Sluts of America, Arise!
"A sitting United States president took sides in what many people consider the last civil rights movement," Adam Nagourney of The New York Times wrote in reaction to Barack Obama's endorsement of gay marriage.
The last civil rights movement?
Sadly, even as he belatedly championed equality for some, the president's statement expressed a pernicious, widely accepted form of prejudice.
Look for the caveat as you read: "I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together...at a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."
In Obama's worldview, in other words, it's okay to be gay. But only if you behave like straight people--straight as in hetero, and straight as in conventional.
Obama is exposed as a monogamist: one who discriminates against people who have sex with multiple partners. Monogamism is commonplace. And it is bigotry. Monogamism is no more justifiable than racism or sexism or homophobia and, one day, it will be as reviled.
Mia McKenzie of the blog Black Girl Dangerous responds to Obama: "So, basically, what the President is saying is that same-sex couples who are in relationships that look a certain way (monogamous, for example) should be able to have all the rights of straight people. Hmm. What about those of us, queer and straight, who aren't into monogamy but are into committed relationships? (And, for the record, you can be poly and be committed to multiple people)."
To which I'll add: What about people, straight and gay, who sleep with multiple partners? What about those who don't want committed relationships? Shouldn't they get tax breaks and insurance benefits too?
And what about the open, tricky, ever-so-dirty secret--that many people in "incredibly committed monogamous relationships" cheat, that they're de facto polygamists or just garden-variety sluts? ("A full 99 percent of Americans say they expect their spouse to be faithful," according to U.S. News & World Report in 2008 but, The New York Times reported the same year, "University of Washington researchers have found that the lifetime rate of infidelity for men over 60 increased to 28 percent in 2006." Hmm. Not to mention, obviously, that not all cheaters confess their sluttery to pollsters.)
Like all oppressed people, sluts have their work cut out for them.
"The Ethical Slut" (1997) by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt unleashed a landmark broadside against monogamy with a simple argument: anything that two consenting adults do is okay as long as they approach one another, and their other partners, with honesty and openness. Casual hook-ups, open relationships, swinging, group sex, and other alternative forms of sexual expression, wrote Mmes. Easton and Liszt, are not immoral so don't feel guilty about them. "We believe it's okay to have sex with anybody you love, and we believe in loving everybody," they wrote.
Fifteen years later, however, tens of millions of sluts live underground, compelled to sneak around. Unlike straights and Obama-approved monogamous gays, America's secret sluts have to hide their sex lives from their friends, families and coworkers. (Ethical sluts tell their partners the truth.) "My FWB and I had an awesome foursome with this couple we met online" isn't the smartest Monday-morning conversation starter for the wannabe upwardly mobile.
Monogamy may be a myth, to paraphrase the title of the 1989 book that found that roughly half of all married Americans cheat, but as Obama's statement suggests, it's harder to kill than herpes.
Now here comes "The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and the Reality of Cheating" by Eric Anderson (Oxford University Press, 256 pages, $49.99), a devastating critique of monogamy that has been ignored by book reviewers and buried by the mainstream media.
"The Ethical Slut" says it's OKAY to be slutty. "The Monogamy Gap" goes further. It states loudly, brashly--and mostly convincingly--that while monogamy is right for some people, it's wrong for most. Which makes monogamism a form of bigotry not only based on a lie, but like other forms of discrimination, downright bad for society.
Not so deep down, we know he's right. When there's a public sex scandal--John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, etc.--you don't hear a lot of expressions of anger or disgust, just harrumphs and how-about-thats from people, most of whom can easily imagine themselves "guilty" of the same "crime": hard-wired horniness.
"I suggest that we need multiple forms of culturally acceptable sexual relationship types--including sexually open relationships--that exist without hierarchy or hegemony," Anderson writes.
Men, Anderson asserts, are trapped in a state of "dyadic dissonance" in which they are painfully torn between monogamist social programming and their sexual desires to sleep with multiple partners. "If [men] entertain with their partners the possibility that sex and love are separate and that they could maintain the love with their partner while seeking thrilling sex with outsiders (an open sexual relationship), they risk losing their partners. Even mentioning this is thought to be an affront to love. Love, they falsely believe, is enhanced through sex, and sex with outsiders is falsely believed to detract from the love of a couple. We all too often believe that if our partner ceases to desire us sexually, he or she ceases to love us."
What is a [stymied] manslut to do?
"In desiring but not wanting to cheat," Anderson continues, "men set out to rectify their dissonance through pornography, visualizing themselves having sex with someone else while having sex with their partner, and/or flirting with others online. Eventually, however, these imagined/cyber forms of extradyadic sex are not enough. Men strongly desire to have sex with someone else, and they often begin to feel anger or aggression at their partner because (at one level) it is their partner that is preventing them from having the type of sex that every cell in their body demands."
So they screw around.
But cheaters aren't bad people. They're just sluts. They're wired that way. Many--most of us--are sluts. Don't be shocked. After all, contemporary marriage--based on love rather than property, monogamous rather than polygamous--is still in its experimental stage, less than a century old. And the rate of divorce suggests that the experiment isn't going well.
Anderson says monogamism forces us to choose between guilt and frustration: "Although cheating remains almost universally taboo in modern societies, my research suggests that cheating might actually save relationships [because] cheating permits men to have the sex with others they somatically desire...with cheating they do not have to deal with the threat of losing their partners by mentioning their sexual desires for others."
I have some issues with "The Monogamy Gap." Anderson concludes that "it is only in open relationships where long-term sexual and romantic satisfaction can be found for people who somatically desire sex with others," yet he hardly considers the needs and desires of heterosexual women. Do they want open relationships? Maybe. Maybe not. Also, Anderson's preferred model--one or several core committed, longer-term relationships plus à la carte "hit it and quit it" assignations--leaves out other formats, such as swinging (which is barely discussed).
Overall, however, I strongly recommend "The Monogamy Gap" for anyone who wonders why a society that elevates monogamy can't seem to follow its rules. America needs to begin this discussion.
(Ted Rall's next book is "The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt," out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)