"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Archive for May, 2018|Monthly archive page

Why We Need To Challenge The Culture Of Monogamy

In Uncategorized on May 25, 2018 at 7:47 pm


Oldspeak: So timely. In a time where Patriarchy is being questioned and called to account for its problems and abuses, I feel that the same conversations need to be had about its close relative in my opinion, Monogamy.  Given the evidence that Monogamy is a fairly rare trait in Mammals and up until recently,  poly relations of some or other sort, were seen as perfectly normal and acceptable among humans, why is it that socially imposed monogamy is so common now? Why is it that there are slim to no positive, healthy and normal examples or depictions of polyamory / non-monogamy in most “advanced” and “civilized” cultures? The normalization of monogamy to the detriment of other ways of being is so complete, that even supposedly impartial scientific inquiry is being affected. Polyamory is usually described with loaded and negatively connoted words. I know, I’ve been on the receiving end of more than a few of them. For all the chirping Americans do about our “freedom and justice for all”, we are living right now, in a place in 2018, where “you can be fired from your job for being in a consensually non-monogamous relationship, and there’s nothing you can do.” We spend so much time and energy and convincing ourselves and each other, that we’re so progressive, so open to other cultures, ways of being and people being who they want to be. We love our gay friends, stand in solidarity with our trans, genderfluid and non-identifying people (even though we sometimes look askance when they disrupt our soma fueled, homogenized existence.) But make efforts to love understand and accept poly people and destigmatize their way of being? Bridge too far for many people. Why so much unquestioned allegiance to a way of being that is so intolerant to others? We know that in nature, monocultures are bad. Monocultures have serious negative impacts on biodiversity and resistance to threats. The monogamy that people most hold so sacred in their personal relationships has been replicated in our food production systems. Monocultural farming is having grave impacts on our world. But I digress. The important thing for poly people to do now, is be loud and proud. Don’t let people tell you what you aren’t. Who and how you love. There is unity in diversity. There is no “ideal” for everyone, one way of being or loving. Make it so you mono friends and family know your orientation, so they can know a poly person and know that they are completely normal and lovable. It’s about becoming visible. It’s about challenging the “monoculture of the mind”.

And in that vein, I’ll share a little about myself.  I’ve lived most of my adult life as a closeted polysexual person. i didn’t know it at the time but i did. in order for me to fit into the mono world that was all i’d known, and be seen as normal, i would have primary mono girlfriends, and secondary mono lovers. i was rarely “faithful”.  in order to keep my secret, i would compartmentalize my relationships. Usually lovers would know about the primary/other lovers, but Primaries, never knew about the secondaries. in order to keep things in order i lied. i did it to avoid judgement, derision and rejection and to appear “normal”.  i never trusted that people would accept me as me. in fact, I’ve had lovers derisively refer to me as a gigolo, player, mandingo, manwhore, a freak, a horny animal, commitment phobic, unavailable, selfish, inconsiderate etc… No one ever really understood how i could feel love for multiple people at the same time and not have it feel somehow less than… i don’t know that i understood it fully. But i felt it.  In many ways i think internalized a lot of the negative associations others made with me.  And i never really had anyone in my life i could relate to about myself, to tell me i was not those things, but that i was beautiful, lovable, complete and capable, as my authentic self.  I’ve spent a lot of time up until recently, involving myself with women who I didn’t really connect with on a real level. Probably a by product of the shame and fear and internalized negativity that’s accumulated. And probably to avoid having to be honest with myself and others about myself. Pretty lonely existence.  This has driven many of my choices. Up until recently i was resigned to living my life like that. The past few years i’ve been fortunate to have met people who’ve made it possible to live another way. In truth. With authenticity. Uncensored. Presently, with openness and unseen but deep connection. The journey of learning, deprogramming, decolonization and unconditional love continues. Grateful for the experience.” –Jevon


Written By Allison Tierney @ Vice:

As someone who identifies as polysexual, I’ve often experienced negativity from those who don’t think outside of how their relationships function. At times, this judgment has come from those close to me. “You’re just slutty,” or “Your man is OK with that, really?” are things I’ve heard over and over again—not to mention the times people have tried to rat me out to my primary partner for what they think is “cheating.”

Because of these kinds of reactions to who I am, I’ve always felt that our society isn’t built for people like me. And, according to newly released research, it turns out that the norm of monogamy is so pervasive it extends past the realm of our social interactions, and into the field of science.

“Oh, these people just want everyone to be polyamorous,” is one of many negative sentiments researcher Terri Conley of the University of Michigan heard when she submitted a study for review that contained positive findings about consensually non-monogamous relationships.

“When researchers present results that show that monogamous relationships are better than non-monogamous relationships, they are perceived as less biased and as better scientists than if you have the nerve to present data that shows that non-monogamous relationships are better,” Conley, who studies gender and sexuality, told VICE. “If you do that, you are perceived as being biased, and a worse scientist overall.”

VICE reached out to Conley to talk about the resistance she’s come up against in her research, and about the strong roots of monogamy in Western culture.

