Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: I'll Be in My Bunk

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  • Max Rose, in reply to BenWilson,

    It might be, but I haven't noticed generally higher rates of happiness amongst the non-monogamous. Some of that is down to a lot of people actually wanting commitment, which is obviously comprised in multi-amorous relationships.

    I wouldn't want to comment on the statistical truth of generalising that statement, as I don't have any actual evidence to hand either, but the near-universal existence of adultery and divorce in "monogamous" societies suggests that monogamy doesn't bring the level of happiness that it's supposed to. Also, the fact that non-monogamous relationships might not last doesn't mean that they fail, any more than not having a job for life means that one has had a string of failed careers.

    Even if there were a statistically higher incidence of unhappiness among polyamorists, that doesn't make polyamory difficult or unhappy in itself: as Emma said, high LBGT suicide rates aren't because non-heterosexuality makes you depressed, but because of social pressures and prejudice. Similarly (up to a point), any difficulty in making polyamory work may be ast least as much due to social factors (disapproval, lingering guilt, the lack of legal and cultural models for polyamorous relationships) as to the inherent complexities of the relationships themselves. Obviously, it's a lot harder for all parties to agree on a set of boundaries and possibilities without a default set of "though shalt nots" to rely on. But I'd rather deal with the ups, downs and ambiguities of a complex love life than pretend that I'm only going to be attracted to one person for the rest of my life.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2011 • 83 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Lilith __,

    oops missed the edit window but wanted to add:

    Bagemihl's examples aren't all pretty and nice (and I don't just mean that photo of the masturbating walrus, who at least looks like he's having a good time). There's incest and coercion and sex with young, too. It's not all stuff we want to emulate. Hence what I was saying about natural not being the same as good.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3894 posts Report Reply

  • Max Rose, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    Insomuch as that's true, I think it's because of a failure to distinguish between nonmonogamy and cheating, two overlapping but different things. Breaking trust in a relationship is a moral failing. Nonmonogamy is not, but you also have to be able to negotiate it, and to find people who are comfortable negotiating it, which most people aren't.

    I totally agree that breaking trust is a moral failing ... or at least an ethical failing, since I have trouble withe the word "moral". But it's more the "character flaw" aspect that I'm talking about; the idea that being "afraid" of commitment is something that has to be fixed.

    But it's also true that monogamy does work pretty well for quite a lot of people. I'm absolutely confident that it works for me. Historically, too, monogamy has absolutely not been a requirement for upper-class men, in lots of societally-approved ways - but lots of them were monogamous all the same. I think the picture is more "monogamy works for a lot of people, but not everyone" than "people are only monogamous because society tells them to be".

    I'm not saying that no-one would want to be monogamous without social pressure, but I think that many (if not most) people in "happy" monogamous relationships are that way not because they'd never even contemplate looking lustfully at someone other than their partner, but because they've taken conscious vows to restrain themselves and make sacrifices for the good of the relationship. We're all told that lust doesn't last, and we should forget about the fire of adolescent desire once we settle into mature, intimate love. Maybe everyone's okay with that, but I wonder whether a lot of relationships might actually last longer and be happier if society allowed for both commitment and adventure.

    Maybe I'm wrong, and I know I can't speak for everyone here. Maybe I am a freak. But I just wonder why, if monogamy is the best and happiest situation for most people, so many societies have to employ penalties ranging from scarlet letters to stonings in order to enforce martial bliss.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2011 • 83 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Max Rose,

    so many societies have to employ penalties ranging from scarlet letters to stonings in order to enforce martial bliss

    I think that's actually about control of paternity: it's always the women who get punished.

    There is a remote part of China which has sexual freedom: a woman raises her children in her parental home, with her brother(s) acting as co-parents. Biological fathers don't cohabit, have no rights over their children, and often no involvement with them. But: you can sleep with whoever you want, as long as it's not family. They have very stern prohibitions against incest.

    This is not the only possible solution, of course.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3894 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    martial bliss

    Too apt, perhaps?

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • Max Rose, in reply to Lilith __,

    I think arguments from nature, or some imagined “natural state” are a red herring,

    I agree ... up to a point. I don't want to fall into the naturalistic fallacy, but it can be important to recognise that social structures such as the nuclear family are relatively recent inventions. If as some authors suggest, for the vast majority of human history monogamy has not been the norm, then that doesn't mean we should argue that polyamory is the "natural" or "right" option for all of humanity. But it could be very illuminating.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2011 • 83 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Max Rose,

    I just had a real deja vu moment. Have we had this conversation before? Did you get a new login?

    I don't disagree with any of that. Just noting that unhappiness seems just as rife amongst the polyamorous. Love is tricky. I'm pretty much just taking the same line as Lucy, that the idea of monogamy being purely form of social oppression is no more true than saying heterosexuality is - many people just are that way, and are happy like that. Relax all social strictures, and there will still be a lot of heterosexual people, and, I suggest, a lot of monogamous people.

    But I do agree that non-monogamy is frowned on far more than is justified, and that causes perverse outcomes, as any form of oppression does.

