Author: has written 57 posts for this blog.

Clarisse Thorn is a Chicago-based, feminist, sex-positive activist and educator. Personal blog at clarissethorn.com; follow her on Twitter @clarissethorn; you can also buy her awesome book about pickup artists or her awesome best-of collection, The S&M Feminist.
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94 Responses

  1. Aaron
    Aaron June 10, 2011 at 9:17 am |

    Looking at cultures that allow plural marriage, it’s almost always a one-sided exercise – and is almost always “Men get to have more than one partner, women do not.” A similar power imbalance can arise in polyamorous relationships in which one partner wants a committed monogamous relationship and the other does not. That can happen when partners know that they’re entering a polyamorous relationship but have different emotional reactions than they expect, and in that sense it can be analogized to problems that arise in standard relationships (he spends too much time with his friends; she spends too much time at work; he can’t cut the apron strings, etc.); but it can also be foisted upon a partner. For example, a married couple I once knew had a standard, monogamous relationship until the wife announced that she was in love with a second man and wanted a polyamorous relationship. “My way, or divorce court.” (You won’t be surprised to learn that, ultimately, the relationship did end in divorce court.)

  2. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte June 10, 2011 at 9:27 am |

    I feel in parts this post is damning monogamy with faint praise, which is perhaps inevitable when it’s not your choice. But your characterization of jealousy troubles me. You say it’s rational and all great….for people in unhealthy relationships that feature instability and manipulation. Which subtly pressures people into thinking that if they’re monogamous, it’s because they’re broken, or at least their relationships are.

    But as you yourself point out, polyamory arguments can be used to control and manipulate, particularly in the case of men saying jealousy is “irrational” in order to pressure a girlfriend to sign off on their cheating against her will.

    I have a better idea: Why not drop the language about “rationality”? Nothing in this is about rationality. Jealousy isn’t rational; it’s a feeling. But wanting to sleep around isn’t rational, either. Also a feeling. Abstinence-only people use rationality as a cover, pointing out that it’s irrational to have sex at all, since all it is for is emotional gratification. I’m big on rationality! But of course the problem with it is many things are labeled “rational” not because they are, but in order to shore up an argument against the alternatives.

    Anyway, I would just like to note that many people in very strong, stable, non-manipulative, textbook healthy relationships would still not enjoy it very much to have their partner fucking someone else. Is it “rational”? No, but nor is it “rational” to want your partner to fuck someone else or to not mind or all the other options. They’re all about desire and feeling, not strict rationality.

  3. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte June 10, 2011 at 9:37 am |

    To be clear, I’m not trying to jump all over you or anything like that. The opposite! I liked the post. But I do think that polyamorous people are entrenched in certain anti-jealousy arguments because their experiences with it were dramatic. Some people’s jealousy isn’t very consuming. They just don’t want extra people in their sexual relationship.

  4. Nahida
    Nahida June 10, 2011 at 10:07 am |

    It’s much harder to be jealous when your partner is saying, “I totally understand,” than it is when your partner is saying, “What the hell is the matter with you?”

    This! It builds trust.

  5. alynn
    alynn June 10, 2011 at 10:29 am |

    My partner and I really, really dig each other and we feel hard and fast into a committed relationship at a young age. We both feel very highly aligned w/ monogamy, and truth be told, we are jealous people. As a result we’ve been totally monogamous for 8 years. We have some friends who like to make fun of us for having white bread sex lives (they know nothing about our sex life!) or who just “don’t get” how we’ve been happy together this long. It gets a little tiring explaining over and over that for he and I, monogamy is the only way we can fathom our relationship staying healthy and happy.

    I guess it speaks to the group of people I hang w/ that the two of us who fit the cultural definition of a “normal” relationship are the ones who get made fun of :)

  6. Erica
    Erica June 10, 2011 at 10:36 am |

    I completely agree with Amanda, here, re: jealousy. I have seen, first-hand, cases where men try to Spock-talk women into polyamory by pointing out how irrational jealousy is. If monogamy is an orientation (and I think it is for some people), then “jealousy” is not irrational, any more than lack of jealousy. You might not have intended it this way, but it really comes off as if you’re calling polyamory the more evolved option, for those people who can magically throw off the chains of jealousy.

    Also, I think the stuff about “monogamous privilege” is sort of messed up. Opposite-sex monogamous couples can get married. Opposite-sex monogamous couples can find therapists and parents who understand them and validate their relationships. It is not monogamy per se that is the Western default, but monogamy between a man and a woman. I really, really hate the “check your privilege” line, but in this case, it’s apt.

    (P.S. Yes, I’m the same person who posted a very similar comment on your blog, someone linked to it on FB and I commented before I noticed it here. Might as well comment here too.)

  7. Michelle Beltano Curtis
    Michelle Beltano Curtis June 10, 2011 at 10:48 am |

    I think there is rationality to why we make the choices we do about relationships and how they’re defined. It’s a matter of what works or doesn’t work for you. Sure, there are purely emotional connections to that, but the reality is, we don’t all all meet the one size fits all assumptions of relationships in Western culture. Also, jealousy is sometimes intuition, a very useful thing when you do have a partner that’s cheating (a serious sign of disrespect that needs to be addressed). I’ve been in at least two relationships where I was aware of what my partners were doing long before I found out and have been able to match up the timelines to reveal that they were indeed cheating at the time I began to suspect it.

    In my own case, I ditched monogamy as a primary feature of my relationships long ago and it wasn’t based on emotion, it was based on personal need and the recognition that one person often can’t effectively give me everything I desire. I don’t survive in purely monogamous relationships. In part, that’s because I’m about as in the middle bisexual as they come and in order to be in a monogamous relationship, I have to deny a big part of who I am and how I define myself and in essence it makes me miserable.

    If anything, my partner accepting who I am and allowing for agreed ways in which we can both get all we want and need makes it much less of an issue and we spend much more time in monogamy mode than we do in the swing lifestyle, largely because just knowing that he accepts me completely for who I am, I don’t feel the need to try to disconnect myself from who I am naturally. It also causes far fewer issues with jealousy on both our parts, because we know we can communicate our needs and won’t be judged for it. We can work it out in a way that’s fair and honest to each other. It’s about respecting who we really are and I think it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced in a relationship.

    But the bottom line is, whatever you do in your relationship(s) has to be with respect and honesty with someone who feels the same way. Anything else is dishonest and reeks of unhealthiness.

  8. LC
    LC June 10, 2011 at 11:09 am |

    I’d recommend Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up for a nice survey of the different ways non-monogamy manifests besides the two elephants in the room of Swinging and Polyamoury.

    I can see Amanda’s argument about “rationality” but I think that’s just a word choice issue. Maybe “reasonable” would work better. While lord knows I get into arguments with non-monogamy people all the time about their demonization of jealousy, I didn’t think that was what Clarisse did at all. I didn’t read this as “jealousy is only useful in unhealthy relationships” in any way. If anything, it felt like an argument respecting jealousy and the desire to be monogamous.

    I didn’t really feel it was anti-jealousy at all.

  9. Ashley
    Ashley June 10, 2011 at 11:19 am |

    Two people can have whatever kind of relationship they want, just so as both partners are in agreement of the terms. I have my preferences towards more monogamous relationships but I understand it’s not always for everyone. If you don’t want to be monogamous, then you shouldn’t feel you need to be and find someone who feels the same as you.

  10. ecb
    ecb June 10, 2011 at 11:41 am |

    Any research on how polyamory affects kids? I’m just curious how couples who already have children deal with the challenges of having multiple partners around (and thus different adult authorities to potentially set and enforce rules), and how polyamorous couples might face the decision to have children together differently than a monogamous couple would.

  11. The Naked Redhead
    The Naked Redhead June 10, 2011 at 11:46 am |

    Damn, I like your writing. That’s all.

  12. Emily Millay Haddad
    Emily Millay Haddad June 10, 2011 at 11:47 am |

    I find this article disturbingly superficial. The “advantages” named for monogamy — jealousy management, focus, societal acceptance, and “just like it better” — outline a pretty limited understanding of what both monogamy AND polyamory look like in practice.

    There’s nothing about monogamy that necessarily makes handling jealousy easier — if a person is prone to jealousy, or to acting carelessly in ways that could evoke jealousy in others, jealousy is gonna happen regardless of the relationship structure. If you live in community with other people, strangers or friends alike, jealousy will occur. There’s nothing special about the agreements that are made, implicitly or explicitly, in monogamous relationships that could necessarily insulate you from the experience. Faithfulness and trust are demonstrated (and required to varying degrees) in relationships of all kinds — monogamy certainly doesn’t have a lock on that.

