Among the majority – part 1/2: We are all monogamous!

There is a group of people in the Eurocentric/Western society whose values, beliefs and activities are the main source for the continued suppression of female sexuality and, as a consequence, everyone’s sexuality. By adjustment and attachment to norms, they generate, maintain, facilitate and accelerate typical patriarchal oppression strategies. Usually, they are the majority of the total population. Terms like subculture (Latin sub = under) or alternative community (Latin alter = different) originate in the comparison of their respective characteristics to this majority culture. People in subcultures who live an alternative sexual lifestyle (e.g. swinging, BDSM) and/or alternative models of romantic relationships (e.g. polyamory) often use certain terms as conscious demarcation to this majority culture. Mostly, these are used pejoratively. In order to write neutrally, I will use “heteronormative mainstream”, a term already implemented in feminist discourse.

  • Hetero, since the preferred sexual and romantic orientation in this majority culture is straight (German hetero = straight). The queer community has originated from struggle against this principle and has been the largest opposition group until today. That’s why the most famous characteristic of the queer community is their equal rights movement for same-sex ways of life. Their demands include the legalisation of same-sex marriage, adoption of children and reproductive medicine – to name only the issues most widely known for now.
  • Normative since I describe a set of norms which don’t need to be healthy conditions by definition.
  • Mainstream, since the majority of the population believes in or at least acts on these norms.

Within the heteronormative mainstream, the term “monogamous” is a crucial recognition feature. It is usually used as statement about one’s own identity: I am monogamous. However, monogamy or being monogamous can have different meanings depending on which person is asked about their personal definition:

  • The desire to have sex with only one person
  • To desire a romantic relationship with only one other person
  • When already in a romantic relationship, the desire to have sex only with this one significant other person

Etymologically, mono is Ancient Greek for one and gam means mating partner. The term gametes in cell biology is derived from the last; it is the umbrella term for egg and sperm cells. In the actual sense of the word, monogamous therefore means “having only one other person who I have sex with”. But this is not applied correctly even to the animal realm. Some birds that keep the same nesting partner for life, for example, and have sex with other birds during mating season (males and females!). But despite this mating behaviour, they are still called monogamous animals and are sometimes used as a role model for sexually closed romantic relationships between humans.

Most people use the term monogamy nowadays in the sense of the third point: They desire a romantic relationship with only one person who will then be the only person they have sex with. This does, however, not correspond to the nature of most people, but is a completely false idea defended by the heteronormative mainstream. Whether an idea is false can be determined by comparing the respective idea to its usage in reality: If contradictions can be found, the idea is most certainly false. In this case, heavy contradictions can be easily found: Secret affairs or separations due to “cheating” ( = having sex with someone else than one’s romantic partner) are deeply entrenched into the collective memory of any patriarchal society: In Eurocentric/Western society, mouth-by-mouth stories, written stories, media and popular culture keep narrating these observations to such an extent that they have been considered “common knowledge”.

From this fact, the following conclusion is obvious: Most people, be it women, men or other genders, wish to have sex not only within a romantic relationship, but also with other people who are not their romantic partners.
Example: A straight couple, who identifies as monogamous, is on a holiday with their best straight male friend. All three sit at the beach and the best friend puts sunscreen on the woman’s back. At which point can this situation be considered “cheating”?

  • If he gives her a nice backrub with sunscreen, and that arouses both of them?
  • If there is not only talking, but mutual compliments and flirting as well?
  • If she takes off her bikini top and the best friend puts sunscreen on her breasts as well?
  • If they take off their clothes and allow to see each other naked, so that a brief erotic situation arises and the best friend gets an erection?

Each couple has their own opinion and philosophy on these options, and ideally, some rules and boundaries: For some, flirting with someone who could be interesting at the sexual level is already a deadly sin, whereas others allow everything except genital activities or penetration-by-penis intercourse. The term monogamous therefore makes no sense in everyday life:

  • It is not clearly defined: Each couple creates its own meaning. As a consequence, different couples do not really understand each other if they use the term monogamy.
  • It is simply false: Because the definition which is widely agreed upon nowadays – that, when in a romantic relationship, people only desire sex with their romantic partner – is a generally false idea about mankind.