    Also, the fact that non-monogamous relationships might not last doesn't mean that they fail, any more than not having a job for life means that one has had a string of failed careers.

    Interesting analogy, and one close to my heart at the moment, being unemployed. Certainly there is a lot of social pressure that sticking with a career is a good thing, and that contractors are just whores. I guess that makes the unemployed into soloists, something we're trained to feel guilty about, as if feeling stink about it wasn't enough. Sitting around at home watching TV when you could be out job hunting is like watching porno. It needs to be fixed, preferably by harsh measures.

    Maybe I am a freak.

    No way. You're neither a freak nor wrong in what you're saying. It's impossible to know what people would be like in a different kind of society without actually trying it, but I expect there would be some proportion of people who were much happier with polygamy being accepted. There would probably also be a proportion who would be less happy.

    Happiness is a tricky game generally. Repression is not guaranteed to make people unhappy. I repress, for instance, my urge to bash people I don't like. On the whole, I'm probably actually happier than I would be if I allowed that urge free reign. Also, I repress the urge to just laze around all the time, and force myself to work. That can have a positive net happiness outcome, at times.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Max Rose, in reply to Lilith __,

    I think that's actually about control of paternity: it's always the women who get punished.

    Agreed, though unfaithful Chinese husbands didn't exactly get off scot-free. I wonder whether the gender difference in apparent rates of adultery (Kinsey said 50% for men, 26% for women, though every survey is different) has more to do with the difference in social, legal and sometimes physical consequences than with a fundamental difference in desire. I sometimes hear, from people who would otherwise reject gender essentialism, that breaking down the structures of monogamy would only be good for men, because women want intimacy and commitment rather than multiple sexual partners. But we've been through that old chestnut many times, here and elsewhere.

    There is a remote part of China which has sexual freedom:

    The Mosuo. In Sex at Dawn it's used as one example of the great variety of sexual/social structures that have existed, along with various forms of group marriage, ritual sex, and some cute acronym (that currently escapes me) for semi-casual sex as a form of tribal bonding.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2011 • 83 posts Report Reply

  • Max Rose, in reply to BenWilson,

    Repression is not guaranteed to make people unhappy. I repress, for instance, my urge to bash people I don't like.

    I know that one shouldn't read too much into a single analogy, but I'd rather not compare sex with bashing someone. Even if they asked me to, I'm not quite that kinky. It's good to repress violent urges though I'd argue that suppression ot the urge, together with an effort to understand and avoid the situations that brough on those urges, is better than __re__pression.

    But sex is something that brings mutual pleasure, or should if you know what you're doing, and unlike violence or excessive lazing around, there's nothing damaging about the act itself. As Emma said a while back, it's the attitudes of you and those around you that makes the difference, and if those attitudes mean that two people who want to do nice things for each other can't, then perhaps questioning those attitudes is at least as good an option as accepting repression and denial as part of everyday life.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2011 • 83 posts Report Reply

  • Max Rose, in reply to BenWilson,

    I just had a real deja vu moment. Have we had this conversation before? Did you get a new login?

    Maybe :-)

    Wellington • Since Sep 2011 • 83 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Max Rose,

    I think arguments from nature, or some imagined “natural state” are a red herring ,

    I agree … up to a point. I don’t want to fall into the naturalistic fallacy, but it can be important to recognise that social structures such as the nuclear family are relatively recent inventions. If as some authors suggest, for the vast majority of human history monogamy has not been the norm, then that doesn’t mean we should argue that polyamory is the “natural” or “right” option for all of humanity. But it could be very illuminating.

    We can say that humans have used a variety of different social arrangements without calling any of them “natural”. And I’m deeply suspicious of anyone who thinks they know how things were in prehistory. Our knowledge is patchy even about relatively recent historical periods, and misinterpretation is so easy ( Coming of Age in Samoa, anyone?)

    I haven’t read Sex at Dawn though, so can’t comment on that.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3894 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to BenWilson,

    Also, I repress the urge to just laze around all the time, and force myself to work. That can have a positive net happiness outcome, at times.

    But then again just hanging out and soaking up the sun with a couple of buddies and a case of beer can be way cool, once you get over that Protestant Work Ethic nonsense.
    ;-)

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Max Rose,

    But sex is something that brings mutual pleasure, or should if you know what you're doing, and unlike violence or excessive lazing around, there's nothing damaging about the act itself.

    There's nothing damaging about the act of lazing around either. But it could make me unhappy just the same, despite being a powerful urge. That unhappiness comes from the greater context of the rewards of labour.

    The same thing is at play with sex, that suppressing the urges we have is usually done with a bigger picture in mind. Sex can often form emotional bonds, everyone knows this, so when you have sex with someone, anyone else you are having sex with has good reason to wonder if their own bond is in jeopardy. It also often leads to children, which takes the connection to a different level again, and could easily jeopardize the security of the other person's children. It also can lead to diseases, many of which are extremely unpleasant and even potentially fatal, which there is a good chance of sharing.