    Similarly, thinking that focus is something monogamous people prioritize more than polyamorous people ignores the basic fact that most people’s lives are comprised of many competing demands on their attention — children, work, survival, day-to-day life and ambitions. Making time for your intimate relationships is a challenge that has to be managed by everyone who has them, regardless of their relationship structure. Given the constant ebb and flow of life’s demands, there is no one relationship structure that can automatically answer those questions for you.

    But perhaps what irks me most is the third “advantage” named: societal acceptance. While the author makes a nod to the fact that she’s talking about privilege, the implications of this argument are woefully underexplored. There is no monogamy test to get married. And for a lot of folks, marriage is still off the table because of OTHER axes of oppression. But while I certainly agree there are a number of privileges associated with compulsory monogamy, saying that these privileges are an “advantage” to monogamy is an incredibly disheartening argument to me. The problem with privilege is that it is unearned benefit — and often operates in a scarcity model that actively disenfranchises those who fall outside the privileged category. It creates insiders and outsiders — when many of us fall in multiple, overlapping categories of privileged and non-privileged — and enforces border wars where the line between inside and outside is policed. That is no advantage. It’s the kind of thing that needs to be actively resisted and deconstructed, regardless of whether you’re engaging in monogamy or polyamory or something else entirely.

    The last reason given, while also simplistic, is honestly the only one I can get behind. If what you want is monogamy, and your partner consents, then go for it. I want a world where people get to have the relationships they desire and consent to, whether that looks like monogamy or polyamory or some other structure and protocol we’ve not yet dreamed of. The arguments about what kind of relationship is best (for everyone), the most radical, the coolest, the most interesting, the most sexy, the most successful — goodness, I stopped reading Cosmo when I was 12. Can we get off the hierarchy train already? One monolithic relationship structure is never going to work for everyone, or even for most people. What has the possibility to work, and to change the world for the better, is to prioritize the dynamics of consent and desire*, each in careful negotiation with each other. Desire and consent exist in tension — what you want you can’t always have, what is consented to (and offered) is not always what you want. But if we value our desire in tandem with a deep respect for the consent of everyone involved, then maybe we can continue repairing the damage that compulsory relationship structures (and the privilege that attends them) have wrought on the world.

    *I’m using the term “desire” here to encompass a large swath of human experience ranging across the often-overlapping spectrum of sexual attraction and emotional intimacy and yearning.

  13. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. June 10, 2011 at 11:47 am |

    I agree monogamy is definitely aligned with privilege, although more het+ monogamy than simply monogamy.

    I am curious about the idea that monogamy is/isn’t somewhat orientational. I experience it that way, but its one of the more difficult things I’ve ever tried to parse.

    I’m not sure jealousy and monogamy are related. Some people get jealous over small amounts of attention paid. Some people who are monogamous would not become jealous over a non-monogamous partner.

    And now I’ve seen/typed the word monogam* so much it looks like a nonsense word!

  14. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin June 10, 2011 at 11:57 am |

    If others and you have said this already, I apologize for being redundant. Polyamory tends to lock one into a very small pool of people who practice it. Most people are monogamous and desire monogamy, and I wouldn’t wish to limit myself from finding a compatible partner.

    That being said, I find I gravitate towards polyamory more naturally. This is a result of childhood trauma, often. For whatever reason or another, I find it sometimes difficult to maintain proper sexual boundaries. Though this may be the default of men, I also tend to view everything first through a purely sexual lens. This doesn’t mean I can’t be successfully monogamous, but that it’s challenging in ways probably not the case for someone with a more “normal” childhood.

  15. Mandolin
    Mandolin June 10, 2011 at 12:26 pm |

    Wait–Comrade Kevin, are you saying your polyamorous alignment is because of childhood abuse? Or that it’s “often” a cause of polyamorous alignment? Because if the former, I of course acknowledge your experience, and heart’s out to you–if it’s the latter, then you know–what??? and other indignant exclamations.

    Clarisse, one thing I’ve found revelatory (for some reason I didn’t think of it on my own) is the idea of polyamorous relationships not necessarily involving intense commitment–that one can have a primary, and instead of a secondary and optional tertiary etc., one could have a primary and what a friend of mine calls a “kissing buddy.”

    Like, I’ve had friends who have open relationships that involve a bit of okayed schtupping in random encounters… but those often involve a specific prohibition against screwing someone that the couple knows well. Somehow I missed the idea that a regular assignation might be romantically inclined, but a little more circumspect and/or circumscribed.

    Anyway. That idea just complicated what I’d been thinking of as polyamory based on how some of my friends practice it. So.

  16. MsC
    MsC June 10, 2011 at 12:34 pm |

    Am I the only person who was miffed at “polyamorists tend to be geeky”? I’m sorry, but 1) who are you to define what “geeky” is? 2) who are you to slap that label on an entire group of people?
    “There are lots of different ways of approaching non-monogamous relationships”… if that’s really your approach to… well, just about anything, really, especially a subculture… then wow. Wasn’t the point of this article to shed some light on alternative lifestyles, AKA lifestyles that don’t fit in with the idea of normality according to mainstream culture? If you’re going to take the stance that something is “geeky” when examining something outside your view of “normality”, then just stop right there and save us all the trouble. Are we going to start calling other cultures geeky now? And yes, I know that’s an extreme example, but it’s an attempt to get a point across.

  17. AK
    AK June 10, 2011 at 12:47 pm |

    Kristen J.:
    I agree monogamy is definitely aligned with privilege, although more het+ monogamy than simply monogamy.

    I am curious about the idea that monogamy is/isn’t somewhat orientational.I experience it that way, but its one of the more difficult things I’ve ever tried to parse.

    I’m not sure jealousy and monogamy are related.Some people get jealous over small amounts of attention paid.Some people who are monogamous would not become jealous over a non-monogamous partner.

    And now I’ve seen/typed the word monogam* so much it looks like a nonsense word!

    I agree on all counts. I know that personally, I am not a jealous person, but I am happiest in a monogamous relationship. I’ve been in a healthy poly relationship as well (and am actually still good friends with my partners in it), and it just didn’t fulfill me. I can’t even really say why…my primary partners were really loving and attentive, things were nice, and I was happy enough. Still, I’ve always preferred monogamy. I can’t really ever remember getting jealous of a partner in either kind of relationship. Though the spread out focus definitely was an aspect–I’m extremely independent and like a lot of solitude (for many years I was in a “commuter marriage” where I only saw my partner on weekends and I absolutely loved it, for example) and maintaining a poly relationship was just way more time than I wanted to put in.

    My own experience leads me to believe that our preferences in this regard may be a bit more hardwired into us than they are a choice, but I’ll fully admit that it’s just anecdotal so I can’t really say.

  18. Christina
    Christina June 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm |

    Comrade Kevin: If others and you have said this already, I apologize for being redundant. Polyamory tends to lock one into a very small pool of people who practice it. Most people are monogamous and desire monogamy, and I wouldn’t wish to limit myself from finding a compatible partner.

    I think there is a lot of evidence to the contrary that “most people are monogomous.” If that were true, most people would mate for life rather than the opposite. Don’t most (60-70%) of people cheat on their spouses? I’m not saying that most are one or the other, but I definitely don’t think most people are monogomous. Many may say they desire it but I think that is the cultural default speaking.

  19. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil June 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm |

    That being said, I find I gravitate towards polyamory more naturally. This is a result of childhood trauma, often.

    Um, what? Childhood trauma=polyamorous adult?

  20. What We Missed
    What We Missed June 10, 2011 at 1:53 pm |

    […] Feministe, Clarisse Thorn drops some serious knowledge on […]

  21. Sara
    Sara June 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm |

    I have worked for the past year in a social psych lab where a major research focus is norms and prejudices surrounding consentual non-monogamy. While we are all respectful of relationship choices in theory, sometimes I’ve felt like I wanted to say something much like this post. I’m in a monogamous relationship, and we are completely happy with it, even though I have been working to resist negative cultural perceptions of consentual non-monogamy.

    Emily – it seems inarguable that for SOME people, monogamy can help with jealousy management and focus. For OTHER people, consentual non-monogamy can help with those things. I think it’s overly simplistic to say “there are no differences” and leave it at that.

  22. Sara
    Sara June 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm |

    Fuck – I misspelled “consensual” like 5 times. Sorry.

  23. CateofTexas
    CateofTexas June 10, 2011 at 2:09 pm |

    Emily Millay Haddad:
    The last reason given, while also simplistic, is honestly the only one I can get behind. If what you want is monogamy, and your partner consents, then go for it. I want a world where people get to have the relationships they desire and consent to, whether that looks like monogamy or polyamory or some other structure and protocol we’ve not yet dreamed of. The arguments about what kind of relationship is best (for everyone), the most radical, the coolest, the most interesting, the most sexy, the most successful — goodness, I stopped reading Cosmo when I was 12. Can we get off the hierarchy train already?

