When Sex Is Not Really Having Sex
*It was only oral. It was passive. So that does not count.
By Walter Kirn
(TIME, february 2) -- Should President Clinton ever face impeachment proceedings over
the Lewinsky mess, it's a fair bet that the meaning of oral
arguments will never be the same. A joke? Not at all. A
legitimate possibility. For there is growing evidence to suggest
that the issue of whether oral sex is actually sex, though it
sounds like a question from a cheesy adult party game, may
eventually form the basis of Clinton's legal defense.
The logic seems as tortured as a position from the Kama Sutra,
but Clinton's potential argument (which was tested last week on
TIME reporters by a high-level presidential confidant) comes
down to two basic presidential passions, one still alleged, the
other long proved. The alleged passion is for fellatio.
According to a lawyer who has heard them, the Lewinsky tapes
show that when it comes to intimacy, the infamously reckless
Clinton is a play-it-safe puritan. Facetiously referring to
herself as the future "special assistant to the President for
b___ j___," Lewinsky reportedly told Linda Tripp that Clinton
was strict about limiting their contact to oral sex. At his age,
he allegedly informed her, "you can't take the risks of
Clinton's second, proven, passion (warning: pun ahead) is for
cunning linguistics. Time after time, he has eluded foes and
critics by means of clever verbal games. When is smoking pot not
smoking pot? Clinton had an answer for this paradox. And
according to one of the Arkansas state troopers involved in the
suddenly tame-seeming Troopergate scandal, Clinton can answer an
even harder one: When is fooling around on your wife permissible
under the Ten Commandments? He told me, the trooper recalled in
the American Spectator, that he had researched the subject in
the Bible and oral sex was not adultery.
What all this adds up to is a legal loophole narrower than the
eye of a needle but considerably easier to pass through than a
prison wall. To perjure oneself, according to the law, you have
to make a statement that is contrary to what you believe to be
true. So if Clinton believes that the sex he has denied having,
and allegedly encouraged Lewinsky to deny having, isn't really
sex at all but merely an advanced massage technique, then it's
distinctly possible that he might be guilty of a bizarre
religious quirk rather than a series of federal crimes.
Which brings us back to the venerable book the President may
someday have to swear upon. What does the Bible that Clinton, an
active Baptist, reportedly consulted to clear his conscience
actually say about oral intimacy? Not surprisingly, nothing.
Nothing specific. But if one reads between the lines, the news
is not good for the President. It's terrible. In Genesis 38:
8-10, God commands a man named Onan to marry his brother's
widow. Reluctant to impregnate her, Onan commits coitus
interruptus, spilling his seed on the ground. How does God deal
with Onan's seminal wastefulness? "And the thing which he did
displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also."
The New Testament, known for cutting sinners more breaks, is
even harsher. Remember the Jimmy Carter Playboy interview in
which he confessed to lusting in his heart, making himself
perhaps the only President to confess to something he wasn't
even suspected of? Well, Jimmy knew his Bible better than some
folks do. Here's Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: "But I say
unto you that whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her hath
committed adultery with her already in his heart." This teaching
appears to leave oral-sex recipients no moral wiggle room,
though it's not airtight. The accused can always claim he kept
his eyes closed.
Though it's nowhere in sacred Scripture, the
oral-sex-isn't-really-sex distinction does have some secular
modern precedents. According to Black's Law Dictionary, oral sex
is not, technically, adultery (though in certain states it's
sodomy, a felony). What's more, reports Debbie Then, a
California social psychologist, it's common among professional
American males to view oral sex as a kind of moral freebie.
Sexual folklore backs up this attitude. In general, female
prostitutes charge less for fellatio than for intercourse. And
teenage girls who have given oral sex but haven't yet been
vaginally penetrated tend to go on regarding themselves as
If the President should ever feel alone in his alleged,
custom-made theology, it may comfort him to know that he need
look no further than Capitol Hill for like-minded erotic
apologists. Faced with compelling evidence that he dabbled in
oral sex outside of marriage, Senator Charles Robb, a Virginia
Democrat, opened his 1994 campaign with a Clintonesque,
Jesuitical mouthful: "I haven't done anything I regard as
unfaithful to my wife, and she's the only woman I've loved,
slept with, or had coital relations with since marriage." Newt
Gingrich too has been linked to this defense, though at second
hand. A 1995 Vanity Fair profile quoted an alleged ex-flame as
saying, "We had oral sex. He prefers that modus operandi because
then he can say I never slept with her."
Such technicalities probably wouldn't sway a Heartland jury, but
the Heartland is not where Clinton will be judged, should
impeachment proceedings ever come. In an incredibly lucky
constitutional break, the President's judge and jury will be the
Senate -- recently home to Bob Packwood, still home to Chuck Robb
and Ted Kennedy. Clinton just might find justice there. At the
least he'll have a jury of his peers.
--With reporting by Jay Branegan, James Carney, J.F.O.
McAllister/Washington and Victoria Rainert/New York