    That's why it's not something taken lightly, by a whole lot of people. It can be taken lightly, but to say that it should be is to be as irrational about it as people who insist that their various repressions should be universal. To even be able to take it lightly involves a whole lot of very serious effort and precautions, and there are still going to be risks. It's only been an extremely short amount of time in historical terms that polyamorous sex even could be of low consequence. Monogamous sex is less dangerous, but still of pretty high consequence.

    Another thing that makes sex rather unusual is that it is illegal for minors nearly everywhere. Since I know for sure, having once been a minor, that their sexual urges can be extremely strong, our sexual repression is absolutely guaranteed to be trained into us from a young age, from the absolute beginning of our sexual lives, most likely. The reasons for this have some strong arguments (I won't say they're knockdown, though. I doubt that I would have been scarred for life at age 13 if Elle MacPherson had thrown herself at me).

    then perhaps questioning those attitudes is at least as good an option as accepting repression and denial as part of everyday life.

    It's always good to question attitudes. But repression and denial are parts of everyday life. Either that, or the consequences of not repressing and denying become parts of everyday life. It's not guaranteed that those are better consequences, each has to be weighed on its merits, by each person. Constantly.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Max Rose, in reply to Lilith __,

    I haven’t read Sex at Dawn though, so can’t comment on that

    It's worth it, though I had issues with the style and conclusion. It attacks a lot of the tenets of evolutionary psychology, and while it obviously opens itself up to the same criticisms about plausibility arguments, there's enough interesting material from anthropology, history, psychology, economics, primatology and the history of sexuality to make it a good, provocative read.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2011 • 83 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    But then again just hanging out and soaking up the sun with a couple of buddies and a case of beer can be way cool, once you get over that Protestant Work Ethic nonsense.

    I most like doing that after a hard day's work. Which is why I don't drink so much beer :-).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    For a far nicer and rather more pro-sex feminist Christian 'dirty girl,' try the work of Marcia Althaus-Reid. She'd probably have the horrid Ms Renaud fleeing the room screaming in seconds...

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 573 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to BenWilson,

    I most like doing that after a hard day's work.

    One of the many ways in which sex is unlike beer.

    Another thing that makes sex rather unusual is that it is illegal for minors nearly everywhere.

    One of the ways in which sex is quite like beer.

    the lack of legal and cultural models for polyamorous relationships

    This is a biggie. In the mid-nineties I was in what would have been a polyamorous relationship if any of us had known what that was. It was extraordinarily difficult, and having no model, and no-one whose experience I could draw on, made it much worse. And when you're in a relationship, and you have no concept of anything other than two-person relationships, and you find you have strong feelings for a third? That you can love another person and not fall out of love with your partner? The first reflex is to lie.

    It's my view that with a greater acceptance of polyamory, monogamy would come to have more meaning, because it would actually be a conscious choice, not a simple default.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Interesting how just having a word for the sort of thing you are engaged in can make a difference. It implies that the activity is real, real enough to be named.

    It’s my view that with a greater acceptance of polyamory, monogamy would come to have more meaning, because it would actually be a conscious choice, not a simple default.

    I've often made a similar point w.r.t. women choosing to keep their own name. It makes the *choice* to take your husband's name a real choice, not just what everyone does.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • Biobbs, in reply to Deborah,

    "I'll be in my bunk." Money shot at about 32 seconds.

    Ahh, Firefly. Will we ever see your like again? Was there ever an aspect of the human condition for which you weren't relevant?

    The River Mouth, Denmark • Since Jan 2011 • 114 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    re production values...
    Can I just threadjack briefly to register my dismay at the soulless Americanisation of Torchwood last night...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Can I just threadjack briefly to register my dismay at the soulless Americanisation of Torchwood last night…

    Oh noes!! Here I was, kicking myself for missing it (and it’s not available on demand, dammit!) Did it suck?

    ETA: not that I liked where CoE went (particularly with Jack). Started really well, got so dark and nasty. Also, plot holes. Blehh.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3894 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Lilith __,

    Did it suck?

    I didn't think so, though there are moments (about three or four episodes in, one screamingly painful moment) where you can certainly tell that it's now being made primarily for a US audience. But it's still being written in the main by Russell T Davies and Jane Espenson. And the majority of Espenson's episodes feature Hot Gay Sex. So... swings and roundabouts. Episode 7, IMO, features some of the loveliest Torchwood backstory ever.

    So I guess you have to balance "guys coming on to Jack's coat" with "bit shiny, lots of CIA, things explode".

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Emma Hart,

    guys coming on to Jack’s coat

    All that business with the coat gives me BuffyBot flashbacks. Not that that's a bad thing. ;-)

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3894 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Can I just threadjack briefly to register my dismay at the soulless Americanisation of Torchwood last night…

    Well, I for one, as they say...
    I saw the tag line after watching it last night.

    Prime's hot new star studded 10 part international thriller. When a convicted felon survives execution, people realise no one can die. Can CIA agents Matheson and Drummond save humanity from itself?.

    No mention of Captain Jack? says it all really.
    Sucked big time.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Emma Hart,

    And the majority of Espenson’s episodes feature Hot Gay Sex.

    I did hear Jack appears to have transitioned from Omnisexual to Just Really Gay (categories other than gay or straight being just too confusing). That would be disappointing.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

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