What gentlemen don't discuss!

Glenn's reference to the "reticence and hypocrisy of the Victorian era" (in reference to New York's latest governor's extramarital heterosexual outing of himself) made me wonder about something.

Most of us realize that people in the Victorian era had plenty of sex (otherwise we wouldn't be here). However, they were known for not talking about it -- even when they were supposed to talk about it!

One of my favorite examples comes from the play "Life With Father" (a family memoir) in which Father Day begins a fatherly conversation with his eldest son with "There are things about women I think you ought to know!":

He solemnly closes the doors to the room, sits beside his son, hesitates, and then advises him that women aren't the angels he might think them; men have to run the world, a woman doesn't think at all--she gets stirred up. He adds that if a man knows how to handle women he will be all right, and that Clarence now knows all about women. Clarence, however, eagerly questions further, and Father realizes, with something of a jolt, that he is expected to be more specific. He closes the conversation abruptly: "There are some things gentlemen don't discuss! I've told you all you need to know. The thing to remember is--be firm!"
But what gentlemen did not discuss, gentlemen nevertheless did.

And it wasn't always with their wives. Victorian men especially loved to do what they didn't discuss with prostitutes:

At no time in history has prostitution been as prolific as at the height of the Victorian era. London, a city of 2 million in the mid-19th century had about 50,000 working prostitutes. That's about one prostitute for every 12 adult males. New York at this time had a similar ratio, leading Robert Dale Owen, a social reformer, to estimate the half the male population visited prostitutes three times a week.


In the mid-19th century, prostitution was not the underworld scourge it was later to become. Brothels, often located in the fashionable districts, catered discreetly to the moneyed class while street-walkers openly catered to the poor. By and large it was tolerated, in part because it was seen as a necessary sexual outlet and in part because the men who were in a position to outlaw prostitution were also its procurers.

There wasn't the same shame in visiting prostitutes that there is now. Everybody did it - from princes to paupers.....

While the above seems a bit salacious and I haven't confirmed the numbers, the information in the Wiki entry on Victorian prostitution isn't much different. This was not new to Victorian times; it was estimated in 1797 that there were 50,000 prostitutes in London (approximately 10% of the total female population)."

Prostitution was frowned on, but generally legal, and allowed to continue by polite society. Discretion was the word. Of course, the conditions were appalling, and led to the rise of modern feminism. (Timeline here.) Moralists have been condemning prostitution since antiquity.

Today, engaging in discreet extramarital sex (whether with a prostitute or not) is not the best way to stay out of trouble, it's the best way to get into trouble.

If a guy wants to get laid and doesn't want to establish a paper trail, he'd better not send any emails, because emails are more forever than diamonds. If he goes to a massage parlor or escort service, he'd better not pay with a credit card, and it's probably not a good idea to use an ATM in the neighborhood, lest questions be asked by the Spitzerites. I suppose he can still pick up someone and go to a hotel, but there might be a paper trail there, as hotels now require ID. If he drives, his license plate or EZ pass information might be recorded. And if he's of any importance, and either holds political office or is even thinking about running for office, he'll be living in constant fear that somehow, somewhere he left an incriminating bit of electronic data.

Beware! Paying money for sex can lead to money laundering charges, conspiracy charges, and other charges, because nearly everything is now illegal.

This situation has become intolerable. No wonder New York's new governor began his new term by outing himself. As I said earlier, "the best defense is a good offense."

If you have ever had sex, and want to hold public office, better admit it now publicly, or they'll be after you. Except for those willing to take the initiative and yell "FVCK you, I've had sex!" sexual intercourse will be an ever-increasing liability. (Except for eunuchs, or the flagrantly promiscuous.)

OUT OF THE CLOSET! (It isn't just for gays anymore, it's now a strategy of preemptive self defense.)

Seriously, I'm wondering whether there's an emerging rule about sex along the following lines:

Promiscuous sex is OK, but discreet sex is forbidden.

Discretion is the road to personal destruction.

MORE: Right after I wrote this post, I heard Governor Paterson say that he didn't want to be "outed." Earlier, he specifically mentioned blackmail:

Paterson said it was time to make the infidelities public so the information couldn't be used to try to compromise him as governor.

"I didn't want to be blackmailed," he said.

Got that?

Regular sex makes people subject to blackmail.

MORE: Maybe it's the season for sex scandals, but the Detroit City Council has asked the Mayor to resign because he lied about a sexual affair, as evidenced by "steamy text messages":

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy is investigating whether the mayor and former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty lied under oath when they testified in a whistle-blowers' lawsuit that they had not had a physical relationship.

Kilpatrick has been dogged by media reports about steamy text messages the two exchanged that suggest a romantic relationship.

The mayor said he could not comment on the text messages on Beatty's pager. Beatty resigned from her post in February.

Mayor Kilpatrick has a lot of other problems, of course, and the overall picture is one of profound corruption.

So that means he should be run out of office over sex allegations?

Why? Simpy because they can? Is sex just another tool in the endless "everything is illegal" prosecutorial arsenal?

posted by Eric on 03.18.08 at 07:19 PM


There is some tension in public attitudes toward sex, but there's no tension at all in the conviction that one who seeks a position in the trades of making or enforcing the law should not be discovered cheerfully breaking the law as if he were above it.

Prostitution, like most other "morality" crimes, has been made into an instrument of prosecutorial discretion. Prosecutors are no less rapacious than other political creatures, and will use whatever discretion arrives in their hands to enhance their resumes, in preparation for their mayoral, gubernatorial, or presidential campaigns. People have been denied altogether too much information about the prosecutorial hijinks of Rudolph Giuliani...or have forgotten what they knew.

Perhaps the Spitzer affair and the Paterson denouement will open a few more eyes.

Francis W. Porretto   ·  March 19, 2008 4:56 AM

It's not sex that's becoming a liability, it's sex outside the boundaries of social norms. Promiscuous sex is frowned upon, but tolerated. Visiting prostitutes is both frowned upon and generally not tolerated (even where it's legal). Adulterous sex is frowned upon and not tolerated, especially in a public official, as it's seen as a character flaw (which it is).

Here's a thought; don't engage in sex outside of a committed relationship, and you won't get into trouble. Learn to keep your pecker in your pants.

Chris   ·  March 19, 2008 2:39 PM

Post a comment

April 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Search the Site


Classics To Go

Classical Values PDA Link


Recent Entries


Site Credits