Lately I’ve been reading about Middle Eastern women enduring abominable backlashes from ISIS: Women held as prisoners; girls (as young as 9) repeatedly raped; women stoned by their families for committing adultery (while the men involved are absolved of any responsibility). These acts are horrifying. But is the core thinking behind these actions embedded in American culture as well?
I write about open marriage, polyamory and setting up relationships in ways that work for the individuals involved. I may not get literally stoned for my beliefs around sexuality, but I have had rocks virtually pummeled at me on the Internet. Recently I wrote “How Gay Marriage Can Improve Straight Marriage” an article for the Huffington Post that acknowledges the creativity and open-mindedness that same-sex couples bring to their relationships. In it I advocate for bringing some of that innovation into straight relationships. As a result, I got some stonings on my YouTube channel and blog. Particularly from fundamentalist Christians who asked me to remember “Sodom and Gomorrah.” I told them I absolutely did remember Sodom and Gomorrah — I love that dance club!
On my Twitter feed, a young guy wrote me saying that open marriage was “very dangerous.” He seemed like a sincere guy. “I am not trolling,” he wrote, “I just want to understand — how can you do this? Aren’t you scared?” We went back and forth. I tried to explain to him that this is a consensual decision between me and my husband — “ethical non-monogamy,” if you will. Then he sent me the definition of adultery: voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse. A long-ago-forgotten Christian decree sprung into my mind: “Thou shall not commit adultery.” Right! Moses on the mountain with the cumbersome tablets in hand.
In this young man’s mind, my agreements with my husband — even though they are consensual — is still “cheating.” Because sex outside of marriage — even if agreed upon between two married adults — is a sin against God. I wrote him back, “We don’t worship the same God. My God wants me to have pleasure. She approves of my agreements.” Then I signed off, wishing him the best and asking that we “agree to disagree.”
Some of my atheist intellectual friends also seem to think I am “cheating.” They object to us “breaking the rules” of marriage. As if there is one correct way to do marriage. The idea of me desecrating this institution actually frightens them. But what frightens me is the idea of somebody else controlling my sexuality. It is a profitable past time for governments and religions to dictate our erotic life. If these groups can get a population to internalize their shaming tenets into the people’s psyche, the institutions own them. Part of my tenets as a sex-positive activist — and all-around nice human being — is that no institution should own people. I don’t believe that open marriage or polyamory is better than monogamy. But I do believe that all of us should have the personal choice to set up our marriages and relationships the way that works best for us — without being stoned or humiliated.
I know personally about this because I was dragged to court as part of a custody battle. To make me look bad, the plaintiff accused me of being a sexual deviant by labeling me polyamorous. We have won the battle around same-sex marriage but there are still battles to be won around sexual freedom. Being “poly” is one of them — going against the status quo can land you in court.
Sexual and erotic attractions are part of life — a good part. When you are married, these attractions continue to happen. I value the ongoing conversation with my husband about what to do with our sexual attractions. If I decide to partake in “legalized cheating” (an absurd term I use occasionally because it seems to be the only way some people can wrap their minds around what I am doing) I believe I should have the freedom to do so. My intention in my marriage is to have a broader scope. I want choices and intelligent discourse. I want knowledge. I want a relationship that’s smart and powerful. Don’t you?
I am continually fascinated that the idea of “ethical non-monogamy” strikes such fear. Cheating is so much more digestible to many people. For some, monogamy is the only way to construct a relationship — and if there are “slips” or affairs, they believe that they are at least still faithful to that supreme goal of monogamy, ordained by God and society.
To some people, the way I construct my marriage makes me a sinner. In certain parts of the world, I would have been executed long ago. In this country, my stoning might not happen in the open courtyard of a public arena, but it’s happening in the courts, at PTA meetings and on the Internet. It’s easy to sneer at sexually repressive third world nations — but when it comes to repressive thinking around sexuality, how far have we evolved in the United States?