I was recently reminded of the movie Sirens starring Sam Neill, Hugh Grant, Elle MacPherson, and Tara Fitzgerald. In it, a (supposedly) progressive minister (Grant) and his wife (Fitzgerald) pay a call on an eccentric artist (Neill), whose painting "Crucified Venus" is deemed blasphemous and scandelous by prim Victorian society. While there, the minister and wife see that the painter, his wife and his three models (including MacPherson) enjoy a lifestyle that disregards the Victorian mores of the time. The minister and his wife both appear to be shocked at the amoral behavior, but her shock merely veils repressed sexual curiousity and discomfort with the stuffy propriety of her marriage. Her curiousity about the lives the artist, his wife, and his models lead eventually draws her into a tryst with a (seemingly) blind, male artist's model/hunk/handyman. Her inner self ignited by this voyage of discovery, she returns to faithfulness with her husband and spices up their sex life.
I recall my primary reaction to this movie: why does sexual discovery for married couples in movies and erotic fiction generally involve women satisfying sexual curiousity outside of marriage? I immediately thought of Emmanuelle and other titles... including Belle du Jour. I suppose there is the natural taboo of the (supposedly) good wife seeking pleasure purely for pleasure's sake. Such pleasure cannot have the stamp of societal approval by being with her husband; it must therefore be extra-marital. Or the merely structural argument (twisted argument if you ask me) that the eroticism of women on screen and in fiction appeals to more people on a visual and emotional level.
As the 25 year old I was when I first saw the movie, my reaction was probably rooted in sexual insecurity. I tended to see myself as the stuffy husband, not the virile extra-marital paramour. Women to that point had much more often seen me as the friend they could talk to rather than the hot guy they wanted to date. I feared that I truly was the stuffy, boring husband. That fear lent me a resolve to learn enough about sex that any woman who shared herself with me was not going to come away without some sense of genuine satisfaction (at least not for lack of trying).
As a 34 year old who is moving toward marriage, I have a somewhat different point of view. I see that couples develop certain rhythms to their relationships. Think of it as a physical, emotional, and sexual dance. At first it can be a little awkward because each partner cannot guage the reactions of the other well, but, it eventually becomes an elaborate pas de deux where each knows (or seems to know) the other quite well.
While that process of discovery can be quite liberating, it also can also lead to boredom. The movements of the dance become fixed, and the routine stagnates.
In such a scenario, it may seem like the much easier thing to seek some sort of self-changing experience outside the bounds of monogamy, rather than change your ever-constant partner.
The struggle is to continue to grow in your relationship along multiple dimensions (including sexually) in order to prevent that stagnation from occuring. This was mentioned at the Engaged Encounter that Fiancee S. and I recently attended. I thought that it was surprisingly frank discussion for an event sanctioned by the Catholic Church.
I think about my relationship with Fiancee S. and I see the patterns forming. They are, for the most part, good patterns - we fit together very well. But there are always a few that may turn out to be questionable; every garden of beautiful flowers must inevitably produce a weed or two. Pulling those up while they are still small takes effort.
on 2003-11-19 at 3:40 p.m.
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