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I did not (consciously) choose my relationship preference in order to be more socially acceptable, and listing that as a “reason” why people are monogamous makes monogamy seem shallow. That said, I so approve of polyamory, swing, and open relationships! Find your bliss, people.

  24. Angela Vistry
    Angela Vistry June 10, 2011 at 2:16 pm |

    A friend of mine (who was then just coming out of a 10-year monogamous relationship) once commented that monogamy should be accorded the dignity of a perversion, because it’s a way of intensifying sensation.

  25. max
    max June 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm |

    Aww man, I generally really like your posts and it bums me out to say this, but this one felt off to me. I think that why you wrote it makes sense– if you hang out with a lot of non-monogamous folks, it can feel like monogamy gets an undeservedly bad reputation. I get that, and I think it’s totally fair to say that monogamy is a valid way to engage in relationships and doesn’t make you a less progressive (or whatever term used by who you’re talking to) person.
    But I think its important to consider the larger societal norms, which still portray monogamy as the acceptable way to have relationships, and the ways in which non-monogamous relationships are negatively portrayed. The reasons that I’ve heard from I guess mainstream cultural sources for why “polyamory just doesn’t work” sit a little too close to this post’s “benefits of monogamy” for me, I guess. I’m not trying to say this was intentional, I just think its important to consider the implications of an argument like this. And more broadly, while it may make sense to share a post like this in some contexts, putting it out where it isn’t clear that monogamy isn’t the norm, I think, can reify existing power structures. (“Polyvangelists” can seem loud, but I think overall they’re outshouted by “monovangelists(?)” at this point. Oof, I guess what I mean is that there’s a political/power difference between saying polyamory is the way to be a good person and mon-amory is the way to be a good person, though I am not ok really with saying either.)
    Again, I really like your posts overall and I so appreciate the information and conversations you’ve brought to this site. And I think if all ways of being in relationships were on equal footing societally, this would be an insightful and helpful post. But since there are power dynamics at play, I think writing a post that maybe doesn’t center that could serve to reinforce the status quo.

  26. Azalea
    Azalea June 10, 2011 at 2:43 pm |

    I think most people are NOT monogamous, wouldn’t onogamy mean you have a DESIRE to ONLY be with ONE person at a time in a single romantic/sexual intimate relationship? Considering that most people cheat, and many people have desires (I’m not talking about siply being attracted to another person, I’m talking about wanting to be in a relaitonship, spending a lot of quality time etc) for more than one person at a time msot people are NOT monogamous. I think most people want their PARTNERS to be monogamous and that is where a lot of the hurt pain jealousy and demonization of polyamorous relationships come from. There are men who will demand an open relationship on the terms that they can have secondary opposite partners but their primary partner can only be with other women.

  27. Esti
    Esti June 10, 2011 at 2:47 pm |

    Out of curiosity, is there a reason that lower risk of STDs isn’t included as a benefit of monogamy? I’m in no way suggesting that you can’t practice safe sex in a poly relationship or that more people in poly relationships have STDs, but the higher your number of partners (and the higher your partner’s number of partners), the higher your risk. Especially if your non-monogamy does not involve long-term, committed poly relationships (which, like monogamy, enable things like up-to-date STD testing and knowledge–and hopefully trust–of other partners). Condoms are great, but they aren’t foolproof and they don’t protect against all things.

    For that matter, unintended pregnancies are a lot more complicated in a non-monogamous situation. If you and a long-term, monogamous partner have an accidental pregnancy, you will (in an ideal world) have the benefit of trust, commitment, and having had an advance discussion of what options you are both willing to consider. If a pregnancy occurs between your primary partner and a one-night stand, or even a secondary partner, that could have enormous effects (financially, emotionally, physically) on the primary relationship but comes with much less control and predictability in how those effects are managed. Monogamy doesn’t guarantee everyone ends up happy when there’s an unintended pregnancy, but I think it probably makes it easier to deal with more often than not.

  28. Sara
    Sara June 10, 2011 at 2:59 pm |

    Interestingly, we’ve also done a study on perceived benefits of monogamy. Our purpose was not to defend monogamy but rather to better understand the cultural biases in favor of it. Some of the “benefits” given in this post sort of align with ideas common in the general public, but the phrasing is *dramatically* different.

    @Max, I don’t fully understand this sentence: “while it may make sense to share a post like this in some contexts, putting it out where it isn’t clear that monogamy isn’t the norm, I think, can reify existing power structures.”
    If the points she makes are valid, why is this not an OK space to make them?

    @Esti – lower risk of STIs is not a benefit of monogamy. A recent study showed that consensually non-monogamous individuals are considerably more likely to use protection than monogamous individuals who cheat, which suggests that monogamy can actually promote a “false sense of security” in some cases.

  29. Jessica
    Jessica June 10, 2011 at 3:09 pm |

    Agreed with Clarisse. Almost every poly person I know is better at safer sex communication than the monogamous people I know. Mostly because they have more practice at it and because they HAVE to. When I opened my relationship with my partner up, I learned way way more about safer sex communication than I ever did when I was monogamous.

    It frustrates me, because 99% of the time, the whole “Safer sex/unintended pregnancy” thing is, like Clarisse said, used to talk down to polyamorists and swingers.

  30. Esti
    Esti June 10, 2011 at 3:31 pm |

    I agree that people in poly relationships may in many cases have thought more about the risks of sexual activity, and about healthy ways to structure their relationships, then the average person who practices monogamy. But I think the construct of this post was not “taking the average member of these two groups of people in the population at large” but rather “assuming relatively similar levels of autonomy, consent, education about sexuality, etc.” If we’re looking at the average, then the discussion is really different — monogamy has problems with people who just haven’t thought about the alternative (or even about their own relationships), but non-monogamy has the problems that are pervasive in the worst of the polygamous communities. Both relationship models can be done badly, but I think we’re trying to talk about the ideal on both sides.

    That being said, I agree that the false sense of security in monogamous relationships is to some extent a countervailing factor on STDs and pregnancy — though I’m not sure that someone in a monogamous relationship is more likely to cheat than someone in an equally healthy, long-term poly relationship.

  31. Azalea
    Azalea June 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm |

    Esti (re: number of sexual partners and risk of STDs)

    I think condoms are the point. I don’t think many people who cheat are using condoms, how often do we hear about paternity testing, husbands and boyfriends fathering children with women other than their wives and girlfriends? With monogamy having the cloud of cheaters hanging over their heads there are people having UNPROTECTED sex with people who are most likely having UNPROTECTED sex with other people. I think the chances of using protection are higher in poly relationships because you know there is a higher number of sexual partners flowing around and there is a higher risk. Monogamous relationships are protected by trust and hope alone (most times) whereas poly is most likely counting on the latex to do its job and be over 90% effective at preventing the transmission of STDs.

  32. Pepper
    Pepper June 10, 2011 at 4:35 pm |

    Clarisse asked:

    Do you have a citation for this?I’ve seen figures that claim that only about 20% of people cheat on their spouses, but I can’t remember where I saw them.Anyone who has sourced stats on this, please feel free to post.

    The cheating numbers generally range from 25-35% over the course of the relationship, if we’re talking solid survey technique. Those really high numbers you see are invariably a non-representative group: people visiting a cheating website, people who have been divorced, etc.

    You can see some of these citations in an old paper of mine on cheating, in the first endnote.

    Also, Lust in Translation points out that these lifetime numbers are not a good measure of how many people are cheating right now. If you only include the last year, U.S. cheating rates fall to about 4%. Which is to say, about 1 in 25 people cheated in the last year.

    Both some polyamorous folks and some monogamous people seem to be invested in inflating the actual rates of cheating – the monogamous folks because they are indulging in paranoia or control tactics, the poly folks because they want to put down monogamy.

  33. Pepper
    Pepper June 10, 2011 at 5:08 pm |

    To comment on what others have said:

    Re: Jealousy. There are exceptions in all directions, but in general monogamy does make it easier to contain jealousy. Because your partner isn’t having sex with other people with your knowledge, which is culturally considered the ultimate jealousy trigger. Dealing with jealousy is a lot easier if this is not happening, and a lot harder if you’re poly or otherwise nonmonogamous.

    And sure, there are freakishly jealous monogamous people who ruin perfectly good monogamous relationships with their jealousy. But those are hopefully the exception.

