Nonmonogamy and the double standard

This essay is a sequel to my earlier post on polyamory and feminism. In the earlier essay, I briefly mentioned that there is a danger of polyamory slipping towards forms of nonmonogamy that are unfriendly to women. This essay is an elaboration of those concerns. Also, I discussed the double standard recently on the polyweekly podcast, and this essay covers those points in more detail. In addition, many of the below ideas were brainstormed with my sweetie Andrea Zanin, of Sex Geek fame. The historical references in this essay are from Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History, which is an amazingly accessible history book.

There is a double standard for men and women when it comes to sexuality. The way we usually point this out is by discussing what is said of men or women who sleep around. Men are praised; women are condemned as sluts, tramps, whores, and so on. The double standard extends to most or all of our understanding around sex: men are supposed to originate sex, and sex is supposed to happen to women; men are supposed to enjoy sex, there seems to be less concern around whether women enjoy it; and so on.

I want to shed light on one particular aspect of the double standard, namely the double standard around nonmonogamy. Namely, that nonmonogamy is generally considered to be for men, while monogamy is largely considered to be for women, with men only paying lip service to it.

This particular double standard has been going on for a while. It was readily acknowledged in the 1700’s, but in the 1800’s things became a bit more muddied. A standard of the Victorian gentleman arose, and gentlemen were not supposed to sleep around. However, it was still well-understood that men would want to sleep around, just that they should restrain themselves, and the women they were with should influence them towards purity. Purity was associated with women in that era (well, some women: wives and daughters), and purity was code for monogamy.

The basic idea has not changed much in the two hundred years since. While nonmonogamy is technically seen as a bad thing for men, it is one that we expect them to do anyways. We expect men to cheat more than women, though statistics have consistently shown that rates are very similar for men and women, with men only slightly ahead. (And notably, statistics on this matter were very similar one hundred years ago.) We expect men’s thoughts to stray, and we expect men to be afraid to settle down or commit, even though men are actually more interested in marrying than women.

On the flip side, we expect women to want monogamy. Because of this, we expect women to be more jealous than men, though in my personal experience the reverse is true. We use the idea of purity as a stand-in for women’s virginity and monogamy, and we create all kinds of purity rituals for women, from white dresses to creepy father-daughter “purity balls”.

In short, there’s a lot of brainwashing going on here. Nonmonogamy is coded as masculine, and monogamy is coded as feminine. The culture is desperately pushing this particular double standard onto us, but the push is mostly failing to change people’s actual behavior. The double standard exists for a reason: it is there to convince us to behave in a certain idealized manner, namely for women to always be chaste and monogamous, and for men to have sex with as many people as possible.

I say “desperately” because if anything, expressions of the double standard have gotten more shrill over the past couple decades, as everyone from conservative commentators to evolutionary psychologists attempt to convince us that men are naturally nonmonogamous and women are naturally monogamous, in the face of mounting evidence that they are simply wrong.

Something has been changing in the past fifty years: for the first time, women are largely financially independent. While we do not yet have a society that gives its financial due to women (or even anything close), most women are now in a position where they can leave a relationship and survive on their own. This was typically not possible prior to the 60’s. This means that women have more actual power, and women in relationships with men are using this power to either demand more sexual (or relationship) partners, or to demand that the men they are with actually remain monogamous. In other words, things are equalizing slowly, and the heavy double standard is being promulgated as part of a rearguard action, attempting to preserve an inequality that is slipping away.

One change we have been seeing is that there are more forms of nonmonogamy available to women, and older forms of nonmonogamy are becoming more friendly towards women. From what I understand, swinging has changed to be more friendly towards women since the 80’s. Open relationships and polyamory are surprisingly gender-neutral. And queer women are becoming more and more likely to embrace nonmonogamy, with bisexual women strongly participating in polyamory.

However, the long history of the nonmonogamous double standard is not shed easily, and there is still a huge amount of cultural pressure trying to force us into older models, ones which encouraged men’s nonmonogamy while discouraging women’s. In any mixed-gender nonmonogamous movement, there is a constant danger from this pressure, namely that the double standard will reassert itself in practice. We can expect that this could kill a movement, since in this day and age if women do not feel like they are getting what they want in a particular nonmonogamous context, they will leave, dooming that particular movement.

