A Debate About The Value of Permanent Promiscuity

Jaime: I think monogamy is a mistake as an ideal. I believe in permanent promiscuity.

Kelly: You’re saying people should cheat on each other?

Jaime: No, if there were no monogamy there would be no cheating. We do not have monofriendamy do we? We do not say you are “cheating” on one of your friends simply because you enjoy time with another friend too, do we? Why should our sexual relationships be any different?

Kelly: Well, because people get jealous if their sexual partners have other partners.

Jaime: No, jealous people get jealous if their sexual partners have other partners. Not everyone is like that. I’m not like that. I don’t get jealous.

Kelly: Well most people do get jealous and would feel a lot more pain and misery if there were no ideal of monogamy and their partners were sleeping around on them.

Jaime: But they shouldn’t.

Kelly: What do you mean “they shouldn’t”?? It’s how they feel. It’s how normal people feel. Who are you to say what they should or should not feel?

Jaime: People should not feel things that are unfair.

Kelly: You are saying that one person cheats and their partner gets angry and the one who gets angry is the one being unfair—not the cheater?!

Jaime: Yes. It is unfair to demand someone else be denied a pleasure that does not hurt anyone else.

Kelly: It hurts the person being cheated on!

Jaime: But it does not have to, that’s the choice of the person who feels “cheated on” to feel aggrieved when they should not.

Kelly: No, it’s the choice of the cheater to disregard their partner’s feelings and have an affair! The cheater is the one responsible for all that hurt.

Jaime: No, it’s the jealous person who is at fault. It is the jealous person who is introducing a rule by which everyone should have the same, diminished amount of pleasure and then getting angry and trying to make their partner feel negative emotions too. The jealous person says, “We must both have less pleasure than we could and if you have more pleasure than me, or pleasure without me, etc., I am going to increase the pain for both of us. I am going to obsess over your extra pleasures that I wasn’t in on because I am the selfish center of the world and you are my sex slave who can never have sex with anyone but me.” So the jealous person is first demanding that they both have less pleasure than they could and then is increasing the misery of them both when their partner goes and has some perfectly good pleasures. It is totally unfair to put these demands on someone else and on yourself. It is selfish and small.

Kelly: There is more than life to pleasure! We all have to curb our pleasures for the sake of higher goods. Or for the sake of higher pleasures.

Jaime: And what higher goods or higher pleasures is it worth missing out on all the pleasures of having sex with multiple people?

Kelly: I don’t know, um, Love?? Commitment?? A special shared, intimate bond with only one person that no one else gets to share with that person??

Jaime: So, you don’t love your friends because hanging out with more than one of them is “cheating on them”? Or do you have only one friend? Do you agree with those jealous people who get jealous of their lover having other friends?

Kelly: No, that’s unhealthy, it’s possessive.

Jaime: Why is it not possessive to say that your lover cannot have other lovers then? If other lovers make your bond with a person less intimate and special, why do not more friendships make your friendship with your lover less intimate and special? Some people think the latter, you would call them possessive, but not those who have the same attitude but only limit it to sex? What is so special about sex that we should consider that another autonomous agent owes it to us and us only, whereas they can do all manner of other friendship activities and objecting to those things is pathological?

Kelly: It’s not just sex in a physical sense. Sex is emotional too.

Jaime: And friendship isn’t? People don’t care about their friends?

Kelly: But sex is a way to fall in love with someone else. Our bodies are primed to make us fall in love with people we have sex with.

Jaime: We are also disposed to fall in love with friends.

Kelly: Well, that’s why there can be emotional infidelity too. Sometimes you can cheat without having sex.

Jaime: See! You are endorsing possessiveness! You are endorsing the attitude that our lovers should deprive themselves of deep affections and bonds with people lest they have more than just the one they have with us!

Kelly: Well, if it is going to displace your place as their romantic interest, of course you should ask they “deny” themselves that.

Jaime: But that’s unfair! You’re asking them to have less richness of human connection just so you can be their sun and moon and stars! You have to be the center of their world and their world has to be smaller for it!

Kelly: But you’re giving the same thing for them! You’re not having emotional affairs or physical affairs either, that’s what makes it fair!

Jaime: No, that’s what makes it doubly unfair! You are both missing out! You are both loving less and being loved less!

