An Atheist’s Take on Sex and Monogamy

sexsymbolsSome people seem to think that the most important thing about you is what you do with your genitals.  I disagree.  On the other hand (heh), it’s not inconsequential, either.  Hang with me for a bit here and I’ll try to explain what I mean.

Like most men, I’ve given sex a great deal of thought.  When I was a Christian, I was told two memorable things about that:  1)  That’s bad, somehow, and 2) Women don’t think about sex or want it nearly as much as men do (more on that later).  I was told that thinking a lot about sex (or wanting it often) is bad because it represents skewed priorities. There is an (albeit unspoken) acceptable level of sexual desire and interest above which anything else is considered unhealthy and even immoral.  This prejudice goes back many, many years for Christianity, and it is rooted in a dualism that almost certainly arose from its Greco-Roman philosophical context.

Of all the ancient gods, Yahweh seemed inordinately interested in what happens to the penis. Reading back through the Old Testament, there’s quite a lot of talk about what you should and shouldn’t do with it and even what it should look like.  In fact, the shape of the male member was so important to Yahweh that it became the national identity marker for the people of Israel (that and eating kosher).  But somewhere between Jesus and Paul this changed.  Jesus suggested we shouldn’t be so concerned about what kinds of food we eat and Paul went on to say it didn’t matter how you wore your Johnson (turtleneck vs. crew cut).  But neither of them released their grip on the subject of sex itself.

I find this ironic, because it was Jesus himself who introduced a major paradigm shift by suggesting that what goes into your body doesn’t make you unclean (try telling that to a young Southern Baptist who has just broken her True Love Waits promise).  Apparently this logic only works for one orifice and not the others.  You would think that by extension this would also mean what you put your body into likewise doesn’t make you unclean.  But to hear Paul talk, it sounds like what you do with your genitals permanently alters you and can even determine your eternal destiny.  I find this terribly inconsistent.  The best explanation for it that I can come up with is that Paul (who was more influential in early Christianity than even the historical Jesus) absorbed the dualism of his cultural surroundings and developed a kind of self-denying asceticism which looked down on sex itself as a distraction from the things of the spirit (to see what I mean, check out 1 Cor. 9:27 and 1 Cor. 7:32-35).

Looking back it seems that for most of the church’s history, the Christian view of sexuality was formulated by unmarried men.  You start with Jesus and Paul, but then over the centuries after that you have priests and monks dictating how the church thinks and talks (or doesn’t talk) about sexuality.  I suppose it’s no wonder then that, for most of Christian history, sex has been treated like a necessary evil.  Some early theologians even taught that sex was the original sin (despite the fact that the first command of Yahweh was to “be fruitful and multiply”).  The leaders of the church were expected to be celibate both because it freed them from the concerns of caring for a family and because it theoretically kept them from indulging in the more fleshly pleasures of this life (we can thank Paul for both of those concerns).  Obviously if they were to be consistent with that thinking, like the Shakers of the 18th century the Christian faith would have just died off long ago.  Instead the church developed a purely functional attitude towards sex:  You gotta have it or else we’ll become extinct, but you should only have it in order to keep that from happening.  Outside of that purpose, all other sex is illegitimate.

Whatever the origin of this awkward uncomfortability with all things sexual, this has lately become one of the things which evangelicals have been working to overcome. There has even been a movement towards a relatively sex-positive Christian culture wherein pastors and bloggers are becoming more open about their own sex lives, more openly and deliberately celebrating the marital bed (always within certain proscribed constraints, of course…and no, I don’t mean those kinds).  Usually that takes the form of the obligatory periodic Facebook or Twitter reference to one’s “smokin’ hot wife,” but for some it even extends to writing whole books about sex or even preaching sermons from on top of a bed relocated right onto the stage of the worship auditorium.  While some of these attempts are positively cringeworthy, we should at least be happy to see them taking baby steps toward undoing centuries of bad form on the part of the Christian church.  They’ve got an awful long way to go, I’m afraid.  But it’s a start.

