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.)

11 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Last Civil Rights Struggle

  1. Wow. Thank you for staying several steps ahead of the mainstream as usual. I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s bothered by the “homosexuality is OK because it’s monogamous” rhetoric. It’s not unlike the 19th-century liberals who opposed discrimination against Catholics because “at least they’re Christian.”

  2. @ Ted & anschel: Obama didn’t say that “homosexuality is OK because it’s monogamous” or “it’s okay to be gay. But only if you behave like straight people”. He said: “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” He said that he knew gay couples whose behavior mirrored that of the ideal monogamous hetero couple so why shouldn’t they be able to get married?

    Honestly, I don’t care who thinks I’m OK. I’m not the thought police and I’ve noticed that there’s never a 100% consensus on anything. There will always be people who hate gay people. What I want is for anti-gay laws to go away.

    I have plenty of reasons to be critical of Obama, but I’ve checked this off the list. There isn’t a lot he can do about gay marriage. I wanted him to stop saying he was against it.

  3. @ anschelsc How did you get your green star? My pic has never shown up.

  4. Intro to Statistics

    The biggest problem of statistics is called measurement error. Ask people a question, and some (most?) will answer incorrectly.

    In my field, IT, researchers must ask questions like: ‘Does your company use a 4th generation database, and what impact has it had on your productivity?’ The responders don’t have a clue. Researchers should go to a sub-sample of responders and check if the answers were accurate. Those in IT who do go find that all the answers to their survey were completely bogus. They then report that they validated their survey, since the alternative (i.e., telling the truth) means not getting a publication and losing their jobs.

    In the case of sex research, there is absolutely no way to know if the answers were bogus or real, so no way to validate, so most serious epistemologists would question their findings.

    Where one can observe behaviour, the majority of men seem to prefer women who have had fewer sex partners.

    As one woman told me, ‘When I go into a bar, I have to say, “I’ve never done this kind of thing before, have you?” because the men only want women who haven’t had other sexual partners.’

    That woman had had almost 100 sex partners when she told me this: that she had to lie and say ‘This is my first time,’ if she wanted to have sex with the one ‘hot’ man in the nightclub, a man pursued by at least 20 other women, and who (she said) would always choose the ‘virgin’ over the sluts.

  5. @John: I won’t speak for Ted, but I think there’s a general problem of gay rights advocates responding to claims of “Homosexuals don’t have stable relationships” by saying “Look at all these LGBT people who have stable relationships!” rather than “That’s not the important criterion.” To me it’s in the same category as the people who remind conspiracy theorists over and over that Obama is a Christian, instead of pointing out that we shouldn’t care about our president’s religion. Or abolitionists who assured the public that they weren’t in favor of letting free slaves vote. We’re all guilty of this, but it’s a pattern we should notice and try to avoid.

    You say there isn’t a lot a president can do about gay marriage; while that’s true in a direct sense, he has the power to influence the debate. When he says his support of gay marriage is because “he knew gay couples whose behavior mirrored that of the ideal monogamous hetero couple,” he’s implicitly saying people whose behavior *doesn’t* mirror our ideals shouldn’t have those rights. I think that’s a dangerous precedent to set. If, on the other hand, he were to say that all people deserve the same rights no matter what they do behind closed doors, then the next group that wants recognition and equality (perhaps polyamorous folk?) could work themselves into the same narrative instead of having to fight against it.

    This isn’t an abstract concept; think of the way Dr. King’s all-encompassing rhetoric helped other marginalized groups (Latinos, American Indians, etc.) find a place in the civil rights struggle. What if instead he had said “Black people deserve rights because we speak English just like white people, and we pray to Jesus just like white people, and we hate homosexuals just like white people”? He and his cause might have been a bit more popular for it, but he would have set other movements back in the process.

    P.S. I set the image at http://en.gravatar.com/

  6. 1, Obama, going by how he dithered on the question out of the starting gate, doesn’t care one way or the other about gays and marriage. He cares about what people think at the polls if he says X or Y, so he has tailored his responses toward that.

    2. From an economic point of view, having three or four people in the marriage allows for a larger concentration of earning potential AND protects more against loss of income due to unemployment. As more and more people get screwed by the system, expect a return to the sort of housing you had as a recent graduate, but for people in their 30s, who are all emotionally involved with each other.

    3. The major complaint against people living in threesomes (or moresomes) is that one or more of the partners could be made into emotional or physical victims by the others. That this happens in two-person marriages is never mentioned in that debate.

    If you can find two people you get along with well enough to want to marry both of them: knock yourself out. You’re still only getting a toaster from me.

  7. Quick, somebody get a copy of “The Ethical Slut” (1997) over to Limbaugh!

  8. Here’s an idea: how about the government getting out of the business of “sanctioning” personal relationships and sexual entanglements altogether?

  9. Wow, Ted! I go away to do some work, turn my back on your column for less than a week, and you come up with a great (as in fabulous, I love it) column like the one on sluts and monogamy. Jeez, I should do more work… 🙂 Thank you for a GREAT column.

    “the rate of divorce suggests that the experiment isn’t going well.” Now there’s an understatement if there ever was one. It’s amazing to me how much trouble people are going to, to promote an institution that has been falling more and more as time goes on. I suppose I should take comfort in that it means they realize they’re losing the fight.

    When bucephalus says “how about the government getting out of the business of “sanctioning” personal relationships and sexual entanglements altogether?” he is clearly on the right track. Here’s one of the reasons I think that.

    People seem to keep getting unglued when it comes to gay marriage. But what gays want is not the ceremony and all that. They’ve been doing that for years! I attended a gay marriage here in TX several years ago. It was a lovely lesbian wedding, and two dear friends of mine stated their commitment to each other. They’re still just as committed now, having gone through a whole lot of troubles since then. But what they’d really like is to get the benefits that are conferred on married people. How about if the government just gets out of the marriage business altogether? All it was for years was a way to hand some tax revenue back to everyone except for those outside of the mainstream. It’s certainly not because people wouldn’t have children unless the government subsidized it to the tune of a few hundreds dollars a year.

    So I guess we should consider the marriage/tax issue, and the related one about gay marriage, as a money issue. It’s just a way to tax people outside of the mainstream for their chosen lifestyles, whether it’s homosexual or non-monogamous. “Follow the money.”

    Heck, if Obama is coming out in favor of gay marriage now, what’s next? Maybe he’ll come out in favor of ending the prohibition on marijuana. That would be only about 50 or 60 years later than it should have been. (For the record, I don’t smoke.)

    • Thanks, Bruce!

      My best work tends to result from long periods of reflection. I read the Monogamy Gap months ago.

      I hate the new paradigm, in which people only pay attention to what you say immediately about what just happened. No time to think = no insight