Kelly: No, it’s not less love, it’s more concentrated love. Friends are inadequate for filling the longing for one partner who you can be satiated with and content with in the deepest way. Friendships can only go so deep. To fully connect we need a profounder romantic bond with one person. If we all listened to you, then sex and romance could never get us anything more than we already have from friendships. We would not really gain. We already have friendships, we would just get some more. But we would lose the special bond between exactly two people who exclude all others from the deepest connection.

Jaime: But by admitting that people can have what you called “emotional affairs”, you admitted people can have deep romantic attachments to more than one person. Why not see how many people we can have them with? You are right that friendships are only partially satisfying. But they come in degrees. It’s not like there are only “shallow friendships and a deep intimate connection with just one person”. And even the deep intimate connection with your favorite romantic partner, even in monogamy, does not mean that that person fulfills everything all the other friends do. You still need them for exploring other parts of your personality. So, why not say there are degrees of friendship, and then try to get as many relationships at the highest degree of physical/emotional connection as you can? And, while you’re at it why not pile on more physically pleasant ones even when they’re not an emotionally big deal, just so you can add to your overall pleasure too!

Kelly: But it does not work that way!

Jaime: It could!

Kelly: No, it could not! There is something about the pair bond that is compromised if it’s not just between the two of you. Part of the intimacy is in the exclusiveness. If this is not something special to the two of you but something one or both of you associate with others as well then it does not reinforce the specialness of your relationship the way sex and romantic intimacy should. It makes these things common, spread across all your relationships, and so it is inherently cheapened. It loses all the rareness and the concentration in the one relationship that makes you think of that one relationship as incomparable, as something beyond all your others. You cannot replicate that with emotional affairs!

Jaime: But every person is different. My favorite thing about friendship is that each friend brings out a different side of me or relates to a slightly different combination of the same sides of me. I find myself in each friend in a unique way. Each friend is not special because we have a special activity only we do and which I delude myself into thinking I have to have that one person to do it with. No, each friend is special because each friend him or herself is a totally distinct person with totally distinct pleasantness about him or her. Now, if I could get to a level of physical and emotional connection with more than one person like that, then it will not cheapen sex or intimacy or romance but multiply it all.

Kelly: But what if for your partner you are the only one, now you’re giving them only a fraction of your total love while they are giving you everything.

Jaime: Well, I wouldn’t have “a partner” obviously.

Kelly: But what about if one of your partners only has you! What about how monogamous people feel when their partner has this emotional and sexual bond with someone else! They shouldn’t feel jealous!?

Jaime: Look, the bond with the one person is not replicable with anyone else. Imagine if you lose a friend to death and someone said, “well, don’t worry you have others to fill those roles!” You’d slug that person. No profound friendship is so interchangeable. What I feel for another person does not diminish what we have. And denying myself bonds with others won’t mean you can magically give me what other people can. We need to accept that we cannot be any one’s be all and end all—and we shouldn’t want to be that! We shouldn’t want to be someone’s irreplaceable jealous god who we deceive them into thinking is the only one who can bring them sexual or romantic satisfaction by selfishly denying them access to all other people. I mean, you are single, right—are you a virgin? Are you looking to marry only a virgin?

Kelly: What does that have to do with anything?

Jaime: Well, if you have had sex with multiple partners, even if only one at a time, then apparently you can share physical and emotional intimacy with more than one person.

Kelly: But those people are in the past, they won’t matter to my future marriage.

Jaime: But they should matter to your life! These are people you must have shared some kind of intimate bond with—given how seriously you take having sex!

Kelly: But it’s over now, they’re in my past. It’s not like I was juggling them all at the same time or I will be thinking about them when I’m married and finally found the one who is right for me.

Jaime: So, before, you were implying the sexual romantic relationship is the height of human relationships and now the people you have had this sacred bond with in the past are forgettable?

Kelly: I didn’t say they were forgettable, just that they are my past. I don’t feel the same way about them now.

Jaime: So, these friendships are actually less permanent than your regular friendships which you still maintain? I thought these were so much more important.

Kelly: They were, at the time. They were more intense at the time than any friendship, even if they didn’t last as long.

Jaime: And wasn’t that a good thing? Even though they were incomplete relationships, not eternal, not perfect, not as long lasting as some other friendships… Why not have multiple such bonds at once if you could? So what if they don’t last forever or don’t involve an eternal commitment, aren’t they special as far as they go?

Kelly: But they only were special because I focused on one person at a time and worked to make the relationship be the one if it could. It wouldn’t work all at once, people get jealous, people get hurt, people don’t just shut off their feelings like you want them to.

