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Review of The Polygamous Sex by Esther Vilar

Posted by Jew from Jersey
12 May 2021

The central idea of Esther Vilar’s book The Polygamous Sex is very simple and is not even really about polygamy. According to Vilar, both men and women desire sexual partners who are their equals in age, intelligence, independence, and all other attributes that are not specifically sexual. Consequentially, if either a man or a woman could find such a partner, they would have no reason to be polygamous. However, both men and women have another kind of desire: to have and protect a child. A man, Vilar presumes, would ideally like to have one woman who is his equal and through her to have a child he can protect. However, it is too much work for women to be equal to men and more importantly, women want men to protect and provide for them as well for the children. Thus, in Vilar’s view, women willingly abdicate their intelligence, independence, and sexual maturity and instead present themselves to men as children in need of protection. This thwarts man’s desire for a female sexual equal and hijacks his desire to protect his children by converting it into a desire to protect her, an adult woman. It also means she is not attracted to him as an equal and eventually, he will not be attracted to her either, since to desire one’s child is an obscenity. Thus, man is left either sexless or must seek sex outside of marriage, hence the reference to polygamy in the book’s title.

Vilar’s book is not only brief and concise, but also meticulously well organized and presented. It is obviously well thought out and original. It is even more amazing that she wrote it (in German) in 1974! A truly remarkable woman...

However, many of her assumptions follow the same tendency it seems all women have in presuming men to be in essence the same as women. Why does Vilar assume that male polygamy requires a complicated explanation? Why not just follow Occam’s razor and assume men are naturally polygamous? It’s doubtful if even females are naturally monogamous, but it is very natural for women to think: if I had the right man, I would need no other. So even for women as independent, original, and outspoken as Vilar, it must seem natural to assume that a man likewise, if only he had the right woman, would need no other. Perhaps this demonstrates the limitations of Occam’s razor: Different assumptions may seem “simpler” to different people. For Vilar, the more parsimonious explanation is to assume men and women are both naturally monogamous, and then seek a special explanation for why men behave in a polygamous manner.

In a particularly original bit of equalism, Vilar suggests that men have the same parental instinct that women have. This instinct only appears less in men because women have siphoned part of it away so that it applies to themselves instead of to children.

But a good theory is one that explains anomalies that had previously been ignored because they did not fit into any existing framework. And reading Vilar’s book brings many such anomalies to mind.

In both fiction and non-fiction, in both specific cases and in the generic, one often encounters the wording that a man “loves his wife and children.” Even before I was married and had children myself, I felt there was something wrong with this formulation. A man does not love his wife the same way he loves his children. In any case, he shouldn’t. The problem is not just the use of the word “love” for both meanings, but that the two statements are always crammed into a single verb phrase. It is not said: “A man loves his wife and he loves his children,” it’s always: “loves his wife and children” with the conjunction joining the two direct objects. It just never sounded right to me. It’s like saying: “I love the bible and skiing.” Until I read Vilar’s book, I never thought to try to explain why I thought this was weird. But now it is clear: the implication must be either that there is no difference between parental and sexual love, or that a man should not love his wife sexually. I’m not sure which is worse. And I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has ever been troubled by this.

This also brings to mind the so-called “Madonna-whore complex.” I’ve always regarded this concept with suspicion because it implies that men do not desire sex, or specifically do not desire kinky sex, with women they see as “pure.” It is simply not my experience that men show any such inhibition. When men say “she’s special” or “she’s different,” it’s just sour grapes. No man ever voluntarily rejected sex or restricted the range of sex acts with any woman available to him because she was too “pure” for it. The term “Madonna-whore complex” was apparently coined by Sigmund Freud, and it was perhaps observed among Austrian aristocrats in the late 19th century. If it is still spoken of in seriousness 150 years later, this can only be due to its appeal to women as an explanation of why they will not have sex, or will only have very limited sex, with their husbands. A woman who marries a man she does not desire and who hides her sexual past from him will say: I’m afraid he’ll think I’m too dirty. Of course this is nonsense. Her husband likely wants nothing more in life than to experience her in precisely this “dirty” way. But this is a great excuse to not let him.

