Friday, August 11, 2006

Wednesday, August 09, 2006
The "M" word, continued

Despite the only modest response to my last blog on monogamy (or perhaps because of it), I'd like to offer up a few more ideas on the subject.

One of the obvious difficulties in maintaining a monogamous gay relationship I didn't mention in my last blog is that the gay community seems to lend very little support to this type of relationship. While I don't believe that straights are any more naturally monogamous than gays, the straight community has clearly set monogamy as the norm in their world, and any deviation incurs strong social opprobrium. The gay community, however, is much less defined in this respect; it does not immediately sympathize with the "wronged" partner. The immediate reaction in the gay community may been "Oh, they must be in an 'open' relationship." or even "What in the hell did he (the wronged partner) expect. After all, Così fan tutti."

Perhaps one of the reasons I felt compelled to write about gay monogamy at all was that I feel a tacit accusation of priggishness or prudishness from many gay contacts concerning our monogamous relationship. I haven't failed to register the glee with which infidelities involving supposedly monogamous relationships are reported in gay circles. Although gays are in this respect little different from straights--- gossip is universally attractive!--- the context and repercussions are different. In the straight world reporting the infidelity to the injured party is generally considered in very bad taste and almost always puts the reporter's motivations into question. In gay circles, such tattle tailing is rampant, and seems to be done to be almost an act of vengeance, as if to say, "Hey guys, you're really no better than all us whores out here! So, dump your pretense of monogamy!" When straights cheat, the wronged partener most often finds out because he actually discovers the infidelity himself; it's rare that someone dares to tell him/ her. If I were to cheat on my partner, it is highly likely that he would find out not by catching me and my paramour in flagrantio, but rather through a "helpful" phone call from one of our gay "friends."

Ironically, as I just intimated, this conspiratorial atmosphere exists not so much because most gay guys have anything really against monogamy itself; it's really because, contrary to what we claim, we really feel guilty about sexual promiscuity. If those of us in open relationships or singles who are promiscuous really felt confortable with their own code of sexual conduct, those slips by those of us trying to be monogamous would attract much less notice and would be handled differently, perhaps more constructively.

Because we get only, at best, weak support from the gay community, it is probably wise for monogamous couples to be more tolerant concerning infidelities than is generally the case in the straight community. (Please understand: I have no intension of cheating on my partner, and I have full trust in his loyalty, sexual and otherwise, to me.) Gay male sex is so generally available, especially in cities. Moreover, because of the lack of support for monogamy, a lot of single and semi- single guys would have no scruples about a roll in the hay with a "married" guy. So, things can, of course, happen. (I have to admit, when I was single and horny, I never quizzed a guy on his domestic status before dropping my pants, not did anyone ever ask me. These questions generally came afterward, if one of us was interested in developing a relationship. I can't even truthfully say that, before being involved in my own monogamous relationship, knowing that a guy was "married" would have stopped me from what I saw as a bit of innocent carnal enjoyment.--- Maybe there were, in fact, such incidents. I can't really remember.)

So, guys, if one of your "friends" tells you he saw your one and only in the bushes with a guy from the basketball team, at least until you know that it is really habitual and relationship threatening, just assume they were there hunting for mushrooms.

posted by Bruce at 9:01 AM

Rey said...

While I seem to agree with most of the points from your last post, there are some points where we disagree.

I don't believe that monogamy is something to be achieved as a goal, it is neither good nor bad (at least from the moral point of view, you could argue about STD, etc.). It is not something that should require external support from a community. I don't think there are real absolutes about anything, but either one is mostly monogamous or not; and whatever you are, is always subject to change depending on the nature of your partnership, and/or situation.

In my opinion the concept of monogamy was created a means to protect the nuclear family from harm (e.g.: disease, rape, etc). Monogamy has helped society to flourish because in the old days, strange things happened to promiscuous people (e.g.: they got STD for which there was no cure). Many religious practices (like the kosher practice of not mixing utensils for different foods), likely originated out of a practical need: to prevent diseases like salmonella from spreading. I believe the practice of monogamy is not different.