Jaime: Maybe they should.

Kelly: But most don’t want to!

Jaime: They’re just insecure. Should we pander to that? Worse, should we call the monogamous ideal of the insecure the highest moral standard for love and sex?

Kelly: Look, you can do what you want, but it is not good for everyone.

Jaime: Maybe if the culture didn’t pump up monogamy as the only way, people would not find what I have to say so traumatizing. We have to start somewhere in changing attitudes so people feel less uptight about these things.

Kelly: I don’t think you have the right approach in demonizing people who value faithfulness and who just want to leave some things exclusive and intimate. Relationships are hard enough. They don’t need encouragement to have more and more entanglements, more and more expectations on sexual prowess, so that they constantly feel like they need more sexual trophies to feel good about themselves and feel like they have enough libertine pleasure. You want to have your polyamorous relationships or whatever, then have them. But there is no reason your values should be the norm. What about the children with mix and match parents this would create? What if you have four children with four lovers, are you all going to be living in the same state forever? What about diseases? What about the wealthy gobbling up more and more lovers since they can and leaving the losers cold? There are benefits to monogamy, even if we don’t have as much hedonistic pleasure as you think we should.

Jaime: Well those are a lot of issues you raise that would need further discussion. But I resent you trivializing this as just “hedonism”. I think people are healthier with more love and more pleasure and that they can have better virtues if they are open to more thorough, more intimate, more physical relationships with more people and if they can allow those they love to do the same without resenting it.

Kelly: You underestimate all the ways that people can hurt each other and act selfishly. You act like there is no deception or exploitation possible from sex and from a mindset that treats it so utterly casually.

Jaime: And you act like increasing pleasure in life is a bad thing that inevitably leads to ruin and misery. You act like selfish jealousy is actually a virtue and like sex is the enemy of friendship and of love in all but one context. But I’m just saying it does not have to be that way if we all changed our attitudes and expectations and set up different understandings of the extents and limits of our responsibilities to and for each other. We can make new norms that let us be both good and more sexually liberated.

Kelly: Look, you can have your “new norms” and your “sexual liberation”, but they don’t have to be pushed on everyone.

Jaime: But what if everyone would be happier with them?

Kelly: They wouldn’t. You don’t understand human nature.

Continued here.

Your Thoughts?

More debates between Jaime and Kelly:

On The Ethics of “Sugar Daddies” and “Sugar Babies”

A Debate About the Wisdom of Trying to Deconvert People

7 Exciting Announcements About My Online Philosophy Classes
Drunken Mall Santa
A Moral Philosopher on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson
About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Tisha Irwin

    I like Jaime.

    I had to laugh at the line about “the wealthy gobbling up more and more lovers”. As if they don’t already?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      hahaha, I have seen the argument actually made a couple of times now that monogamy is important to maintain precisely for egalitarian reasons. The idea is that the polygamy of patriarchal societies was bound up with their inegalitarianism. Wealthier men could have more wives because they could provide for more. I had to throw in a shout out to that before wrapping things up at a reasonable length here!

    • Tisha Irwin

      The problem with that argument is that “monogamy” is an illusion in such a large number of relationships. People are having affairs, and people with more means have more opportunities to have them. So monogamy is failing at keeping things fair.

  • Daniel Schealler

    Meh. It’s not that hard.

    For whatever the reason, we are living in a society where committed pair bonding carries a widely recognized tacit agreement of exclusivity.

    Breaking that agreement is the act of ‘cheating’.

    For individuals that don’t want to live under that arrangement, they just have to make it explicit.

    For a multitude (not just a couple!) in an open relationship however, this tacit agreement has been overruled with an explicit and contradictory agreement. As such there is no cheating.

    But even in an open relationship there will probably rules, violation of which can be regarded as cheating.

    For example: I am committing to exclusive condom-free sex with you because I trust you not to aquire an STD without notifying me first. But I do not trust other people you are sleeping with – as such, we should commit to each other to always use condoms when having sex outside of our personal relationship.

    In an open relationship, breaking that rule could fairly be considered a form of cheating.

    There’s also considerations around emotional neglect as a form of cheating as well.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      But Jaime tries to make a much more controversial argument, that true virtue requires open relationships and monogamy is a crutch for the weak and those who suffer from a vice of jealousy.

