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A guy I was recently working with told me that he is in a polyamorous relationship with a woman.
His partner had been in a lesbian romance, but she left that to start this open arrangement with him. Obviously, both of them are comfortable with the idea. It simply couldn’t work otherwise.
Pride (in the name of love)
One thing this guy didn’t mention — and I wasn’t really bothered to ask considering I’m not that prurient — is whether or not he, like his prime partner, enjoys same-sex intimacy. My inkling is that he doesn’t.
While I’ve never been in such a relationship — not by consent anyway — it did get me thinking about the whole concept and how I’d feel about playing a part in it.
I would be more accepting of the idea if my partner were doing her sleeping around with other women. I wouldn’t be at all comfortable with the thought of her having sex with men.
I wager — and some academic studies on the subject back this up — that most heterosexual men share such sentiments.
My male mind had thus led me to hypothesise that most heterosexual women in an open relationship would prefer their man’s additional partners to be men. However, anecdotal evidence and a number of research papers suggest this is not so.
A case of, it could be argued, women wanting their male lovers to be manly. Men having gay sex tends to go against this notion.
The, um, pride of many men, meanwhile, would take a significant hit if they were to discover their female lover was sleeping with rival males. Yet, a lesbian transgression may in some instances excite the *dominant* male.
Defenders of the unfaithful
All this does beg the question — particularly in a time when sexual fluidity for all genders appears to be flowing more freely than ever — are we, those of us from a Judeo-Christian tradition in any case, too tied to monogamy?
As many strive to live a life as close as possible to ‘as nature intended’, is having just one partner for the majority of our lives somewhat unnatural?
‘How much this anchoring to monogamy is nature and how much is nurture is difficult to know.’
In a 2012 blog story that looked at the influence of Catholicism in both Colombia and Ireland, I explained how Vatican policy regarding sexual intercourse has had a longer history of being ignored in Colombia than in my birth country.
Back then, I surmised that the seemingly more liberal Colombian approach as regards sex might indeed be more natural but not the best when it comes to raising a family. That is, not the best when just one parent is, quite literally, left holding the baby.
Even though Ireland is far less conservative in this area than it was when I came into the world in the mid-1980s, monogamy is still generally seen as virtuous, in word at least.
Of course, infidelity is often a reason for the breakup of a relationship or marriage. So if polygamy were viewed less grievously, if it were more accepted, infidelity would lose much weight as grounds for separation.
For many of us, however, such a change of mindset wouldn’t come simply. How much this anchoring to monogamy is nature and how much is nurture is difficult to know. It is, of course, the current standard for most of humanity, with an estimated two per cent of the global population in polygamous households.
That being so, those in what is meant to be a monogamous relationship who end up two-timing often do so impulsively. They don’t set out to be unfaithful.
Thus, the injured partner can be more accepting of and forgive a transgression if the desire to do so exists.
For as much as monogamy is seen as desirable, most realise that it has to be worked at all the same. At times it requires willpower. And sometimes, some fail.
Roman rule: Anything goes
There is much less wriggle room and understanding when it comes to sexuality.
As already referenced, there is usually little to no leniency shown by a female partner to a once-perceived heterosexual man who is found to have been unfaithful homosexually.
‘In Ancient Rome, it seems that bisexuality was standard, at least for those with citizen status. An any-hole-is-a-goal approach.’
This is chiefly because most people today still view sexuality as fixed, innate, not fluid. One can’t be queer today, bi tomorrow and heterosexual the day after.
Yet, a glance at history suggests it hasn’t always been thus.
In Ancient Rome, for example, it appears sexual fluidity was the norm, as the British historian Tom Holland pointed out in a recent interview:
‘There’s a description in Suetonius’s imperial biography of Claudius: “He only ever slept with women.” And this is seen as an interesting foible in the way that you might say of someone, he only ever slept with blondes. I mean, it’s kind of interesting, but it doesn’t define him sexually. Similarly, he says of Galba, an upright embodiment of ancient republican values: “He only ever slept with males.” And again, this is seen as an eccentricity, but it doesn’t absolutely define him.’
‘What does define a Roman in the opinion of Roman moralists is basically whether you are — and I apologise for the language I’m now going to use — using your penis as a kind of sword, to dominate, penetrate and subdue. And the people who were there to receive your terrifying, thrusting, Roman penis were, of course, women and slaves: anyone who is not a citizen, essentially. So the binary is between Roman citizens, who are all by definition men, and everybody else.’
So going by this, in Ancient Rome, it seems that bisexuality was standard, at least for those with citizen status. An any-hole-is-a-goal approach.
OK, as Holland’s insight implies, some Romans were heterosexual and some homosexual, but these are seen as outliers.
Like other traits, one’s sexuality is most likely on a spectrum, as the Kinsey scale, for one, measures. (For more on that and other scales see https://www.webmd.com/sex/what-is-sexuality-spectrum.)
What’s more, there is a belief among some scholars that one’s position on the spectrum can change over time. That may be so. Or it might be that some people are more of the anything-goes variety when it comes to sexual pleasure.
Right now, I can say I’m in a healthy asexual relationship. And I’m certainly not in the free-love brigade. It would take somebody special to, um, knock me off these pillars.
Listen to The Corrigan Cast podcast here.