Tag Archives: swinging

ANewDomain.net Essay: How Not To Be a Monogamist

Originally published at ANewDomain.net:

America is experiencing another sexual revolution. Under the radar and certainly ignored by the vast majority of mainstream media and popular culture, tens of millions of men and women have opted out of traditional monogamy – boy meets girl, girl has baby, boy and girl get divorced or grow old together, not always happily – in favor of alternative sexual relationships.

Most marriages end in divorce or dysfunction. Eric Anderson, author of The Monogamy Gap, makes a convincing argument that these relationships crash and burn due to the intrinsic contradictions of monogamism:

“Young men entering into romantic/sexual relationships are misled into thinking that monogamy is capable of providing them with a lifetime of sexual fulfillment and that if they truly loved their partners they would not desire others. This, we are told, is because monogamy is healthy, proper, moral, and natural. Anyone deviating from or challenging this script is stigmatized.”

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation about these different lifestyles. (I don’t say “new” lifestyles because, if anything, marriage and monogamy are still in their early experimental stages by anthropological standards.

Marriage only goes back a few thousand years in the Western world; marriage for love is barely 100 years old in the West and anything but the global standard even at this writing.)

Here are some of the most common nonmonogamous relationship formats in the United States today:

Open Relationship

An open relationship is just what it sounds like: you are free to have sex with people other than your partner. And so is she.

“There are a wide variety of open-relationship models out there, and they can vary drastically from one couple to another,” psychology professior David Barash and co-author of “The Myth of Monogamy” told Men’s Fitness. “Having an open relationship can work really well for some people. However, as people, we’re also inclined to be sexually jealous of a partner being with someone else, and from a biological standpoint, we’re resistant to that partner having another relationship.”

The actors Mo’Nique and Will Smith have been reported to be in open relationships. The hip-hop artist Pitbull, 26, has been in an open relationship with his girlfriend for the last nine years. He says it works for them: “I’m not going to be worried about what she does when I’m not around. I think men are more bitches than women. They let their ego and insecurities come into play.”

Estimates of the frequency of open relationships in the United States vary between 1% and 9% of sexually active adults in committed relationships.

Generally speaking, open relationships work as complements to – as opposed to replacements for – powerful core relationships where trust and sexual attraction are strong. Communication is absolutely key. People don’t have open relationships in order to lie – they do it so they don’t have to.

Successful open relationships rest on adherence to a set of rules negotiated between the two of you: how often are you each allowed to have sex with other people? Can you stay out all night or do you have to come home by midnight? Do you want to meet the other man or the other woman? Consider your needs, don’t hesitate to ask for them, and always meet your partner’s needs if you can. And if you can’t, talk about it.

Polyamory

People in polyamorous relationships – which are a subset of open relationships – usually belong to a network, or “pod,” of people who either know each other very well or at least get together from time to time. Polyamorous people often arrange their relationships hierarchically. You might have a “primary” partner – this might be someone you live with, or your husband or wife – plus a “secondary” with whom you spend less time and to whom you are expected to be less devoted than your primary.

As any poly person will tell you, this can be a lot of work.

There are, of course, as many variations on polyamory as there are in mathematics. People belong to triad relationships (three people), quads and so on.

The main aspects that distinguish polyamory from ordinary open relationships are that polyamorous people usually know their partners’ partners, and that they typically have more elaborate rules concerning romantic hierarchy. “It’s like having a regular, monogamous relationship but having more than one of them,” a poly man named Mark told CNN. Mark and his wife “live alone and have no children, but they’ve been involved with two other couples with children for the past six years. Mark and his wife spend time with the adults and their children doing family-friendly activities but the adults also go out on dates, cuddle and more.”

Polyamory has become increasingly visible in recent years, thanks to shows like Showtime’s reality series “Polyamory: Married and Dating.” Researchers believe that as many as 5% of Americans are actively involved in polyamorous relationships. Anecdotally, the poly lifestyle seems to be especially attractive to Americans under the age of 30.

Swinging

Swinging is no strings attached sex with the consent and/or participation of your partner. Couples, single men and single women set up dates with each other to meet for sex. As with polyamory and open relationships in general, transparency and honesty are key. The main difference between swinging and polyamory is that emotional attachments are minimal to none in swinging. It’s all just about the fun and the sex.

