• Thu, Jun 30 2011

Where Are The Children In New York Times’ Praise Of Non-Monogamy?

The New York Times has a fascinating story in the upcoming weekend magazine. It’s essentially an extended hagiography of sex columnist Dan Savage and discussion of his views in support of non-monogamy. The article is unbelievably male-centric, even though reporter Mark Oppenheimer does attempt to get some feminine perspective in the piece. So when Savage says that couples need to do whatever their partner wants, feminists discuss how this might disadvantage women. But the other areas where women are left out are striking.

The gist of the piece is that straight couples could learn something from gay couples’ sexual norms on fidelity. Gay men’s relationships, we’re told, are less likely to require, expect or achieve monogamy. And that is undoubtedly true. The article reports that something like a fifth of married couples will experience infidelity during the course of their marriage. The article also reports that fully half of long-term partnered gay couples in San Francisco are officially open.

But what I found shocking about the article is that it failed to explain why marriage has traditionally had a social norm of monogamy or fidelity.

Why? Parenthood.

The only sex act that creates children is intercourse. And that’s only possible between one male and one female. That, traditionally, is why we’ve defined marriage as a union of male and female. That’s why intercourse is the so-called “marital act.” That’s why the government has taken an interest in marriage to begin with. It’s not because the government gives a flying fig who you love. It’s because when a man’s penis enters a women’s vagina, procreation may very well occur. And society has generally taken keen interest in men not littering women and children all over the joint. Thus: monogamy.

I remember the line from Sean Penn‘s brilliant performance in Milk where someone chastizes gay relationships as being unable to produce children and he jokes something along the lines of “But we keep trying.”

Funny and poignant, sure. But try as any two men might, no child will be created from the sexual act. Non-monogamy in homosexual sex has fewer repercussions: It’s not going to make any babies.

I practically laughed out loud when former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s child with the housekeeper was mentioned at the very end of the piece (after coprophilia and watersports, mind you). We learn that Savage was worried that the upcoming profile would somehow be tarnished by this news. He needn’t have worried. We’re told that the real failure wasn’t nonmonogamy but, instead, monogamy. Which makes sense if you read the whole piece.

Anyway, if you change the definition of marriage from a union that is procreative in nature to a union based on feelings, it stands to reason that monogamy would be less important. It really only makes sense as a social norm because of procreation. Don’t get me wrong, we practice it in my marriage because of our religious views and the teachings of Jesus. The fear of hurting each other and our children, creating children outside the union, opprobrium from our community and the like certainly help. But you see, again, how the reality that children are created via heterosexual sex is key to this whole norm.

Even with all the kinds of birth control out there, procreation makes the non-monogamous relationship a lot riskier for heterosexuals in general and women in particular. Plenty of children have been conceived by parents who were attempting to prevent just that.

And it is supremely odd to see that skirted over almost completely in this lengthy New York Times piece.

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  • skeller

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Mollie, this is why I love you. I’ll never understand why bringing biology into the discussion is not PC.

    • Skeptical Cicada

      Because (a) it is a cover argument for what really motives you–religious fanaticism and anti-gay ignorance and bigotry–and (b) it is applied exclusively to attack gay couples while never uttering a peep about the 1 out of 6 heterosexuals who can’t conceive. If you want to talk about “biology” without being a bigot, go tell every infertile heterosexual you know that his or her marriage is a fraud that should be forcibly terminated.

  • jaserorange

    Are you sure you read the article?

    ““I acknowledge the advantages of monogamy,’ Savage told me, ‘when it comes to sexual safety, infections, emotional safety, paternity assurances.’”

  • Jen

    I think you lack some serious reading comprehension skills. Savage’s whole point about open relationships is not that men or women can go around having sex with whomever they want whenever they want. He argues that for SOME men and women monogamy is an untenuable state and demands for it within every marriage is a large reason that our divorce rate is now hovering around 50%. Instead he suggests that couples where one or both partners feel they need to seek sexual satisfaction outside of an otherwise very happy marriage can do so with quite a few rules that have been pre-established by the couple.
    The fact is that there are plenty of non-open, supposedly monogamous couples out there where one or both partners have illegitimate children floating about. The current monogamous state is no guarantee that a person like Ahnold won’t spread his seed around willynilly anyway. Opening a relationship might not be right for every person (I certainly could not see myself doing so with my husband), but if it is the difference between a happy stable family and a divorced couple shuffling kids between them I think Savage might be on to something…

  • Cait

    Wow, this is messed up. One, there are other sex acts that can get someone pregnant. I have two friends that conceived without having had penis-vagina penetration. Conception takes place when a sperm and an egg meet and, while this most often happens through heterosexual intercourse, it doesn’t always happen that way.

    Two, marriages aren’t always about procreation. Are infertile and elderly couples less valid in terms of marriage? Monogamy and marriage go together often, but just because we are opening the umbrella of the term “marriage” to include more than just men and women together doesn’t mean monogamy will go down the toilet.

    Three, there are plenty of ways to raise children healthily and effectively in polyamorous relationships, just as you can raise children well in single parent households and in situations where a child is a member of more than one family. I suggest researching polyamory and poly families and educating yourself before you go writing an offensive article on the assumption that monogamy is the only way to raise children.

    This whole article reeks of heterosexism and “my way is the only way to parent”.

  • Skeptical Cicada

    Since you’ve made clear that you’re an anti-gay religious zealot, you have no credibility in making any other point in this post. I look forward to your crusade to terminate the marriages of all your straight friends who can’t conceive, bigot.