    Re: STDs. I’m with the folks who have pointed out that openly practicing nonmonogamy won’t necessarily raise your STD rates, because people are so much more conscientious about safer sex. It’s true, and unless you’ve been in one of these nonmonogamous networks, it’s hard to understand just how true it is. There’s no fudging on stuff, each condom break is discussed among folks, and if anyone screws up royally and starts lying *everyone* hears about it eventually.

    All this depends on the particular culture of nonmonogamy of course. I’m describing mixed-gender polyamory. I can’t speak for open relationships, swinging, etc.

    Re: the privileges of being monogamous (or rather het/mono, as someone has pointed out). How are these not advantages exactly? Most of these privileges are things that most people should have, like “being able to talk to my boss about my love life without losing my job” or “not having my children taken away for stupid reasons”. There’s nothing shallow or weird about wanting these things and doing things to get them.

    While I think a decent number of people are either monogamous or pretend to be monogamous in order to get these privileges, that doesn’t make the individual decision (conscious or not) to do so somehow unreasonable or shallow. Indeed, it is eminently reasonable to be monogamous partly or wholly for privilege given the level of privilege we’re talking. This remains true even though I think we can all agree that the system of privilege attached to monogamy is something bad and should be gotten rid of.

    Assuming that people are always monogamous for the “right reasons” (i.e. a predilection to monogamy) as opposed to the “wrong reasons” (to get privilege) strikes me as yet another way to hide or deny the operation of said privilege.

  34. Josh Jasper
    Josh Jasper June 10, 2011 at 5:53 pm |

    I use the “moving parts” analogy for why monogamy is easier – if a machine has more moving parts, the more likley there is for one to break down, and the smooth running of the machine can be impacted. If there’s fewer moving parts, the machine is less likely to break down based on sheer numbers of parts, and complexity. Monogamous relationships are *simple*. Most therapists know how to deal with them, and people most likely won’t be upset at you for monogamy. Family won’t have a problem for the most part either.

  35. Odin
    Odin June 10, 2011 at 6:37 pm |

    @Christina:

    If we want to draw any conclusions about poly “orientations” from the statistic you give on cheating. I think we need to take a look at different reasons people in monogamous relationships cheat. Some probably cheat because really they are poly-oriented, but I’m sure plenty cheat because there are other problems with their relationship, their current emotional health, their maturity, or their morals.

    It’s also worth noting that in species of non-human animals that are considered “socially monogamous” (pairing off with another, usually to raise young together), cheating still happens. Even just viewing ourselves as members of the animal kingdom and leaving issues of ethics and respect aside, we shouldn’t be so quick to equate cheating with polyamory, or an interest in cheating with having a poly orientation.

  36. Li
    Li June 10, 2011 at 10:35 pm |

    Queer monogamous people can still get privilege from being monogamous. A lot of mono queer people in my social groups tend to work a lot at not treating monogamy as normative, but there are defs a lot of examples of people treating non-monogamous people, especially people in non-monogamous relationships as opposed to sexually active single people, as being immature or, more irritatingly, as undermining queer rights. At one of the first marriage equality marches in Sydney people carrying pro-poly signs were spat on my people who told them that they were sabotaging the chance of monogamous queers to get married. Queer people aren’t immune to replicating mono privilege, it’s just that many of us have been more active about deconstructing it than het communities have.

  37. Li
    Li June 10, 2011 at 10:43 pm |

    “You rarely have to think outside the box about relationship problems”

    I think this is a really key point. It is supremely difficult to do things that you haven’t been taught to imagine. We teach people how to do monogamy, not well, I’d argue, but we teach them. People are by and large surrounded by images of monogamy from a very young age. We don’t teach people how to do non-monogamy. We don’t provide them with the words to describe their relationships, the words to describe their relationship structures, and this means that poly people, especially when starting out, frequently have to start from scratch when it comes to figuring stuff out. Mono relationships are in this sense easier, and they’re easier because monogamy is the norm in most western societies. Poly people who will always know that they could be in mono relationships, mono people will not always know that they could be doing negotiated non-monogamy instead of feeling shit/cheating.

  38. Jadey
    Jadey June 10, 2011 at 11:17 pm |

    Li: We teach people how to do monogamy, not well, I’d argue, but we teach them.

    I dunno – everything I’ve ever been taught about monogamy has made it harder for me. All I ever got was a cavalcade of contradictory, do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do messages, and every time I tried a relationship of any kind I fell apart immediately because I didn’t understand what the hell – I had no idea how to behave or how to get things to work like I was told/shown it was supposed to (either from TV or real life). It was one disaster after another.

    To be fair, I eventually figured out that part of my problem is that I’m much more inclined to poly, so on some level monoamory will never make sense to me. But I was taught even less about poly (actually, I was already in poly relationships before I’d even heard that they were a thing) and given almost no examples of that, but I still managed to make it work much better right off the bat. It was more comfortable, I didn’t wig out and fall apart right away, and everything seemed much more manageable.

    Socially, monoamory is less awkward to talk about and more quickly accepted. But on the personal level of how I actually experience my relationships, monoamory will always be harder and poly will always be easier. The social acceptance stuff is more context than content.

  39. Jadey
    Jadey June 10, 2011 at 11:20 pm |

    re: cheating

    Some people cheat not because they want multiple partners, but because they no longer want a relationship with their current partner and just haven’t formally broken it off yet because breaking up is a pain in the ass and people procrastinate on unpleasant tasks. I’ve seen a few couples go through this pattern – they are technically still “together”, but emotionally one or the other is already gone and moved on to a new person. So cheating really does not automatically equal a polyamorous perspective.

  40. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni June 11, 2011 at 10:16 am |

    @Jadey

    I didn’t understand what the hell – I had no idea how to behave or how to get things to work like I was told/shown it was supposed to (either from TV or real life).

    Count me in on the “What the hell IS a ‘real’ relationship, anyway?” confusion.

    My first (and only, and current – 6+years) relationship was scary. I had no model to follow. There are plenty of het role models in the media and life, but not all of them good. But dyke ones? The only women I’d seen living together successfully were The Golden Girls. My dyke friends were of the online variety, and all deeply dysfunctional. To say I was ‘confused’ was a understatement.

    To add further complication to the mix, I had to move in with her after about 10 weeks of dating (although truth be told, I’d hardly left her house since the third date – terribly cliched I know). I’d never lived with someone, she’d been married to a man to try and ‘fix’ herself, things could have gone very badly.

    Luckily my confusion about what ‘really’ being in love was like was corrected by a talking to from her. “It’s not like on telly, or in books. It’s not about chocolates, or flowers, it’s about being there for each other when it’s good and when it’s bad. It’s about having fun, sharing our lives, and doing new things”. It was as easy as that? I wish someone had told me earlier! So here we are.

    Fortunately, lack of societal expectation about just what a pair of dyke lovebirds looks like means we can get away with just about anything. I honestly believe my monogamy is like my homosexuality, orientational. I can’t have sex with someone I don’t have a connection with, and I don’t find physical traits as attractive as mental ones, but even that sort of clicked off once I found her. I meet people, find them amazing and funny and clever, but even if they’re attracted tome I just don’t seem to be able to switch my brain into thinking “What if?”

    I know polyamorists (Some of my best friends…!) but view them in the same way as I view hetero couples- nothing against them, find them interesting to observe, love them as friends, but wouldn’t go there because my brain isn’t wired that way.

    Someone who hadn’t had the luck I’ve had (very understanding and supportive partner, willing to hold my hand through navigating life as ‘We’) may well view things differently. I think I’m lucky to be wired as mono too, because if I were poly I’d be incredibly frustrated as I’d have neither the time nor the energy, to fulfil that side of me.

  41. Bernadette Bosky
    Bernadette Bosky June 11, 2011 at 12:11 pm |

    Josh Jasper:
    I use the “moving parts” analogy for why monogamy is easier – if a machine has more moving parts, the more likley there is for one to break down, and the smooth running of the machine can be impacted.If there’s fewer moving parts, the machine is less likely to break down based on sheer numbers of parts, and complexity.Monogamous relationships are *simple*.

    Aside from how awful that final sentence is if taken out of context– Actually, I was in a couple for six years and then we became 2/3 of a triad for 20+ years and counting, and except for an adjustment period, the triad has been much simpler. Sometimes personalities complement each other in ways that avoid some kinds of friction, instead of causing more.

    However, to MsC & on the other hand, I think poly is “geeky” in a good sense (I tend to use “nerdy”) in that it encourages and rewards people who like to analyze and problem-solve in an engineering kind of way. It’s like the fact that people who build their own computers instead of buying one tend to be nerds.

    My family of origin laughs at how we three discuss every detail–not only of a decision, but of any aftermath–and work things out at such length, but they respect how well we three get along as a result. This is far from unique to polyamory, but I think it’s more central, for one thing because you just don’t have the defaults.

