After the hack of Ashley Madison, the cheating website, a bolder inquiry into sexuality is needed.
Let’s look at both monogamy and commitment with fresh eyes and consider five reasons to question both cultural ideas.
Let’s not oversimplify the deceit exemplified by Ashley Madison. Widespread cheating suggests sexual impulses exist beyond monogamy.
Many arguments against freer sexuality provoke fear and even persecution exemplified in slut shaming, honor killings and LGBT harassment.
The discovery of trial and error expands our choices. Discovery also exposes our mistakes.
For example, discovering what sex will not do liberates us from our imagination.
I treat lovers as friends—this word means nothing without freedom.
My friends come and go, make love with whoever they wish and speak their minds. If their pursuits separate us, their happiness is still precious. A friendship doesn’t require our desires to be always in harmony. I live in such friendships whether or not the relationship involves sex.
I realized my sexuality does not exist to serve anyone’s ideas, including my own. I don’t believe any biological imperative comes to us with cultural ideas attached. The radical differences in cultural tendencies orbiting sexuality through time (i) suggests a wider human capacity than any idea labeled “normal.” Rather than forcing our sexual impulses to conform to concepts, we should adapt our concepts to our actual circumstances.
Let’s consider two ape species, the chimpanzee and bonobos, they both share a common ancestor with humans. With chimpanzees an alpha male dominates the females. Notably, chimpanzees “cheat” when the alpha is not looking. In contrast, a matriarch leads bonobo groups. Individual bonobos frequently have sex with many others for pleasure and procreation. (ii,iii) Our closest animal relative, lives in a sexually open society.
History suggests monogamy and property probably emerged as ideas when humanity transitioned from hunter gatherers to a domestic society. (iv)
Farmers protected their land and produce from hungry people and humanity also realized procreation requires a male “seed.” Husbandry (v) as a concept now included women and children. In the last century women gained more freedom. Mutual possessiveness emerged as the dominant relationship custom bypassing emancipation from the people-as-property idea.
Our cultural deceit remains with monogamy, just search any dating websites with the keyword “discreet.”
When we attempt to live consciously without monogamy we don’t solve possessiveness as a problem by adding more lovers to possess. Imposing the expectations left over from monogamy on non-monogamous circumstances seems to me a mistake. If our ideas do not adapt to new circumstances, let’s modify our ideas, not people.
How do we know if monogamy doesn’t suit us?
Five reasons to question monogamy.
1. Any affection we feel in a relationship usually emerges when each person freely chooses to take part without obligation.
If we value a meeting for some reason, we may extend an invitation to meet again. If our affection arose mutually without commitment, to say, “this meeting feels so good, let’s radically change how we do things,” seems counterintuitive. Clearly, neither commitment nor monogamy created the joy we discover meeting someone. We don’t secure intimacy by restricting choices.
2. If we believe deep intimacy requires a commitment, we accept a logical premise about intimacy.
Let’s scrutinize our sexual beliefs, not just appeal to reason when it seems to support our beliefs. Let’s consider consciousness as a vast sky. Let’s imagine a bird, feelings and sensation represent one wing and reason the other. We need these wings working mutually to fly more consciously (less habitually) in the sky of our choices.
3. We do not intentionally destroy a delightful meeting, regardless many commitments fail.
Commitment, expectation, belief, habit, generalizing and routine all have something in common, they all involve a prediction! We treat our imagination as a crystal ball, especially when we imagine what a relationship ought to be.
4. If commitment does not guarantee affection, we should doubt the prediction and the control any commitment assumes.
On what do we base the belief in commitment, when we witness or have experienced many disappointed expectations? If we can explain good circumstances in relationships without commitment, then why assume commitment as a cause? Can we simply feel affection and attraction for each other? Can we delight in love without a commitment? Yes!
5. Commitment is a business standard and, when legitimized on paper, we can sue (divorce) the person who breaks the commitment.
Before we point to admirable committed relationships, let’s distinguish between the admiration for affections and fortunate circumstances. More importantly, does what we admire in these sexual relationships only exist in our imagination? Haven’t we felt surprise when ideal lovers split and we realize the difference between our imagination and reality? When we witness committed relationships breakup, obviously the commitment did not secure the relationship.
We cannot truly agree to love the same way tomorrow.
A guarantee is commerce morality not affection. We should not confuse longevity or cooperation with affection. Love doesn’t exclude usefulness. If we confuse utility with love we mistake means for ends, we risk feeling unloved when we can’t use people.
Friendships exist for their own sake and they can include sex. If we don’t demand results beyond affection we allow lovers more choices in life including other lovers and creativity. Free love demonstrates a unique virtue by protecting the alternatives our life offers us without threatening the affection.
Without monogamy and commitment we lose a false sense of security because now we can’t simply relegate relationships to habit or imitating others.
We love more consciously. Lovers don’t exist to serve our desires.
Let’s avoid four dangers: violence, coercion, recklessness (use condoms) and deceit.
These rules don’t create an ideal, they exist to stop harm. If we liken relationships to a sea voyage, we learn from yesterday’s journey, still, we must meet the sea anew with a will to learn. Sometimes our greatest joy happens in discovery.
How to spot a fundamentally good, genuine person and what to watch out for; and why someone in every relationship has to do this one simple thing:
(iv) Reay Tannahill, Sex in History (New York: Stein and Day, 1982), 46-48.
Author: Todd Vickers
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock