All I Have to Say About Anthony Weiner
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last week, you’ve heard all about Anthony Weiner and his penis picture tweets. As many of my sex educator colleagues have been getting media requests to weigh in on this, I’ve been struck by how repetitive all of this is.
The first question folks have been asking is “is this cheating?” And my answer is: it depends on the rules of their relationship. While many people assume that marriage equals sexual monogamy and many of them assume that that means that all sexual energy will be directed towards one’s spouse, that isn’t how everyone shapes their relationships. The fact is, lots of people (even lots of heterosexual, married people) create structures for their relationships that don’t require monogamy or complete control over one’s spouse’s sexual energy and attention. So the only way to know whether Weiner was cheating on his wife is to ask them what their rules were. Nobody else is in a position to answer the question, so stop asking.
One thing that makes that tricky is that many people have unspoken expectations about what being in a relationship or being married means and it’s pretty common for people to come into conflict when those invisible lines are crossed. For that matter, it’s pretty common for us to not even know that we have these expectations until a partner runs into them, which is a great way to build resentment and damage your relationship. So if you’ve never spoken with your partner about your expectations and desires around flirting with other people, either in person or online, under your actual name or an alias, you might want to have that conversation preemptively.
As far as Weiner’s dodging the issue at first before acknowledging that he did send that photo, all I can ask is: have you never once in your life lied about something sexual you did? In a world suffused with sexual secrecy and shame, most people have a deeply-ingrained habit of trying to cover up. For example, many folks would do pretty much the same thing if a partner walked in on them masturbating, even when their partner knew that they masturbate and had certainly seen them during sex. Odds are that if a bunch of reporters came to you and asked you about something you’d done, you’d have at least some impulse to say that you hadn’t done it, if only to get them to go away. So I don’t think it’s that big a deal.
According to the House ethics rules, members should conduct themselves “at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.” This is an impossible rule. After all, what does “at all times” mean? When you’re on the toilet? When you’re sick with the flu? Are congresspeople really expected to conform to this expectation 24/7? Do they not get to have private lives? Personally, I don’t care what Weiner get up to in his personal life and I don’t see why anyone not directly part of his life should, either.
Cory Silverberg raises some good points on this aspect:
What we should be asking is what, precisely, is it about his actions that reflect poorly on the House?
Was it that he engaged in sexual interactions? Are House members not supposed to have libidos? Was it that he lied about it? Was it that he showed such poor judgement in engaging in sexual interactions on public platforms like Facebook and Twitter? Put more simply, is he a bad role model because he demonstrated sexual desire, because he’s a liar, or because he’s not very smart? It may seem moot, but I’d argue it’s worth us asking ourselves what of this is a problem for us, and then asking ourselves why we care about one thing more than another.
As far as the question of whether his tweeting and texting photos was unwise or stupid, all I can ask is: have you never in your life done something unwise when you were turned on? Have you never woken up the next morning and asked yourself what you had been thinking? It’s easy to judge others and it’s easy to forget that almost everyone who has a sex life has done at least a few things that might be considered less than ideal. We really need to get over shaming people for doing stuff that we’ve done ourselves.
Lastly, there are so many more important things going on and I really don’t think this “story” is worth all of the attention it’s been getting. There are some good questions that could have been raised (as Cory pointed out) but most of them are getting lost in the feeding frenzy. Someone flirting online and sending photos of his chest and penis just isn’t news.