  42. Kristen J.'s Husband
    Kristen J.'s Husband June 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm |

    Regarding jealous, if I’m reading correctly a preference towards monogamy is being conflated with the desire to have a partner who is monogamous. It might be helpful to distinguish between the two. For example, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I had a relationship with a poly woman. I was monogmous, she wasn’t. That part worked for both of us. So I would disagree that jealousy is even related to monogamy, I think its related to the desire for a monogamous partner.

  43. max
    max June 11, 2011 at 1:07 pm |

    Oops, I guess I was somewhat unclear. I think some of what I meant was that I got the implication from this post, “well, we’ve all heard the great things about Non-monogamous (monoamorous?) relationships, so we should give some airtime to the great things about monogamous relationships.” I’m specifically thinking of this sentence: “Yet one thing that often gets lost in conversations about all these options is the advantages of monogamy.”
    But I don’t think this is true, or fully so. And I guess this is the point of my discomfort with the post. I think if people arent talking about the advantages of monogamy, it’s because we’ve heard the script for ever– I don’t think it’s lost in conversations, I think it’s actually the pulse that runs through them and makes them necessary in the first place… Does that make sense? So maybe I’m confused as to what this post is trying to accomplish, since I’m not sure that I think the premise holds? (I mean of course I hope you feel welcome to write whatever you want, for whatever purposes. It’s more that I interpreted the purpose of this post as providing another side to the conversation, but I think that side has been OVERstated so maybe to me the intent didn’t line up with what was accomplished?)
    @Sara (29) what I meant was that I can see it being possible in places (online or in person) where there is a majority to exclusive “polyvangelist” presence for it to make sense to put out a reminder that theres good things about monogamy too, but here it seems like people have a greater breadth of views on the issue and I just feel like in that kind of space that the mainstream view gets privileged because it’s the default; in other words, for it not to be privileged you need (probably a lot) more than an even split of voices. I don’t mean to imply that anyone should not express their views, just that it’s worthwhile to think about the implications and effects of doing so. And I just feel like a space like this has such a great potential to buck the status quo more and more with every post and every discussion (maybe not in a big way but in a way that feels worthwhile) that I wanna make sure these conversations continue.
    I also do want to acknowledge all the hard work that you said went into the post, Clarisse. It does sound like it was challenging to write, and I appreciate that it was written in a way that doesn’t put down any consensual type of relationship. And I really do see the value in that.
    Hope that clears things up!

  44. April
    April June 11, 2011 at 1:38 pm |

    Interesting post, and I’m happy to see it following the Weiner scandal. It’s as good a time as any to start discussing other types of relationship models.

    One thing that continues to disturb me is the insistence many people have on claiming that polyamory is bad because it’s apparently always men who demand it of their allegedly always-monogamous female partners. The majority of the people I know who are poly are also women. Many are bisexual. Polyamory is not a made-up thing that men use to control and manipulate women. (not that this was implied in the post; I’m just saying.)

  45. groggette
    groggette June 11, 2011 at 1:39 pm |

    Clarisse, You’re probably right that there’s no “right” way to write posts like this but I appreciated it greatly and hope that you’re still willing to write more like it. Thanks.

    Comrade Kevin: Polyamory tends to lock one into a very small pool of people who practice it. Most people are monogamous and desire monogamy, and I wouldn’t wish to limit myself from finding a compatible partner.

    I can understand not wanting to limit your potential partner pool, but personally I’d feel a hell of a lot more limited trying to be in a monogamous relationship since I couldn’t be my true self.

    Jadey: Socially, monoamory is less awkward to talk about and more quickly accepted. But on the personal level of how I actually experience my relationships, monoamory will always be harder and poly will always be easier. The social acceptance stuff is more context than content.

    This resonates so much with me. I know that in general monogamy/monoamory is easier (whether for good or bad reasons) but for me, personally? Nope, not easy at all.

  46. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan June 11, 2011 at 2:26 pm |

    I use the “moving parts” analogy for why monogamy is easier – if a machine has more moving parts, the more likley there is for one to break down, and the smooth running of the machine can be impacted.

    This is a bit how I look at it! But it’s more an effort thing than a complexity thing — I barely have the time and energy to maintain the fairly small number of relationships I already have. If I could find a good partner I’d probably wipe my brow, settle down on the couch with them forever and call it good (somewhat my approach with friends and family; I keep them very few but close.) Trying to juggle multiple romantic and/or sexual relationships at the same time sounds exhausting! :p

    (Though talking about “weak praise”, I suppose that “monogamy is lazier!” might be pretty pathetic support for the institution.)

  47. groggette
    groggette June 11, 2011 at 3:30 pm |

    Be fair Clarisse, he didn’t say that until after he said polyamorous men would be hogging up all the womens ;)

  48. Rosemary
    Rosemary June 11, 2011 at 6:19 pm |

    Wow, you missed a LOT of important advantages of monogamy–and some of the ones you did list don’t make much sense (societal acceptance? Come on…). For one, you’re at a much higher risk of contracting STDs if you or your partner is not monogamous. For another, what if you or your partner gets another woman pregnant? What if the child support the father is forced to pay comes at the expense of you or of the children you already have? Blah, this article makes me mad.

  49. XtinaS
    XtinaS June 11, 2011 at 6:51 pm |

    What this post reads like to me is extolling the various benefits and virtues of the default assumption that society has for romantic relationships, which is kind of peculiar.  Next up: just how awesome being straight is.  Enh.

  50. shfree
    shfree June 11, 2011 at 7:02 pm |

    I’m with XtinaS, here. As a person who defines herself as non-monogamous (I’m not poly, and I hate the term “swing”) I’m a little put off by the title. I think monogamy has plenty of cheerleaders in the mainstream society.

  51. LC
    LC June 11, 2011 at 8:22 pm |

    I tend to think that swingers and polyamorists are very often doing basically the same things, and the main difference is in culture rather than practice.

    Shhh! Don’t tell them that, they’ll get mad! *grin*

    There’s a lot of good other stuff I need to come back to here once this work crisis is over, but I just had to comment on that. Poly and Swinger have the two biggest semi-formal cultures so they get a lot of press and they do a lot of defining themselves against one another and they do a lot of “How you do it PROPERLY” pontificating. It tends to irk me, but that is my personal issue with subculture labeling. (I am well aware of this particular quirk of mine.)

    My gut tells me that a lot of the issues people have here are kind of inevitable whenever someone writes something with praise for a privileged position. It’s hard to write something discussing that without it sounding to many people that it is just Yet Another The Status Quo is the Best argument. (Something I don’t think you were doing here, but I’m not sure how one broaches the subject without it hitting some of those notes almost by default.)

  52. Kat
    Kat June 11, 2011 at 9:47 pm |

    I>Yeah, and right now I have an MRA commenting on my blog insisting that polyamory is bad because it’s apparently always women who demand it of their “beta” male partners. Sigh. Some people.

    Oh no! Not the MRAs! My husband discovered them on accident and is now the recipient of much “beta male” and “white knight” name calling. I’d block him and move on.

  53. Matt
    Matt June 12, 2011 at 3:15 am |

    Li:
    Queer monogamous people can still get privilege from being monogamous. A lot of mono queer people in my social groups tend to work a lot at not treating monogamy as normative, but there are defs a lot of examples of people treating non-monogamous people, especially people in non-monogamous relationships as opposed to sexually active single people, as being immature or, more irritatingly, as undermining queer rights. At one of the first marriage equality marches in Sydney people carrying pro-poly signs were spat on my people who told them that they were sabotaging the chance of monogamous queers to get married. Queer people aren’t immune to replicating mono privilege, it’s just that many of us have been more active about deconstructing it than het communities have.

    they arent “replicating mono privilege” friend. they are voicing a totally reasonable concern. this may shock you, but societal change is gradual. getting mono queer marriage rights is a step TOWARDS poly rights. first we got rid of slavery and THEN we worked on progressively furthering the rights of minorities, like removing segregation and discriminatory voting policies. we didnt just decide one day that everyone was equal. sometimes i wish people would consider whats effective first and whats desired second. they might find that they arrive at the destination faster than they thought.

  54. Jadey
    Jadey June 12, 2011 at 4:10 am |

    Right, because spitting on people factors in as a reasonable step at any point and change is never co-opted into further oppression.

  55. Milla
    Milla June 12, 2011 at 12:01 pm |

    @Matt

    I really disagree— throwing people under the bus should never be an option. That is the same kind of thinking that marginalizes (at best— usually, it threatens and excludes) trans* people, POC, bi people, and anyone who doesn’t fit the white, cis, middle-class model of queerness that the HRC likes to promote. There is absolutely mono privilege within the queer community, and it befits us all to examine and check it. While we might get marriage for monogamous queer folk faster if we throw the rest of the our community under the bus, those are rights I’m not comfortable having.