Nowadays, being monogamous can have many advantages, especially for those who fail to understand how a few minutes of pleasure can give you a lifetime disease. But armed with the right information about STD transmission, and being opened to your partner about your desires to do a, b and c, non-monogamy is a perfectly normal lifestyle. In fact, I believe that non-monogamy is a more natural behavior that monogamy; what is not natural is the secrecy that surrounds it.

Regarding reporting someone's infidelity to the wronged partner, I don't have any information that would allow me to compare straight from gay society regarding this issue; but I must say that the idea of reporting someone's infidelity does not necessarily equates with malice. Not reporting something to a friend that you know would hurt them can be just as malicious or cowardly. I think that you need to look at a particular case and use your best judgment. Probably in most cases it is best to butt out of other’s infidelity issues, but in some cases not saying something can cause more harm than keeping quiet.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 4:10:58 PM

john said...

I think anyone who commits themselves into a relationship, should try to remain faithful. Monogamy should be a part of anyone's life, especially those who take that step towards commitment.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 5:28:18 PM

Bruce said...

First, thank you both, Rey and John, for responding to my post. It's nice to know that someone's out there....

Rey- I don't think we're as far apart on our concepts of monogamy as you imply. I really believe that monogamous relationships are no more moral or in any other way better than "open" relationships or promiscuity. I am monogamous because I consider all of our acts, including sex, meaningful--- nothing is gratuitous---. Sex, for me, then, is automatically and by definition intimate. Hence, I have little choice but to be monogamous. People who view reality differently can and will come out with different, equally valid conclusions on this matter.

As for what is "natural," I really don't know. Some animals are monogamous, some live in polygamous groupings (males are promiscuous within the group; females all "belong" to the same male. Some are fully promiscuous. But does it really matter what is natural? Civilization is essentially a modifying and rechanneling of what is "natural." Is being homosexual "natural" or a modification developed in societies to deal with overpopulation? I think reasoning from what one considers "natural" can sometimes get you into trouble.

Also, to what extent is the role that monogamy played in primitive societies really relevant? Social norms change from place to place and time to time. Large segments of mankind were, at one time or another, polygamous. So, reasoning from an hypothesis as to the origins of an institution may not tell us much.

Also, STDs were hardly a problem outside of the Americas before 1500. The only form of STD before that time in Europe, Africa and Asia was gonorrehea, which would leave the victim sterile, but would not kill him. The first deadly STD, syphelis, is a gift of the New World to global culture. So, it's highly unlikely they were the reason for the development of monogamy. Most likely, it had to do with the protection of children and women and to assure the men that the kids they were protecting were actually theirs.

As for the need for support in monogamous relationships, in general, you're right. If you're monogamous, your're monogamous regardless of what people think. But everyone at times finds himself in a situation in which he is tempted to violate his own principles. A straight is discouraged from cheating because he knows that he will get no sympathy for his social circle. A gay guy will frequently find his fellows egging him on.

As for letting the injured party know about infidelities, I was really discussing not what is right or wrong in such circumstances--- of course there are times when telling is helpful and necessary--- I was just discussing motivations and attitudes among straights and gays.

John--- I am in no way advocating infidelity in monogamous relationships. But a little tolerance and understanding helps. We are all made of flesh and blood and live in a complex world with many pressures.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 8:27:24 PM


Blogger Paul Brownsey said...

I find that though I would go crazy if my partner had sex with someone else I cannot articulate the grounds on which I would feel this.

It's not as if I disapprove of non-monogamy in the abstract: if both partners are happy to live in that way, then fine. A few years ago, at a religion-and-homosexuality conference I put the question why, if it's a nice hospitable Christian thing to share your sandwiches with a stranger on a train, it's not a nice hospital Christian thing to take that one step further and exchange bodily fluids as well as cheeze and tomato sandwiches. There was a lot of huffing and tut-tutting from the rest of the people there but no coherent answer, just mutterings like, "Well, you're betraying the best of yourself," to which I replied, "But why pick out monogamy as the best of yourself? Why is it best?"

If you are breaking your word to your partner by sleeping with others, then, sure, it's wrong, but it's not the non-monogamy that's wrong - it's the breaking of the word.

