Certainly, in some circumstances, questions about a candidate’s sex life can be valid, if unsavory. As Bill Clinton’s Oval Office tenure proved, terrorist plots can hatch while a President is spending time engaged in illict activities with a curvy intern. And if a candidate’s sexual behavior could become relevant to the way he would fulfill his responsibilities as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and commander-in-chief, there may well be justification for the salacious questions that often tend to drive television ratings.
Yet never has a whiff of sexual scandal surrounded Mitt Romney. That being the case, simple decorum would seem to demand that certain topics be left decently unmentioned. When and where a married candidate – who has remained faithful, by all accounts – first had sex with his wife is one of those topics. Indeed, the marriage bond does, or should be deemed to, confer a certain element of dignity on the act of sex, which should shield a married couple’s private sexual history from leering inquiries of the public in general and reporters in particular.
Nowadays, of course, the distinction between marital and non-marital sex is under attack as never before, with moral equivalence the order of the day. For that reason, perhaps it’s not surprising that Mike Wallace and his producers would assume that it’s no more inappropriate to pry into the private sex life of a married couple than it is to ask a single or philandering candidate when he first consummated a non- (or extra-) marital affair.
But whether they acknowledge it or not, most Americans understand that when it comes to posing such personal and intrusive questions, context is everything. When there’s justification for public curiosity about a candidate’s sexual life and history, more leeway is permitted. But when inquiries about a discreetly-conducted private marital sex life constitute either a clumsy effort to sort out a candidate’s religious beliefs or an exercise in prurient inquisitiveness, disdain for the question – and disapproval of the questioner – is the only appropriate response.