  56. DouglasG
    DouglasG June 12, 2011 at 1:07 pm |

    Mr J (“Mr Kristen” would be my natural choice of designation as not inelegant but might come across as offensive or snarky) comes closest to my own experience. I’ve always been monogamous, but usually felt that I had to apologize for it, and would never have dreamed of trying to impose monogamy on a partner. And I was almost always shamed for something – called unevolved for not being nonmonogamous as well as for not being bisexual, and being constantly dinged for not demanding monogamy back, as if that were some sure indicator of a chronic lack of self-respect. It always just felt like some freaky gift or talent I had, and I could never make sense out of requesting something that seemed meaningful as a gift. How I ever somehow ended up with someone who felt almost exactly the same way for a lifelong relationship I’ll never know.

  57. XtinaS
    XtinaS June 12, 2011 at 4:48 pm |

    The thing that is upsetting me here is, if you were writing about how one style or the other was good for you, I might have input, but I wouldn’t be upset.  Your life, not mine, &c.  It’s where you’re writing in praise of the privileged position in the US that’s upsetting to me.  I was not actually being flippant when I compared this post to writing a similar one in praise of being straight.

    Three things:

    1) What makes jealousy easier to manage, both internally and with a partner, is being at least minimally self-aware, and not being romantically involved with a jerk.  This goes for any relationship style.

    I can’t even get into “you could choose this lifestyle choice to manage your jealousy!”, because then I get flappy-hands.

    2) The reason why monogamy’s advantages aren’t always discussed is because they’re bloody everpresent.  (Like what, I spontaneously forgot that one advantage to being monogamous is I never have to have that awkward conversation with my parents?)  The “include(monogamy.c)” line is automatically appended, by US society, to the top of the relationship-options file.  I don’t need to explicitly define monogamous variables; they’re already included.

    (…okay, I need to stop coding and commenting at the same time.)

    An equivalent would be someone writing in praise of being straight — not being straight is this really rough road, you see, so being straight is easier, which is praiseworthy.  And nobody really talks about the benefits of being straight when discussing their non-straight options!

    (Insofar as it’s an option, naturellemente.)

    3) No one should be made fun of for things about themselves.  This includes monogamy.  That is jerky behaviour on the part of the person making the fun.

    And since it’s jerky behaviour, one could call that person out for being a jerk!  Rather than a polyvangelist!  (Or an evangelical atheist, or a feminazi, or or or.)  It’s almost like people are not representatives of the group, and shouldn’t be treated as such!

    Especially people in the non-majority group.  I’m very sorry that people get teased for being monogamous.  Have these people tried interacting with the non-poly parts of the US?  As in, their workplace, their parents, any media, restaurants or bars, any aspect of the government that relates to relationships, and so forth?

    I am most willing to trade.  I will totally be teased, in return for going to the bar with a not-my-partner date without being stared at, or talking about my partners at work, or never again having to worry about how to broach the topic of polyamory with someone I’m romantically interested in.

  58. Beth
    Beth June 12, 2011 at 5:10 pm |

    I’ve never been in a poly relationship, but I’ve been in open ones in the past – you know, cool to fuck around or whatever. Current relationship is closed in part because I just haven’t desired any outside shit and in part my partner has an incurable STD and navigating that is, well, hard.

    Haha, I’m at a greater risk for getting an STD now in my closed, monogamous relationship than I ever was before.

  59. cellar door
    cellar door June 13, 2011 at 3:41 am |

    Emily Millay Haddad, I agree with every last letter you have written! :)

  60. Cha-Cha
    Cha-Cha June 13, 2011 at 10:34 am |

    I am interested in looking at monogamy / poly as polls on an orientation scale – analogous, for me, to the way I look at gay and straight as polls on the sexual orientation scale, and I happen to fall somewhere in between. I don’t know whether it is actually an orientation, but it feels that way to me.

    I can relate to DouglasG and Kristin J’s Husband, but from the other side. Right now, I’m in an awesome relationship, with someone I hope to marry someday, in which my partner is mostly monogamous but I am not. When we started as a couple, we approached this issue as one of orientation, and set boundaries that made us both comfortable. We have lots of ongoing discussions about what our needs are… ie, we never play the “we already agreed to this so you have to be okay with XYZ” game with each other. We never lie, and we totally experience jealousy (ironically, this is more of an issue for me!) during which we don’t blame the other partner for it, and look deeply at where the insecurity is coming from, before we make requests of each other. I’ve never been happier in my life.

    When I was in my last relationship, which was a failure due to the fact that I was trying to make it with a monogamous, straight man, and neither of us could give the other what we needed, I experienced being monogamous as oppressively as I experienced having to pretend I was straight. This made me start thinking that, perhaps, for me, the “multi” vs “single” partner issue was one of orientation. It feels separate from my bisexuality, and anyway most books I read say that the majority of bisexuals are in monogamous relationships.

    I’m interested in having caring, loving relationships, whether casual or committed. One thing that’s interesting to me is that in the beginning of my current relationship, I would encourage my partner to be okay seeing other people, because I really wanted him to know it was okay. Eventually, he told me this felt like pressure, and he really just wished I’d let him just be with me and whoever I’m with that expresses interest in him, and let that just be that. He’s mostly a single-other-humanbeing-mono oriented person, and that’s that. And, he completely accepts me as I am. I had to get over a lot of guilt about that, and just realize that I should do what I do, openly and honestly, and it’s cool. Wow.

    So that’s my experience, for what it’s worth.

  61. jeffliveshere
    jeffliveshere June 13, 2011 at 11:01 am |

    Amanda Marcotte: They just don’t want extra people in their sexual relationship.

    I think I know some reasons why one would use “extra” in this context, but doing so shows (I think?) a monogamy-centered viewpoint–for many polyamorous folks, “more than one partner” doesn’t equal “extra partners”. :)

  62. Hugo
    Hugo June 13, 2011 at 11:19 am |

    Great post, great discussion.

    I also felt a bit as if Clarisse was “damning with faint praise” the practice of monogamy, particularly with the bit about jealousy management.

    I like monogamy because I like the way in which it forces growth, forces communication, forces adaptation. Sex getting routine? There’s no running to anyone else. There’s only the choice to throw up one’s hands in despair or communicate one’s way to something better. I know poly folks do do communication well, at least much of the time.

    In my marriage, we have a “you and me, kid, against the whole fucking world” attitude. We’re shoulder to shoulder rather than face to face most of the time, busting our butts (we’re both, um, workaholics). But I feel my wife with me all the time, and I’d like to think she feels me with her, even if we’re in different parts of the world. And that connection has no room for or need of anyone else.

    Not the only way. Not even the better way. But our way, and it works.

  63. Jadey
    Jadey June 13, 2011 at 12:09 pm |

    Hugo: I like monogamy because I like the way in which it forces growth, forces communication, forces adaptation. Sex getting routine? There’s no running to anyone else. There’s only the choice to throw up one’s hands in despair or communicate one’s way to something better. I know poly folks do do communication well, at least much of the time.

    There is really no fundamental difference on this score between polyamory and monoamory – it’s more of a feature of committed relationships vs. uncommitted relationships. I’ve been in relationships where I was just interested in hanging out and having fun, not buckling down for the long haul, and it wasn’t a question of how many partners, but what I wanted out of the relationships. Long-term committed poly relationships doesn’t mean that when the going gets tough with one partner, you switch to the next, any more than it would with a long-term committed mono relationships.

    I’ve been thinking about this post all weekend, and I keep running into the conclusion that poly and monoamorous relationships are a hell of a lot more alike than they are different, especially factoring out the social context of acceptability/tolerance (not because it’s irrelevant, because it’s not, but because it’s external to the relationships themselves if we’re thinking about essential differences). Sure, there are some logistical differences of involving more than two people, but the motivations, benefits, challenges, risks, etc., seem to be pretty much on par, as far as I can tell from reading everyone’s perspectives and thinking about my own experiences. I totally buy that some people are more inclined to only want one person at a time and others of us are open to or prefer more than one partner, but it all seems to go to the same types of purposes no matter how we go about it, whether these purposes be fun, passion, sex, security, love, comfort, companionship, etc.