Also, even when a nonmonogamous movement is relatively successful in establishing fair gender relations, there are still people within the movement that carry the culture’s baggage on this issue, causing problems for themselves and whomever they interact with. I see this happening a lot in the polyamory movement. We need to be able to identify these behaviors, not to purge these people (typically men) from the movement, but rather to be able to move people towards models that are fair to women. It should be noted that this is even helpful for men who were formerly attached to the double standard, since they will have a much more successful nonmonogamous experience if they are not trying to establish an unfair situation.

In this essay, our first step in identifying patterns of double-standard nonmonogamy is to look at various forms of nonmonogamy (past or present) that have embraced a double standard. Then, we can measure our current nonmonogamous practice against these forms, and see what is similar and what is different, effectively establishing a set of warning signs that tell us when the double standard is encroaching.

Before I get started on this list, I want to point out that there are or have been women in every one of these movements, and in most cases those women have been happy to participate. The presence of happy women does not change the fact that a double standard is present, it just means that happiness is possible despite the double standard. If women were unhappy every time they were in a gender-unequal situation, then pretty much all women for all of human history would have been terminally depressed.

Without further puttering about, here is a list of forms of nonmonogamy that have embraced a double standard:

Mistresses. While the idea of the mistress has fallen on hard times recently, for much of western history men with power or money were able to take lovers other than their wives, and typically had a measure of control over these lovers. This form of nonmonogamy did not go both ways, as there were few women supporting men period, much less multiple men. The double standard here has even been encoded into language: there is no male equivalent for the lover/affair definition of mistress. “Master” means something entirely different.

There are a number of forms of paid-for nonmonogamy that lie in the gray area between mistresses and prostitution. For example, in the early 1900’s, it was common for the new single urban women of the era to exchange sexual favors for nice dinners, expensive clothing, and the like. When reformers arrived on the scene to “save” these women, they were shocked to discover that the “victims” had no interest in being saved, and did not see their activities as reducing their eventual chances for marriage (which prostitution probably would have done).

Prostitution and stripping. While frequenting prostitutes has been looked down upon for the last couple centuries at least, it has also been quite common at various points during this time. For example, in the early 1900’s young middle-class men were more likely to lose their virginity with prostitutes than women of their own class.

We can consider these forms of sex work to essentially be commercialized nonmonogamy. After all, there is no requirement in prostitution that a man visiting a prostitute return to the same one, and not have a girlfriend or wife at the same time (though of course the wife or girlfriend might disagree). Paid-for sex or sensuality almost never comes with monogamous strings attached.

Of course, we could argue that the women involved in stripping or prostitution are effectively nonmonogamous. But they are in most cases doing nonmonogamy for the money, not for the enjoyment of it. This is nonmonogamy for men, not for them.

Indeed, these services are almost always provided specifically for men, even today. While there are both men and women escorts in San Francisco, their customers are almost entirely men. Similarly, the only male strip club in San Francisco caters to queer men. The exception would be the underground amateur strip scene among queer women, which does not seem to be as steeped in financial transactions. There are almost no sex work services for women seeking men: there are a handful of escorts and no regular strip nights.

There is something important here. Part of the nonmonogamous double standard involves money flowing a particular way, from men and to women. We can expect that when money is significantly involved in nonmonogamous situations, the double standard is active. This is partly because men still have more financial resources than women on average, but also because men expect to have to pay for nonmonogamy, and women expect to either not have to pay for it, or to be paid for it.

Patriarchal polygamy (actually polygyny). Western culture has been centered in a (not necessarily sexually monogamous) one-man one-woman marriage pattern for the last two thousand years, but one-man multiple-woman marriage is very common in other cultures, and it crops up from time to time in western culture as well. Currently in the United States, there are three distinct groups of polygynists: Mormon fundamentalists, Protestant fundamentalist polygamists, and West-African-American polygamists.

In the last article on this subject, I detailed at length the manner in which polygyny is unfair to women. On the face of it, it is gender-unequal form of nonmonogamy, though relatively limited in scope compared to prostitution.

Again, the gender inequality is encoded directly into language. Polygamy literally means “multiple marriage”, but there is a hidden assumption that the only existing (or perhaps legitimate) type of multiple marriage is one man and multiple women. Because “polygamy” is erroneously used to mean “polygyny”, there is no word describing a multiple marriage with two or more men and two or more women, and there is no word describing multiple marriage with no men at all, or no women at all. Some polyamorists are trying to reclaim the word “polygamy”, using it to refer to their own marriages which are not polygynous. This reclaiming is directly at odds with traditionalist polygynist movements, and nicely illustrates how reclaiming language is important in any liberation movement.

