Back when he was funny, way in the days of Raw, Eddie Murphy once compared married sex to eating the same crackers every day for a year. Chris Rock offered a simplified solution many years later: eventually couples need to turn old sex into new sex. (Rock didn’t phrase it like that, but you get the point.) Forget saltines. Even the softest chocolate cookies stuffed with the most succulent, melt-in-your-mouth peanut butter chips won’t taste quite as delicious when they’re the only thing in your diet for years on end. As sensitive as the “How do you really feel about committed sex?” topic might be, we’re actually going deeper.
If your partner gave you one free pass for sex outside the relationship, would you use it? Not that I schlep it around everywhere in my wallet, but I happen to have such a pass. (Full disclosure: my wife is French.) Let’s call it a “No-Prize.”
A few months after our first wonderboy was born six years ago, C. and I got married and hit our first little nuptial crisis. Sex and money are the main challenges to any working marriage in progress (and they’re all in progress); we were no different. In our idyllic Parisian locale, C. still struggled with the baby blues, a bit of baby weight, and balancing a new round-the-clock mommyhood schedule with her day job. While launching an urban version of McSweeney’s literary journal that I called Bronx Biannual, I adjusted to being a dad, a husband and an expatriate within a year’s time. Stressful. In the course of it all, our bedroom rhythm slipped from three or four times a week down to Saturday sex.
It’s all fun and games until sharing your mate with someone else becomes a concrete reality.
Without completely resurrecting the argument—if you’re married raising kids and complaining about sex once a week, I still think you’ve got it pretty good—suffice it to say C. wasn’t happy. Our marriage was young and sex 52 times a year, give or take, wasn’t what she had in mind. There was discussion about men feeling like sex machines and never being able to complain about it, and plenty of “do I still turn you on?” talk. Finally, on a long winter walk scarfing down falafels in the Marais, she laid it out. To liven up my libido a little and help our sex life in the long run, C. offered me that coveted, mythical, Monopoly-like free pass. If I wanted, I could find one woman to have sex with one time, and she didn’t want to know about it.
So I had a No-Prize. Did I use it? If I say the answer’s personal, it’ll just be assumed that I did. I didn’t.
Well, in Summer of Sam—Spike Lee’s love letter to 1977—Vinny and his girl Dionna strike out at the velvet rope of Studio 54 and accidentally end up at the old Manhattan swingers’ club, Plato’s Retreat. (Way before my sexual prime). Vinny enjoys himself up until he spies Dionna screwing another man with a wide smile on her face. It’s all fun and games until sharing your mate with someone else becomes a concrete reality. The aftermath wasn’t pretty in Summer of Sam, and it isn’t in real life either…unless swinging is your thing—no judgments.
Americans joke about French marriages being more permissive, but it’s impossible to know whether unfaithfulness and marriages with “understandings” are any more pervasive in Paris than New York City. I hang out with famous folks for a living; if Monica Bellucci insisted on riding me slowly after a late-night interview, then maybe my wife would forgive me…and maybe she wouldn’t. But it’d be the opportune time to invoke a No-Prize! In truth, the thought of my Get Out of Fidelity Free card only excited me for about an afternoon, after which point C. and I continued surfing the currents of married sex life like everybody else new to the game.