It's just a penis, people. Americans are great at casting aspersions, but are we willing to look at our own lives? The question that's been swirling around my brain since Anthony's Weiner's package first appeared and disappeared on Twitter over Memorial Day weekend is this: why does it matter? Aside from being slightly impressed by what he's packing, I couldn't care less about his personal peccadillos, his sexual tastes, his online relationships with porn stars and blackjack dealers, his wife's reaction or any of it. It's simply not my business.
We all sext. Susan Lipkin's research shows that people from their teens to their 70s are sending provocative photos and other titillating texts to consenting partners old and new. Single people do it, married people do it (with their actual spouses), and yes, adulterers do it. It's just 21st-century flirting, and for all its drawbacks, it brings the rush of endorphins that we crave before or after a tryst. (For teens, it's another story.) Our online intimacies certainly have major implications for the way we relate one-to-one with other human beings. But for adults, it's not scandalous; it just is.
Yes, Weiner is incredibly stupid for risking his career on this. Men in powerful positions tend to think they can get away with anything (see Vitter, Ensign, Edwards, Spitzer, Larry "Wide-stance" Craig, Foley, etc.). But let's peek between the sheets and see if something else is at play here. Our culture is at once the most sexually repressed and hyper-sexualized on earth. This entrenched Puritan ethos is so prevalent that most of us are running 18th-century software in our brains when it comes to sexual mores. We may be revealing more in public, showing more T & A on the TV, but it seems that the guilt gene is still in charge of our reactions to naked body parts and perceived perversions. It's still not OK to be gay. People regularly refer to sex workers as "hookers" (even some feminists I know do this). It's 2011, and our collective sexual maturity is at the level of a 12-year-old boy. And it seems to be getting worse, not better.
This incident and the many that have come before speak to our obsession with the power of the penis. Maybe now that we've seen Weiner's weiner up close and personal, we can grow up and get over it. Penises are nice, necessary and serve a variety of functions. But they shouldn't run men's lives, nor should they by extension run our media. Imagine if women's orgasms were paid this kind of attention? (My theory: we wouldn't have waged wars of choice twice in one decade if the clitoris got half as much attention as the penis does.)
Hypocrisy and sexual repression are, apparently, a heady, irresistible mix to the media. The afternoon that Weiner's surreal press conference hit the airwaves (shown on every local channel in New York City, not just the 24-hour cable networks), we should have been talking about the five soldiers who died that morning in Iraq or the state of the economy.
Weiner has been a real hero on the left. Despite his recent, extremely moronic behavior, he's proven to be incredibly smart and indispensable when it comes to standing up for the little guy. (I agree with him on just about everything but Israel.) Without him, Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy and Dennis Kucinich, we'd have no voice in Congress. And his voice has been the loudest, the most insistent. We can't let this profoundly stupid slip-up ruin a champion of our cause. I trust his district will reelect him, because New Yorkers are not so easily scandalized. And the most recent poll of his constituents suggests exactly that. He may even be the mayor of New York someday. But this frenzy is precisely why Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh are salivating right now: they think that one of their enemies has been taken down of his own volition. Do we want them to get a win here?
Secrets and lies exist because people are afraid that their fantasies, and desires are dirty. So what if we tilted the paradigm and communicated our real needs to our partners? What if we didn't get married for the wrong reasons? What if we taught children that their body parts aren't naughty? What if we opened our minds and created more space for all kinds of sexuality? What if we got behind marriage equality? What if we stopped being so fake and so righteously religious? The first thing that would happen is that our sex lives would improve. There wouldn't need to be any "Good Wives." We'd never be rocked by a sex scandal again, wasting precious air time and resources on a non-story.
It just takes a little consciousness-raising, and it starts with your relationship to your own body. I hate to break out the old "fear versus love" canard, but it's appropriate here. This is our chance to make the personal truly political, starting in our bedrooms. We'll get more pleasure, and change the world in the process.