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Jan 20 2010

Is Monogamy Fair?

Monogamy In any romantic/ sexual relationship, is it reasonable to expect your partner to limit their sexual activity in any way?

Weird question, I know. Here’s why I’m asking it.

In my last column, I talked about porn in relationships. I asked, “In a monogamous relationship, is it reasonable to expect your partner to not watch porn?” And I concluded that it was not. I argued that, for the same reason people don’t have the right to expect their partners not to watch reality TV or read true crime — on their own time, when they don’t have any obligations and their partner isn’t around — people don’t have the right to expect their partners not to enjoy porn. I argued that people have some basic rights to privacy and autonomy — yes, strangely enough, even when they’re in serious committed relationships — and that the things people do on their own time, in ways that don’t have any significant impact on their partner, are entirely their own damn business.

But when I was writing this, I realized that some non-monogamist hard-liners would say the same thing about any sort of sexual activity outside a relationship. Some non-monogamy advocates — not many, but some — would argue that the right to make your own decisions about how to spend your own time extends to having sex with other people. I wrote that people had no more right to expect their partners not to watch porn than to expect them not to watch reality TV… and as I wrote it, I could hear voices in the back of my head saying, “But how is sex different from porn? If watching porn is no different from watching reality TV, then how is having sex with someone outside the relationship any different than seeing a basketball game with someone outside the relationship?”

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Thus begins my new piece for the Blowfish Blog, Is Monogamy Fair? To find out whether I think sex with other people is different from porn when it comes to monogamy agreements — and if so, how — read the rest of the piece. (And if you’re inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

3 comments

  1. 1
    David

    I’m glad you brought up that issue. I don’t believe in one size fits all. There are some situations where monogamy or sexual fidelity don’t work. There are marriages where both parties love each other but the sex doesn’t work. They may have great love but not passion. Where some would say they should divorce, a discreet affair might actually save and possibly improve their relationship. I know many people would scream at this idea as it goes completely against conventional wisdom and morality. I stand by what I say

  2. 2
    c.

    I think monogamy can be fair in principle provided that expectations are made clear from the start but I definitely feel like I got trapped into it. Early on in my (very long-distance) relationship my bf and I agreed on non-monogamy, the only condition being keeping the other partner fully informed. But as soon as I wanted to take advantage of this my bf decided that he wasn’t ok with non-monogamy after all. This definitely isn’t something I would agree to in a new relationship, even with someone I would see more often than every two months, but at this point I’ve become too attached to leave easily. I don’t know what to do and am afraid that if I found someone else the same thing would just happen again. The default-monogamy assumption makes it a lot easier to get away with this kind of bait-and-switch.

  3. 3
    ToppHogg

    If one person in a relationship insists on monogamy, with absolutely NO sexual activity outside the relationship, that person had better expect to satisfy every desire of the partner. Given the parameters of this situation, the partner then has to agree to perform the same service. Otherwise, the relationship is unequal and one partner will eventually decide (whether factually or not is another matter) that they got the short end of the stick, and the potential to destroy the relationship exists.
    It’s my experience that the former is too common – as is the latter.
    As long as we are exposing our relational secrets here, my partner is the one who limits what sex is and is not acceptable. She also controls Who (me and her only) When (once a month whether I need it or not), Where (never at home – but rarely anywhere else), Why (she’s getting horny and expects me to take care of it for her) and How (she remains passive while I service her). The items on the What list are limited also. You would have fingers left over on one hand to cover the possibilities.
    So – just how satisfied am I??? I think you can figure that out without any more help from me!

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