Polygyny is a strong archetype for double-standard nonmonogamy, so it acts as a good warning sign: if the situation is starting to resemble polygyny, then the double standard is probably active. Alternatively, if there are rules or boundaries in place that resemble the “one-man multiple-women” rules of polygny, then the double standard is clearly active.

Cult leaders. It has become a cliche that the leaders of small fringe religions (almost always men) will be having sex with a lot of women in their movement. I think this is probably over-hyped as a way to discredit these religious movements, though it is fairly hard to find counterexamples.

In any case, the “leader getting with the followers” pattern provides us with another warning sign. If nonmonogamy is occuring in a context with a power differential, and the people with more power are more likely to be men, then the double standard is probably active. In the leader/follower example provided by small religious movements, the power is based on charisma, but it could come from other sources, like political power or financial power.

Free love (of the 60’s and 70’s). The free love movement is somewhat harder to critique as unfair to women, because unlike everything listed so far, there were no obvious protocols around gender or who can sleep with whom. So on the surface, free love seemed like an egalitarian approach to nonmonogamy.

However, it is important to remember that our culture treats men’s sexuality and women’s sexuality differently, so men and women tend to want different things from nonmonogamy as a result. While I believe there are no intrinsic (or biological) differences in men’s and women’s desires, the culture effectively produces differences. So if we are going to measure a form of nonmonogamy against the double standard, we also need to take into account whether the particular nonmonogamy is geared more towards men’s desires or women’s desires.

The counterculture of the 60’s was coming out of a time where men were supposed to always want sex, and women were supposed to not give it to them. Women were effectively punished for being sexual: premarital sex was seen as incredibly shaming and dirty for women, and virginity and a good reputation were crucial to marriage and a good life. Men were eager to find a young woman who would “put out” easily, but they were very rare. When such a girl was identified (whether or not she agreed), groups of boys would flock to her for sex, sometimes gang-raping her. (The information in this paragraph is drawn from Make Love, Not War, a history of the sexual revolution.)

Free love (in that era) was the idea that you should have as much sex as much as possible, without regard for society’s rules. It was effectively a gospel of sexual availability. If we look at it in context, this was not encouraging men to change their attitudes: men supposedly already wanted as much sex as possible. Rather, it was an effort to get the women of the era to change their attitudes and behavior, so that men could get what they wanted. While there was much good in this effort (for example, women who were sexually free became much more valued than in the past), feminist and sex-positive critiques of the free love movement point out that free love was largely a way to get women to be available sexually, whatever their actual desires. The movement was therefore not necessarily empowering for women: it simply traded in an old standard of women’s sexual behavior for a new (diametrically opposed) standard.

The crucial warning we can take from the free love movement is that if nonmonogamy is centered around ideas of availability, it is probably reproducing a double standard, because men’s nonmonogamous sexuality is in many ways built around fantasies of access (to sex, to women, to women’s bodies or sexuality). The double standard is not just that men can do or have things that women cannot, but rather that men are getting what they want and women are not necessarily getting what they want. Sheer sexual freedom is not the end goal of a form of nonmonogamy, but rather freedom to do the things one actually wants to do. I suspect that we all meet people on a daily basis that we do not want to have sex with, so “have more sex” is not necessarily freeing unless it is sex with the people we want in the manner we want. If the ability for women to say no to sex is curtailed in some way by a particular form of mixed-gender nonmonogamy, then it is nonmonogamy for men.

“All-access” group marriage. Various mixed-gender utopian communal marriages of the 70’s and 80’s had an expectation that everyone in the marriage would be expected to have sex with everyone else. This is nothing new, but rather a theme that can be found in a minority of utopian communes in various eras of U.S. history. Also, the urge to create these communal sex situations is not dead. I ran across someone on a personals website looking to do exactly that a couple years back, and a girlfriend of mine recently met a guy on a different site who had been in such a marriage, and he was surprised when she objected to such setups (and then stopped talking to him).

These marriages fail the availability test I have just described, and seem overly idealistic from a modern polyamory perspective. What happens when one pair in the group falls out of love, or has a falling out, or just never really clicked?

