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Monogamy is a sub-set of polyamory March 2, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: ,

There are certainly many people out there who are not practicing polyamory, right?  I mean, many people are not in relationships with more than one person.  People may date a few people while they look for “the one,” but ultimately, most people choose one person to be exclusive with.  Monogamy, is, therefore the norm.  Only aberrant people are polyamorous, right?

Well, not really.

First of all, allow me to clarify a few things.

Relationsips are not all about sex.

Yes, some relationships are all about sex, like the relationship one might have with a prostitute for an hour or so.  But outside of that and the occasional sexual tryst at the office or whatever, relationships have more dimensions than that.  Relationships are about common interests, goals, possibly emotional attachment, etc.  And yes, sex too.  But not always.

When we talk about ‘relationships,’ we tend to mean interactions with people we have romantic and/or sexual feelings for.  And unless the people involved are saving themselves sexually (and I don’t know why anyone chooses to do so, but I digress), sex is usually involved in such relationships.  But these types of relationships are one specific kind, and certainly not the rule.  Statistically speaking, in fact, they are the exception.  Most of our relationships are non-sexual, whether they are professional, educational, friendships, or based upon mutual animosity (everyone needs an arch-enemy, right?).

So, when we talk about relationships in general, we are simply meaning the set of interactions between people, some of which are based upon things like mutual sexual, emotional, and interest commonalities. Or, again, they might be based on mutual animosity.

Polyamory is not all about sex (but I repeat myself…)

I know people who are in deeply meaningful, intimate, and long-standing relationships who have never had sex.  You probably do as well.  But more specifically, I know people who are in polyamorous situations where one of their partners is not a sex partner.  That simply is not what those people need or want from each other, and they get that elsewhere.  But when I talk about polyamory with people, what seems to be discussed more often than not is how I can let my girlfriend (As if it’s up to me to allow her to do anything…) have other sex partners.  Further, how can my girlfriend allow me (as if she has to allow me to do anything) allow me to have other sexual partners.  In short, how can we be so slutty?

But this misses the point.  Polyamory is not just about sexual non-exclusivity.  It is about recognizing that we, as human beings with complicated and disparate needs, cannot have all of our needs met via one person.  I may like to play Starcraft (I do) and perhaps my girlfriend does not want to play (in this case she does, but that’s not the point).  She may like to be tied down and beaten a little, and I might not want to do that (whether or not either of these things is the case I’ll leave to your curiosity, because I’m that kind of sadist…and then of course I hint at the answer…maybe).  The point is that perhaps we have some needs that our partner cannot fulfill.  It seems perfectly natural that we would find another person to fulfill such needs.  People have relationships with many people that fill different roles in our lives, and we care about many of these people.

And we all do this (at least I hope that we do!).  But in the normal world out there we, for some reason that is not entirely clear to me, make a distinction between our ‘relationship’ and our friends/acquaintances/family.  Now, to some point this is because of the cultural language game that we play, and the term ‘relationship’ has this specific meaning and most people use it that way.  But I think that this language game begins to lose coherence as we start to analyze actual structure of people’s lives and what we do with our relationships of all kinds.  The more that ideas like swinging, polyamory, and other challenges to the assumed sexual exclusive (“monogamous”) relationship become part of the cultural conversation, the more this dichotomy between our “relationships” and our friends dissolves.  It certainly has dissolved for me.

So, polyamory is about developing intimate relationships with people whom we care about, and this recognition that we have complex and disparate needs often leads to sexual non-exclusivity.  And some people will find that they are able to be fulfilled sexually with one person (at least at a time), while maintaining other non-sexual relationships with other people.  And since polyamory is not just about sex, this arrangement can be called polyamory just as well as a triad, a quad, or some other sexual relationship configuration.  But this specific polyamorous arrangement of people is precisely the same, in arrangement, as what we call ‘monogamy.’  Therefore, monogamy is a sub-set of polyamory.

Polyamory as the standard?

Now, I am being a little cheeky here, but I think a serious observation exists inside this cheek.  I think that if we were to look at our lives more closely, we will find that what is called polyamory  (its lessons about communication, honesty, and whatever else it has to teach us) should be the basis about how we think about relationships.  Yes, some of use will end up in complicated multiple-person arrangements of sexual activity while others will have many acquaintances, a few friends, and one lover, but if that is where your needs and desires lead you then no polyamorous evangelical (if such a person exists, I might be considered to be such a person) would ever be at issue with you.   That is, the goal should be to be happy with what it is you really want in a healthy, open, and honest way, not to be a slut (necessarily).

Polyamory, as it is used in most conversations, is about sexual non-exclusivity, but it is not so necessarily and therefore not in all cases.  In the end, what I have learned about relationships, people, and myself while being polyamorous all people should learn.  It would help make relationships of all kinds healthier, and if those lessons strengthen your relationship, then it does not matter if you have 1 sex partner or 100, because in some sense we are all polyamorous; we all love more than one person, and sex is not the same as love.

Perhaps at some time in the future, the term “polyamorous” will be as useless as the term “atheist” will be.  Perhaps in the future people will simply follow there needs and desires towards whatever relationships work for them in the same way that people in the future will not believe in gods because there is simply not sufficient reason to do so and because they have taken the time to think through the reasons to attain these perspectives.

I know…pie-in-the-sky…


1. Susan Sayler - March 3, 2011

I think science backs up the fact that humans are not fundamentally monogamous — except when raised with powerful religious taboos which forbid women to the point where, even today, they are stoned to death in Muslim countries. I think more importantly, however, that humans derived their genetic sexual disposition from Bonobos. http://wp.me/pTzGI-m9

2. Chris - April 9, 2011

It’s kinda hard for me to read through your texts, because im german, but the effort was once again worth it!
You are a great thinker.

3. Chris - April 9, 2011

It’s kinda hard for me to read through your texts, because im german, but the effort was once again worth it!
I Read your article about new relationship energy first and i have to say you are a great thinker.
I’d love to response more detailled, but i guess my english skills are Not good enough …
Keep on posting!

4. What happens in Atlantic City… « The atheist, polyamorous, skeptic - April 11, 2011

[…] in our largely heteronormative and monogamous culture.  (This is a subject I have written about before).  It got me thinking about the expectations, insecurities, and fears that underlie the need for […]

5. Ed - August 22, 2011

Shaun, just a question:

Did you ever consider taking your blog to Youtube? I would really like if these ideas you discuss got more exposure.

6. shaunphilly - August 22, 2011

You know, Ed, I have had discussions with some ‘Tubers about that. I am not convinced I have very good presence on video. Not only do I struggle with a mild speech impediment on occasion, but I thoroughly enjoy the process of writing but not so much recording and video editing.

If I were to go anywhere with it, I would prefer lectures/discussions. Once I’m loosened up, the impediment is a non-issue, and that way I don’t have to worry about the video editing process which I would get very tired of very quickly.

7. Friendship and polyamory « Atheist, polyamorous, skeptics - March 26, 2012

[…] I have written about before, polyamory does not require sex to be polyamory.  As a result of this, many people are already […]

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