That said, swinging can become a long-term relationship when, for example, to couples get to know each other and start spending more time together.

Swingers are also more likely to go on adventures together, as opposed to separately. Not only is jealousy not supposed to be an issue, many swingers say they are turned on by watching their partners have sex with someone else. “Our best sex is with each other,” Sara told ABC News, while attending a sex orgy in Manhattan with her boyfriend Michael. “We have pretty amazing sex at home when we’re alone. When we come here it’s a physical attraction, not an emotional attraction.”

There is sizable swinging infrastructure of sex clubs, parties and even cruises that generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in business in the United States.

There is no way to know exactly how many married couples are actively swinging in the United States, but it is generally agreed that about 15% will try it at least once.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

 Otherwise known as the relationship that everyone assumes Bill and Hillary Clinton have, this is where you can pretty much do whatever you want as long as you are discreet. Since DADT is not part of any kind of established infrastructure or ideology, it’s more of a do-it-yourself form of open relationship, and as such has been around for many years.

Among the generally accepted principles are: don’t bring home any drama and don’t bring home any STDs. In other words, don’t be having the boyfriend or girlfriend call up at 2 a.m. demanding that you move in with them.

This relationship is for the couple that wants to get a little on the side, but doesn’t want to deal with the jealousy, or the hard work of communicating that makes the jealousy go away.

And then there’s old-fashioned promiscuity

People forget this, but you don’t have to be pair bonded in order to have a good sex life. Quite the opposite. Thanks to the Internet, which allows you to pick up fellow sluts from the comfort of your home or smart phone, this is a golden age to sew your wild oats! Have as much fun as you want, but there’s one big rule: try not to hurt anyone.

What’s Best for Me?

The most important question to ask yourself when considering how you would like to structure your life sexually is: who am I? What do I like? What do I love? What do I see? It sounds incredibly obvious, and in some ways it is, but most people never take the time to be truly honest with themselves. They allow societal judgment, family, friends, colleagues to define them, and as a result they often end up in boxes. No one has to live with you more than you. Whatever it is that you want to do, as long as it is legal and doesn’t hurt anyone, go out there and do it.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Last Civil Rights Struggle

Sluts of America, Arise!

“A sitting United States president took sides in what many people consider the last civil rights movement,” Adam Nagourney of The New York Times wrote in reaction to Barack Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage.

The last civil rights movement?

No.

Sadly, even as he belatedly championed equality for some, the president’s statement expressed a pernicious, widely accepted form of prejudice.

Look for the caveat as you read: “I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together…at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

In Obama’s worldview, in other words, it’s okay to be gay. But only if you behave like straight people—straight as in hetero, and straight as in conventional.

Obama is exposed as a monogamist: one who discriminates against people who have sex with multiple partners. Monogamism is commonplace. And it is bigotry. Monogamism is no more justifiable than racism or sexism or homophobia and, one day, it will be as reviled.

Mia McKenzie of the blog Black Girl Dangerous responds to Obama: “So, basically, what the President is saying is that same-sex couples who are in relationships that look a certain way (monogamous, for example) should be able to have all the rights of straight people. Hmm. What about those of us, queer and straight, who aren’t into monogamy but are into committed relationships? (And, for the record, you can be poly and be committed to multiple people).”

To which I’ll add: What about people, straight and gay, who sleep with multiple partners? What about those who don’t want committed relationships? Shouldn’t they get tax breaks and insurance benefits too?

And what about the open, tricky, ever-so-dirty secret—that many people in “incredibly committed monogamous relationships” cheat, that they’re de facto polygamists or just garden-variety sluts? (“A full 99 percent of Americans say they expect their spouse to be faithful,” according to U.S. News & World Report in 2008 but, The New York Times reported the same year, “University of Washington researchers have found that the lifetime rate of infidelity for men over 60 increased to 28 percent in 2006.” Hmm. Not to mention, obviously, that not all cheaters confess their sluttery to pollsters.)

Like all oppressed people, sluts have their work cut out for them.

“The Ethical Slut” (1997) by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt unleashed a landmark broadside against monogamy with a simple argument: anything that two consenting adults do is okay as long as they approach one another, and their other partners, with honesty and openness. Casual hook-ups, open relationships, swinging, group sex, and other alternative forms of sexual expression, wrote Mmes. Easton and Liszt, are not immoral so don’t feel guilty about them. “We believe it’s okay to have sex with anybody you love, and we believe in loving everybody,” they wrote.