    • Daniel Schealler

      I’m comfortable with my vices. They’re old friends. I can always do with another. So go ahead – add sexual jealousy to the mix! It’ll be in good company.

      What’s changed because of this?

      Not much.

      Individuals involved in a relationship should be free to withhold or withdraw consent for any reason – or even without a reason.

      So long as we get that right the rest can sort itself out.

      Regarding consent, the usual carping bout no-harm, ages of consent, capacity for consent, and all the rest of the tedious crap that goes along with such subjects obviously continues to apply. Tacitly. Because I’m lazy.

      Laziness is probably the oldest vice I’ve got. I was born three weeks late. The doctor had to induce labor then drag me out with forceps. I still have the dimples in my skull to prove it.

    • http://langcultcog.com/traumatized DuWayne

      Not sure where this will end up, but I am responding the Daniel’s assertion about monogamy as a vice;

      If you are in a relationship and have made a specific agreement with someone in the context of that relationship, then breaking that agreement is “cheating” and therefore unacceptable. Personally I am all for polyamory and open relationships. But there are many people who are not comfortable with that idea – some simply out of very legitimate concerns about STIs.

      And I definitely think it is important not to ignore the issue of agreeing to use protection when having sex with other partners and then breaking that rule. Were I in such a relationship, that would be a deal breaker for me – end of relationship, end of story. And I would be exceedingly angry about it. I don’t have any STIs and at 35, I don’t have any intention of getting one now.

      Most importantly though, I think that some people are simply more comfortable with the idea of monogamy and there is nothing wrong with that. I understand that culture is largely responsible for this, but I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with that. We are the products of our cultures, there is no getting around it. While our cultures impact all of us in different ways – drive us to different conclusions/ways of functioning, we cannot help but be profoundly shaped by it.

      Point being, I don’t buy the notion that it is a weakness to prefer monogamy. While I perceive sex as something that is a great source of pleasure and not an especially big deal, that is simply not the experience of a whole lot of people. And while for some of them it is exactly that – a weakness, for many others it is just a preference.

    • cholten99

      > I don’t buy the notion that it is a weakness to prefer monogamy

      *boggle* – I would hope that is obvious.

      If people are happy in whatever kind of relationship they have everyone else should just let them get on with it (as long as everyone is able to give consent).

      Seems like it’s going to take about 100 years (1950-2050) just to get that very simple notion through everyone’s thick skulls.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      I am responding the Daniel’s assertion about monogamy as a vice;

      I made no such statement. Jaime, a character I wrote defended a position similar (but not nearly identical) to that, but I did not assert that view as my own.

    • Daniel Schealler

      Actually, I was a bit confused there. He might also have meant me.

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

      Y’know, **FUCK THIS NOISE** in which you talk about a “crutch for the weak”.

      The strong have NO IDEA what crutches for the weak actually do. This is constantly used in such a way – as here – that implies crutches are bad things, that people would be better off without them. In reality, crutches are things that allow us to do things that we would like to do, but find difficult because of disabilities or injuries, not because of limitations that are common to the vast majority of humans.

      in your example, the appropriate metaphor is: good communication is a crutch that allows more insecure people to participate in non-monogamy or polyamory without experiencing the injury or difficulties that would otherwise inhere.

      The idea that crutches are bad and that we are better off without them is an idea that only those who don’t use crutches could embrace…and those who don’t take the time to think for 3 seconds about what crutches actually do.

      I find it baffling that otherwise competent – even exceptional – thinkers can endorse this view of the nature of mobility devices.

      Why do you?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      I grant that there is something ill thought out insofar as the usage makes it sound like the crutch could be gone without. But the main thrust of the metaphor is to say that as needing crutches is not the ideal state to be in (no matter how good crutches may be when necessary, ideally one’s legs would be sufficient), ideally there would be no need for monogamy to protect against jealousy. It’s just a way of communicating Jaime’s view that monogamy is not an ideal but for those who are not in emotionally in the best possible shape they could be.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    I can think of approximately 30 reasons to restrict the number of one’s sexual partners (without even naming any ex- or present girlfriends): HIV, gonococci, spirochetes, HSV, chlamydia, …

    Sexual patterns did not evolve, and do not persist, in a vacuum governed only by psychological motivations.

    • binjabreel

      I can think of a few counterpoints: They’re called condoms and the HPV vaccine.

    • http://blog.earthshod.co.uk/ AJS

      I’ll see your venereal diseases, and raise you one packet of Durex.

