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Monotony stew, anyone?

In an efitness.com Web article called Is Monogamy Monotonous?, author Michelle Hickford put forth the idea that serial monogamy is inevitable because sexual monogamy is inherently boring:

"We’d probably rebel if we were told we could only read one book in our lifetime, or eat grilled cheese sandwiches exclusively at every meal. Life would be dull if we could only ever wear white t-shirts and jeans (hmm, I suppose that would be heaven for some). But, I’m certain there would be general mayhem if there was only one TV program replayed over and over.

And yet, there is one facet of our lives for which a single choice is required. Often, a single choice made relatively early in life -- before we’ve even had a chance to form other preferences. Of course, I’m speaking of mates."

Quite frankly, I find the thesis, and its conclusion, silly. My response, sent in an email to Ms. Hickford:

In considering the fact that variety seems to be a healthy and encouraged part of people's lives in every way save sexually, Michelle Hickford suggests: "So, I’m just wondering if our traditional notions of mating for life are outdated, considering how we live today. Based on the statistics, it certainly looks that way. It seems “serial monogamy” is the choice of many. And, perhaps that’s the new norm we have to accept and anticipate."

I maintain that this is not necessarily the case, for at least two reasons: First, a lifetime spent with a single lover does not necessarily mean a lifetime without variety, and second, because there are alternatives to having a single lover other than serial monogamy.

With respect to the first part:

A lifetime spent in a monogamous relationship with a single sexual partner in no way condemns a person to a lifetime without variety. Indeed, the only thing that would condemn a person to a lifetime without sexual variety is a deliberate choice not to seek out that variety. There is far more to sexual variety than changing partners; and if you do the same thing with many partners, your sexual life is still pretty monotonous.

The human sexual experience is vast--so vast, in fact, that if you were to live to the age of three hundred years old, and in all that time you were to do something different in bed every single night, never repeating the same thing twice, you would still have time only to scratch the surface. There is simply no way you could ever do it all, even if the things you do involve only one other partner.

The fact that many people's sex lives involve no more than missionary sex for ten or twenty nights a minute two or three times a week does not mean that's all there is! A bit of imagination, not frequent changes of partners, is the solution to this sort of problem. And you need not even spend your entire fortune on the latest innovations in European sex toys to get beyond this kind of monotony; a little bit of roleplaying is sometimes all it takes. Today he's the pirate and she's the villager; tomorrow he's the up-and-coming corporate executive and she's the millionaire client. The most important organ to the sexual experience is between the ears, not between the legs.

Seem kind of silly and awkward? Of course it does; sex is a learned skill, and like any learned skill, it always feels a bit weird when you're learning it. Did that keep you from learning to ride a bike? Guess what--sex is more fun!

For those so inclined, a bit of experimenting with any of the activities broadly called "BDSM" can be a very rewarding and enriching way to supercharge a sex life. BDSM, which includes bondage, domination and submission, S&M play, or anything along those lines--can be either incredibly subtle or incredibly direct, but properly done, it's always very passionate.

It's not necessarily about getting dressed up in leather and whipping your lover; forget the cheesy Hollywood cliches. Something as subtle as going out to dinner and teasing your lover in indirect ways, perhaps a whispered hint or a hidden innuendo here and there--can qualify. So, for that matter, can simply blindfolding your lover and exploring that person's body with an ice cube or a silk scarf.

As for the second part:

Assuming you have, for whatever reason, decided that the answer to your drab sex life is a new partner. You dump the one you're with, right?


Taking a new lover does not have to mean ditching the existing one. There are alternatives here, as well; and again, it's not like what the Hollywood cliche might suggest.

I'm talking, of course, about polyamory--the ethical, loving practice of multiple committed, intimate romantic relationships simultaneously.

Does it work? That's a bit like saying "does monogamy work?" or "does dating work?" The answer, of course, is that like any human activity, it works for some people and not for others.

But it works rather better for rather a larger number of people than you might believe.

There is nothing about love which says that a human being can only love one person at a time. Every parent with more than one child knows this. Of course, we're brought up to believe that romantic love is somehow different from every other human connection--we can love more than one family member at a time, more than one friend at a time, but never, ever, more than one lover at a time.

Well, why not?

What is it about romantic love that means every person on the planet is born without the capacity to feel it for more than one person? Answer: Nothing. Indeed, love is not like money; you don't give your love to someone, leaving none to give to anyone else unless you pay for it by withdrawing it from the first.

It simply does not follow that loving only one person leads to a life lacking in sexual variety; nor does it follow that a life of variety in one's partners necessarily means serial monogamy.

My wife and I have been together for seventeen years now. We still do things in bed that are novel and interesting together.

We have also been non-monogamous for the past fifteen of those years. During that time, i have engaged in relationships outside my marriage which have spanned a decade; during the course of those relationships, I have learned things about sex and about variety which have broadened and deepened my relationship with my wife.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 10th, 2003 07:37 pm (UTC)
Is Monogamy Monotonous?

Well it sure as hell can be. So can be life.

On the other hand, you can train yourself to see the radiant beauty in everything around you and succomb to the incredible lightness of being. It is up to you. If you are really adept, you can then share this and have shared in return this talent with several of your more intimate friends instead of tossing one out after another like old pairs of shoes.

Like they said the first day of wanna-be med school: You take out of this place what you put into it, nothing more, and nothing less.

p.s. once again, nice discourse F.
Oct. 10th, 2003 08:09 pm (UTC)
The fact that many people's sex lives involve no more than missionary sex for ten or twenty nights a minute two or three times a week does not mean that's all there is!

I'm sure it only feels like it's ten or twenty nights every minute if that's what your sex life is like! ;^)
Oct. 20th, 2003 08:15 pm (UTC)
Man, I gotta start proofreading better...
Oct. 10th, 2003 10:13 pm (UTC)
I not impressed by the size of her library...
"We’d probably rebel if we were told we could only read one book in our lifetime"

By the author's logic, we should be fine with owning only one book at a time. Serial monogamy is like having a home library that consists of a single book, perhaps placed upon a pedestal, to be replaced completely when the latest Harry Potter comes out.

Personally, I like having a house full of books. Read that however you want...

Oct. 11th, 2003 05:19 pm (UTC)
well, I stopped reading her thesis the moment she started making references to grilled cheese etc. Relationships with people -- even one person -- is not like itmes of clothing or things to eat. Maybe I'm just lucky in having a partner who is endlessly revealing and entertaining. Maybe one should be careful which one one picks. But no maybes that comparing apples and oranges is a specious debate tactic.

As always, F, your mind is amazing. I have to say that there were times that the only reason I even believed being mono with a poly lover would work was because I got to read how you approached it. Thanks.
Oct. 20th, 2003 08:16 pm (UTC)
Why, thank you! I'm flattered, even though I never really set out to be a trailblazer or a role model or anything.
Oct. 21st, 2003 11:25 am (UTC)
heh, well, many are called, but few are chosen. :-)
Oct. 12th, 2003 11:47 pm (UTC)
I read it.
After initially rolling my eyes, I re-read it

Reading between the lines,I'm getting something like you might have read in the pop media about 20-some odd years ago going "Hey, you know, if I could just sort of put my head on the chopping block for you to kick around a bit, I was wondering if I might advance the idea that those, um, *Gay people*, well they might not be the Satan-worshipping, 10-year-old-recruiting baby-stealers that everybody says they are".

The content itself is simultaneously amusing as well as carrying this "why shucks, some of my BEST friends are black" air about it, but I'm willing to let her mostly off the hook largely due to the fact that she got it past her editor and into print in a relatively mainstream, non-name online site.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )