Love, Inc

The intersections of emotion and capitalism.

Mixed marriages

Can experts really fix our sex lives?

A couple of news stories this week deal with "mixed marriages."  I don't mean Jewish/Christian or Black/White marriages, but marriages where the sexual drive of one partner is fundamentally different than the sexual drive of another. In the first set of stories, it is about women who "marry gay."  In the other, it is about women who just don't want to have sex as often as their male partners.

Kiri Blakeley's Can't Even Think Straight: A Memoir of Mixed-up Love tells the story of her ten year relationship with a man who decides, in the end, that he's gay.  Apparently Ms. Blakeley finds not just the fact that her partner of ten years would dump her memoir worthy, but feels particularly betrayed that the reason he left her was because of his sexuality.   She describes the scene of his coming out as her trotting into the living room like the family dog, expecting a belly rub, but getting a bullet in the head instead.  A bit dramatic, but then again, betrayal always leads to self-pity, at least at first.  

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On a particularly alarmist segment about Blakeley's book on the Today Show , the viewer is told that "experts" say that "for a woman to find that the man she's in love with is gay is happening more and more often."  Really?  How are we measuring that number?  Then a psycho-therapist is trotted out to tell us that when women cheat with other women it's for emotional connections, and therefore easier to forgive, but when men cheat with men it's purely sexual.    

Sigh.  There is so much wrong with this story that I don't know where to begin. But let's stick with the most obvious problem: men are sexual; women are victims.  Men want sex; women want emotional connection.  And the experts are here to help us figure out what to do with our "mixed marriages."  Ms. Blakeley may not realize it yet, but she's set off a whole cottage industry now where the media plants fear and panic in the listeners who then rush to experts because they fear they "married gay."

This widespread assumption that we need experts in love and desire is also what drives large pharmaceutical companies for a cure to "female sexual dysfunction."  A new documentary,  Orgasm,Inc., makes the danger of corporate love experts clear.  The "pink viagra"- which has yet to be approved for human use- attempts to put a chemical end  to something that the vast majority of women seem to feel at some point in their lives:  difficulty orgasming and decreased sexual desire. In Orgasm, Inc. filmmaker Liz Canner realizes that the purpose of big pharma is not "pleasure" but "profit" and that in pursuit of that profit they are willing to put women's health at risk.  

Of course,  these stories of mixed marriages are not really newsworthy. After all, what's the news?  That people break up even after seemingly perfect relationships?  That sometimes people leave other people for unfulfilled sexual and emotional desires, including the desire to be with someone of the same sex?  That sometimes one partner wants sex more or less than the other? Or that there are "experts" and the corporations that employ them out there trying to convince us that the love we have is not the love we want?

Instead of getting sucked into believing that there is something wrong with us and only experts can fix it, we might be better off taking a deep breath.  Let's relieve both sex and the experts of some of their significance.  So your fiance is gay?  That may or may not mean the end of your coupling, but it surely doesn't have to end your friendship in the bonfire that is a tell-all memoir.  So you just don't want to have sex anymore?  That too need not be seen as a problem.  Instead of rushing into the arms of "experts" and others who will sell us "true love," we'd be better off listening to the words of the 20th century's two greatest philosphers:

You can't always get what you want.  But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need

Laurie Essig, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology and women and gender studies at Middlebury College.

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