  • Jonathan Williams

    Psychologically motivated sexual behavior is a relatively new phenomenon. How long have we had an accepted an idea of safe sex that allows for this act to be about more than just procreation?. 40 or 50 years?
    While the idea of virtue allowing for open relationships is warranted for discussion. I still think there are physical ramifications, which if nothing else provide a reason for monogamous sexual relationships.
    I’m also curious as to why some species decide that monogamy is the optimal way to ensure their survival. Could humans be one of those groups? I’m not sure yet.
    Either way Dan you bring up excellent points that warrant further discussion. I’m interested to see where this all goes.

    • Chickpea

      The current view of sex as a risky activity is nothing new- in fact, it’s been the pattern for most of human history. At various times, adultery and fornication have been brutally punished, most STDs were incurable and pregnancy was dangerous- yet people have still persisted in this behaviour.

  • julian

    Would a relationship between close friends where they all enjoy casual sex with one another fall under Jaime’s ideal?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      sounds right up Jaime’s alley

    • Chickpea

      Polyamory is not just about the sex, and does not imply “casual”.
      It’s a broad church, and people have differing rules about what is or is not allowed in their arrangements.

    • cholten99

      As I like to say – “Poly is not about sex (except for when it is)”. It certainly can be but the emotional content is much more important.

  • binjabreel

    Meh, most jealousy I see stems from a fear that the person you love could love someone else, which is to say, from insecurity.

    If you have a deep emotional *and* sexual connection with someone, why should you be afraid of that someone having just a sexual connection with someone else?

    Though, to be fair, in the only open or polyamorous relationships I’ve seen (or been in) that worked, there was no cheating. If someone did something with someone else, they were upfront about it. So, in short, it takes even more emotional maturity than a monogamous relationship does.

  • Lord Shplanington, Not A Frenchman

    I cannot find any rational reason to hold completely monogamous relationships. At least, not outside the context of our fucked-up social norms.

    By pretty much any modern society’s standards, this makes me an awful person.

    Fuck people.

    • Lord Shplanington, Not A Frenchman

      (Teehee puns)

    • Lord Shplanington, Not A Frenchman

      Or, well, not so much a “pun” I guess.

      Whatever. Shut up, I’m tired.

  • pixelinabitmap

    I recall having this discussion, repeatedly, over the course of about five months, in far more words (I was arguing Jaime’s side) and with higher stakes. It seems like a fairly pointless exercise: no matter how much sense Jaime makes, this is not a discussion one can win by making sense — it’s about emotional states, and which emotional states are appropriate for people to have and which aren’t. Ultimately, there are several dead-end avenues this argument can take: the naturalistic (is it in the “nature” of humans to desire monogamy); the practical (real-world limits on resources like time and energy, and, possibly, emotional responsiveness); the selfishness (who is being more selfish, whether being selfish is appropriate); and meaning (if sex is somehow more special than other types of interactions, and what makes some relationships more meaningful than others). I might have missed some, but the point is that once you get far enough down any one of these roads, there seems to be no more room for objective arguments — it comes down to subjective value judgments and conjecture.

    I would be quite thrilled to be proved wrong in this assessment, btw.

  • MelissaF

    For (lazy) me a big factor is time and energy. It takes time and effort to upkeep any relationship. I am happy with monogamy because having more than one partner seems like too much work. I find it difficult enough to fit in time to bond with my one husband. Finding enough time to bond and upkeep relationships with many partners just sounds exhausting to me (I also have few good friends because of this).

  • Robert B.

    Shouldn’t we distinguish between monogamy (having only one romantic partner) and jealousy (feeling badly if one’s romantic partner has other partners themselves)? If monogamy is a desire to focus one’s romantic feelings and attentions on one person, does that logically require jealousy if the partner doesn’t feel the same way? Granted it might be more ideal for a monogamous person to have a monogamous partner, but people reconcile not-so-complimentary preferences in their relationships all the time. If you’re getting the love and attention that you want from your partner, I don’t see that it matters what anyone else might be getting from him.

