In the mainstream – 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.