Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sex in the New Millennium

Here is a thought-provoking and elucidating segment with Cornell sexologist Michael Perelman, courtesy of Big Think.

What do you think? Is monogamy passé?


Anonymous said...

Absolutely not. Monogamy will never be passe because ultimately it has nothing to do with sex for pleasure or procreation and everything to do with finding a person you can walk thru life with with complete trust that they want you happy and you want the same for them.Being monogamous may start out satisfying the societial conventions but as time passes if one is lucky enough to work thru ups and downs it goes beyond creating order and turns into the reason to take the next breath with a smile. A monogamous relationship becomes a retreat from societial precriptions not the dictate.

BJK said...

I would agree that monogamy is not "passé," but I would emphasize the caveat that many frameworks within and extended from the social construct of monogamy are ill-founded, arbitrary, unhealthy, and/or outdated. (The notion of "soul-mates" or of pairs completing each other, for instance.)

And I'd counter that it certainly is a social construct, because it's "rightness" or "wrongness" or "normalcy" (problematic terms all) exist squarely within social/societal dialectics.

There are definitely also evolutionary reinforcements that strengthen the construct, but it ultimately remains one of many possible social orders that has come to dominate, largely due to religious and socio-normative pressures.

Still, I agree that monogamy survives for reasons besides societal mores. You've hit upon something in separating monogamy from strictly sexual or procreative instincts. Our species has a related but more complex instinct for a supreme level of companionship that explains another aspect of the dominance of monogamy in humans (not to mention higher-level/more-irrational emotions like jealousy and possessiveness).

Final point: one problem with the normative role of social constructs is the demonizing of — or even just dissuasion from — alternate modes of living/bonding. Just as hetero-normative conventions lead to discrimination, so might monogamy-centric "values."

This is where the issue gets interesting... At the last Gay Rights march I attended I was really disappointed to see a number of signs targeting Mormon polygamy. It seems like a flawed and unproductive argument (and it's just too easy!). I personally feel no need to fight for or defend polygamist rights, and I wouldn't at all equate the right to polygamy with gay marriage rights (especially within our own current cultural framework), but I do think we'd all be better off if we more frequently adopted a "to each her/his own" attitude and curbed our rushes to judgment.

Any relational dynamic or family structure can be abused, and perhaps there is some truth that polygamous constructs foster/allow a greater level of corruption or corrosiveness, such as patriarchal oppression of women, but a blind designation of monogamy or pair bonding as the one and only correct structure seems dangerous.

I'm with you, though: monogamy is cool.

NAB said...

I find it troubling that some people idealize monogamy to the detriment of others, or claim that their monogamy is inherently virtuous.

Inevitably, in the gay marriage debate, it's anti-gay activists that cite rates of STD-infections and statistics related to promiscuity as a way of demeaning gays and lesbians. The implication, of course, is that the cause of promiscuous or risky sexual behavior is pure sexual deviance. The possibility that promiscuity and/or risky sexual activity could, at least in part, be the result of serious social and religious suppression is never even broached. Then again, some people--gay or straight--are just promiscuous.

I find what Perelman says about sexual openness with one's partner really appealing. The two biggest speed bumps, as far as I can tell, in any monogamous relationships are a) poor communication and b) infidelity. Perelman's comments about trust and honesty seem applicable both in and outside of the bedroom. In fact, the possibility of having an utterly open and honest relationship with another person, is incredibly appealing... and maybe that's why monogamy doesn't seem to be going by the wayside any time soon. That kind of bond is incredibly appealing, and I think it's instinctual for us to want that kind of closeness. I believe that the desire for that kind of intimacy may even trump the shorter-lived (but intense) sexual impulses.