I have renamed this false idea to the patriarchal construct of monogamy.

Among the majority – part 2/2: The patriarchal construct of monogamy

The patriarchal construct of monogamy is essentially a derivate from the patriarchal construct of the social role “woman”. The only difference is that a complementary social role (like the social role “man”) is not necessary any more. This patriarchal construct can be maintained and reinforced by people regardless of their gender, be it women, men or other genders. The patriarchal construct of monogamy consists of four individual lies:

  1. Desires and wishes at the sexual level and the romantic level are the same thing.
  2. If someone is sexually attracted to another person, a desire for intimacy at the romantic level will always be a part of this attraction.
  3. As long as the romantic relationship is healthy for both individuals involved, it is not possible to fall in love with someone else.
  4. As long as the romantic relationship is healthy for both individuals involved, it is not possible to desire another person sexually.

The heteronormative mainstream is represented by the majority of the total population of every patriarchal society. The majority of this group either believes in the patriarchal construct of monogamy or at least displays it publicly while acting out the opposite privately. The desire for sexuality is one of the strongest internal forces of each person. Therefore, suppressing it always leads to significant consequences. If desire at the sexual level is only acted out in unison with the romantic level, thus according to the patriarchal construct of monogamy with only one person, a significant part of one’s own sexual desire will always remain unsatisfied. The suppressed energy will go somewhere; that’s why the pressure in one’s unconscious increases, until desire breaks its course.

In the short term, an obvious sign for this claim are sexual activities that are pursued “spontaneously”, after all individuals involved have consumed enough alcohol or other drugs, so that they are less inhibited and their suppressed wishes don’t have to overcome so many obstacles on their way out. In order not to question the existing false idea and thus to act against the majority of people, these eruptions usually happen secretly, or are concealed as well as possible afterwards. In the medium term, secret sexual affairs will be pursued which are carried out beside sexual activities with one’s romantic partner. If someone pokes into the topic, the individual who has an affair will be quick to offer weak justifications, such as:

  • Going after sexual practices which they believe their romantic partner dislikes / doesn’t accept
  • A wellness session or little treat they somehow “deserve”
  • A get-back for lack of emotional attention or fair treatment from the romantic partner

The funny thing is that these justifications are never about the person with whom the secret sexual encounter(s) took place, but that they always allow a glimpse into the emotional issues within the romantic relationship: The unwillingness to listen to their partner, to ask for needs and wishes properly, or to initiate a talk about their own needs and wishes. This shows that the necessity for secrecy is not rooted in the reasons the justifications contain, but in the wish to avoid conflicts – mostly with one’s romantic partner, but also with one’s (patriarchal) social environment since most of its members will have the same issues and the same unwillingness to confront them. This is the true origin of the word “cheating” for having secret sexual encounters while in a sexually closed relationship: The individual who has an affair gets their desire at the sexual level more satisfied in a way that would raise conflicts while the same person continues to act sexually closed in public and thus receives a fake sense of peace and tolerance in their romantic relationship and social environment.

To whom this might look like a clever strategy: Don’t be fooled. While it may seem that one can circumvent the conflicts, the individuals involved only repress them. Since the purpose of a romantic partner is to love and care for each other, meaning to share each other’s life to the maximum extent, this person has a right to participate in all decisions that influence the shared time, energy and space – including sexuality. This is why hiding fundamental wishes such as one’s own sexuality and sexual fantasies from one’s romantic partner can be considered unethical without question. The “cheat” even makes the situation worse than before: It fuels additional conflicts due to its unethical, unfair nature which creates the potential for explosive uncovering of the secret sexual encounter(s) or affair(s).

The Belgian-Jewish psychotherapist Esther Perel gave a comprehensive TED Talk on secret affairs, and I agree with it in every aspect. It discusses what drives people in a closed relationship to pursue secret sexual acitivities, and how affected couples have a chance to reunite after an uncovered affair.

