One thing we encounter a lot in gay culture are people practicing various forms of nonmonogamy. I am no experienced expert on inner and outer workings of polyamory, but I have encountered various people practicing it and have explored my own nonmonogamous experiences. What does it mean to be nonmonogamous? Well we would have to define monogamy and how it is socially conditioned to be a goal in us since our early childhood, to understand what exists outside of it. Meeting so many diverse styles of relationships and ways of expressing sexuality in the gay community has been a reflective process that causes me to see, like the book “The Ethical Slut” states, “the possibilities are limitless.” We seem to think the only healthy, desirable, ethical, and legitimate way to share our sexuality, express love, and have intimate relationships is through a monogamous mold. While that certainly works for some people, we are not given enough freedom and encouragement in society to see there is so much more. People are all different and need different things, many people are happy expressing and sharing sex and love in different ways then what we are taught to believe is the only way it is meant to be expressed. There is no true right or wrong way to do it, beyond the basic foundation of consent and mutuality. Love is something you simply feel, it seldom makes sense, Gods forbid we limit it by boxes and expectations. Sex is a basic human need and desire, when we value its respectful and consensual practice, it has limitless ways of creating intimacy, pleasure, and life affirming experiences.
Deconstructing Monogamy as “Normative”
So lets begin by deconstructing the idea of monogamy. Monogamy is the notion that two partners agree to be exclusive, and ideally for the purpose of working towards a life long commitment to each other. Ideally with commitment, hard work, and a shared deep intimacy, these partners are supposed to share the most intimate and deepest parts of each other, grow together, care deeply for each other, and aspire toward a lifelong experience of happiness together. Or at least that is the message we are indoctrinated with more or less. There are even heteronormative/gender binary ideas attached to this image as it’s implanted in our consciousness growing up. Always seeing a clear provider and homekeeper role. The only reason to make monogamy a societal expectation for all, is rooted in biblical ideals of marriage that privilege the perspective of the man, to treat the woman as his investment for prodigy. The last name is always the male’s family, to tie the woman to him legally and religiously she must be his faithful servant whilst he lives a societal life making a career. Today monogamy is not nearly as tied to its hetero-patriarchal gender binary roots. But we must question why do we still treat it as ideal to aspire too. Why is it considered the superior way to express love and intimacy for everyone and not just the people that choose it and successfully maintain it?
Since we are young our sexuality is wrapped in fear and shame. We are taught to think sex is a huge deal. We are shown sexualized images in media all around us daily, yet constantly told NO, in feeling good about our sexual feelings, in desiring to share and express it. It has to be preserved for the privacy of a monogamous lover and not talked about or taken pride in. Ideally that lover must carry great potential to be a long time investment to justify anything sexual being shared with them. Is this realistic though? To EXPECT that people must fallow this mold, especially as they hit their growing sexual maturity and begin experimenting with what it is to share their sexuality with someone else? Any person they jack off, fuck, and give/receive oral sex with is someone they should feel obligated to pursue something serious with? Or should feel entitled to make the other obligated? Why can’t it be a perfectly natural growing experience with someone they are taught to respect and expect respect from? If monogamy is all that great for them they will discover that about themselves and they would figure out what they need and feel organically with their partners, if not they will find other ways that bring them their own organic and discovered happiness. As long as people are openly negotiating and consenting to what they want, they are forming healthy relationships that value mutuality. If monogamy would authentically work, it surely wouldn’t need social expectations to enforce it, it would simply be mutually agreed upon and maintained by the individuals that choose it. People that truly believe monogamy should be happening amongst today’s youth are delusional. We all know what the “preachers daughter” is famous for. In towns that teach abstinence only sex education have the highest teen pregnancy rates. You have to be lost in some sort of delusion if you think sex should and is only something to feel good about in a marriage only situation.