Fifteen years later, however, tens of millions of sluts live underground, compelled to sneak around. Unlike straights and Obama-approved monogamous gays, America’s secret sluts have to hide their sex lives from their friends, families and coworkers. (Ethical sluts tell their partners the truth.) “My FWB and I had an awesome foursome with this couple we met online” isn’t the smartest Monday-morning conversation starter for the wannabe upwardly mobile.

Monogamy may be a myth, to paraphrase the title of the 1989 book that found that roughly half of all married Americans cheat, but as Obama’s statement suggests, it’s harder to kill than herpes.

Now here comes “The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and the Reality of Cheating” by Eric Anderson (Oxford University Press, 256 pages, $49.99), a devastating critique of monogamy that has been ignored by book reviewers and buried by the mainstream media.

“The Ethical Slut” says it’s OKAY to be slutty. “The Monogamy Gap” goes further. It states loudly, brashly—and mostly convincingly—that while monogamy is right for some people, it’s wrong for most. Which makes monogamism a form of bigotry not only based on a lie, but like other forms of discrimination, downright bad for society.

Not so deep down, we know he’s right. When there’s a public sex scandal—John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, etc.—you don’t hear a lot of expressions of anger or disgust, just harrumphs and how-about-thats from people, most of whom can easily imagine themselves “guilty” of the same “crime”: hard-wired horniness.

“I suggest that we need multiple forms of culturally acceptable sexual relationship types—including sexually open relationships—that exist without hierarchy or hegemony,” Anderson writes.

Men, Anderson asserts, are trapped in a state of “dyadic dissonance” in which they are painfully torn between monogamist social programming and their sexual desires to sleep with multiple partners. “If [men] entertain with their partners the possibility that sex and love are separate and that they could maintain the love with their partner while seeking thrilling sex with outsiders (an open sexual relationship), they risk losing their partners. Even mentioning this is thought to be an affront to love. Love, they falsely believe, is enhanced through sex, and sex with outsiders is falsely believed to detract from the love of a couple. We all too often believe that if our partner ceases to desire us sexually, he or she ceases to love us.”

What is a [stymied] manslut to do?

“In desiring but not wanting to cheat,” Anderson continues, “men set out to rectify their dissonance through pornography, visualizing themselves having sex with someone else while having sex with their partner, and/or flirting with others online. Eventually, however, these imagined/cyber forms of extradyadic sex are not enough. Men strongly desire to have sex with someone else, and they often begin to feel anger or aggression at their partner because (at one level) it is their partner that is preventing them from having the type of sex that every cell in their body demands.”

So they screw around.

But cheaters aren’t bad people. They’re just sluts. They’re wired that way. Many—most of us—are sluts. Don’t be shocked. After all, contemporary marriage—based on love rather than property, monogamous rather than polygamous—is still in its experimental stage, less than a century old. And the rate of divorce suggests that the experiment isn’t going well.

Anderson says monogamism forces us to choose between guilt and frustration: “Although cheating remains almost universally taboo in modern societies, my research suggests that cheating might actually save relationships [because] cheating permits men to have the sex with others they somatically desire…with cheating they do not have to deal with the threat of losing their partners by mentioning their sexual desires for others.”

I have some issues with “The Monogamy Gap.” Anderson concludes that “it is only in open relationships where long-term sexual and romantic satisfaction can be found for people who somatically desire sex with others,” yet he hardly considers the needs and desires of heterosexual women. Do they want open relationships? Maybe. Maybe not. Also, Anderson’s preferred model—one or several core committed, longer-term relationships plus à la carte “hit it and quit it” assignations—leaves out other formats, such as swinging (which is barely discussed).

Overall, however, I strongly recommend “The Monogamy Gap” for anyone who wonders why a society that elevates monogamy can’t seem to follow its rules. America needs to begin this discussion.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 29. His website is tedrall.com.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Occupy Sexual Freedom

Sympathy for Newt and Open Marriage

You know the narrative. Right-wing family-values Republican gets caught doing secular-liberal totally-not-family-values stuff, usually involving sex:

Cruising for manlove in an airport men’s room.

Knocking up the maid.

Sending dirty emails to young male pages.

Hiring male hookers and smoking meth.