According to Vilar, men spend their lives feeling guilty about desiring their own wives while justifying their extra-marital relations as “mere sex.” They seek to assuage their guilt by becoming vulgar braggarts or hypocritical prudes. While these two reactions appear to be polar opposites, they are actually two sides of the same coin. Vilar is almost certainly right about this. I remember as a teenager hearing friends talk about being “in love” with some girl they had never even spoken too. I would say: you just want to fuck her. And they would say: no, no, no, you don’t understand. But I did understand. These same guys would also talk crudely describing female anatomy and all kinds of sex acts with a familiarity as if they performed them all the time with women they didn’t even bother to remember the names of. And of course they’d never done any of it with anybody.

But if the schism of Madonna-Whore prudery/crudity is really caused by childlike wives attempting to shame their husbands out of marital sex, why is this dynamic so apparent already in unmarried teenage boys? I propose that the true source of this behavior is a crushing sense of failure in a man’s soul when he realizes early in life that he will never experience the unfettered sexuality he truly desires. Vilar cannot see this because she assumes men are monogamous by nature. But every man is born with a desire to have indiscriminately promiscuous sex and most learn early on that they do not have the option of realizing it. They must either admit defeat or deny that this is what they want. The Madonna/prude side is the denial that they ever wanted it, while the whore/braggadocio side is the giveaway that in fact they still do. The Madonna/prude side becomes the man’s public face, while the whore/vulgarity aspect lives on almost exclusively in secret, restricted to the locker room or clandestine solicitation of prostitutes, or to fantasy and porn use. But he keeps this hidden from any woman he is in any way romantically attached to.

Following my understanding, when a wife shames her husband for wanting sex or for wanting certain kinds of sex, and he retreats to masturbating in secret, she is not the cause of his insecurity and suppressed fantasies, she is simply capitalizing on them. He already feels he has compromised his masculinity by getting married instead of playing the field, and now he is abdicating what’s left of it once and for all, at least publicly. I don’t think this has so much to do, as Vilar would have it, with the wife acting like a child in order to extort resources and protection from the husband. She simply holds his cowardice in contempt and cannot be aroused by a masculinity that he himself publicly denies.

Just to drive home how irrelevant the title The Polygamous Sex is, Vilar acknowledges that women can be polygamous, too:

The adoptee, who profits from this mystification and is at bottom responsible for it, meanwhile remains quite untouched by all this. She herself is never tempted to confuse sexuality with nurture. If her husband’s infidelity leads her to take a lover, it will not occur to her to call it anything but love. Since it is a rare woman who sees a protégé in a man — only sick or intellectual men occasionally enjoy their partner’s motherly protection — women are not as a rule tempted to mistake their own nurturing instinct for sexual love, or to regard their love as a sign of degeneracy. As far as a woman is concerned, love is the satisfaction of her sex drive and vice versa. She does not need to minimize it, she can call sex ‘love’ with a clear conscience, and need not speak of ‘mere sex’ — though she will naturally keep this a secret from the men; officially, she also regards only altruistic love as the real thing.

Women know that the real love between men and women is sex, but they won’t admit it. Men, on the other hand, don’t even know it. This surely explains why wives say: “I love you but I’m not in love you.” The “in love” part is clearly the stronger and more precious emotion and it is restricted for men they desire. The “love” part is clearly the less important and implies only a willingness to continue to receive useful non-sexual services. For men, an extra-marital affair is “mere sex,” but for women, a husband is “mere love.”

And herein lies the solution to the Madonna problem: First, a man should only marry a woman who expresses pure sexual desire for him. Easier said than done, since men usually have no experience of what such desire feels like and are too often desperately grateful to get any female attention at all. And second, he should only marry a woman he himself can express pure sexual desire for. And men are often, through fear and a sense of failure, reluctant to express desire for women they are publicly involved with. As Vilar puts it: “Women complain that men regard them as mere sex objects. This sounds like wishful thinking!” Robert Glover essentially says the same thing when he talks about the “integrated man,” a man whose public sexuality is the same as his private sexuality. And this would all be a lot easier if women didn’t so often, as Vilar describes, approach marriage as a socioeconomic benefit program in which desire plays no role. This is essentially the same poisonous dynamic Michelle Langley is so angry about in her first book. The difference is that Langley sees it as sexual oppression of women for the benefit of men, while Vilar sees it as exactly the other way around.

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