RISCOL: Condit and the Thrill of Sexual Infidelity

You're happily married and away for the weekend on business, whatever. You're not looking for lust, just doing your thing, and your colleague, whomever, sitting next to you holding your gaze, breathing in your every word, smiling, laughing, starts to shimmer and shine as you wine and dine. Although you just want to delight in his or her energy just a little longer, nothing more, a current stronger than you draws you closer into the heat. You push and pull, push, pull until finally touching that boundary of no return.

Infidelity sucks. Someone becomes either hurt or guilty, or both. But it thrills as it repulses, whether we're the player or the voyeur watching some asshole squirm as the media spoons us the latest extramarital dirt. D.C. intern Chandra Levy has been missing for nearly three months, yet the nation remains transfixed not by the young woman's likely demise, but by the story's swirling salacious sex.

The adulterous villain in America's latest intern saga is none other than the sweet-talking son of a preacher man. Apparently, as the conservative Blue Dog rode his Harley and political charm up Washington's power ramps, the 24-year-old from Modesto couldn't resist. Neither could the United Air flight attendant or an 18-year-old minister's daughter, according to the relevant coverage of this missing person's case. Camera crews have camped out not only in front of Gary Condit's D.C. apartment and California house, but also outside the homes of his parents and both kids who are around Levy's age. If there's another affair to be remembered here, the media will promptly dish it up for its salivating, scandalized audience.

As much as randy Americans enjoy their own extracurricular bonking, we flock to the next roasting of the inevitable public figure caught with his pants down. We pleasure ourselves in the "ecstasy of human sanctimony," as Philip Roth captures in "The Human Stain," his book inspired by the nation's pious orgy over Bill and Monica. Once again Senator Trent Lott spoke for the outraged: "Infidelity is always unacceptable, but particularly when you have an elected official involved in a position of trust with a young girl, an intern. If these allegations are true, obviously he should resign."

When fellow Republican Christopher Shays questioned the wisdom of making marital fidelity a litmus test for political service, saying a number of Congressional members should then resign, Lott challenged, "Is he speaking for himself?"

Ignoring his party leader's pot shot, Shays responded, "Being faithful to your spouse and living up to your marriage vows is a moral imperative, but having Congress set that as a standard of whether one can continue to serve in office is a serious mistake."

But why in heaven are our political leaders debating their colleague's role in a missing person's case in terms of infidelity, faithfulness and marriage vows? We don't know Condit's understanding with his high school sweetheart-cum-wife. The vain and politically powerful silverback spent not an occasional business weekend away from his wife, but every week of every session. Who are we as a nation to say what forms of intimate expression are moral for the sustainability of their marriage?

Sure, Condit's an asshole. But not because of whom he did or didn't do. But because he lied to the police searching for a missing woman while she might still be warm. Because he hypocritically cloaked himself as a preacher's son and pious family man as he pushed "family values" onto the rest of us. Because by attacking Clinton over his intern affair, and supporting mandated Ten Commandments in public buildings, he spewed more of the "do as I say, not as I do" rhetoric long polluting America.

Elevating sexual fidelity over all other moral actions fogs the fundamentals that make strong both personal and public relationships. According to "The Myth of Monogamy," a book that came out right about the time that Levy disappeared, "monogamy among animals, and humans in particular, may be the exception rather than the rule." By saying that infidelity is natural, the husband-wife scientific team did not put a value on the act, but sought to give better perspective to a common occurrence.

"The most frequent calls psychiatrists get in the middle of the night are from people who have discovered adultery," Judith Lipton said. "I try to tell people I deal with as a psychiatrist that adultery does not necessarily mean your spouse does not love you, that it is a character flaw or that they never cared for you. There are a lot of reasons for adultery and it takes a hell of a lot of diligence to stay monogamous."

Absorbing the collective shock generated by the Condit-Levy brouhaha, one would think only a few Fallen have ever strayed from home. Sizing up the adulterer's club is tough given that people lie. But we as a nation take to infidelity more naturally than we admit. Otherwise we wouldn't so readily jump into bed with Condit, the media and the rest of his affairs.

Lara Riscol is writing "Ten Sex Myths That Screw America," a book she began while completing a master's degree in contemporary issues and public policy at the University of Denver. Write to her at sexaware@home.com.

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