Shame Causes Harm, Take Pride in Sexuality
I can’t speak for most of my str8 friends some I know are hyper sexual and can talk about their sexuality openly with me, typically ones that have done enough soul searching to really face their sexuality. But a good many don’t, most gay men are willing to talk more openly about sex. Perhaps because it is a bond, not only does our identity come with realizing our sexuality in some way…but we both understand what it is to have those feelings in a world of “no.” Most gay men I know all seem to fallow a pattern. They all have a period of their life where their homosexuality simply has to explode. It has to be decompressed from being kept under wraps, and fuck all the “no”s I grew up with that said there is something wrong with this. Either that or they do it even though they carry a great shame about it, they feel the shame of the “no” but do it anyway because its who they are and it HAS to come out. Even though they believe there is something wrong with it. That kind of internalized homophobia can become the most dangerous, if you do things that you think what you are doing is wrong how than will it effect you? How do you treat others you share this “wrong” experience with? Gay men HAVE to wrestle with their sexuality and reach some sort of wholistic integration with it in order to aspire to a healthier relationship with themselves, for all these reasons and more. I know I have, and I know a wide diverse variety of other gay men that continue to struggle with this in different ways. Perhaps that is why these discussions are more common amongst us. Sexuality is a defining feature of what makes us different and united as a community, so understanding its diversity and ethics would be important for us. At the end of the day the only thing that matters is that your interactions are safe, healthy, respectful, and both consensual and mutual.
From that basis we understand that any form of sexuality that is forced or manipulated against someone’s willing wishes, that creates biological hazards (not practicing safer sex), that damages another’s sense of happiness and well being is not good. But getting laid and feeling good about it, that’s a great feeling. Where is the feeling of its “wrong” coming from? because it’s damaging your well being and harming you? Or because society makes you feel bad about it? If its the latter you may need to examine that a bit closer. Without society telling you do anything other then respecting the right to affirmative consent…what would you do sexually? There is a big “YES good for you” rather you’re in a polyamorous relationships, an open one, an ethical slut that sleeps around, or monogamous and married. If you really do some soul searching you might find has more of an impact of what we think we want and don’t want and why. If you have slept around and it doesn’t make you feel good and your certain it has nothing to do with shaming from society, then you should respect that and respect what you need to be happy. Either way expecting everyone to have the same sexual needs is not helpful to those that don’t fit the mold. Everyone should be able to feel good and open about who they are, sluts, poly, and married couples all alike. So long as consent and respect are truly and authentically honored, how is that so hard to picture?
The Diversity of Expressing and Sharing Love
Now to talk more about love. Love and sex are different. Yet they are unavoidably interconnected. But we have to understand that difference to understand the infinite diversity of sexuality. Sex is the action of sexual activity. Love is a feeling of being connected to someone and feeling a deep meaning and value in that connection, one that evokes a deep caring for the other. However that too is not limited to monogamy. You can deeply love someone and not have sex with them. You can love someone, share something sexual with them and not be exclusive or even committed to them. You can love someone have sex with them, and make an exclusive lifelong commitment with them. In fact you could love someone, not have sex with them, and make an exclusive lifelong commitment with them. Just like with sex, love’s possibilities are also limitless. It can be intimate, spiritual, compassionate, platonic, or whatever have you. Don’t limit love to a monogamous marriage alone, it has so much infinite possibilities to keep humanity connected. Should I ever choose to marry a man some day, I know for a fact I wouldn’t stop loving other people. My friends, my family, my community, and even the world in some sort of transcendental spiritual way.
That said sexual relationships don’t have to be monogamous to be loving in someway. Sure its pretty hard to say you can share the same emotional depth and intimacy with a one night stand that you would with a lifelong partner. But that doesn’t mean there are no feelings involved in a one night stand, or a friends with benefits. Sexual relationships that contain no commitment or exclusivity can be approached with sensitivity, compassion, and yes love. I could love a friends with benefits without loving them in such a way that I want to be exclusive or committed to them. Nor does love have to be jealous, you can you can love someone deeply and choose not keep what you share sexually exclusive. You can even have two partners or more even that you deeply love and share something sexual with. Or amongst many of these limitless possibilities of how love and sex interact, it could also be something exclusive and special between just two people.