Most of these overtures toward celebrating sex have come from ministers hoping to reclaim some of the cultural relevance that the evangelical church has been losing over the last two or three decades.  Consequently, even those forays into “Christian sexuality” have been male-centered, adhering quite faithfully to traditional stereotypes about male desire versus female disinterest in sex.  I was once informed by a locally popular Christian counselor that women just don’t think about sex as much as men do.  He further opined that women aren’t visually stimulated in the way that men are, and that the only ones who report otherwise have been misled by “the world” into thinking incorrectly about themselves and their own desires.  After suppressing no small admixture of laughter and contempt, I challenged his facile generalizations and asked what percentage of women he believes masturbate on a regular basis.  “Fifteen, maybe twenty percent” was his answer.  My response:  “I see…and you read this where?”  The subject was quickly changed and I was subtly faulted for bringing it up in the first place.

As you can imagine, anyone coming out of this context into a wider world will carry a great deal of baggage where sexual norms are concerned.  It can take years to work through the personal issues you come away with, and some may never shake the ghosts of their upbringing.  Few things can pile on guilt as effectively as the moral expectations surrounding sex.  How to raise your children “right” might come in a close second—it’s hard to say.  But leaving the Christian faith opens up a world of questions for which there aren’t neat and tidy answers.  How should we view sex?  What kinds of sex are healthy, and what kinds aren’t?  Is monogamy the only way?  Is it the best way?  And what about same-sex relationships?  On and on it goes.  Incidentally, there’s no way I could do all those questions justice in one single blog post.   I should also point out that this post is entitled “AN atheist’s take” and not “THE atheist’s take” because there’s no such thing as THE atheist’s view on anything.  And I mean anything.  Having said that, I would like to address two of those questions and see where it goes from there.

IS MONOGAMY NATURAL?  AND IS IT THE BEST WAY?

I ask “Is monogamy natural?” not because I think that’s the right place to begin, but rather because that’s the way the question is often framed.  The answer depends on what you mean.  Biologically speaking, I see nothing which limits a person’s sexual partners to one individual.  There is no apparent intelligent design which dictates that one male and one female should be partnered for life.  On the contrary, among all animals we seem biologically wired to want the most sex with as many different partners as possible.  Some animals can only conceive during a brief season of the year, while human are ready every single month.  The sheer number of sperm produced by human males is astounding.  We seem genetically wired to want and seek coitus on an almost daily basis.  I could go on and on about this but I don’t want to get sidetracked into a biology lesson.  Biologically speaking, our bodies are aroused by members of the opposite sex (or of the same sex, or both) without reference to marital relationship or monogamous commitment (and that goes for males and females alike).  Quite the opposite, since novelty lies at the heart of much sexual stimulation, one could argue that the most “natural” thing is to have sex with as many new partners as is possible.  From a physical standpoint, monogamy is not natural at all.

But of all animals, humans are the most complex.  While a wolf may growl, grunt, bark, or howl, a human will learn and use thousands words in his or her lifetime, combining them in ever-changing and more complicated arrangements.  A bird may sing dozens of songs comprised of a long series of single notes, but humans will compose and orchestrate entire symphonies which can last hours and use dozens of instruments designed to simultaneously play complex and varied chords, each in harmony with the other.  And while our bodies naturally heal themselves of many diseases and afflictions, modern medicine and technology have enabled us to improve upon nature in so many ways that it’s no longer merely a question of what’s “natural” for us.  Sometimes nature can be improved upon.

When we become angry, the “natural” thing to do would be to grab a stick and bludgeon our opponent until he is unconscious.  The physiological precursors to this are still there: the raised blood pressure, the increased heart rate, the clenched fist, even the bared teeth.  Sometimes it even makes us feel better to go and hit something if we can’t resolve our differences through dialogue and mutual understanding.  But we have developed very sophisticated and civilized systems of conflict resolution in order to prevent brutish violence from ruling our species as it does so many others.  One could argue that these methods aren’t “natural,” but they are preferable because they move us toward a way of life which better fits what we want to see.  They are more humane, as we like to say.