There is no new warning here, but this is a slightly different twist on the availability question. Instead of just being available in general, women in these cases are expected to be available to a specific set of people who are in a family or marriage. Of course women’s sexual agency is still curtailed, so these arrangements are still typically problematic. Men’s sexual agency is also somewhat curtailed, but I suspect men in these situations would not have trouble avoiding sex with women they were not interested in.

Sex parties. Not all or even most mixed-gender sex parties are problematic from a double-standard point of view, but sex parties do play to men’s fantasies of access. Just think about how the parties are presented: come to a place where a bunch of people, including strangers, will be having presumably nonmonogamous sex. The setting makes it easy to imagine that there is a real possibility of showing up, finding a number of strangers that will happily have sex with you, and then hooking up with one or more of them.

Men (especially newbies) tend to expect that these parties are venues for them to play out their availability fantasies, and so the parties often have to take various steps to remain women-friendly. If they do not, then an uncomfortable situation results where men expect women to be available for sex. Not only are they disappointed in practice, but it tends to kill the party.

Preventing this often means adjusting men’s expectations or behavior. In some cases explicit rules are set around who may proposition whom in order to counter the prevailing tendencies: some swinger parties insist that women do all the negotiating. In other words, rules are set up that explicitly create women’s sexual agency, to counter the loss of agency inherent in nonmonogamous events that encourage availability.

Also, sex parties (swinger or not) often have to be explicitly gender-balanced, because men tend to find such parties more attractive than women, again due to the match with their fantasies. When I was holding play parties in college on the east coast, I discovered that almost all of the men I invited would show up, and about one-third of the women would show. Some of this is simply because nonmonogamy is coded for men, but also this happens because sex parties are a particularly kind of nonmonogamy that is generally for men.

While issues with sex parties again seem to be based around availability again, sex parties add a number of further warning signs for the double standard. If more men than women would show up to a particular nonmonogamous event absent explicit rules, that’s a sign the double standard may be present. If the people organizing the nonmonogamy find themselves creating rules that encourage women’s sexual agency, it may well point out an underlying issue with the setting. (Even though creating such rules is usually a good thing.)

There is another warning we can pull from swinging specifically. Some swing parties encourage sex between women but discourage or ban sex between men. It is important to remember that in straight-ish settings, watching sex between women is a common fantasy for straight men, and watching sex between men is a common fantasy for straight women. So, if sex between women is allowed but sex between men is banned, this is being done to create another “nonmonogamy for men” situation, and the double standard is back again.

To recap, here are the various warning signs that may signal a creeping double standard in any particular nonmonogamous practice. Failing one or more of these tests does not mean that a particular form of nonmonogamy is encouraging the double standard, but it should be taken as a warning sign.

1) Effective polygyny. Is the effective result of the nonmonogamous culture a situation where men are having sex with multiple women, and those women are not having sex with multiple men (even if they are having sex with women)? Are there explicit gendered rules that push the situation in this direction, whether or not those rules are successful? Such “rules” could actually be community standards, the nonmonogamous ideology, or personal expectations. Do the men in these nonmonogamous situations have to face down their jealousy as much as the women do? Do women generally have the freedom to take sexual partners as they desire, or is this freedom somehow restricted?

As with all these warning signs, this is not a litmus test. While certain of the above definitely fail this test (like the cult leader example), free love does not. In fact, given the strong interest of men in the free love movement, the women may well have had more men sex partners than the men had women sex partners. Also, just because a particular situation looks polygynous does not mean the double standard is active. There was a period of a couple years when I had multiple relationships while my life partner (a woman) did not. This was not because she was restricted or because she was not interested, but rather because she was not in a good place for dating after a divorce.

2) Lack of consent, or a focus on sexual availability. Does the nonmonogamous culture create the expectation that someone must have sex in particular context? Or that they should want to have sex? Do women have strong boundaries around their personal space, or is it common to see things like nonconsensual groping? How easy is it for women to say no in this nonmonogamous context?

The flip side of the ability to say no is the ability to say yes. Do women have strong sexual agency in this context? Can they have the sex they want with the people they want?

And of course, we need to take this beyond the realm of just sex. Is the nonmonogamy in general fulfilling the desires of the women involved? (Has anyone surveyed them to confirm this?) This might include desires other than sexual desires: romance with multiple people, a sense of freedom, the ability to be surrounded by people they like, etc.

Are there gendered rules that increase women’s sexual agency? Such rules are almost always a good thing in terms of the double standard, but in terms of warning signs, these rules can be a mixed bag. Are the rules being used to reverse an underlying problem with sexual agency? If so, what is the underlying problem, and is it being fully addressed?

