It’s worth noting, I think, that yesterday, a little before before the new Weiner “news” broke, we had a post that explored online dating and hook-ups. For increasing numbers of people, this is their primary arena for sexual flirting, dirty-talk, “selfies”, fantasy, and – much more rarely – actual sex. As Ross Douthat noted, this trend is not a gradual one:
College has also dipped since 2000 as a place to meet, but only modestly; bars and restaurants have ticked upward, and the internet, predictably, has exploded.
With countless interactive hook-up sites, and ever more apps that combine sexting with GPS, a huge proportion of the current and future generations will have sent pics of their boobs or butts or junk as a form of sexual play, fantasy, virtual interactive pornography, and, to a lesser extent, getting laid. That’s simply the reality. Humans are sexual beings, and given a new obsessive-compulsive toy to play with, the Internet, their first instinct was to see how they could use it to get off. Porn and virtual sex sites not only power the web, they helped create it.
I see nothing here that any sane society would try to stop or regulate. Men are more prone to this instant, impulsive, fantasy-driven sexual gratification (testosterone is a powerful drug), but women are also involved. And if you display every detail of every sext-chat in public, both parties will be as embarrassed as if someone had taped the sex talk in their bedroom and broadcast it on the radio.
But embarrassment is not shame. And as long as both parties are adults acting consensually – and in virtual space, no coercion is really possible – I fail to see any scandal. In fact, I see it as a way to blow off steam, without the risk of STDs or pregnancy. It can indeed distort one’s view of sexuality; it can objectify people with ruthless efficiency; it can make actual sex more difficult (see our NO-FAP thread). But it’s nothing different than another arena for us to court, display and preen our sexual selves. It was ever thus.
Obviously, running for mayor of New York City exponentially increases the risk of exposure and embarrassment.
But even then, for any married man, the core ethical question, it seems to me, is whether the behavior is with his spouse’s awareness and consent – or not. As I’ve argued before, couples should be allowed some flexibility in managing their marriages, as they see fit. No one outside a marriage can fully know what’s in it, or what makes it work. For my part, I favor maximal privacy for all married couples in navigating the shoals of sex and life online and off.
Monogamous, monogamish, and open relationships are all up to the couples themselves and all have risks and advantages. But ultimately it is up to the spouse to decide if there has been a transgression or not, and whether to forgive and move forward or not. The truly awful spectacle yesterday was seeing Huma Abedin being forced to undergo another public humiliation as the price for her husband’s public career. But she clearly stated she was not abandoning her husband. And for me, as for us, that should close the matter.
And let’s be clear, there is no victim here. A flirty, horny 22-year-old who talks a great sex game is not a victim. She’s a player – and good for her. This nonsense about her being “immature” and Weiner being “predatory” is belied by the facts. She knew he was married when she sexted him and he returned the favors. The only salient question is whether, having lied in the first place about sexting, Weiner was caught deceiving the public again by claiming he had stopped sexting and re-built his marriage, while the compulsion was clearly not over. That’s a question of public trust, and there’s little doubt that Weiner has squandered it. On the question of lying, the NYT’s harrumph this morning is a valid one. Once a politician has deceived people, he gets a second chance. When he deceives them a second time on the same issue, he loses whatever public trust he might have hoped for.
But I see no reason why that trust should not be tested where it should be: at the ballot box. Weiner should not, er, withdraw prematurely. He should do us all a favor, if his wife agrees, and plow on until we can all smoke a collective cigarette. In this new Internet Age someone has to be the person who makes sexting not an excludable characteristic for public office. If it becomes one, then the range of representatives we can choose from in the future and present will be very, very different in experience and background than the people they are supposed to represent.
And so I’m more than sympathetic to Amanda Hess’s yawns:
What would the American public find if it combed through all of your Facebook messages, Twitter DMs, and Gchat history? If it had an exclusive peek into your webcam, or could scroll through your iPhone pics at will? This great nation is littered with hard drives full of poorly lit topless pics, broken promises to former lovers, and messages that sounded sexy at the time but look very stupid now. Anthony Weiner’s sexts don’t make him look like a sexual predator or even a freak. They make him look very, very ordinary.
Ambers has mixed feelings:
It wouldn’t bother me if Weiner continued to sext after his resignation so long as he admitted that, to him, such behavior was not immoral, not wrong, and not a violation of whatever boundaries he and Huma Abedin have set for their marriage. Also, discreet. He had to be discreet. Instead, he insists that the behavior is wrong, that he learned his lesson, and that his wife has forgiven him. What lessons has he learned? Not clear.
Ambers is right about the core contradiction. Weiner’s concession that he did something wrong – when he never had sex with anyone other than his wife – undermines his entire position. He’s also shrewd to home in on the way in which Weiner used his public persona for sexual power. This was not sexting anonymously with strangers for fantasy and fun. It was sexting liberal activists who get turned on by healthcare reform (poor dears). Hence the ethical issue:
It’s unseemly that he seemed to promise his paramour a blogging job in exchange for getting rid of the incriminating messages, which surely must have signaled to her the enormous power that she held over him. That a potential mayor is willing to put himself in this position, a position where he basically plea-bargains against blackmail, is a strike against his competence.
It sure is. But let’s not pre-empt this. Let’s recall that Weiner, unlike Eliot Spitzer, committed no crime, and had sex with no-one but his wife. It seems absurd that the one with actual, serious transgressions should sail through, via cable TV news, to public life again and the other, whose sin is primarily online flirting, should be ritually drummed out of a race.
The future of Weiner’s marriage and career is in the hands of his wife and the voting public, respectively. One has made her choice. Let the people, with all the facts at their disposal, make the second.
(Photo: Anthony Weiner, a leading candidate for New York City mayor, stands with his wife Huma Abedin during a press conference on July 23, 2013 in New York City. By John Moore/Getty Images.)