- Sex & Drugs
- 14 Aug 17
A fascinating new book suggests it’s at least worth questioning standard sexual mores...
Here’s an interesting statistic: over 40 percent of gay men have been, or are in, open relationships. The same is true for just 5 percent of straight and lesbian couples.
Here’s another one: straight women are much more likely than men to suggest opening up a sexual relationship. According to a survey of their members by the ethical cheating website Open Minded, two-thirds of open relationships begin at a woman’s instigation.
These, and other statistics from the sexual landscape litter comedian Rosie Wilby’s book, Is Monogamy Dead? The book is partly a relationship autobiography and partly a questioning of sexual attitudes and our conflicting desires. The biggest, and most intractable of these is that most of us want committed partnerships as well as the excitement of meeting new lovers.
Wilby is bisexual, but romantically attracted to women. However, her book is universal for the simple fact that the conflicting desires for both long-term love and sexual adventure is also universal. Most of us feel it, whether we are men or women, gay or straight. However, it is fair to say that your gender and sexual orientation can limit what you can do about it.
Gay men in consenting open relationships seem to have it sussed. That’s not to say that jealousy never rears its ugly head – I am sure it does. However, if both partners are equally agreed upon non-monogamy, it seems less likely that these relationships will end amid jealousy, suspicion and accusations of cheating – like so many heterosexual pairings do.
As Wilby notes, straight and lesbian couples are far more likely to be serial monogamists – breaking hearts and having our hearts broken as we move from one relationship to the next. In between, we may have bouts of sexual escapades or involuntary celibacy before we get back on the relationship merry-go-round.
But if we are being really truthful, plenty of serial monogamists are not all that monogamous. Both men and women cheat, and overlapping sexual relationships before the end of one entanglement and the beginning of another are common.
Cheating is rarely acceptable in straight relationships. The same is true for many lesbian relationships too, says Wilby. Either we regard it as symptomatic of a relationship that’s already on the skids, or we see it as an unforgivable crime. Maybe we’d be better off being a little less inflexible about sexual fidelity, like non-monogamous gay men.
Breaking up a relationship is a big deal, particularly if you are married, have children or have bought a house together. There are practical, financial and emotional implications. Plus you have to divide up the friends! More importantly, the desire to fuck other people is not necessarily the same as wanting to end a relationship. Because of this, people have come up with all sorts of alternatives to monogamy.
The most common of these is polyamory. Polyamorists have multiple sexual and romantic partnerships. Most polyamorists have a primary partnership, although some have a number of partners of equal status.
Monogamish relationships are committed but allow for a little outside activity. In a similar vein, a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” set-up involves turning a blind eye to each other’s infidelity. Whereas monogamish relationships may involve some discussion, DADT folks value discretion and wilful ignorance.
Then there is “relationship anarchy” – the belief that people should be free to do whatever the hell they like with whomever they like as long as it is mutually consensual. Relationship anarchists don’t distinguish between “partners” and “non-partners” and regard all relationships as equally valuable. Relationship anarchy is essentially an updated, more egalitarian version of the 1960s free love movement.
Each of these can have their own variations, depending on the wishes and desires of the people involved. Wilby notes that some poly men have what’s called a “One Penis Policy.” This is as stupid as it sounds – while the poly man can sleep with as many women as he likes, his female partners are only free to sleep with other women. Ah hell no!
Despite all of these options, most of us end up in (supposedly) monogamous relationships. That’s true for most gay men, as well as the rest of us.
There is one glaringly obvious difference between non-monogamous gay men on the one hand, and heterosexuals and lesbians on the other – no women.
If 40 percent of women-free relationships are consensually non-monogamous, while only 5 percent of relationships that feature women are – does that mean women are the ones demanding monogamy? And if that is true, why are women more likely than men to open up their relationships?
It seems likely that monogamy is not an inherent female desire, but one baked into us by social expectations, gender roles and Disney films.
The good news, according to Wilby’s research, is that the happiest couples are the ones who honestly talk through their options before deciding what’s best for them.
However, whatever kind of relationship you want to have, be it monogamous or anarchic, it only works if everyone is equally excited about it and committed to it. Therein lies the difficulty.
It’s tricky enough finding a partner who is as enthusiastic as you about your favourite bands, films and books. Finding one or more who is onboard with all of your relationship choices is a whole lot harder. This means that compromise is inevitable. Either that, or you continue to search the ends of the earth for that most magical and elusive of unicorns – your soulmate.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 06 Feb 20