3) Unattractive to women. Do men find the nonmonogamous culture more attractive than women? Are gendered entry rules needed to “gender-balance” the nonmonogamous culture? Are steps taken (as in Mormon polygyny in the U.S.) to eject men from the culture to insure a higher women to men ratio? Do men have a higher barrier to entry than women?

This warning sign is tricky to figure out, because nonmonogamy itself is coded as masculine, and so tends to be more attractive to men in most cases. Sex radical parties in San Francisco often end up with gender-balancing rules, while some swinger parties do not need gender-balancing rules. And as been pointed out to me in the past by swingers, sometimes gender-balancing rules are in place to make it harder for men to bring in bad behavior, not to change the men/women ratio. This warning sign may be best for evaluating particular sex or play party scenes (or other sub-movement scenes, as below in the “hot bi babe” discussion), not as a test for entire nonmonogamous movements. For example, some sex radical parties do need to gender-balance, possibly pointing out a problem, while other sex radical parties do not and yet get similar numbers of men and women. Interestingly, the BDSM play spaces I have attended almost never gender-balance, and rarely have a “too many men” problem: I suspect that the emphasis on heavy negotiation in BDSM spaces helps prevent men’s bad behavior and reduces the need for gender-balancing.

4) Imagery and language apparently targeted at men interested in women. Do the promotional materials for the movement (websites, books, flyers for events) feature scantily-clad model-figure women? If so, are there balancing scantily-clad model-figure men? Do the same materials emphasize the sexiness of the scene and the availability of women in it? Do they emphasize sex itself over romance, desire, or passion?

In some cases, sex party scenes that have trouble with gender-balancing will at the same time put out promotional materials that are clearly more attractive to men than women. This seems illogical to me, but is not too surprising if we remember that the scene in question is more geared to the desires of men: promotional materials for men and more men showing up are just two symptoms of the underlying issue. This can remain true even if the actual parties are run by women, as happens in one sex radical party scene I know. If you are in such a scene and are reading this, I highly recommend putting out materials that are attractive to women (particularly, straight women) as a way of gender-balancing without entry rules.

5) Power imbalance. Does the nonmonogamy depend on a nonconsensual power imbalance? (I say nonconsensual to differentiate this from BDSM power imbalances, which are typically freely chosen.) Does having more power (financial, influential, political, employment-based, etc) tend to lead to more nonmonogamous partners, or more access to this type of nonmonogamy? If so, do men have more access to the form of power in question? Do women fully enter this type of nonmonogamy, or is there some level of coercion or convincing that has to take place?

This warning sign tends to only be useful for the really blatant forms of double-standard nonmonogamy, like traditional polygyny or cult leaders, so long as we are talking about codified nonmonogamy. However, it can be very useful for evaluating informal nonmonogamous arrangements. For example, the propensity of politically well-connected men to engage in adultery or take mistresses.

6) Exchange of money. Is anyone being paid to be in this nonmonogamous arrangement? This payment can take forms other than direct cash exchange, like the purchase of expensive gifts. To point out milder cases: does it cost less money for women to enter this form of nonmonogamy than men? Is this price differential needed to attract women? Is the price of entry very high period?

There is a sex/BDSM club in San Francisco that lets single women and couples in for free or very cheap, while charging single men fifty dollars or more. This club sometimes has a couples-only area, but some of the couples in this area appear to be men who have hired women to escort them to the party. Along similar lines, various fairly left-wing sex parties in the area have hired women to show up, put on stage shows, or otherwise participate in a typically non-sexual way. In each of these cases, the exchange of money seems to be pointing out a party environment that is more friendly to men than women.

In some ways, we can consider these to be the sex party equivalents of “ladies drink free” nights at the bar. And in fact, if we view bar pick-up scenes as a type of nonmonogamy, then the fact that it is cheaper for women to participate points out that this is a type of nonmonogamy that is probably more friendly to men than women, as I will discuss in an example below.

7) Gendered rules around same-gender sexuality. Are expressions of same-gender sexuality between women encouraged more than expressions of same gender-sexuality between men? Are the latter banned via rules? Or effectively banned via selective community homophobia or personal expectations? As mentioned earlier, such situations tend to actually favor straight men’s desires over straight women’s desires in mixed-gender contexts, though they may appear to favor bisexual women.

