Carl Bowers:
Actually, it's possible to be certain a child is not one's own. If, say, my own husband were to have been ill for four months, with a heart problem for instance, that required some diagnosis, surgery, then recovery, and we didn't have sex during that time, and I were to find myself three months pregnant a month or two after that period, he could be certain that my child wasn't biologically related to him. (I'll take "his child" as a separate issue, as it's almost certain that he would treat the child as his, and after it was born, it would be his child.) It's possible that Edwards did not have sex with his mistress for some months around which the child was conceived, and it's not biologically his child. He might have, I haven't personally delved that far into it because I don't care. It's between him and his mistress -- though as Debra said, the prospect of hush money is somewhat nasty.

"Always ask if the behavior consistent with your values, expressed and internal. If you're found out, will you be accused of hypocrisy? More importantly, can you live with yourself -- and the impact of the world and your family finding out?"

That too. If you're cheating on your own values, how much emotional and mental energy is that sucking out of you? How much will that affect your ability to lead? (But actually, I'd be more worried about someone for whom it requires no emotional energy at all to do so.)

Melanie Davis said...

Debra, your point about choosing not act upon a sexual impulse is key: as a society, we've gotten addicted to instant gratification in everything from the latest electronic gizmo to sex. It would be wise for everyone to take pause before acting impulsively, regardless of the decisions being faced. Adults can teach important lessons when they model thoughtful decision-making, especially when options are especially tempting. Thanks for your column.

baby221 said...

Although I agree with pretty much all of what you've written here, it occurred to me as I was reading that this is the first time I've ever heard you mention sex work. Now, I'm sure this is just because I stop by here relatively infrequently (i.e., I'm here today to see if you'd written anything about the HHS proposal re: religious/moral objections to performing certain procedures) - but if you don't mind, I'm curious as to what your position regarding sex work is. (If it's too off-topic, feel free to email me.)

Other than that, this?

Honor your commitments to your partner. A sexually healthy marriage is based on honesty and trust

WORD. One of the things that's cropped up in these discussions is the whole "well maybe they were one of those poly types," which tend to just devolve super-quick into poly vs. mono arguments, which is annoying. I wish more people would understand that it's about honoring the commitments you make - not the ones people think you may have made, or think you should have made, but the ones you actually made - and that poly people aren't going to just let him off the hook because they "might" have had an arrangement.