A similar argument could be made for monogamous relationships, couldn’t it?  One could argue (as many have) that long-term commitment to one other person brings certain benefits (especially for the raising of children) which could not be gotten any other way.  I believe there is a good deal of sense in that, although I personally see no reason why “one person only…for life” should be the default.   Coupling in general seems quite natural to our species (both hetero- and homo-), but there are many kinds of coupling, each carrying its own strengths and weaknesses.  Besides lifelong, exclusive monogamy, there is also serial monogamy.  In addition, you’ve also got open monogamy (sometimes called “monogamish” relationships) as well as polyamory, and even fully open relationships.  I think that each should be considered on its own merits, taking care that we do not simply carry over all the prejudices of our religious upbringing, regurgitating them with automatic imitation.

As a grown man finally removed from the religion of my youth, I now see that the Christian faith did me a great disservice by piling so much guilt on me (along with every one else) about sex.  It was bad that I wanted to experiment with it as a teenager; it was bad that in college I could hardly keep my hands to myself.  Come to think of it, “keeping my hands to myself” sounds like something else that was off limits according to my Baptist upbringing.  Sexual desire, according to Christian teaching, is supposed to be for only one person for life.  And in order to act on that, you must first commit to a legally-binding contractual relationship with that other person and there can be no expiration date excepting only that moment when one of you dies.  Forgive me, but is this really the best we can do?  And should we really be allowing 21-year-olds to make lifelong commitments to anything?  I don’t know about you, but I cringe at what I believed when I was 21 years old.  I hadn’t even figured out who I was at that age.  Sometimes I think offering a lifelong commitment at that age is false advertising because we don’t even know yet what we are committing ourselves to—we are still in the early stages of becoming who we will be.  A person will change and grow in many different phases over the course of his or her life, and as long as the husband or wife can flex and change alongside his or her spouse, this can work fine. For many it will not.  For those who make it work, more power to them!  I know many people who have remained happily married for the duration of their adult lives, even amidst major life changes.  When that works, it can be quite beautiful.

Surely there is value to a steady, stable home in which children can grow and mature with the assurance that both parents will be there—together—to support them as they grow up.  In our tribal past, the nuclear family was likely less crucial because of how interconnected all the members of the tribe and extended family were.  But today in suburbia we have cocooned ourselves into “bedroom communities” which are often separated from our extended families by thousands of miles, and from our next-door neighbors by privacy fences and closed doors.  In such a disjointed environment, the nuclear family becomes significantly more important, which I guess partially explains why modern American conservatives have become so “focused on the family.”  In time, they’ve even learned to superimpose this modern family structure on the Bible itself (which is a real trick since you can hardly find anything comparable in the Ancient Near East).  They easily gloss over the polygamous relationships of several key figures in the Bible, and they don’t seem to notice the disdain for marriage and family which both Jesus and Paul seem to have harbored (Luke 14:26; Matt. 12:46-50; 1 Cor. 7:32-35).  Sometimes I think I get why they’re trying to do this.  My contention, however, is that they are piling too many expectations and limitations on the institution of marriage until it becomes something which many cannot live with for very long.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

We need some fresh thinking about both marriage and fidelity.  Personally, I do not feel that sexual exclusivity should be so central to our relationships as it has become in our culture.  There is tremendous social pressure from centuries of momentum, moving like a train on a track in only one direction.  But this train is starting to derail, and it’s time to think a little more deeply about the nature of relational commitment, and of the centrality of sexual contact within that commitment.  There are other ways of viewing love, marriage, and sex.  I think we could benefit a great deal from being more willing to openly talk about these things without being so quick to judge one another for our choices.