8) Queer-unfriendly. Are gay men, lesbians, bisexual men, and bisexual women all welcome? Do they feel comfortable in this nonmonogamous culture? Are trans people and genderqueer people welcome, and do any gendered rules take them into account?

It is not easy to tease out the relationship between queer acceptance and nonmonogamy that is friendly to women, but every historical example above is either queer-unfriendly or occurs in a heavily straight context, with the exception of sex work exchanged between men. The simple answer is that heterosexism and just plain old sexism are linked in a number of ways, so an environment which is sexist tends to also be heterosexist.

I again want to stress that none of these warning signs are litmus tests, and a particular type of nonmonogamy might fail a number of them while still being egalitarian or friendly to women. For example, most of these rules stop making sense as soon as you move into forms of nonmonogamy that only include same-gender sexuality, though they can still be applied to nonmonogamous forms that span multiple sexualities (say, open relationships). Also, intent is important, as in the example where a situation looks polygynous, but in fact everyone in the situation is getting exactly what they want.

Now that we have a series of warning signs that can be used to evaluate types of nonmonogamy, it is time to try applying them to a number of relatively modern situations.

Hot Bi Babe syndrome. For those not in the know, this refers to the hordes of couples within the polyamory community (and indeed, within most mixed-gender nonmonogamous communities) seeking a “hot bi babe” for sex or love. I am going to use classic polyamory hot bi babe situation here: a straight man and bi woman in a relationship are looking for another woman to join in an all-way closed triad.

What is key here is intent. Is this exactly what the woman in the couple wants as well, or would she be just as happy in an MFM triad or a situation that is more open? Is she getting what she actually wants as much as him, or is she engaging in a compromise in order to access nonmonogamy at all? In other words, is this a push towards a modern modified form of polygyny? While this is not at all like traditional polygyny because the women have a sexual and romantic relationship, I feel like it can act as a modern stand-in, a compromise between straight men and bi women that reproduces some of the inequality problems of historical polygyny. In other words, if the intent is wrong, this nonmonogamy fails test number one above, in that it effectively reproduces polygyny.

Also, there is an imbalance here, where the man is not expected to get over his jealousy of the woman in the couple seeing other men, but she is expected to get over her jealousy of him with another woman. Due to general homophobia in the culture, this M/F jealousy is taken more seriously than any jealousy the man might feel over the woman in the couple being with another woman. (Though of course that can easily change when things get rolling between the women.) While this jealousy imbalance is not a problem in itself, if the relationship is being formed this way specifically because of the man’s jealousy, that is a double standard. The way this comes out in our warning signs is that it fails test number seven.

While it can be hard to evaluate whether Hot Bi Babe questing is problematic in any particular case, the overall trend is clearly problematic, as evidenced by the sheer number of couples engaged in this search, and the difficult attitudes they tend to start with, and the fact that they are largely unsuccessful. Tellingly, the actual “hot bi babes” they are hunting for are often unwilling to enter into such arrangements, or they demand heavy modifications, like the ability to date outside the triad. In other words, this kind of nonmonogamy often fails test three in that it is not attractive to the target women.

Does this mean that all MFF triads are problematic, and the people looking for them are necessarily engaging a double standard? No. But, if a couple is questing in this manner, then there is a good chance the double standard is active. The usual advice given to such a couple in polyamory forums is to drop or severely modify the quest. Bringing the double standard into the hunt for relationships will make failure much more likely, which is no fun for anyone, the couple or the “hot bi babes”. We see MFF triads succeed all the time in the polyamorous community, but they typically do so because they are somehow different than the classic scenario: they happen serendipitously, the triad is open, an FF couple starts dating a man, etc.

Expensive sexual how-to courses. In my time in San Francisco, I have occasionally stumbled across a certain sort of sexuality or intimacy workshop, that is most obvious by its high price: all-day workshops costing $200-$400 a person and three-hour workshops running at $80 per person. These workshops would often be grounded in a tantra or new age ideology, and sometimes would have a live demonstration or other in-person sensual aspect. Sometimes these groups would cover light BDSM topics, and would charge two to three times what your typical well-informed kinkster would pay for the same exact workshop. It is fairly clear that the target audience is well-off but relatively sexually clueless straight folks, thus the very high prices. However, there is a two-tier pricing system for men and women: all-women events tend to run at less than half the above prices, and events presented by women but aimed at men hit the high end of the price scale. This workshop culture fails warning sign number six above, the exchange of money.

