August 24th, 2015
Recently at the Woodhull Foundation’s 2015 Sexual Freedom Summit, Tamara Pincus, LICSW and I co-facilitated a discussion on compulsory monogamy – the idea that everyone is expected to be monogamous. Monogamy is the norm in the US. It’s expected and unquestioned in relationships. And we are subtly taught from birth that we too will one day be in a monogamous relationship. We often times don’t even realize that we have a choice in the matter.
In the workshop, attendees made a list of the many ways that compulsory monogamy creates challenging and unfortunate situations for many people - both for those who are monogamous and those who aren’t. The core issue, in my opinion, is that assumed and compulsory monogamy limits choice and free-thinking. If we don’t know that we have a choice in how we enter and maintain relationships, then we have a difficult time exploring our own desires, relational and sexual. For example, the idea or fantasy of having sex with someone else, much less having a relationship, is taboo and unthinkable. With this mindset, even people ultimately desiring monogamy aren’t able to explore what these desires mean for themselves.
In the workshop, we brainstormed ways that we can influence and change the way our culture approaches compulsory monogamy. Actions included coming out as poly, not shaming people who cheat (often seen as the only option when in a culture of compulsory monogamy), and by telling alternative stories about love.
Polyamory, open relationships, swinging, and “monogamish” relationships all offer alternatives to monogamy. One is not better than the other. It’s up to each person and couple to decide what works for them. It’s more helpful to know what you prefer before you enter into a relationship, but that is often a luxury. Most of us learn about ourselves as we live our lives. And our desires change. At one point we may desire a monogamous over a open relationship. And at another point it may be the opposite. Knowing that we can have a choice, however, is essential. In this way, we can help ensure our contentedness in our relationships and in our lives in general.
If you’re looking for a poly-friendly therapist in Dupont Circle, Washington, DC, contact Mike Giordano, LICSW at 202-460-6384 or Mike.Giordano.MSW@gmail.com.