I know of some couples (some married, some not) who spend almost all of their free time together, and who primarily focus their sexual energies on each other (for this does in fact bring a kind of intensity and intimacy which only a long-term commitment could bring). But they also reserve the right to occasionally “play around” when the opportunity arises, perhaps on a business trip, or during a night out on the town with friends. Parameters are set, and certain boundaries are always maintained.  They know what their limits are because they’ve discussed them with each other and have reached a mutual understanding with one another about what they need from each other. Expectations are clear, and feelings are protected because one thing they all agree on is that they love and care for one another, and that they will not do anything which harms the other or makes him or her feel less safe.  Personally, I think this is fantastic.

Couples who dabble in various form of “openness” will deal with insecurities, but that’s nothing new.  Exclusively monogamous married couples deal with the same issues.  The main difference is that while many of them will have to lie and cover up their “extracurricular activities,” couples in other kinds of relationships can be more open and honest about what they can expect from each other in this department.  As long as expectations are clear and all parties involved share a common understanding, there are so many more possibilities out there.  Many of them can enrich and even stabilize the primary relationships in ways you might not automatically expect.

As I’ve argued, humans are complex, and at times our emotional connection to sex can be very powerful, although frankly at other times the connection can be virtually nonexistent. Oh, and by the way, you know that spiel that youth ministers always give about sex being like super glue, somehow mystically fusing people’s souls together?  Forgive me, but that’s total B.S.  It’s my observation that the people who believe that are people who have only had sex with one person their whole life.  Sex can be deep, moving, and passionate, or it can be playful, lighthearted and pure entertainment. Sometimes it is tender and intimate; other times it is raw and primal.  It’s all good.  Seriously. Just like anything else we humans do, we tend to make the most of it and find ways of pushing it much farther than our evolutionary cousins ever could have understood.  

Time will tell how these arrangements measure up against the exclusive monogamy model, although first we will have to decide what determines whether or not a relationship has been “successful” in the first place.  Some would surely like to use the monogamous model as the yardstick (He who dies with the same spouse wins) but who says that’s what we have to do?  Others would say let’s do whatever is “best for the kids,” but again, who gets to determine what that looks like?  It seems to me that consistency in the home is a good thing for everyone involved, assuming a certain amount of healthy relationships are in place there already.  But that doesn’t mean you have to pile on every expectation that goes along with 20th-century evangelical Christian wedlock.  Let’s be a little more open minded here.

What do you think?  How does this all strike you?

About Neil Carter

Neil Carter is a high school Geometry teacher, a tutor, a swim coach, a father of five children, and a skeptic living in the Bible Belt. A former church elder with a seminary education, Neil mostly writes now about the struggles of former evangelicals living in the midst of a highly religious subculture.

  • Mary

    Mark Driscoll (who has the ear of thousands) straight up condemned a woman of sin for having refused her husband fellatio. and then, he tells her that she should go home. . . “And then you need to drop his trousers, and you need to serve your husband. And when he asks why, say, ‘Because I’m a repentant woman. God has changed my heart and I’m supposed to be a biblical wife.’” Later he adds that if your husband is not a believer, doing this for him is sure to work better on converting him than evangelical tracts are. Wow, what blatant attempts the religious make to put women in “their place”. They teach women to feel guilty for not giving oral sex to their husbands and teach them to give fellatio freely because “it’s biblical”. What perfect bait to draw in male members! Send them home from church with a wife who’s freshly programmed to give her husband a repentant, servant-like blow job. Those are some bennies! More committed men means more tithing members, therefore more church income, more power, more material wealth, more recognition, more glory.

    • http://thunderhawkbolt.wordpress.com thunderhawkbolt

      “What perfect bait to draw in male members!”

      ****letting this go with minimal comment and no crudeness… though it is a very tough thing to do****

      I’m a little surprised he would do that; doesn’t oral sex fit under the technical definition of sodomy?

      • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

        LOL.

