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.
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.