Thursday, February 05, 2004

Honor Thy Sexual Partner

Question: can our sexuality mature beyond its adolescent origins, or does it remain fixed at its inception? Speaking modestly on behalf of the North American hetero male, and perhaps more than a few females as well, I'm thinking our adolescent experiences of sexuality serve chiefly as a fecund point of origin to which we return when we need (or desire) stimulation. There might even be an aspect of regeneration involved here, if only in a limited sense -- biologically, we regenerate the species, and spiritually we regenerate our adolescence. Little hope, then, of a "mature" sexuality.

It's the Superbowl halftime that's got me thinking, of course. My wife happens to be the same age as Janet Jackson. My wife also happens to have a background in theatre, including song and dance. I also consider her to be every inch as beautiful as Ms. Jackson. Now, were she to pull the same stunt as Ms. Jackson (I shrug aside, I admit, the ugly possibility that the whole thing was Justin Timberlake's idea), I'd start asking myself all sorts of dsicomfiting questions. She's apparently a mature adult -- why is she doing this? Not just flashing the tit: the whole damn thing. The entire show is a crisply-choreographed projection of adolescent sexual innuendo. What prompts adults to, erm, "mount" such a production?

Well, duh. Perhaps the better question to ask is, if this is manifest adolescence, what might a "mature sexuality" look like? I've got to admit, here I'm at a bit of a loss. The Superbowl halftime isn't the place to look. Yet skipping genres of entertainment to current movies doesn't help, either: anyone up for yet another slice of American Pie? Even when a movie claims to broach the subject of mature sexuality, the end result is pretty weak (I submit to the jury the profoundly flawed Something's Gotta Give). No, the movie that first comes to my mind as a serious possibility is the 1995 adaptation of Rob Roy. The entire melodrama pivots around a man's unshakable conviction: maintain your honor. Robert Roy MacGregor demonstrates what might appear to be oft-proclaimed "American" values: he keeps honor with his integrity, his queen, his family, and his community. Inside this moral framework, he and his wife Mary enjoy spontaneous and open sexual affection. When Mary is later raped by Archibald Cunningham, the contrast could not be more brutal -- the adolescent invades the adult. As in most movies, blood calls for blood (an expected -- and indeed adolescent - denouement), but when MacGregor is confronted by the possibility that the child Mary is carrying might not be his own, his response is transcendent: essentially he says, if the child is a girl, she'll be named after the mother; if a boy, he'll be named after the father -- me. MacGregor's sense of honor demands he care for, and claim, the child born into his home.

I don't want to be a Falwell about these matters, disallowing a vast array of complexity and nuance that is both demanded by and beneficial to a life well lived. I'll be the first to admit the Rob Roy "Code" is seriously problematic. But I do think that an effort to cultivate a larger, let's say holistic sense of honor, in which to express and explore one's sexuality can only help to nurture its potential maturity.

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