In Diversity We Find Humanity
Exploring the world of nonmonogamy for me has simply implied reexamining what we consider to be love and sexuality at its roots. Someone once told me that the meaning of the word “radical” is really just examining something at its root. We could stick with something we are conventionally raised to believe and trust that ideology as correct. Or we can deconstruct it and examine both sex and love without socially conventional ideology impacting our understanding of that experience as it organically happens. So yes in that respect I think I am quite radical. We live in a society where a wife beater or a rapist would have more respect so long as they were monogamous, then a sex worker or slut that considers mutual consent to be a moral obligation. With how common rape is we really should examine our relationship with sexuality and question conventional thought as to what is right and wrong about it. Queers of all kind use to be denied the right to marry here in the USA, but now that its law of the land we have the privilege of that option if we want it. I think that’s wonderful, but I can’t help but admire radical queer perspectives that would want to dismantle and deconstruct the normative nature of the institution of monogamous marriage. That’s not to say it as an option should be taken way, so much it as a normative (expected and enforced) option should be taken away.
I know of a polyamorous triad that has been committed to each other for a decade now. Tell me that is not a loving and committed relationship that is not just as legitimate as a monogamous couple that have achieved the same goal? Or even otherwise, some people are perfectly happy pursuing other things. Someone’s ethical proud slutiness is a perfectly legitimate way to share and express your sexuality, so long as the individual is safe, ethical, and respectful of their partners, why is their more casual sexcapades so bad? Not to mention MOST people at some point have a one night stand or casual hook-up partner at some point in their life and I would be willing to bet gay men are more likely to then other sexual identities. I have met many gay men that slut shame yet I have seen and heard about their sexcapades in the “gay underground” as I like to call it. How sad it is they have to feel like that exploration of themselves is wrong or shameful. I tend to find that gay men that have no shame in their more casual sexual encounters tend to be more ethical and respectful about it. Like that popular video on national coming out day that was flooding the social media this past 2015 year. A father in the 1950s tells his closeted queer kid “don’t sneak, if you sneak than that means you think something about what you are doing is wrong, and if you think what you are doing is wrong it will ruin your immortal soul.” This is the true meaning of pride, don’t be ashamed of being a homosexual that likes sex, if you always feel bad about wanting to have homosexual experiences, it will psychologically damage you. If you really have a healthy relationship with with your homosexuality you shouldn’t be ashamed of exploring it with consenting and respectful partners. It’s healthy to do so.
This is all to the goal of saying we need to embrace and celebrate the diversity of our community. One of the most beautiful things I have enjoyed about exploring gay culture has been meeting people with diverse sexual desires and backgrounds. People that have discovered love in ways that defy the expectations of heteronormative monogamous society. The gay community’s symbol, the rainbow flag, holds deep meaning about what it is to truly experience our community. Rather its leather daddies, polyamorous partners, guys in open relationships, BDSM and Kink, sex workers and porn stars, or pioneering husbands enjoying the marriage equality we have fought to achieve. We are all different. Some have told me there is no “gay culture” because there are so many sub-communities that are fractured and exclusionary. I disagree, I see the multilayered diversity of our community and I see a beautiful expression of gay diversity. To really have gay pride, I think you have to embrace them all as apart of the whole, while celebrating the fact we are all different. The more I explore my social experiences with drag, people I know from the leather scene, meeting sex workers and hearing their perspectives, getting to know successful marriages and traditional love stories between husbands, and poly gays. The more I find its really about embracing and celebrating our human diversity and letting the limitless possibilities of it reflect back upon myself.
Instead of relying on a social expectation or the voice of others to determine what is right and wrong for me, I can see the limitless expressions and possibilities of what it is to be queer. To defy the mold. It makes me question in myself what is authentically me, and what is the expectations of society. I have met many men I greatly respect and admire for being themselves without shame, even when conventional society stigmatizes them. To explore the diversity of sexuality we see a true challenge. So much shame is surrounded in sex that its one of the most stigmatized of our time to discuss. With fear of sexual power or ridicule for not fitting hetero-monogamous standards, we do a disservice to ending rape culture, to encouraging ethical regard for the many diverse ways we engage and share sex. End the stigma and shame of erotiphobia and you end the ignorance that causes things like rape, or STDs, and even aspects of internalized homophobia too. In the end reflecting on the diversity of human sexuality beyond a monogamous expression alone just reminds us that we are all human. Ethical sluts, Kink, sex workers, porn stars, poly, and all the rest. As such we all deserve equal regard and respect. Its in our diversity that we truly discover our humanity.