      • http://puddinsilovemylife.blogspot.com/ Tonya Richard

        From what I learned as a young adult, yes! Oral sex was a big no no LOL

        • Bonnie

          I had a mormon professor ‘religious marriage’, tell us it fell under the ‘unnatural’ category and was a BIG no no. The newly wed men in the class were all in an uproar…. their wives quietly smirking.

    • http://niceatheist.com Charity

      Agreed, Mary. It all seems to lead back to supporting Church not Jesus. After all, it’s kind of difficult to pray with a dick in your mouth.

  • mikespeir

    I have reservations about this opinion, but have found discussing it forthrightly problematic. Usually, it’s broached by someone with a position to defend and who will fervently defend it to the end. One tends to get shouted down when one points out the pitfalls.

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      I’m sure. Although this is as good a place as any to have such a discussion. However the article seems to sound, I don’t have a position to defend other than that we need not adhere to the evangelical Christian view simply because it’s how we were raised.

  • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

    This is a very honest look at sexuality post faith. As a father of three daughters, and also post faith, I struggle to differentiate my own thoughts from the ones drilled into me about sexuality. As a marriage and family therapist, I am keenly aware of the various types of sexual, financial and life commitments people make with each other, and the struggles people have in all those arrangements. I am certainly glad we don’t have the first biblical model where marriage was a contract between families and men had many wives and concubines. It seems king Solomon would agree with you on monogamy! I feel exactly the same way you do about openness in coupling, but also think there would be value in studying the psychological effects this might have on couples primary relationships long term. And lets face it, Mark Driscoll is an MMA fighter with a microphone who just wants a blow job from everyone. I predict one day he will fall from grace, likely from a promiscuous blow job. Now, where do I put my keys? (Bad joke, I know).

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      I have lower regard for that man than I would openly admit for almost anyone. In his case, however, I would openly admit it.

      Do you counsel any couples in open/semi-open relationships?

      • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

        Yes, I have. Of course, most couples come to see a therapist after years of growing apart. I havent had any polyamory, but swingers, semi-swingers, open etc. It is more common among younger couples now days.

      • mikespeir

        I’d like to see a study that evaluates how long these “open” relationships last. In one discussion on this subject I asked about that and my correspondent came back with, “What’s so great about stability?” To my mind that evinced such a startling lack of insight into human nature that I bowed out of the conversation immediately. I couldn’t imagine what might be accomplished by continuing.

      • http://Www.chasingblackswans.com Christian

        @ mike, there are plenty of studies that demonstrate that manifold alone does not guarantee stability. In fact, most of the research on marriage list fidelity or infidelity a much lower factor in separation and divorce than public inuitions might lead us to believe. That ofcourse does not mean open relationships are better by default, just that appealing to monogamy for stability in relationships is not supported. It’s not that it is not relevant by that it is secondary to patterns of interaction and feelings of friendship. In either open or monogamous relationships, these are more potent factors for stability.

      • http://Www.chasingblackswans.com Christian

        @ mike, there are plenty of studies that demonstrate that manogamy alone does not guarantee stability. In fact, most of the research on marriage list fidelity or infidelity a much lower factor in separation and divorce than public inuitions might lead us to believe. That ofcourse does not mean open relationships are better by default, just that appealing to monogamy for stability in relationships is not supported. It’s not that it is not relevant by that it is secondary to patterns of interaction and feelings of friendship. In either open or monogamous relationships, these are more potent factors for stability.

      • mikespeir

        Can you point me to some of these studies, Christian? BTW, what I was wondering about was how long non-monogamous relationships last. How does their longevity compare with that of monogamous relationships? I realize your response was tangentially related to that issue, but it’s not really quite an answer.