VICE: Why did you decide to get involved in this kind of research?
Terri Conley: I was interested initially in how the prospect of being in a relationship could lead to negative health behaviors and sexual health behaviors—specifically, not using condoms. As I got further into it, I didn’t really get the sense that relationships were bad, even though my research was showing that when you’re in a relationship you’re less likely to practice safer sex. So I thought I should dig a little deeper than that. As I thought about it more, I thought, Maybe it isn’t relationships per se that are causing people to avoid condoms or not practice safer sex, but it’s a monogamous agreement. Over time, I decided I should focus on how monogamy can have negative implications for sexual health. I did a study initially where we said non-monogamous people were more likely to practice safer sex in their encounters outside their primary relationship—we were looking at people with primary relationships—and also with their primary partner, than people who were cheating on their partners… We met a huge amount of resistance for those findings from reviewers. We had someone talk about how they thought it was “irresponsible” to “promote” this. We had someone talk about how we know gay male relationships “deteriorate” into non-monogamy. We’re like, “deteriorate?” That’s a really loaded word. Because people had such a negative reaction to it, I thought we should study it more [laughs]. We continued to find a level of animosity in reviews that was unparalleled by other research I’ve done, even that on other sexuality topics. It occurred to me that we were tapping into something bigger than just your normal negative reviews. People were angry in a different way about this.

What sort of negative terms do you see coming up in scientific studies that show a bias against non-monogamy?
I don’t think anyone was intentionally being hostile, it’s just they were created with a monogamous frame. Even just the general structure of relationship scales is about your partner being singular. So if you are in a consensually non-monogamous relationship where you have more than one partner, you already are having to make a choice: What partner should I talk about? Or maybe they’re responding to some questions with one partner and others with another partner… Even the term “cheating” is used academically and “infidelity” and all these words that are fairly loaded. We would see the term “non-consensual non-monogamy” as being a more neutral alternative. There’s also the “offended party” who would have been “cheated” on. I just felt like we’re not approaching the topic of cheating very scientifically if those are the words we’re using. Some relationship scales would talk about, “I’ve considered looking for another partner,” and that’s seen as lower quality with the current partner. OK, if you’re monogamous, that totally makes sense. But if you’re consensually non-monogamous, you’re often looking for another partner—it has nothing to do with if you are happy with whichever partner you’re with at that time.

Sometimes I’ve felt like people think there is a finite amount of love that you can give. That’s to say they think that if you are seeing or sleeping with someone else, that means you love a primary partner less.
I’m amazed that we’re generally finding that non-monogamous people are doing a little better in relationships. These are small sects, so I’m not saying it’s the way to go for everyone. But it’s really kind of amazing given how much stress there is on any sort of non-traditional relationship: You’ve got stigma, you don’t have a lot of norms to adhere to throughout the course of the relationship… [Non-monogamous people] are still doing well in these relationships, and they’re happy. If anything, it’s a sign of resilience among those communities.

How do you think we can approach this bias in science surrounding these kinds of relationships?
I feel like it’s changing really rapidly. I’ve been publishing for six years, and working in this field since 1991. A lot of what it will take, on a social scale, is people being willing to come out as polyamorous or non-monogamous to their friends so that people have a relationship to think of when they hear about these relationships. It’s like, Oh, that’s what so-and-so does. We know that exposure to different groups promotes positive feelings towards those groups, and leads to the reduction of prejudice. That would be really important in this context because people who are non-monogamous are so invisible to people now. When I tell people about it, they’re like, “Who would do this?” or, “There must be such a small percentage of people who can never find each other.” Actually, no: we are finding that 4 to 5 percent of people are doing this… People are really shocked by it. For social change in general, and including the science context, the visibility issue is going to be huge.

Why do you think there is a visibility issue? For me, I just don’t usually explain this part of myself to others because it feels private, and I feel like they won’t get it.
That’s totally fair. There are always going to need to be people who are willing to do that though. Unfortunately, for social change to happen everywhere, there need to be people who come out and challenge stigmas, and it was really helpful in terms of the early gay and bisexual movements for people to come out even though it was stigmatized. I don’t think that means everyone has to do it. I think there can be all kinds of reasons why you don’t want to do it. A very practical reason is, in the US, I don’t think there’s even one law protecting anyone based on their relationship configuration. Anywhere in the US, an employer can say they’re firing you because you’re in a consensually non-monogamous relationship, and there’s nothing you can do. I think there’s a wide variety of people who just don’t like to share things about their relationships in general. Say you work with two people and you happen to find out they’re married—like, “Oh, wow! I wasn’t aware of that.” That’s totally within their rights.

This concept of monogamy being ingrained in Western culture, does that come from religion, or this idea of “paternity?”
I think it definitely comes from religion, but the interesting part is that it affects people who aren’t religious. We as a culture are brought into the Judeo-Christian concern with paternity, and that has sort of fed into a culture of monogamy. But now people have a problem with extricating themselves from that culture of monogamy. It has become so pervasive that taking religion out of it, by someone not being religious, doesn’t really take out the bias of monogamy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Follow Allison Tierney on Twitter .