President-elect Barack Obama has promised "change" as his campaign slogan and for his planned tenure as President of the Unites States. As someone who writes and thinks (too much) about sex, I have to wonder whether this change applies to the idea of sex in the White House. After all, for the first time in my lifetime we have a husband and wife entering the WH who are young, attractive, and actually touch each other affectionately in public. Moreover, the existence of relatively young children provides proof that they had been "active" in the not-too distant past.
How different from each of the last occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave! I mean no disrespect to any of them by commenting on the public presentation of their sexuality, particularly since my professional opinion is that sex is a normal and healthy part of any relationship. Moreover, despite our Puritanical heritage, it is impossible to deny that sex is a near-universal biological activity among animal species (there are a limited number of "sexless" species that reproduce without intermingling of bodies and DNA) on this planet. But let's face it- the idea of a bedroom romp between the US President and his wife is not something that has been easy to imagine. Ever. Perhaps it is the gravity of the position that discourages the public's imagining of sex in the White House, or the age at which past Presidents entered office, but I would argue it has more to do with the men we've elected President.
Just try to imagine sex between previous Presidents and their wives- it's almost impossible. Take the outgoing President. He and his wife are still fairly young, but there is something about his religious fervor and her library-marm presentation that discourage thoughts about freedom of sexual expression. Bill and Hillary? Well, President Clinton had at least one well-exposed sexual escapade in the White House, but it wasn't with his wife. Amid the forests of pages written speculating on their marriage, nowhere would one find commentary suggesting a warm, physical relationship between them. Bush Sr. and Barbara? Nice ham this year, Grandma. Ronald Reagan and the ever-controlled Nancy? Please. Gerald and Bette Ford? Nope.
Going back further in time, we find a few more interesting characters, sexually speaking. Say what you will about Richard Milhous Nixon, but it's not so difficult to imagine this individual pursuing his urges, so to speak. And Jimmy Carter, devout as he was/is, publicly confessed to having committed "adultery in his heart," in Playboy magazine, of all places. Presumably, someone as willing to acknowledge the pull of sexual desire as this would also find no difficulty in acknowledging the beauty of it within a committed, married relationship. Yet President Carter was mocked and demeaned for his openness regarding sexuality.
Without a doubt, women would rate John F. Kennedy as the most sexually appealing President of the last half-decade, and many would argue that the "sexy gene" was even passed on to his late son. Yet as the window into JFK's sexual exploits opened after his death, the stories told were of dalliances outside the marriage, such as with Marilyn Monroe, rather than with his beautiful wife, Jacquelyn.
And so, the imminent ascension of Barack Obama to the Presidency brings about true change, at least in the sense that it becomes possible to imagine healthy sexuality in the White House, perhaps for the first time. From my perspective, this is nothing but good news. When we look to leaders of other countries who exhibit vitality, energy, and an openness to new ideas, such as Tony Blair of the UK or Nicolas Sarkozy of France, it is easy to imagine them as sexual human beings as well.
It will be interesting to see what the new changes at the White House will mean to US culture in general, and to attitudes regarding sexuality specifically. Sex in the White House? As Sarah Palin might say with an accompanying wink, You betcha!