    I think a lot of the “advantages” of either monoamory or polyamory are pretty relative to one’s situation and preferences. Jealousy, for instance, is a pretty multifaceted thing – I remembered this morning how someone I know was subjected to jealousy as part of an abusive (monoamorous) relationship, where her partner deliberately pushed her buttons to make her feel insecure and subsequently jealous as a way of getting the moral high ground and power in their relationship. That seems like something that could happen in any relationship! A lot of the potential benefits of polyamory, like having additional support to get through hard times (more shoulders to lean on! more household income!) can depend heavily on who’s involved, the arrangement of the relationship, and what everyone’s needs and resources are. The social acceptance part is definitely part of a kyriarchical structure, although monoamorous relationships are still subject to a lot of policing for appropriateness on other aspects as well (e.g., conforming to gender roles, expectations about having kids, and so forth).

    Other than the privileges associated with conforming to the dominant narrative on appropriate relationship structure (at least in one way), I’m not sure if there really are any overarching advantages to monoamory, but I don’t believe there are essential disadvantages either. Not as a rule, at least.

  64. Tomek Kulesza
    Tomek Kulesza June 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm |

    “I’ve been thinking about this post all weekend, and I keep running into the conclusion that poly and monoamorous relationships are a hell of a lot more alike than they are different, especially factoring out the social context of acceptability/tolerance”

    Well, i said in the comments section on Clarisse blog that monogamy is small subsection of polyfidelity, which is small subsection of non-monogamy, so, yeah :D ;)

    Also, Hugo, equatin polyamory with automatic dumping of partners in case of problems, instead of working them out? I think you should think that out again…

    (also, the core of that we vs. world connection isn’t actually incompatible with poly)

  65. Pepper
    Pepper June 13, 2011 at 2:08 pm |

    XtinaS: The reason why monogamy’s advantages aren’t always discussed is because they’re bloody everpresent. (Like what, I spontaneously forgot that one advantage to being monogamous is I never have to have that awkward conversation with my parents?) The “include(monogamy.c)” line is automatically appended, by US society, to the top of the relationship-options file. I don’t need to explicitly define monogamous variables; they’re already included.

    I want to challenge this statement. Certainly, if we are talking about monogamous privilege, then it is everpresent and generally understood. Though like other forms of privilege it is purposefully not talked about, so Clarisse’s listing of privilege as an actual advantage can only be done if one acknowledges nonmonogamy as a real possibility first.

    If we get away from privilege and talk about other advantages of monogamy, they are simply not discussed in the mainstream. Monogamy is a hegemonic requirement, not an option that should be advocated. So when people espouse monogamy (which is rare, since it is hegemonic), they do it by claiming that anything else is impossible or they do it by making moral statements. I challenge you to find a mainstream article that actually lists out the pragmatic benefits of monogamy, like Clarisse has done here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. Indeed, when monogamy is explicitly discussed in the mainstream currently, it often seems to be in “is monogamy realistic?” articles.

    Note that this is all to the detriment of monogamous people as well as nonmonogamous people. When I talk to people about polyamory, I get a lot of defensive responses, for the simple reason that monogamous people are often monogamous because they did not know there was a choice, rather than monogamous by inclination or what have you. Discourse that presents monogamy as an actual choice and lists out the pros and cons of that choice is nonmonogamy-affirming in my book, unless it is hugely one-sided.

    We have a problem in the poly communities I engage in, where people new to polyamory spend a couple years unfairly trashing monogamy. This is partly out of anger from their history and partly because they’ve finally found what they are looking for and everything else looks shabby in comparison. But it creates ill-will where none need exist, it screws up people’s approach to relationships, and it bites people later if they want to go back to monogamy.

    So as a polyamory activist I’m very glad this essay was written, and I’ve posted similar things myself in various forums. It addresses a hole in the discourse that is very important to fill.

    Along those lines, Clarisse missed a huge advantage for the monogamous: free time. I’m a very busy poly person, and happily so, but sometimes I dream about all that extra time I would have if I was only dating one person (or hell, two people). Though knowing me, I’d just fill it with organizing work. There are ways to do nonmonogamy that leave one with lots of free time, but on average I would say that monogamous folks have more time for hobbies and other non-dating interests, and that’s a straight-up advantage.

  66. jeffliveshere
    jeffliveshere June 13, 2011 at 4:56 pm |

    Hugo: Sex getting routine? There’s no running to anyone else.

    Yeah, um, nonmonogamous folks aren’t generally nonmonogamous because their sex is getting routine, though I’m sure that does happen. And the language of “running to anyone else” seems (to me!) to imply “better than” at least as much as any of Clarisse’s language…

  67. jeffliveshere
    jeffliveshere June 13, 2011 at 5:03 pm |

    Hugo: In my marriage, we have a “you and me, kid, against the whole fucking world” attitude. We’re shoulder to shoulder rather than face to face most of the time, busting our butts (we’re both, um, workaholics). But I feel my wife with me all the time, and I’d like to think she feels me with her, even if we’re in different parts of the world. And that connection has no room for or need of anyone else.

    I get how this feeling works, and I have felt it at times, but I wonder about it. To the extent that it sort of mirrors the “atomistic” patriarchal view of the autonomous self (the autonomous couple?), it bugs me. That connection has *no* room for anyone else? Not your daughter? Not your friends? Workmates? Your extended family? Who grows your food? Who educates your kid? Who cleans your office at UCSB?

    The people I feel with me as I go through my day-to-day life include not only romantic partner(s), but also my mom, my closest friends, my dead uncle, etc. Plenty of room for them without taking anything away from any of the relationships, and I don’t have to buy into what sort of smacks of a patriarchal sense of self (or coupledom?) that “the two of us against the world” mirrors.

  68. This Week in Feminism | 06.13.11 | College Democrats at the University of Michigan

    […] In Praise of Monogamy | A guide to the pros and cons of polyamory, cheating,  and swinging. (An especially interesting […]

  69. Hugo
    Hugo June 14, 2011 at 10:02 am |

    Jeff, of course my daughter and friends and colleagues and acquaintances (and blog friends!) are important. But for us, the marriage is what endures when most other things are temporal. Eira and I buried our fathers together, eighteen months apart. We’ve made and lost friendships together. We are raising our daughter together.

    But someday, Heloise will move out on her own, perhaps finding a partner with whom she chooses to build a life. And as long as Eira and I are both alive, we each come first in the other’s life. That vision of companionate marriage, of partnership, is of course made possible by a host of privileges. Historically, it’s a relatively new innovation. But it has its appeal and its value. The battery that powers my life right now is my marriage, and I’d like to believe my wife would say much the same thing.

  70. Jennifer
    Jennifer June 14, 2011 at 1:10 pm |

    Clarisse–thanks so much for your writing. I’ve always been really conservative about my sex life, mostly out of fears, some of which are misconceptions (ha ha–pun). Anyway, I appreciate your willingness to put yourself out there in discussing things like this–I can see that you get picked to death by a lot of commenters, but you’ve helped open my eyes to a lot of things. Many other things I’ve read, esp. on polyamory, feel very insulting toward people like me, and this didn’t feel that way. I also liked Pepper’s comments, but thought the free time issue was covered under focus. It’s a big issue for me right now. Anyway, please carry on!

  71. XtinaS
    XtinaS June 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm |

    Alls I know is, while I don’t have anything against monogamy (the only time someone being monogamous affects me at all is if I’m interested in them romantically), I have little to no sympathy for those who wish that poly people would be nicer to them.  They are in a subculture, complaining that they’re made to feel bad for being in the majority, and making the n00b loudmouths reps of the whole group.  Wish I cared.

    (I care when a person is being yelled at by another person, in general.  It sucks to be yelled at; in the case of a jerk doing the yelling, the jerk is a jerk, and should stoppit.  But “monogamous people feel bad so let’s be nice to them” doesn’t interest me at all.  This distinction may be too fine; I may have been a feminist for too long.)

    I understand that you were trying to phrase this-all as a relationship option, rather than a Thing To React To.  That PoV makes sense, and it would be a useful thing for those who are new to poly.  “Dear n00bs: monogamy is a perfectly valid choice; stop being a jerk.”  This post just really, entirely, fantastically did not work for me at all.  The post is presented as praising the norm, and the last thing I expect or want to read on a progressive, intersectionality-lovin’ blog is a defense of the norm… especially one that cites oppression of the non-norm as a selling point.  (Although this method of “let’s be conciliatory to the default group” might explain fun feminism, come to think of it.)

  72. mythago
    mythago June 16, 2011 at 3:53 am |

    Discourse that presents monogamy as an actual choice and lists out the pros and cons of that choice is nonmonogamy-affirming in my book, unless it is hugely one-sided.

    Very well-said, Pepper.

