Portrait of the Artist as a Man
March 16, 2015


Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dulness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.

This is probably going to be far less salacious than you want it to be.

Franklin has a reputation as a womanizer and lech. He, famously, sired an illegitimate son some time around 1730 while working in Philadelphia before he married is wife, Deborah. Speculation abounds as to who the moth is but no conclusive evidence exists. Two leading theories are that his mother was a maid Franklin employed or that he and Deborah conceived out of wedlock.

Really, aside from this, there’s little evidence that Franklin had anything but numerous love affairs with many women over his life. And love is not sex. I believe that Franklin was very likely sexually monogamous with his wife, Deborah, while still freely loving and flirting all the women he famously had affairs” with (1).

And I think this is an important distinction - love versus sex. Chastity as a virtue, classically part of the pantheon of cardinal virtues and placed diametrically opposed to lust, regards sex and sexual expression within the bounds of marriage. Chaste love, according to most Catholic traditions, includes sex within marriage. Roman Catholic traditions further clarify chaste love as love for procreation, that without contraception. The LDS Church (2) takes it a little further to include any non-procreative sexual activity and deems masturbation and sexually provocative thoughts as unchaste.

At no point do these views consider love a part of chastity. Or marriage, really. Love is much less important, historically, than sexual fidelity as marriages were often unions of convenience or wealth. Doweries (3) were exchanged and statuses were upgraded and love may not have entered much into it. So, let us set aside love in discussions of chastity.

Franklin’s definition for Chastity only mentions venery” which is defined as sexual indulgence.” He suggests not having any sexual relation that is not healthy. Which is delightfully vague - what is a healthy” amount of sex? Your sexual appetite is likely different than mine which is likely different from your neighbor which is likely different from Franklin’s own appetite. So are we saying that sex is only so useful insofar as it keeps us… fit (4)? Happy? Googly-eyed over our partner?

I think it is a legitimate concern if you’re having so much sex that it leads to Dulness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.” The former requiring, likely, quite a bit of sex unless you’re older (5) or really unfit or you’re doing all the work (6). And I think it’s more a function of American society that sex, of any quantity, can harm your reputation.

Oh? You’re good at and enjoy sex? How dare you, sir, do something that is normal (7)!

Ok, so given colonial society constructs, Puritan views on sexual misconduct (8), I can similarly understand the desire to avoid impinging on other’s reputation.

I guess, for myself, I will take Franklin’s view on it.

  1. Sex not to excess that exhausts your abilities or faculties.
  2. Do not engage in sex that will harm another’s reputation.

Considering that I just got married, I think I can probably only ruin my own reputation at this point but, I guess it’s good to have goals?

  1. The most famous is with Catherine May Greene, previously mentioned when discussing Sincerity. ↩︎

  2. Mormons have a the Laws of Chastity which are much more prohibative and, really, much harder to enforce.↩︎

  3. I give you two sheep for a wife?↩︎

  4. According to Men’s Health magazine the average sexual act - from foreplay to climax - last 25 minutes and burns about 100 calories. 30 Minutes of treadmill running at average pace (10 minute miles) burns about 276 calories. A typical fast food hamburger, without cheese and condiments, is about 300 calories. So… your nooner has to last past the normal lunch break to account for the lunch you’re not eating…↩︎

  5. Lord knows my back could be stronger and there’s a lot of wrestling involved. Usually. Hopefully.↩︎

  6. Good on you. But if it bugs you, you should talk to your partner. Or buy a copy of the Sock Monkey Kama Sutra (affiliate link)↩︎

  7. My bias may be showing.↩︎

  8. Puritan laws n sexual deviance were pretty impressive. Many forms of sex considered unclean” were punishable by death - sodomny, bestiality, rape, some adultery. More Colonial sexual conduct laws.↩︎

Wrestling with Franklin

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