    Frankly, the whole debate seems a little silly, like a gay man and a straight man arguing about whether men or women are “really” hotter, or a bisexual person trying to convince people that it’s more practical to be bi. Even if one side can be proved objectively correct (which is conceivable; it probably is more practical to be bi, if you ignore secondary issues like privilege) the argument isn’t addressing the real conflict, because the way we love isn’t something we choose or decide on. Everyone has their spot on the monogamous vs. polygamous scale, just like they have their spot on the Kinsey straight vs. gay scale. It strikes me as a little intolerant for a monogamous person to claim that a polyamorist’s love is “diluted” or a polyamorous person to claim that a monogamist’s love is “restricted.” We’re just different from each other, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    I’m tempted to say that jealousy is just unnecessary… but maybe it’s just that I’m not all the way over on the monogamous end of the scale, so that I can simultaneously prefer to only have one partner, and not really mind that my partner prefers otherwise. Maybe other people feel jealousy as naturally and uncontrollably as I feel monogamy or gayness? That doesn’t sound very pleasant to me, but neither does sex with women, so… shrug?

  • StewartP

    My wife and I went thru this, successfully. We had lots of long discussions, and I had some jealousies to work through. My breakthrough came when it finally hit me that she was a free agent, not my property, and she stays with me because she continues to choose to do so.
    My mantra for getting through the first few times was:
    1. She loves me
    2. These men are not competition
    3. Sex is fun

    But we have never been “unfaithful” to each other. All encounters with other lovers, whether together or alone have been after discussion, and with consent. Different lovers do supply different needs, we can be different people behind closed doors.

  • cholten99

    > It’s how normal people feel. Who are you to say what they should
    > or should not feel?

    Exactly – who is to define what is ‘normal’?

    Increasing numbers of people are finding the polyamory is what’s normal for them. Most people who call themselves poly aren’t promiscuous, they just consider it normal (for them) to not limit their love and time to just one person. Some form multiple non-connected relationships but most become one extended family.

    In the next 10-20 years I seem normalisation of this being the next big fight as acceptance of gay rights becomes a universal no-brainer.




  • Carlie

    It’s the cultural story that everyone has one special unique soulmate out there somewhere for them that creates the situation of needing to be jealous of anyone who could take that away from you that sets this up in the first place. It’s the same thing as the stupid Christian “if you give your heart away to someone else there won’t be any left for your spouse” anti-dating propaganda.

    Stephanie Coontz wrote a book called “Marriage, A History” and went through how marriages somehow because wrapped up in having to fulfill all of a person’s emotional needs; the roles formerly filled by friends, lovers, and mentors all became narrowed down into the one entity of the spouse. That makes it much more of a vulnerable relationship, because anything that might threaten it threatens not only the marriage, but the persons’s entire support system.

    Also it’s that we as a culture put sooo much emphasis on sex. If sex weren’t the huge deal it is made out to be, it wouldn’t be such a cause of jealousy if people were doing it with multiple partners. I blame the Puritans.

  • Lauren Ipsum

    I started skimming after a while, but here’s my take: I think everyone should be allowed to define for themselves how monogamous, or not, they will be. And I don’t think one size fits all. What works for you may not work for us, but so long as it works for you, it’s perfectly fine.

    I think the real virtues are communication, honesty, kindness, and respect. If you can’t be kind to your beloved and respectful of his/her/their feelings, everything else is so much hot air and posturing.

    I don’t think monogamy is inherently more virtuous than polyamory, or vice-versa. I think whatever makes the people in the relationship happy is the goal, provided nobody’s being hurt or lied to.

    • etcetera

      I think that both people in this discussion are arguing extremes while appearing to be reasonable. Polyamory is an option, as is monogamy. Given that there are a whopping 7 billion of us, you’re bound to find one (or several) people who share your ideal sexual freedoms and limitations. Mandating one choice or the other is as ridiculous as mandating that all people should have anal sex because they’ll all be happier for it.

    • cholten99

      > Polyamory is an option, as is monogamy.

      From a love and ethics point of view that’s of course true. Alas only one is recognised by most people in the street as a valid way of living – never mind by the state.

    • Chickpea

      “Bound to”? If there are one or two “ideal” partners for me in 7 billion people, I have better odds of winning the lottery!

      Google for “unicorn hunting”.

  • Chris

    I have no problem with polyamory, insofar as mutually consenting adults are concerned….in theory. I have my doubts about average individuals coping well, and the kinds of mess it could introduce into things like divorce proceedings where marriage is concerned.

    I may not be in the best position to opine, however, seeing as I have never had a significant other and in fact have actively avoided ever having a relationship.