  73. James
    James June 16, 2011 at 9:31 am |

    Some interesting points! I am starting to post my writings on monogamy and polyamory from the last few years. First one here:

    http://iwentdowntotheriver.com/2011/06/16/the-failure-of-monogamy/

  74. jeffliveshere
    jeffliveshere June 16, 2011 at 1:15 pm |

    I am glad this piece is here, but I wonder if Clarisse and Pepper get what XtinaS is saying, really–sure, if this were a “mainstream” forum, then simply mapping out monogamy as one option among others would be more obviously helpful and affirming. Because of the elephant-in-the-room-ness of monogamous privilege, however, it does feel a little weird to read about advantages of monogamy here, where we’re more often expecting privilege to be called out explicitly. While Clarisse does link to the monogamous privilege checklist, I would have liked that stuff to be a larger part of the framing of the entire discussion, at the outset, similar to how folks who post here generally spell out the way privilege is involved in other posts.

    But again: I’m glad this post is here. I think monogamy and non-monogamy or feminist issues, and appropriate to this forum–I just think that designating this as some sort of “mainstream” forum (as Pepper does) is sort of leaving aside the feminist context of the site, a context which (I think!) behooves us to more explicitly spell out privilege stuff than we might expect in actually mainstream forums.

  75. jeffliveshere
    jeffliveshere June 16, 2011 at 3:29 pm |

    Um….yeah…part of my point was that, for non-feminist-centered forums (obviously, depending on one’s point of view, BlogHer is or isn’t feminist-centered), this article makes more sense, as-is. In a primarily feminist space, I would have expected more attention to be paid to the mono privilege stuff. Essentially, I agree that it *is* more of a mainstream article! I just expect (generally) more from feminist spaces regarding acknowledgment of privilege-stuff, and I thought that was part of what XtinaS was reacting to when zie says:
    “The reason why monogamy’s advantages aren’t always discussed is because they’re bloody everpresent.” and the like…

  76. jeffliveshere
    jeffliveshere June 16, 2011 at 4:48 pm |

    @Clarisse:
    I’m going to assume that this comment was for me, although I should say at the outset that I’m sort of surprised by what I read as a hostile response to my criticism: I have said a couple of times that I’m really glad this post was here, even though I do have some issues with it, and with Pepper’s response.

    Clarisse Thorn: If you think you can do better, or you have advice on how to write a post like this better, then give me that.

    I’m pretty sure I already gave that advice, from my first comment to you and Pepper:

    While Clarisse does link to the monogamous privilege checklist, I would have liked that stuff to be a larger part of the framing of the entire discussion, at the outset, similar to how folks who post here generally spell out the way privilege is involved in other posts.

    Clarisse Thorn: And I’ll go one better. If *you* write a post about this topic that centers the issues *you* feel should be centered (whether you’re one of the people who thinks I didn’t praise monogamy enough, or one of the people who thinks I didn’t attack monogamy enough)…

    I made no claims about whether or not you praised or didn’t praise monogamy enough–I criticized the lack of enough explicit acknowledgment of the privilege that lots of monogamous folks get–on a feminist blog, I more expect intersectional analysis, including privileges of all kinds, to be on the front burner.

    That said: There are lots of positive comments on this thread, and on the threads on your personal blog. Heck, Pepper wrote a long one here, mostly full of praise, and he’s one of the most prominent poly activists there is! There are some criticisms too, and you seem to have responded to lots of them. I’m sincerely curious as to why my comments are enjoying such a strong response…?

    I read and enjoy your stuff pretty much constantly, and have commented in positive ways on your personal blog not a little bit. I’ll try to take more care with criticisms in the future, but I sincerely and honestly don’t see my complaints as contradictory, or deserving of the condescension of “hey, you don’t like it, write your own!” Blech.

  77. jeffliveshere
    jeffliveshere June 16, 2011 at 5:14 pm |

    Ok, I just went over to the article on AlterNet and got a hint of the bs “criticisms” being hurled at you over there–and that helped me realize that I could have been way more supportive about what I did like about the article.

    My heartfelt apologies.

  78. XtinaS
    XtinaS June 16, 2011 at 6:03 pm |

    My apologies, then.  I should not have criticised your post, and should not have felt upset.

  79. VR
    VR June 17, 2011 at 12:35 am |

    Clarisse, are you seriously saying that you’re sniping at the individual commenters because you’re upset that collectively, they don’t agree with _each other_? Seriously?

    And are you seriously failing to notice how often the commenters offering criticism are saying they do understand the opposing viewpoint?

    You’re the one who’s being huffy here.

  80. machina
    machina June 17, 2011 at 1:32 am |

    Regarding Pepper’s challenge to find articles on the benefits of monogamy, it wasn’t particularly difficult. Some are scientific (best title:Adaptive advantages of monogamy in the great tit) but there were others like
    this which uses possible emotional benefits of monogamy to reinforce culturally conservative positions: abstinence only education and ending Planned Parenthood funding. I think it’s clearly useful to put the benefits of monogamy in a more progressive context.

  81. Avistew
    Avistew June 17, 2011 at 5:07 am |

    I think the STD issue isn’t about monogamy vs polyamory as much as it’s committed relationships vs casual sex.
    What I mean by that is that the members of a triad, for instance, might be together all of their lives and have 2 partners each in their entire lives (the two other members of the triad) while a mono person might have plenty of one-night stands, relationships that last a month or two, etc, and as a result many more partners.
    Now, it’s also true that when the casual sex is “organized” around a lifestyle, much more precautions are being taken. Therefore I would say for instance that with swinging, condoms are pretty likely to be used. When picking someone up in a bar, and being drunk, etc, it might happen less often (really depends on the individuals).

    So ultimately, being mono doesn’t necessarily mean you have less partners, and as far as casual sex goes the more regulated it is the safer the practices (I gave swinging as an example, but would also assume that prostitution for instance is safer in places where it’s legal and controlled).

    As far as cheating, I think it can happen in any relationship, but it can depend on the cause of cheating. If the person cheats for the thrills of it, then the type of relationship won’t alter that. But if they cheat because they aren’t aware of other options, then it’s more likely to happen in monogamy. And if the person cheats and doesn’t use a condom then, do you think they’ll come back to their spouse and say “er, let’s wear protection until I get tested”? (They probably should say that, but they’re not so likely to do it).
    Seems to me with nonmonogamy, you’re more likely to be able to tell your partner “we need to use protection for a bit”. Hell, if you don’t want to admit you forgot the condom, you can always claim it ripped or something. Not having to justify why you were having sex with someone else in the first place makes it that much easier.

    About pregnancy risks, I’ve witnessed something similar, in organised situations people tend to see it more as something individual (each person uses their own birth control) than something that’s about the couple (and therefore might be out the window with a different partner).

    Does anyone have figure about all of that? It would be interesting to look at them I feel.

  82. XtinaS
    XtinaS June 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm |

    I have no intention of flouncing; this is not the only post, topic, or author on the site.  How silly would it be to flounce from a whole site due to one post I disagree with?

    You wrote this post to the best of your abilities; haters to the left.  Makes perfect sense to me.  I am not being sarcastic.

    I apologised because I shouldn’t have reacted as harshly as I did.  Given that critics of your post are being viewed in a light of “poly people who don’t see monogamy being sneered at enough”, I probably shouldn’t have posted at all; best not to give that view more fuel than it needs.  (For the record, other people’s monogamy doesn’t affect me, unless I’m romantically interested in them, same as sexual orientation.)  You’re feeling attacked, and I didn’t help with that.  So: I apologise for overreacting.  I shouldn’t have been upset; you don’t need that kind of negativity.  Still not being sarcastic.

  83. Lumina
    Lumina June 26, 2011 at 1:33 pm |

    I think that you are correct, it’s not possible to write an article about “the advantages of monogamy” from the perspective of those who practice monogamy as a default. Those are passive “advantages” afforded by privilege. However, people can CHOOSE to practice monogamy and how this practice is sometimes beneficial would make an interesting post.

    For example, a number of years ago my poly partner and I moved from a large city to a small town of 3,500 folks. I started to work locally in a high profile job and quickly entered into the tight everyone-knows-everything-about-everybody network of a small town.

    My partner and I strategized that this was not the time to seek polyamorous connections with members of the community. Rather, we would put our energy into getting to know people and building trusting connections. We practiced and performed monogamy and did not disclose our practice of polyamory until we started to make close friends – which took over a year.

    Based on who we met and the on-line communities we accessed, there was no one practicing polyamory (as we defined it) in that community. In fact, we watched two marriages be destroyed by betrayals. As these drama unfolded it created opportunities to share knowledge about polyamory but despite the subsequent opportunities, neither my partner or I wanted to be a first-hand poly “teachers”.

    In this case both the privilege of monogamy, the context of the small town, professional stakes, and the potential drama of polyamory contributed to our choice. I wonder if other people have similar stories?

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