Philip Weiss is an investigative journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, and Harper's. A controversial 2008 article, "The Affairs of Men," published in New York magazine, sought to explain why so many men pursue sexual variety. Weiss also writes the Anti-Zionism blog, Mondoweiss. He is the author of American Taboo: A Murder In The Peace Corps, and he's working on a novel.
Philip Weiss: I think it’s a tough time for marriage. I wasn’t married 20 years ago. It’s hard for me to say but I think some of the things that make it a very tough time for marriage is- are the divorce rate obviously, the expectations that marriage is laden with and these expectations include that you should be best friends, you should be business partners, you should be progenitor- breeders, you should be passionately, madly in love and have sort of a romantic sunset horizon. And I think that some of these-- And now especially with the decline of the extended family, which used to provide more sort of social support to couples, I think there’s even more pressure on parents.
They are ferrying their kids around to soccer practice and to music lessons and I think there’s just tremendous pressure on marriage, and then so when you bring in the sexual question and you have a marriage that’s been going on for 20 years in an age that is highly eroticized-- You drive down the road and there are these Calvin Klein ads with 16-year-olds who are half naked virtually and the stuff they show on TV obviously is nothing like what it- is far more explicit than it was 20 years ago. Pornography, which I’ve always been into at some level or another-- I know about it as a-- It’s something I’ve always checked out. When I was a kid it was very hard to get explicit pornography and now it’s sort of hot and cold running pornography into people’s houses, and I think that Spitzer-- One of the things I look at-- When I consider Spitzer’s case I think that- and in a number of these cases-- There have been a number of guys lately who have been caught stepping out and I wonder if he wasn’t at some level saying- seeing stuff on the net and saying- this very explicit stuff on the net and saying, ”God, I should be getting this too. I should get this,” and actually giving himself permission to do it because the culture is so eroticized.
And the one other factor I’d throw in is that anecdotally anyway there’s just a ton of sexless marriages out there so I think that-- And I don’t think it’s bad to have a sexless marriage. I don’t have a sexless marriage. I have a sexual marriage. I’m really happy about that. It’s not easy to attain and you got to have the wife wear the blonde wig and you got to do- I think you got to trick yourself in one way or another to keep the passion going, but what I’m getting at I suppose is that after- what I’m getting at-- What I’m getting at is that it’s okay to have a sexless marriage and it should be okay- other forms of sexual activity maybe should be okay too. I think we should just get a little more sophisticated about this and if I look at one of the achievements of my generation it was to take premarital sex, that portion of people’s lives, and just sort of blow it up from no time when it was illegal, immoral or whatever, to seven years and ten years of premarital sex. Well, that kind of fun was delinked from marriage and was- people had it and now I think in a way when the baby boomers are creating this sexless marriage thing maybe they should also maybe delink a little of the sex from marriage. I don’t think it’s that radical a proposal but I’m more exploring these ideas than taking a stand on any of them.
Question: What surprised you most during your research?
Philip Weiss: It was funny to me that 27% of respondents to a poll that New York magazine did say that to fantasize about someone else when you’re having sex is cheating. These-- There were pretty high numbers on kissing being cheating understandably. Flirting struck a good number of people as being cheating. I was-- I guess I was-- The surprise to me about this was how in some ways Victorian our attitudes are about sex. Now I am-- Maybe I’m a little bit more liberated than the average person I suppose. I grew up in the ‘70s. That was my coming of age time was the ‘70s and I took a lot of that seriously so I found that the kind of resistance, the bourgeoisie resistance, to some of my- some of these ideas was a little surprising to me. The numbers are 25% of guys cheat in marriages in most studies and 15% of wives do. I thought those numbers were a little low but it’s- I think it’s a little hard to get reliable numbers in these surveys. Even the scientists say that.
Recorded on: June 10, 2008.