I can ask myself: I have no problems if my partner goes out with another man for a meal, so what's the crucial difference if they have sex afterwards? Isn't it just *possessiveness* (which we are all told is a Bad Thing) to try to stop him if he wants to? Maybe I'm even corrupted by capitalism and see my partner as I thing I own! I can be pretty confident he's not going to leave me - we got married to each other, UK-style ("Civil Partnership") a few months ago after 30 years together.

But despite such ruminations, and even though it might be possible to bring me to acknowledge that this is irrational, I should be destroyed if I found he was sleeping with someone else. Can anyone articulate it better than I can, this raw intolerance for non-monogamy that resists all attempts to argue it away?

Paul Brownsey
Glasgow, Scotland

Paul Brownsey

9:48 AM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Paul--- At least for me, the issue revolves around the idea of intimacy. What my partner and I do together sexually is an expression of the closeness of our relationship. The way I feel, smell, react; his ability to bring me to lose control in an orgasm, are all things of such intense intamacy that to share them with another man would be an outrage. There is nothing more personal I can tell someone about myself then to let them bring me to orgasm.

I would feel betrayed in a similar way if my partner betrayed a confidence, or discussed the details of our intimacy with someone else. This confidence and intimacy is the mortar that holds our relationship together.

I would like to bring the whole question out of the the context of morality. In fact, the whole issue would be easier to handle if it were only a moral issue. One can, with charity and understanding, forgive a broken promise, even a lie. As you said, it is more difficult to forgive a sexual infidelity.

But although I too, in your words, would go crazy if my partner had sex with someone else, I still have to say that I probably would not end the relationship over a slght slip on his part. Intimacy can be violated by a one time roll in the hay with a stranger, but a slight transgression cannot distroy it. It can be rebuilt.

Habitual sexual betrayal, or a change in attitude towards monogamy, however, are quite a different issue. They involve a shift in values that would, for me at least, justify a reevaluation of the relationship.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Paul Brownsey said...


I'm not taking issue with you, but while the notion of sexual intimacy you describe may capture part of why I could not live without monogamy, I don't think it's the whole story about me. I'm still driven to wonder why that form of intimacy is more fundamental than others (say, a sense of humour or view of the world that is shared). Moreover, I can imagine a relationship in which there was a deep and extensive sexually-charged intimacy even though actual sexual acts were engaged in with others. You do read about gay prostitutes who have boyfriends and who say they can perfectly well put a wall between the sex with clients and the sex with the boyfriend. Indeed, more prosaically, I think I know from my own experience how sometimes one can dislocate the sex one has with others from the sex one has with one's partner: my partner and I had some rocky times in the 70s and 80s and part of my response was quick bathhouse sex, but I don't recall that I experienced that damaging the sex I had with my partner: I compartmentalised. Now, though, I could not behave like that and I could not be the partner of someone who behaved like that: my intolerance of sex with others, whether on my part or on his, seems to have grown with the growth of stability and commitment.

In my case I think the violation of sexual intimacy would be so intolerable because it would be some kind of symbol of or prefiguration of abandonment - that is what I could not tolerate. Yet that can't quite be it because if he told me he wanted occasional sex with someone else but would never abandon me, that wouldn't satisfy me. Perhaps I am after all sliding back towards something like what you said, that the physical intimacy of sex, at least over a long period, simply makes it feel like a complete violation if the other then has sex with someone else.

You speak of wanting to bring the issue out of the context of morality. Well, yes, up to a point I agree; I certainly have no time for prescriptions that are independent of the will of the persons involved; prescriptions to the effect that sex is wrong unless it takes place in this sort of context in this sort of way. If you look at books purporting to reconcile being gay with being Christian you'll often find some version of the line that gay-sex-is-all-right-provided-it's-in-the-context-of-a-monogamous-permanent-relationship. I can see no good reason for accepting that limitation.

But I don't think the matter can be disentangled from morality to the extent that you suggest. If the relationship is built on an agreement to be monogamous and you violate your word to your partner and commit the "outrage" (your word) and cause him pain, well, then it does become a moral matter - but not because of the promiscuity as such. And that you still speak of forgiving (or not) in such a case - the very word suggests a moral dimension.

Paul Brownsey

7:40 AM  

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