This is our truth, tell us yours
content note for mention, without details of coercive control
There are as many ways of doing relationships as there are people in relationships. As a sex worker I know that what comes under the heading “monogamy” is in fact many different things. Some clients fool themselves that their wife doesn’t know, others have arrangements, spoken or unspoken, whilst at the ends of the spectrum lie those who genuinely do manage to keep it secret and those who partners are relieved they are going elsewhere. (And believe me, before I became a sex worker I thought the woman who refused sex after marriage was a misogynistic myth, it’s not). All of these people are in apparently mono relationships, and many visit sex workers because they see themselves as monogamous.
The world, or rather the media, is fascinated by relationships which do not conform to the picture of monogamy painted by Barbara Cartland novels. It’s odd because journalists are hardly models of chastity or fidelity, so the fact there is more than one way to do relationships should be apparent to them, but it seems not. Injunctions are fought so they can report threesomes, headlines scream of a zed list celeb having sex with a second-rate footballer, and then there are the so-called serious articles like this one. A tiny study, of 10 couples,with interviews of 45 minutes, frankly shouldnt pass peer review, never mind get reported on. That said it’s hardly as if the media need an excuse to print another article on non monogamy.
It always strikes me, perhaps from my experience as a sex worker that the monogamy/non monogamy divide is another false binary. I am, by all measures non monogamous, however what does that mean? I had a tutor once who insisted that sex workers did not kiss in order to “keep something special” for their partners. Whilst she may have been right about the compartmentalization which marks successful relationships in my experience it rarely works if it’s based on a tick list of sexual acts. If I think about recent events in my life, I had a medical appointment recently, I wanted, and I needed, someone by my side who was able to guide me through the panic attack and hysteria it provoked. Far more than rules about where tongues can go it spoke to the fact our relationships are not uniform, we are different people in different spaces. We need different people in different spaces.
Monogamy, or its more evangelical supporters, seem to want to deny what is a fundamental truth to me. We are complex creatures, who should not be demanding one person meet all of our needs. This of course does not mean that everyone should have a variety of sexual partners, as not all needs are sexual. The myth of monogamous romantic love however fails so many because they are raised on the idea that “the one” should be the only one. A common problem page complaint is that a partner in a monogamous relationship is viewing pornography, and their partner feels betrayed. How reasonable is it to demand that you are the only person another is sexually aroused by? To me it seems completely unreasonable, an attempt to control another’s sexuality in a way that borders on coercive, but it is the accepted model. The belief that only one person, ever, can fulfil your emotional, physical, sexual,and all other needs, is one that promoted by abusers in relationships. It’s common for victims of coercive control to isolate their victims, to demand they end friendships, to monitor their contact with others. There is a reason that books like 50 shades of shite and romantic fiction in general are triggering to survivors, the line between the ideal monogamous romantic relationship and abusive relationships is not clearly marked at all.
Needing, wanting, a variety of people in our lives is not a bad thing, despite the myth of “the one”. If it was encouraged, with or without sex, for us to stop looking for the one and start looking for the few, or even the many, who make our lives brighter and whose lives we make brighter, we would all be happier beings. Instead of the monogamy/non monogomy split based on rules around who can put what body part where with whom, I propose a new split. Between those who believe a variety of human relationships, of different kinds, enhance our lives, and those who do not. After that its all just negotiation of hard limits.