  • http://crommunist.wordpress.com Crommunist

    Is the argument that some people should be allowed to be polyamorous, or that monogamy is a bad model? If it’s the former, then I’m on board. My beef with Jaime’s argument (and where Kelly fails to raise even the faintest objection) is the issue of trust. For many, emotional and physical intimacy are inextricably wound up with trust. This is not necessarily for reasons having to do with monogamy, but with prior experience in platonic and romantic relationships.

    Having someone remain exclusive to you is therefore a sign that they place their trust in you exclusively, allowing you to do the same. It is both emotionally pleasant and important in terms of security to have someone with whom you have reciprocal and absolute trust. When physical intimacy is a component of that kind of relationship, it is perhaps “selfish” to require fidelity from the other partner, but only in the sense that all self-preservation is selfish.

    Personally, I’m on board with polyamory. However, I can understand why others may not be, and it is not simply the imposition of a societal construct as Jaime seems to suggest.

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

      If monogamy was about learning to trust your partner, then monogamy wouldn’t look anything like monogamy looks today. Check the culture, huh? Jealousy is repeatedly asserted to be positive in a relationship, and while this is also repeatedly challenged, it is never challenged because lack of trust is anti-thetical to monogamy. It is generally challenged because of its outcomes, not its inherent qualities. There is no culture of which I am aware in which monogamy is treated throughout the culture as a special opportunity to trust completely and utterly when trusting absolutely is considered not available outside of monogamy.

      From that perspective, your argument makes no sense at all.

  • fastlane

    Daniel Schealler

    Laziness is probably the oldest vice I’ve got. I was born three weeks late. The doctor had to induce labor then drag me out with forceps.

    I feel the same way getting out of bed every morning.

    On topic:
    I think I would like and probably do better in a polyamorous relationship. I mostly happy in my currently monogamous marriage, though and plan to make it last. We have casually talked about polyamory, but the restrictions would be so high as to make it extremely unlikely to ever happen. It would have to involve one or more other couples that were also stable and committed to each other, and I suspect a commune or community property type situation would work best. We can think of exactly two other couples of all our friends that we think we might be able to live with/near.

    I think it would be a great model, in terms of costs, shared responsibility (we don’t want kids, but we wouldn’t mind sitting on occasion) and all the other things that normally are handled by a couple (and/or a plethora of contractors, when it comes to home maintenance).

  • William

    I like Jamie’s point about how possessive and selfish it is to demand monogamy. That’s actually one of the things I used to convince my girlfriend to be in an open relationship. My version was slightly different in that I didn’t use accusatory language during the talk. I think it works better if it’s phrased like “I love you and therefor would not want to deny you pleasure out of my own insecurity.” From there I discussed equality in a relationship and she was in agreement to give it a try. Using the accusatory language seems like a poor way to change someones mind on something. It just makes people get defensive and dismiss your argument outright due to anger. Of course it didn’t appear that Jamie was trying to convince Kelly that it was a good idea because they were in a relationship so the stakes weren’t as high I suppose.

    • Lauren Ipsum

      It is only “possessive and selfish to demand monogamy” IF both parties agreed on polyamory beforehand, and then LATER one party changed his/her mind and wanted to abrogate the agreement unilaterally. Or if the couple agrees on polyamory and then one person says “Oh, but I meant only for me, not for you.” (There are a few other exceptions, but Dan Savage covers those pretty well.)

      If two people in a relationship both want and feel comfortable with monogamy, how is that selfish, possessive, or demanding?

    • William

      Dan Savage has some great stuff on this. I’m a big fan of his. I think that the key word that differentiates what I’m saying from your point on a mutually monogamous relationship is my use of the word “demand”. I was describing the action of demanding something from someone else so the situation I was referring to was not one of mutually agreed upon monogamy.

      I do think that if both parties agree to monogamy in the beginning and then one of them changes their mind and is up front about it that the other one is being selfish and possessive to tell them they can’t. Even if they are justified in that because they went in expecting one thing and got another, I think at its base level it is still possessive and selfish. I am concerned that it seems like I’m making out the one who wants to stay monogamous to be a villain and I’m trying not to do that. Neither one of them should have to stay in a relationship if it makes them unhappy but I think that once the option of ending the social contract is used by the monogamy proponent it does become possessive and selfish at that moment.

      Certainly the one changing his or her mind is being selfish as well but not possessive. They have laid out a scenario to the monogamy proponent where, if they won’t budge on their position, they must choose between making their partner unhappy and staying in the relationship or ending the social contract.