      • http://www.chasingblackswans.com Christian

        @ mike, I understand. I think I was answering that way because I’m not aware of as much research on open relationships, and the inference that the opposite (monogamous) might be “better. I think I can safely say that coupling relationships are so many parts, sexuality being one and from the research I’ve seen, not as important as other factors for satisfaction. John Gottman has done the longest research on couple relationships follwing some couples for 40+ years and says men benefit from monogamy more than women in terms of healthand compnionship. Check his work out. I think it something like only 20-27% cited affairs (infidelity) as a factor for divorce. The theme in his work focuses on couple interactions as the main factor in long term satisfaction. I did find, in a very limited search, a PHD study on polyamory. (http://www.ejhs.org/volume8/cook1.htm). In a cursory view, it seems many of the same non-sexual related factors where important for those relationships too. In other words, whatever the status of a couples arrangement for their sex life, there are so many other complex factors that determine relationship satisfaction and therefore long term stability, long term committment and togetherness. I don’t think one is “better”, which I think that is what Christian religion would like you to believe, despite the backdrop of most of the heroes in the bible getting to bed many more than one women.

      • mikespeir

        It is an exceedingly complicated subject. I’ve been intrigued by peoples like the Zo’é of the Amazon basin and the Na on the border of China and Tibet, both of whose sexual mores are strikingly different from our own. And apparenly their systems work for them. Now, whether they could work for us is quite another matter. I could guess, but it would only be a guess.

      • Kerry

        I stayed in a marriage for 24 years…until our youngest was old enough to be on his own. My ex-wife was not the love of my life, that would have been the Catholic girl I had dated previously, but to bring home a catholic girl would have been certain death from my father. I chose the next best, but unfortunately I did not marry for love. Big mistake! I was fundamental christina in those days, and today I am free!!! My oldest daughter who went through 12 years of christian school, but secular university, has followed me in her own way and is what could be termed a “hippie” today. I love her and she is doing great. My second daughter who followed more in the church way, wrote me a letter one day asking about moving in with her boyfriend. I knew her mother would have none of such unchristian behavior, but since I lived in Asia at the time, there was not much comfort I could give. I suggested that she was an adult, 24 at the time, and as such, she should choose what was right for her….BUT I suggested she also not burn her bridge to her mother because when she was done with the guy in 3/4 months, she would need a place to go back to. I could not have been more clairvoyant, as she returned home after 4 months.

        I said all of this to say my thinking on these issues has greatly changed and I believe I am much more balanced. I should add that my son is a Marine today and I have an agreement with him that when he finds the girl he in madly in love with and wants to get married, he must first go to Thailand with me for 10 days. If he is still madly in love with the girl after those 10 days, he needs to marry her!!! Now that is cdertainly not the way I was raised.

        Enjoyed your post

  • http://atheistthink.wordpress.com atheistthink

    Such good points on the strange concern with sexual intimacy in religion. I personally believe this type of repression can only go poorly, as we have witnessed in the many priest child molestation cases. A terrible act indeed but it could be initiated by this lifestyle.

  • K. K.

    I’ve understood your ideas to be that if religion were taken out of the picture or loosened its grip; and if adults were able to both experiment with and create whatever sexual arrangements they find comfortable or best suited to their subjective desires without unreasonably negative consequences; then, could people form new, subjective conceptions of sexual health that work better for them?

    As long as children are brought up to believe in whatever religious rules, the ideas of sexual freedom or subjectively adopted sexuality as healthy (defined by those involved), will not be immediately, if ever, accepted by those indoctrinated otherwise (from childhood) – except for the very rare exceptions. This would be the case even if the sexuality they desire (or may not be aware they desire) were available to them, and even without significant social rejection. From the standpoint of a former Christian southern girl, the sexual limits set by churches and Bible belt culture nevertheless becomes hard-wired into even the smartest person. Guilt becomes an issue for anyone intelligent enough to question and veer from the “expectations”, and social rejection is often a given that affects any who deviate in various degrees.

