Scott Barnes

Of Monogamy

Filed By Scott Barnes | July 17, 2006 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement

One of the articles I read at Borders yesterday in The Advocate was written by the first openly gay psychiatrist in the American Psychiatric Association. I didn't commit his name or exact quotes to memory so I'm going to paraphrase a lot here, but he has come out with a new book in which he advises gay men to "strive for" monogamy in their relationships.

He said that he believes as children, gay men deal with the threat or reality of family and friends turning against them and therefore grow up to be adults that don't fully trust other people. He said that "open relationships" are a symptom of that lack of trust, because the partners are 1.) on some level refusing to commit to each other, 2.) are purposefully establishing rules that naturally inject some form of doubt into the relationship, or 3.) are refusing to believe that they can be fully satisfied by having a deep and still dynamic relationship with one person.

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I think that about the same amount of gay vs straight relationships are actually "open" relationships. The vast majority, I believe, are actually just relationships where one (or both) partner sleeps around.

I think that as a male, we are programmed through heredity to unfaithfulness. In cave man days, the man would screw the first available woman just in attempts to procreate. The more women he slept with, the greater the chances that his genes would be passed on. (Think infant mortality rates...) Having more than one wife was common (think: the Bible) along with other assorted concubines and slaves that it was common for the male "owner" to sleep with.

Men are more likely to still be seeking to "spread the seed" to as many possible partners. Modern man tries to control that via societal pressures, religious beliefs and personal determination, but the urges are still there - usually coming out as unfaithfulness. Therefore, when you get two men together the odds that they'll be monogamous is slim.

I'm not saying I've researched this. I'm just saying what's always rattled around in my head whenever I had this mental conversation. I'm willing to be taught otherwise if someone else knows the science behind this.

Bruce Parker | July 17, 2006 5:27 PM

Well, I don't actually have a firm set of beliefs about monogamy versus non-monogamy. I will say that I think the assumption that damage causes non-monogamy ignores the reality that heteronormativity and social structures that reinforce monogamy as the norm are directly related to its prevelance. That said, I still want a monogamous boyfriend and maybe a cat.

However, I am about to pick on you a little here Mr. Browning...

"I think that about the same amount of gay vs straight relationships are actually "open" relationships."

I would argue first that having sex outside of a relationship without your partner knowing or agreeing to it is very different than being in an open relationship. Cheating is still cheating if all parties don't know and agree. Open relationships should be structured on trust and (suprise) openness. My experience has been that to be successful in an open relationship requires a whole different degree of trust in your partner.

"I think that as a male, we are programmed through heredity to unfaithfulness."

This argument seems to lead itself very easily down the path of programmed to procreate. Which then says programmed to be straight. Clearly, that seems the natural outcome of this line of thinking. I wonder how this argument breaks down when its women who are cheating or bottoms who don't really spread their seed anywhere.

Plus, the exact arguement you made about biological differences in behavior has tons of potential very anti-femiinist elements. How is it any different to argue that men are "just predetermined to be better at math" or "women are biologically more hysterical?"

Finally, I am very busy reading Foucault (A french thinker) in my free time this summer and one of his big points is that society using the notion of deviant to police what is socially acceptable. He actually focuses on psychology's role in doing this very very in depth.

My thinking is we avoid biological deterministic arguements, we avoid simplistic analysis, and instead focus on freedom of choice. If any number of consenting adults work on their lives and choose to structure their romantic lives in any shape shouldn't it be based on two questions whether it is okay or not?

1. Are they hurting anyone?
2. Are they happy?

Seems like some basic criteria to make these assessments on.

Thoughts from a straight married woman - first, I don't think society does gay men much of a favor. They don't want them to be promiscuous, but they don't want to allow them to get married. So this group of people don't have a lot of positive role models in the marriage/relationship department. Second, I tend to agree with Bruce about freedom of choice. My grandparents were married for almost 64 years. My parents were married for almost 62 years. What I noticed most about their relationships was respect. Not only did they love each other, they respected each other and worked at their relationships. Everyone needs to do that, gay or straight. If you take vows, whether they're "legal" or not, you make a commitment to that person. I believe that God gave people free will - meaning we make our own choices. Even if, for argument's sake, men are programmed to screw around, they still have a little voice in their heads telling them it's the wrong thing to do. If you and your partner decide together you want an open relationship, that's okay. But to me, cheating is still cheating. Sorry, you can't have it both ways.

Perhaps I should clarify. When I said, "I think that about the same amount of gay vs straight relationships are actually "open" relationships. The vast majority, I believe, are actually just relationships where one (or both) partner sleeps around." I meant that I think the percentage of people who are in a real open relationship is pretty small. The rest are just dealing with a cheating spouse - which, I agree with Bruce, is very different from an open relationship...

I do wonder though which sex is more likely to sleep around - men or women...

I'ven't got much philosophical insight, but I will say this: it's not fair. I'm a twenty-year-old gay male who wants to settle down in a serious, loving relationship built upon trust and respect. That puts me in the minority (an understatement, believe me). When I look up profiles of gay men at my university on Facebook, 95% are looking for, "Whatever". Where do I place the blame? From the lack of positive role models to our crumbling social infrastructure in which psychological neoteny reigns supreme, there is no end in sight.

Rick Sutton | July 18, 2006 12:43 PM

Interesting points, but this caught my eye: he read it in Borders.

Doesn't anyone buy magazines anymore?


Rick: If you go into the Borders I was visiting, there's a brand statement on the wall near the magazines that actually ENCOURAGES browsing, just so you know.


Well, I agree with NMVK - gays don't have good role models right now. As far as straight couples go, they've always cheated on each other and probably always will. I think a lot of people get married for the wrong reasons anyway, but that's another story.

Nick Clarkson | July 19, 2006 11:25 PM

I too would avoid biologically determinist explanations; I'm not inclined to speculate about a male/female divide in terms of behavior (partly because that divide seems really artificial to me at this point, partly because as a feminist I'm skeptical of these men's vs women's behavior conversations leading anywhere productive).

I think the encouragement for queers to "strive for monogamy" is heterosexist crap. On a linear hetero scale, non-monogamy is immature. You're supposed to outgrow that phase and settle down. Along this line of thinking, queers are perpetually immature and inferior to straight people. I'm really not sure I can handle open relationships myself (given a lack of role-models and an abundance of monogamy propaganda), but I love the thought of a queer community that explores relational possibilities and kinship networks that aren't heteronormative.