Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On Sexual Deviance and Masculinity

Interesting how sexual deviance is defined differently within and between cultures.

In the United States, infidelity by the likes of former President Bill Clinton, “Late Night” host David Letterman, and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford leads to enforced sanctions manifesting in the form of public shaming.

However, official sanctions imposed upon these high profile, powerful men have nothing to do with their infidelity. For example, in Sanford’s case, possible sanctions revolve around
leaving his post as governor, not gallivanting through Argentina with his mistress. In the end, sexuality in these cases is relegated to a private matter where state meddling is negated. And in the case of Letterman, it appears that getting busted for infidelity has increased his “Late Night” show ratings. Not surprising when we consider the social rewards men often receive for being sexual studs.

Not that any high profile married women are being publicized as cheaters (in all likelihood there simply are fewer), but we all know what would likely happen if the tables were turned. Discussions would burst, criticizing the woman’s excessive promiscuity and potential to break up the family. For the afore mentioned men, the former topic was explored moderately in the media; not so much the latter.

Moving over to Saudi Arabia, the official state sanctions imposed upon a male for boasting of his sexual exploits on television appear particularly harsh by American standards. From a story in
The Guardian:

A Saudi man who boasted about his sexual exploits on television has been sentenced to five years in prison and 1,000 lashes — drawing worldwide attention to the conservative kingdom's highly repressive laws on personal morality.

Mazen Abdel-Jawad, a podgy 32-year-old with receding hair, was convicted of "publicising vice and confessing to crimes on a satellite television channel" for describing his conquests on LBC TV's Bold Red Line talkshow. He bragged that he first had sex at the age of 14.

Abdel-Jawad was also told by a criminal court in Jeddah,
Saudi Arabia's second city, that he would not be allowed to travel abroad for five years after his release. His lawyer said he would appeal against the sentence


Many ordinary citizens reportedly filed petitions with the authorities after the programme was broadcast in mid-July, demanding that Abdul-Jawad be punished, even executed for "moral corruption".

While Clinton, Letterman, and Sanford did not necessarily boast of their extra-marital affairs (at least not publicly), the tendency of men to do so as means of bolstering their masculinity is clearly global. For Abdel-Jawad, because sexual promiscuity is defined differently (i.e., deviance) in Saudi Arabia, the official state sanctions levied upon him coincide with the culture’s values and norms.

I wonder, what would the sanctions have been had Abdel-Jawad been female? Or we could turn to another country, Iran (or "somewhere in the Middle East"), to see how infidelity by women is handled and depicted in film (see here for a description of Stoning of Soraya.

Academics Blogs


  1. Saudi king scraps flogging for sex talk show woman (Oct. 26, 2009)

  2. "New slap at Letterman" (New York Post, 10.28.09)
    Letterman set said to be saturated with sexual harassment

  3. Ahhh yes...that does explain why men tend to stray from seemingly perfect relationships/marriage. But I wonder...if women did the same, would you consider that increased femininity? After all, it is an affirmation of a woman's attractiveness by the number of suitors they have. (And trust me, that can increase a woman's confidence tenfold).