    It seems to me the only way to realistically cultivate a society of rational beings who might have a chance at experiencing what could be radically different versions of sexual health, would be first to eradicate religion on a widespread scale. Children would have to grow up in relatively happy and/or semi-respected households that were examples of other ways of living. For example, if a family consisted of three lesbian moms, the child’s development into an adult sexual being may be influenced by whether his or her family was nurturing along with feelings that they had acceptance/rejection in their community. Shame and guilt are powerful social forces.

    Core belief systems would have to be transformed en masse for society to accept variable relationships. Not only that -which is such a huge order it could not possibly happen in our generation – but then these variable arrangements would also have to be tested and proven not to detract from friendships and other socially familiar relationships; or proven in many other ways not to cause worse problems – even possibly how power structures’ bank accounts may be affected (and to what lengths affected parties might undertake to achieve their ends).

    All other arguments that could be derived from ideas of non-traditional sexual lives that work would seem only to exist as much as they were compared to cultural/religious expectations and laws. The ability to label any sexual life as alternative goes only as far as the alternative sexual approach can be compared to a baseline of cultural norms (Christian, Muslim, what is legal, or whatever).

    Other than the above ideas, surely anyone in a free country is free to try anything they want but that doesn’t mean it won’t have negative consequences in the current cultural environment. And the current cultural environment must undergo radical transformation for any large societal group to accept people’s idiosyncratic, creative, albeit potentially healthy, modes of sexual relationship.

    Economic factors play an enormous role. Whereas fear of a vengeful god may be eradicated, fear of a breadwinner or employee leaving may be even more powerful.

  • http://niceatheist.com Charity

    Such Puritan thinking in church is usually directed to teenagers and grown women. They seem to think we’re still in the Victorian era.

  • http://sybaritica.wordpress.com sybaritica

    ‘For the women shall remain silent in the churches… Oh, and give blow-jobs’

    Timothy 27:13

  • carmen

    Let me get this straight, you’re asking us to take a position on sex acts? . .. smile. . .

    • mikespeir

      ON sex acts, not FOR sex acts. It’s a simple confusion of prepositions, that’s all. Either that or you’re being naughty. ;-)

  • http://www.livingthekingdom.wordpress.com Noel

    I personally value monogamy… not necessarily because I was raised in the Catholic church (which I am no longer member of) but because I came from a broken family as a result of divorce. I understand how open relationships can be appealing, particularly because it yields to our natural tendencies, but nature is not always peaceful and beneficial. I am moderate in a lot of social issues, but when it comes to marriage, I tend to prefer a stable, long lasting relationship. I have had ups and downs during my own marriage of 14 years, but in the long run, I have seen the benefit of remaining faithful to my wife. Others may not have the same experience and would prefer a less traditional perspective on marriage, and I can accept that. Interesting topic.

    • mikespeir

      I think it needs to be stressed here that it’s not only religion that’s behind monogamy. It may just be good sense.

  • http://www.reddirtmettle.wordpress.com Kora

    @mikespeir I don’t have any studies on long term open relationships, but I’ve been in one for 20 years. It’s worked really well for us. We discussed our options and needs early on in our relationship and we only engage in other relationships when both of us are comfortable with it. We have never had issues with either us being insecure. We’re very satisfied with out arrangement.

    • mikespeir

      That’s interesting. I also need to keep in mind that even if your experience is an anomaly, it may not necessarily be because there’s anything inherently unstable in that kind of arrangement. Society as a whole isn’t going to be very supportive, to say the least. It would be difficult to overcome that negative pressure.

      • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

        …like you are applying right now?

      • mikespeir

        Well, I don’t mean to. On the contrary, I’ve refrained from arguing against your thesis. Believe it or not, I am open to being persuaded. Myself, I would never practice anything but monogamy. I couldn’t. It’s hard for me to see how it’s a good idea. Still, as I mentioned above, there are whole cultures whose mores as quite different and whose people seem to thrive within them. I realize my inititial aversion comes of conditioning. But sometimes it’s good to listen to people whose biases oppose our own, if for no other reason than that they’re free of our biases.