Asking wife #2 for an open marriage.

This kind of thing happens all the time. And it’s always red meat for leftie media commentators.

Liberal pundits love to call fallen Republicans hypocrites. They point out that liberal politicians are often more heterosexual and monogamous than many so-called conservatives—and remain married to the same spouse for life.

Now it’s Newt Gingrich’s turn.

In her divorce filing Ms. Gingrich the Second claims that Mr. Gingrich asked her for an open marriage so he could stay with her while carrying on with Callista, who became Ms. Gingrich the Third after Ms. Gingrich the Second refused said request. (You may need to re-read the previous sentence.)

Cue the holier-than-thou liberals.

CNN reporter John King opened a presidential debate with an assault on Newt’s alleged yearning for sexual freedom. A New York Times editorial called this “a perfectly reasonable question.”

Across the vertical seam in the op-ed graveyard Gail Collins could barely contain herself. “Beyond the hypocrisy of this sort of behavior from a guy who wants to protect the sanctity of holy matrimony from gay couples, there also seems to be a streak of almost crazed self-absorption that runs through the Newt saga,” Collins gloated. “Who would ditch a spouse of 18 years in a phone call? Shortly after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis? And, of course, he broke up with his first wife while she was battling cancer.”

That Newt Gingrich is pompous, nasty and one of the most hideous members of that physically repugnant tribe known as politicians can be stipulated by all but those blinded by hatred of Mormons and Kenyan-born socialists. Still, I think we on the Left are missing an opportunity for a teachable moment.

Progressives are fighting for human emancipation. The right to engage in sex with any consensual adult in any form is integral to this struggle to liberate ourselves from patriarchy, sexism, racism, homophobia and capitalism. How, then, can we justify mocking anyone—even a hypocritical Christian conservative—for expressing their sexuality?

When Senator Larry Craig was arrested, essentially for the crime of being a closeted gay or bisexual male, in that Minneapolis-St. Paul airport restroom, he needed our support, not our ridicule.

Imagine if supporters of gay rights from across the spectrum had refused to get sucked into stupid D-vs-R theatrics. Remember, the cops weren’t trying to catch a right-wing gay-bashing closeted senator. Craig was ensnared by one of countless sting operations conducted by police departments across the United States designed to harass all gays and lesbians. We should oppose such tactics forcefully and consistently. Defending Craig’s right to hit on other guys would have served the cause better than scoring cheap partisan points.

As for Newt’s alleged—divorce allegations ought to be swallowed with a massive dollop of sodium chloride—request for an open marriage, well, so what if he did?

When 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce it’s clear that state-enforced monogamy for life isn’t working for everyone. Researchers estimate that up to six percent of American couples are in open marriages. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s their decision. It’s their choice. Asked privately, most liberals would agree.

Millions of Americans prefer alternative arrangements for their sex lives—open marriages, swinging, etc. Yet they are forced to sneak around. They’re not hiding from their lovers, but from their friends and neighbors and colleagues lest they be shamed and shunned. Unlike conventionally married couples (who cheat on one another in significant numbers), people in open relationships know exactly what their partners are up to.

Moreover, there are a lot of open relationships that no one thinks about. Does anyone doubt, for example, that the Clintons had a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that essentially amounted to a license to cheat?

You shouldn’t have to hide or lie when you’re doing nothing wrong. Yet so-called “liberals” join their rightist counterparts in snickering about Craig’s “wide stance” and Gingrich’s request for an open marriage. The effect is to denigrate gays, lesbians and other sexually marginalized and oppressed people.

Nona Willis Aronowitz calls Gingrich “the poster child for the messy, miserable life people can have if they’re stuffed into rules they weren’t built to follow. He’s the poster child for how our sexist and repressive culture can hurt relationships. Gingrich was raised in, and now advocates for, a world that sets up incredibly narrow parameters for sex and love, and shames people who don’t adhere to those standards.”

We should tell right-wingers like Newt Gingrich: you’re one of us. You always were. The fact that you can’t live by your own supposed rules proves it.

Quit living a lie, Newt. More importantly, quit asking everyone else to live the stupid lie that defines your stupid out-of-date politics.

Hey Republicans! Are you a maid-knocking-up, men’s-room-trolling, sexting, bondage-loving, gay-bi-trans-whatever?

The Right’s not that into you. Join us.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL