POSTED ON DECEMBER 5, 2012:
Awaiting a Slut Moment
Everybody cheats. Is it really that big a deal?
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We need a Slut Moment.
As CIA director, David Petraeus led an organization that carries out extrajudicial assassinations, overthrows foreign heads of state and fires drone missiles at innocent civilians. For his performance as a leading state terrorist, General Petraeus received four stars, 28 motorcycle policemen to escort him to a girlfriend's house, and nearly universal acclaim.
For cheating on his wife, he was forced to resign in disgrace. (Since his lover, a West Point graduate, was not a spy, national security was not at issue.)
What is wrong with our values?
I wouldn't lay it on quite as thickly as John Prados, senior research fellow at the National Security Archive, did in The Washington Post: "Because of an affair that had already ended, the nation this month lost the services of a highly skilled public servant. The hysterical reaction to the news of then-CIA Director David Petraeus's liaison with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, has done more to harm national security than the affair itself."
I'd hate to think that one man's departure would hurt the CIA's assassination and coup productivity.
Still, I agree with Prados's broader point. What happened to Petraeus -- and Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer and Bill Clinton and Larry Craig and John Edwards -- was stupid.
Whether you're a small-government conservative or a liberal libertine, one thing all Americans ought to agree upon is that we're entitled to privacy in our sex lives.
As long as the sex is consensual, what happens in the bedroom -- or the coffee room off the Oval Office or the Minneapolis airport men's room -- is nobody's business but the two people involved. Or three. Or seven.
Maybe a mongoose. With verifiable consent.
Cheating on your spouse shouldn't cost you your career. Especially when so many of us do it.
Laws and social mores that don't reflect the behavior of the vast majority of the population do more harm than good, corroding respect for government and society while turning too many people into criminals and pariahs. That's why Prohibition failed: too many Americans drank. (One study found that alcohol consumption increased by 60 percent to 70 percent under Prohibition.) It doesn't matter that booze causes problems. It's just too popular to ban.
As Aharon Barak wrote, "When social reality changes, the law must change too."
Like drinking, cheating is so popular and widespread that punishing people for sleeping with more than one officially recognized partner -- enforcing an outdated monogamist "norm" through law and public slut-shaming -- is counterproductive.
"Estimates today find married men cheating at rates between 25 percent and 72 percent," wrote Eric Anderson, author of The Monogamy Gap. For example: "In a 1991 study, sex researcher Shere Hite found that 70 percent of married women have cheated on their partners; a 1993 follow-up study found that 72 percent of married men have as well."
When anywhere from a quarter to three-quarters of a population does something, it's not a moral failing. It's standard human behavior. And it shouldn't be punished.
Yet the gap between reality and expectation is growing rather than shrinking. "More Americans today (80 percent) say infidelity is "always wrong" than in 1970 (70 percent). And a full 99 percent of Americans say they expect their spouse to be faithful. Monogamy, at least as an ideal, is stronger than ever in this country even as it slips elsewhere," Bret Schulte wrote in U.S. News & World Report in 2008.
How do we stop this madness?
We need a Slut Moment -- a public self-outing by a popular celebrity. Someone who stands up and tells the world: I am a slut. I enjoy sex with more than one partner.
America needs someone courageous like Magic Johnson, who called a press conference in 1991 to announce that he had HIV. Johnson made it OK to be HIV-positive. And, though he denies it, presumably bi. If a cool guy like Magic had guy-guy sex, gays couldn't be all bad.
Ellen Degeneres's 1997 statement that she was a lesbian was important for similar reasons: She was attractive, likeable, and apparently "normal."
Celebrity revelations do a lot of good. When Ronald Reagan released a 1994 statement saying he had Alzheimer's disease, the media and public response benefited millions of others. Michael J. Fox helped normalize public reaction to Parkinson's in 1999, when he said he had the disease.
Imagine if, instead of denying that he had sex with "that woman, Miss Lewinsky," Bill Clinton had looked straight into the camera and told the truth, not merely "coming clean" but unashamedly stating that yeah, he had had sex with a woman who was not his wife, and so what? He would have avoided impeachment and, more importantly, made the point that our sexual choices have nothing to do with our other roles in life. FDR cheated and JFK was a slut; both are considered to be great presidents. Nixon and Dubya, faithful hubbies both, were failures.
His military and government careers in ruins, General Petraeus missed an opportunity to make history. Rather than slink off with "I messed up" as his terse professional epitaph, Petraeus ought to have ditched the Scarlet Letter and stood tall.
The general's surrogates have been ordered to say he's "ashamed" and working on his marriage and sucking up to his betrayed wife.
Which is ridiculous. He certainly wasn't ashamed while he was rolling around naked with Paula Broadwell -- and rightly so. He was having some harmless fun -- the same kind of fun enjoyed by up to three out of four Americans, few of whom dare to admit it. Or maybe he was in love. Whatever.
A few short decades ago, gays and lesbians were outlaws, hated, reviled, without rights. Now, partly due to brave souls like Ellen Degeneres, they can get married, adopt and serve openly in the military -- and yet, civilization hasn't collapsed!
Someday a famous slutty celebrity will liberate us from the shackles of phony BS monogamism, freeing us to reveal ourselves for who we really are: a nation of sluts.
May that day come soon.
No pun intended.
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