I posted this in another forum discussing the epsiode, but it seems that it fits very well here too.
After watching the episode I have so much going on in my mind. It is a really loaded episode and it took a few days (and viewings) to get myself focused on why. I listened to podcasts and read reviews and recaps. Virtually without fail everyone recognizes the sex scene by the campfire as incredibly romantic and “hot”. And it is. Alastair commented on how the significance of the scene (as a means for Jamie to create a memory of Claire in that moment) is only apparent in retrospect. And that is true as well.
However, it is so much more than that. If we forget that as book readers we know what is going to happen the next morning, there is still a very powerful message being delivered.
This scene showed a real intimacy that simple intercourse would not have been able to. Claire is in a completely vulnerable position here. Not only has she bared her secrets to him, but now she is baring her body and soul to him. This is not about asserting or revelling in her sexuality. It is about establishing an intimacy that is based on a whole truth and an openness that did not previously exist. Sexuality has been a man’s domain. And being a sexual person isn’t just about asking for what you want (as in the scene with Frank in 1940’s Leoch), it is also about trusting your partner enough so that you can be entirely vulnerable and know that they will be accepting. The moment when Claire says she wants Jamie inside her is one that most adult women can identify with, and the request can be meant in many ways. A woman can simply want to feel her partner inside her, she can want to move to the next step in the proceedings (or just get things over with), or she can need or want to have all the focus and attention removed from herself by sharing that intimacy with her partner.
So, when Jamie denies Claire that, she is compelled to trust him completely. This is evident in the eye contact they maintain as she achieves orgasm. Really, at what moment are you more vulnerable than that?
Again, even though we as book readers know that he has made the decision to send her back to her time, and that this is one last moment of love between them, for Jamie is it also more. He is in turn giving himself to her. He only wants to serve her, to give her pleasure, and to not have that moment clouded by his own gratification.
Now, we know he is making memories in this scene. We know that he is saying his goodbye. We know that he fully expects to have her gone from his life the next day. Knowing all this only magnifies the depth of his love for her. To deny himself her loving touch in return, to have his desire as a memory as well is also a vulnerability he shares with an unknowing Claire. What can be seen as superficially a strength (his denial of sexual release) is also a real vulnerability in that he is showing he the depth of his love for her. For him to give so much by the simple act of not taking speaks volumes.