  • cholten99

    > IF both parties agreed on polyamory beforehand, and then LATER
    > one party changed his/her mind and wanted to abrogate the
    > agreement unilaterally.

    If someone is in a monogamous relationship and they fall in love with someone else (which we can see from statistics on cheating and divorce happens every day) they have two choices. Either they can break up with their partner causing them both grief – as they are still in love with their partner, or they can ask their partner in full open honesty what they feel about their sharing their love with someone else.

    > Or if the couple agrees on polyamory and then one person says
    > “Oh, but I meant only for me, not for you.”

    Then that person is a git and not worthy of being someone’s partner.

    > If two people in a relationship both want and feel comfortable
    > with monogamy, how is that selfish, possessive, or demanding?

    Er, it’s not? If people are happy how they are then it’s certainly not for anyone outside of their relationship to say it’s wrong.

  • pajamapaati

    I’m new to this blog and to poly so allow for – and please excuse – a certain amount of gauche ignorance and possibly zeal-of-the-convert.

    A few random points:

    1. I think there’s an ambiguity in the way people use the word ‘monogamy’.

    It can be used to describe relationships in which the two partners *do* only have sex with each other.

    Or it can be used to describe an ideology in which people *should* only have sexual relationships of the above kind.

    Some people commenting above seem to be saying ‘monogamy suits me’ implying they choose a mono (in the first sense) relationship. Poly people may also choose to be in mono-in-the-choice-sense relationships: I think poly is more a matter of choosing and being open about it, than about the actual number of people one has sex with.

    By contrast some people – I don’t think there were any here – think that the ideological version of monogamy should be imposed on everybody. In my jaundiced view these tend to be religious types who are often anti-choice in other matters too.

    Maybe we should have different words for each type, or a convention like monogamy = description, Monogamy = ideology.

    2. I think one definite benefit of the poly attitude, even if one chooses to do mono-with-a-small-em, is this:

    When I fall into a love relationship with someone they bring things to my life that I didn’t have before, but wanted.

    Over time I get to take those things rather for granted and notice the things that they *don’t* bring, that I still want. If I’ve bought into Mono-as-ideology I then start to resent them for the things I don’t get from them, because I’m not allowed to get them anywhere else.

    But if I take a poly attitude that’s not an issue: I’m free to – and it’s my responsibility to – find those things elsewhere. I may choose not to – maybe it’s not worth the effort for the gain involved – and so in practice I’m still mono-small-em, but removing the Mono-ideology restriction defuses that potential resentment of my lover.

    3. There’s an idea peddled along with Mono-ideology that somewhere our One True Love is waiting for us, and if our current relationship isn’t delivering everything we want it can’t be The One so we should dump it and start looking again. I think the One True Love idea requires the same sort of faith devoid of evidence as belief in God. Could they by chance be related?

  • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    This whole argument misses the point of polyamory by a mile. It’s not, “why can’t I have more joy/ sex?” For me and for the vast majority of people in poly it is this: Monogamy (ideological monogamy) creates a situation in which love, connection, support, and a number of other things, but let’s take for the moment love, is a dangerous thing, inherently problematic, which must be restrained – caged, if you will – within a certain, specific environment. While existing within that environment, it can be a great benefit. However, if it exists outside of that environment, it is dangerous. We must be forever on guard against the escape of love. We must beat love to death wherever we find it, if not in a spouse, for as long as we live.

    It is impossible to contain this attitude about love to the monogamous relationship, because the loves that must be beat to death all exist outside the monogamous relationship. Therefore, Monogamy is required. This ideological project, Monogamy, opposes the freedom of others to follow polyamory because the existence of people who promote love outside of the familiar, tight constraints may accidentally cause love to grow within someone in a monogamous relationship. Therefore, the polyamory of some is the business of the Monogamous majority. This is the Monogamy that must be fought and this is the primary reason it must be fought.

    Finally, your friendship example is also far off the mark. The better comparison is children. A relationship with a child is special Part of what makes it so is the involvement in the development of that child, the observation and guidance of that process by the parent. If a parent voluntarily has more than one child, that parent necessarily splits limited attention & time among more children. This dilutes the specialness of the parent-child bond because it actively limits the ability of the parent to do parenting. Also, it makes the relationship non-unique. But part of what is supposed to be special about the parent-child bond is that it is unique. So now what? Do we forbid polyprocreation?

    NOW have a conversation about that!