  • http://www.reddirtmettle.wordpress.com Kora

    LOL, actually we don’t feel any negative pressure toward our life style in the sense of monogamy. I find peoples response to finding out the terms on which we have an open relationship to be more sexist then anything else. Which for the most part I just find slightly annoying.

    But I do know that my boyfriend frequently feels pressured for us to get married. We’ve been together 20 years people either assume we are married or would give up a right arm to convince us we should get on with the wedding already. I have no religious beliefs or legal reasons to why I would consider marriage so it’s a non issue for me. So I feel no reason or pressures toward it.

    I should say this .. I live in Oklahoma, I train and live around a lot of men and women who in general belief in God, marriage and the fact that women’s place is in having and serving a family. Me I don’t believe God or marriage, and I think women should always be equal and in control of their own lives and sexuality. The fact that I’m 40, unmarried, with two kids, I’m bisexual and being very open about my sexuality and opinions is just icing on the damnation cake where I live. Yet I still don’t feel socially pressured to live any other way. I’m very secure and confident in who I am and how I choose to live. Social pressures are something we can all choose or choose not to respond to. I feel the same way when someone says hey you should get married as I do when when my friends say hey you wanna go get a big mac? I hate fast food.. despite the fact that all my friends love it I’m never tempted or pressured to go get one. (Sorry Mcdonalds.. just not my thing.)

    As far as stability in a relationship like ours. I really don’t think it’s any different then anyone else’s. If anything it might be a little better because we probably communicate more then the average couple.

  • http://allsports.usana.com Michael

    Kora made two important points that could be the topics of entire posts and discussions.

    The first point: “we probably communicate more [than] the average couple.”

    I challenge the readership with the idea that communication about what each person in the relationship expects from the other(s) and who is going to be responsible for what is the number one deciding factor in whether a relationship is happy and healthy or dysfunctional and sad.

    The second point: “Social pressures are something we can all choose or choose not to respond to.”

    To quote Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

  • Kerry

    I live in Taiwan presently and my second wife is Taiwanese. I work on the mainland of China and so travel there almost every week for several days. Marriage is viewed quite differently in Asia. One day after returning to Taiwan, my wife casually asked me if I had “a lady” on the Mainland. I was a little taken back by the question, but it was not accusatory. It was a simple inquiry. I respond that I did not, nor was I interested in such an arrangement. The reason for the question is that many many men from Taiwan who work in China DO have “ladies” on the Mainland, and it is “acceptable.” I don’t want to state that all women endorse this arrangement, but they just recognize it as the reality of life. It is interesting. Our discussion that evening was informative and refreshing. I could never have had that kind of conversation during my christian days.

  • zsc

    Whenever my monogamous friends say that my polyamory seems like too much “work” I just chuckle to myself, because I know whenever there are relationships with fallible human beings, there is “work” involved, be it one or…four.

    Also, I’m young, in my early 20s, and an atheist who left Eastern Orthodoxy. Whenever I see an engagement announcement on Facebook from my still Orthodox friends (also in their early 20s), I always wonder whether they are getting married because they want to commit to each other or because they just really want to have sex guilt-free. That may be unfair of me, but we were taught that the ideal life was the married one. I have nothing but respect for the institution of marriage, but I am so grateful that I don’t feel that way anymore. Life seemed so narrow when you were literally rushing to the altar faster than you were rushing to your graduation ceremony.

  • Bonnie

    My husband and I are agnostic and we have discussed polygamy. Truthfully, I see it as an easier set up for me, help with the housework, kids, meals and some one else to chip in because my husbands sex drive is hard to keep up with. The only two things that have stopped us from seriously pursuing it are 1) I’m worried about feeling competitive/jealous/betrayed and 2) our families would disown us to say the least. If we grew up in a culture that was accepting of this lifestyle there is no doubt in my mind we would practice polygamy.


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