It seems that every couple of years the political world forces us to reexamine what exactly constitutes sex. After the exhaustive, nearly Talmudic Clinton debate on whether oral sex is sex -- or, indeed, adultery -- comes the Giuliani version questioning whether limp sex is sex -- or, indeed, adultery.
In a baldfaced bid to capture the hearts and minds, if not the stomachs, of the public, philandering New York Mayor and divorce court combatant Rudy Giuliani allowed his lawyer, the voluble Raoul Felder, to reveal the fact that, even though Hizzoner is intimately involved with "other woman" Judi Nathan, treatment for prostate cancer had left him temporarily impotent.
"He just decided it was nothing to be ashamed of," explained Felder of the revelation, adding that Giuliani thought "he could do something positive for men in a similar situation." I'm sure all those other impotent but closeted big-city mayors going through messy public divorces will be forever grateful.
Brave altruism aside, however, the real reason for the mayor's "much more than we needed to know" disclosure was to convince the world that Giuliani, despite carrying on a very visible romance with a woman other than the one he is currently married to, had not -- all together now -- had sexual relations with that woman, Miss Nathan.
It's the prostate defense. Clinton must be kicking himself that he never thought of it. So, no, Rudy and Judi's liaison is no mere extramarital romp. Far from it. "They really have a very profound relationship," a confidant of the mayor told the press. The implication was clear: If a man and his "very good friend" aren't going at it like rabbits, they must be discussing Keats and Yeats -- while cuddling by the open fire, no doubt.
"She's a nurse by training," Rudy said of Judi. "She's a biomedical expert, and she's a very caring and loving person." I guess nurses -- to say nothing of loving biomedical experts -- understand these things.
Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical company the mayor's paramour -- I'm sorry, study partner -- works for is Bristol-Myers Squibb and not Pfizer, the maker of Viagra. But maybe she can still swing an industry discount.
Bob Dole made erectile dysfunction respectable -- dare I say, even heroic. Giuliani is making it Byronic. "My relationship with Judith Nathan is an adult one," a misty-eyed mayor said at a press conference last week. "It's a mature one. It's one that's gone on for two years and I hope it's going to go on forever."
Two whole years? That is adult! Who knew that impotence could be so romantic?
The problem with using the media for such calculated bids for public sympathy is that you then forfeit the right to complain when the media demands more. "You are relentless in your quest for information about this," the mayor castigated the press this week. "My desire would be to keep it quiet."
But the truth is that the quest for juicy details didn't begin in earnest until Giuliani's lawyer unleashed a savage attack on the mayor's wife -- on Mother's Day weekend, no less. If Giuliani's desire truly was to "keep it quiet," why didn't he impose the gag order he was seeking from a judge on his own lawyer before the frothing Felder called the mother of his client's children "foolish," "trivial" and "uncaring," with "twisted motives"?
Giuliani is like an exhibitionist who gets a thrill parading nude in front of the window, but is horrified when he spots a Peeping Tom staring in at him.
"This is a spectacle for all of you -- which is a shame," scolded Giuliani. "People can't go to the bathroom without being, you know, covered." A fitting complaint from a guy who felt compelled to share with Dominick Dunne of Vanity Fair the fact that, as a result of radiation treatments, he now finds it painful to urinate -- a tidbit Dunne, a fellow prostate cancer patient, swiftly shared with his readers.
The media firestorm surrounding the Giuliani divorce proves an absolute truth about public disclosures of private lives: If you offer up the parts of your personal life that make you look good, you can't turn around and complain when the press encroaches on the parts that you'd prefer remained hidden.
And remember: Nothing you say will ever be enough. If one soul-baring admission is good, two is better, three is the new minimum to be considered nonevasive and four would be much more appreciated by the Nielsen people.
In the meantime, Rudy and Judi can become the darlings of the virtue and virginity set -- the poster children for saving yourself for remarriage. "True Love Waits," as the purity pledgers say. Who knows, the pair might even inspire a whole new literary genre, the chaste bodice-ripper. Just think of the possibilities: Coming soon to a bookstore near you, "Lady Chatterley's Very Good Friend."