Author says adultery is the answer to a passionless union

ALICE STEINBACH

July 19, 1992|By ALICE STEINBACH

Finally, there's good news for the married woman who feels she left her sexuality behind at the altar. It seems happiness and a renewed sense of yourself as a sexually passionate person are now yours for the taking.

In fact, to overcome a case of the sexual blahs in your marriage all you have to take is: a lover.

Or at least that's the message of "The Erotic Silence of the American Wife," Dalma Heyn's new book on the benefits to married women of adulterous liaisons. It's being hailed as a revolutionary breakthrough by such respected feminists as Gloria Steinem and Barbara Ehrenreich.

Magazine writer Dalma Heyn based her revolutionary book on conversations with, oh, at least a couple of hundred unfaithful wives, all apparently white and upper middle-class. Here's the -- way Heyn sees the problem of Sex and the Married Woman:

Marriage often sounds the death knell for womens' sexuality. They lose their erotic selves and become sexless creatures. Abandoning their own real needs and desires, they fall victim to the "Donna Reed" image of the "Perfect Wife" and become sexless, self-sacrificing and self-denying.

The cure to this malady? Commit adultery. It will make your life better. All of the women she interviewed reported feeling more independent, more assertive and more self-aware because of their adulterous relationship.

She does not, by the way, mention anything about the effect of the extramarital affair on the husband or children of the women interviewed. That, she notes, "would have been to write a different and more conventional book."

What she does write of the unfaithful wives is: "They committed adultery . . . and found their lives had changed profoundly -- for the better."

Yes, indeed. And if you believe this there's a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.

I don't know about you, but I'm fed up with books like this; books that cash in on the confusion surrounding so many aspects of a woman's place in the world today. It's a sure-fire recipe: Take a grain of truth -- and there is some truth in the inherent incompatibility of marriage and sexual passion -- add a cup of pseudo-psychology and bind it all together with a coating of feminist theory.

Which is what Dalma Heyn does. She declares adultery "a revolutionary way for women to rise above the conventional" and proceeds to elevate these unfaithful wives to feminist heroines.

It's an approach that has made her a much-in-demand guest on television and radio talks shows, where her thesis is treated as if it were the equal of Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

But in fact the whole premise of her book is a demeaning trivialization of the real problems facing women today: the feminization of poverty, the lack of political power, sexual harassment, the lack of funding and research in women's health problems, to name just a few.

Not only that, but Heyn's theory -- which she admits is based on what "felt viscerally right to me" -- is an extremely regressive one for women. Once again, it postulates that a woman's happiness -- in this case, sexual and marital happiness -- depends on a man. Or, in this case, two men: a lover and a husband.

It seems to me I've heard that song before.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't there something called "open marriage" in the '70s? As I recall, it allowed either partner in a marriage to have partners outside the marriage.

FTC And, as I recall, it didn't work.

But "The Erotic Silence of the American Wife" will find a waiting audience. Because Americans -- unlike Europeans -- hang onto the peculiarly modern idea that marriage and sexual love always co-exist. "The compulsion to find a lover and husband in a single person has doomed more women to misery than any other illusion," notes Carolyn Heilbrun in "Writing a Woman's Life."

Except, perhaps, Dalma Heyn's illusion that the sexually anesthetized wife can solve all her marital bedroom problems and rediscover her sexual self by simply taking a lover. Perhaps, instead of talking to Heyn, these women should talk to a therapist.

It's funny. Feminists have always known that the real struggle for all women is to gain entry into the larger world; the one that exists outside of the kitchen and the nursery and, yes, the bedroom.

Now here comes Dalma Heyn reducing it all back to the narrow world of a fantasy-like sex life. By concentrating once again on the revolution in the bedroom -- or in this case, hotel room -- she has in this book of half-truths, distorted interpretations and naive conclusions moved women backward, not forward.

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