The conclusion, however, that those who secretly pursue their sexual desires are “the evil-doers” and those, who don’t, are “the good ones”, is just as false as the whole patriarchal construct. In reality, both individuals involved within a romantic relationship under the patriarchal construct of monogamy play their part in its perpetuation. The person who suppresses his/her own sexual wishes towards other people also expects this from his/her romantic partner: This is the first 50%-portion of responsibility for the situation, as expecting one’s romantic partner to ignore his/her own sexuality, which, due to its internal force, is quite identity-shaping, is not love, but just egocentric possession thinking. One’s romantic partner is actually treated like a sex toy, which can be put back into the drawer after usage, not like an individual person with feelings. The person who does not suppress his/her sexual wishes expects from his/her romantic partner to not put any limitations to the pursuit of his/her sexual wishes. This behaviour originates in the psychological principle that in order to overthrow something standing in one’s way, one must use the exact opposite as a weapon. If one side constantly sets up pointless limitations in accordance with the patriarchal construct of monogamy, the other side tries to terminate this suppression mechanism by an allergic reaction against all limitations whatsoever. These are the missing 50% of responsibility.

The two courses of action described above then reinforce each other: The person who wishes to act on his/her sexual desires gets more and more annoyed because of the constant pointless limitations by the person who suppresses his/her own sexual desires, and ignores the sexual wishes of his/her romantic partner. Depending upon duration and the way the conflict is expressed, the active person can develop a lot of anger, which later unleashes in unilateral actions: “If you deny me my right to be an individual and instead keep treating me like your personal sex toy, I will pursue my sexual desires without asking or telling you!” Naturally, this behaviour is usually noticed by the suppressing person in some way, but instead of questioning his/her principles, the anger is vented towards the romantic partner and the ignorance increases: “You have to desire sex only with me, and you have acted against this law, so now I will put up more barricades!” Both parties are convinced to have the “right” strategy and try to persuade the other one of the correct strategy. However, in fact, both individuals carry out a 50%-portion of a patriarchal construct which has been false from the beginning. This destructive dynamic can go on until the patriarchal construct of monogamy shoots itself in the foot:

  1. Desires and wishes at the sexual level and the romantic level are the same thing.

One person within a romantic relationship is sexually attracted to another person and would like to pursue sexual fantasies with him/her – the respective person is recognized as sexy, hot or very beautiful.

  1. If someone is sexually attracted to another person, a desire for intimacy at the romantic level will always be a part of this attraction.

Now this person confuses – subconsciously (!) – his/her own wishes due to the above patriarchal construct: “Just sex” cannot be the case since a sexual attraction to another person will automatically be linked to a desire for romantic intimacy with this respective person. In addition, the constant necessity for secrecy gets more and more annoying. Why can’t we just “do it”? Openly and honestly, not worrying about how to sneak past one’s romantic partner and tell a convincing bundle of lies afterwards?

After that, the person starts to develop a crush on the person, who he/she is sexually attracted to at the time. But this is not about being an asshole and faking romantic desire in order to get sex. The person who has a crush on someone else actually feels like they are in love and desires a romantic relationship with this new person.

If the crush is reciprocated, the suppressing person is defeated with his/her own weapons: Since there is also a new sexual level included in the new romantic level, the active person can finally act on sexual desires to another person than his/her romantic partner – openly and officially. But because of the third and fourth points within the patriarchal construct of monogamy, the romantic level with the pre-existing romantic partner is now in question:

  1. As long as the romantic relationship is healthy for both individuals involved, it is not possible to desire another person sexually.
  2. As long as the romantic relationship is healthy for both individuals involved, it is not possible to fall in love with someone else.

From the perspective of the patriarchal construct of monogamy, the fact that oneself or one’s romantic partner fell in love with a new person indicates that the current romantic relationship and/or mutual sexuality were not working for both individuals involved. If they had been working, one would not have fallen in love and/or pursued sexual activities with another person. This conflict results in emotional pain for both sides and usually leads to the pre-existing couple’s separation.

This is already a well-known phenomenon in the heteronormative mainstream (and the queer community as well!): The term is serial monogamy.