The History of Sex: South of France -- A (Relatively) Chaste Interlude (Chap. III, Pt. 1)

Chapter Three 

A (RELATIVELY) CHASTE INTERLUDE Romance and Celibacy in the South of France 


'To be always with a woman and not have intercourse is more difficult than to raise the dead.'
--St. Bernard of Clairvaux, persecutor of the Cathars and venerator of the Virgin Mary, c1100 AD 


So where do we in the West get our notions of romance from?

A friend of mine has a theory. 'Jack' is a good decade older than me, and he was confessing how he'd put an entire continent (and ocean) between him and his wife.

But somehow, it wasn't enough. They've been married for over twenty years, plenty of time for their love to ferment into a sour mash of kids, bills and mutual recrimination.

Divorce is out of the question, partly because Jack can't afford it, but mainly because his wife is Irish Catholic.

'D'y'know why ye-olde poets used to write all that crap about romance?' he slurred into his beer. 'It's because the average age back then was 25. Most men didn't live long enough to see what love looks like when it has liver spots and cellulite.'

'They didn't have to put up with wives moaning "What about my needs? What about my Botox? What about the SUV to drive to the supermarket to buy food I can't even cook?" They didn't have to deal with that, did they? Lucky bastards.'

You'll have gathered that Jack was having a midlife crisis.

Buffoon Playing a Lute by Frans Hals

Anachronisms aside, though, I wondered if he didn't have a point.

Whereas the Islamic East enjoyed polygamy—at least the men did—the Christian West begrudgingly sanctioned sex as a reproductive necessity.

A Muslim man might have four wives and a slew of 'favorites,' but a Christian was meant to have just one spouse his entire life: ideally, his soulmate.

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