But is this actually nonmonogamy? The workshops seem to occupy a sex work gray area, legal and legitimate compared to strip clubs or prostitution, but still incorporating sensuality at strip club prices. Things become a bit more obvious if we take a look at the effective communities that hold these workshops, which are heavily nonmonogamous. The workshop/self-improvement culture is therefore a gateway into a certain sort of ill-defined nonmonogamy, which ends up looking like anything from free love to open relationships polyamory.

Is there a double standard around nonmonogamy in these workshop cultures? To the extent that the workshops resemble classic sex work, then yes. This was strikingly demonstrated to me when a friend of mine went to a relatively cheap “breast-worship” event in one of these workshop spaces. She was one of a couple of women who showed up, but the event was packed with eager-to-worship men, which effectively destroyed it. In this particular case, the culture had definitely crossed over into “nonmonogamy for men” territory, and we can see that women’s bodies have been set up to be available for a certain sort of consumption, and while the consumption is “worship” instead of the usual objectification, they end up operating in remarkably similar ways.

This points out a problem with new age sexuality culture in general. This culture celebrates women’s sexuality heavily, which is revolutionary. However, in doing so, this culture buys into the myth that women are the sole repositories of sensuality (and therefore men are its purveyors). Nonmonogamy in these circles, while it has a heavy emphasis on women’s positive consent and definitely encourages women to have multiple partners, can easily slip into double-standard nonmonogamy because it does not address this “men get sex, women own it” relationship. I rarely see any workshops that aim to expose the secrets of men’s sexuality to women, and I do not think they will hold a “men’s asses worship” event any time soon. (Though if they do, I am so there, and I will play both worshipper and worshipped.) While this self-improvement culture is largely friendly to women, it has a double-standard undercurrent that can be troublesome, though women definitely enjoy themselves in these contexts. The culture partially addresses this undercurrent in various ways, by creating a higher entry price for men, and by holding frequent all-women or (M/F) couple-only events.

Bar pick-up culture. There is a certain straight culture that goes out drinking in search of dates or hookups, rather than just for socializing. While most of the people in this culture would insist that they are monogamous if asked, or perhaps are currently “dating around” or “on the market”, the culture itself is effectively nonmonogamous. This culture shows up in certain bars, and also can be found in dance clubs and some pool halls.

As mentioned above, often bars try to encourage a gender balance by offering women cheaper drinks. Also, the custom of men buying women drinks, to the extent that it still exists, tends to raise the entry price for men and lower it for women. The disparity in entry price points to a nonmonogamous environment that is more attractive to men than women.

While it is fairly rare for a bar to use imagery or language aimed at men explicitly (though it occasionally does happen), we can see such imagery in dance club advertisements, which frequently have pictures or silhouettes of women on the flyers. However, there is a general understanding in the wider culture that bar and pool halls are hangouts for men where they can meet women, so advertising of this sort may simply not be needed.

The situation really becomes clear when we check out this book and websites like these. There is apparently a pickup skills industry targeting men. One common acknowledgement in these sources is that there are more men looking for women than vice versa in these scenes, presumably because the scenes are unattractive to women.

These tend to promulgate fairly ridiculous expectations of availability: as this post says, “they all want to be seduced”. Which is stunning in its sheer arrogance and cluelessness, as most women at bars and clubs are probably there for reasons other than sex. Pink says it better than me. The focus on pick-up tricks also makes a mockery of consent, as it does not occur to any of these sources that perhaps a woman sleeps with a man because she finds him hot and wants to have sex with him. Instead, they dwell on the practice of approaching any particular woman and somehow convincing her to do so.

While I have known the occasional woman to take advantage of the pick-up scene with spectacular success, I would characterize this scene as highly unfriendly to women, and otherwise “for men” in a number of ways. It almost seems like men’s focus in this culture is to create a nonmonogamous scene where none really exists (or where the pool of interested women is relatively tiny), through a series of tricks, false pretenses, or seductions. We can see here the clash between the wider culture’s expectations of nonmonogamy for men and monogamy for women.  I personally think these guys should investigate explicit forms of nonmonogamy, which are so much more rewarding for so much less headache, but of course that would involve leaving normative culture behind, so they are unlikely to agree with me.

I have pulled a couple examples here, at various places on the nonmonogamy spectrum ranging from polyamory to supposed monogamy. Let me leave you with one final thought. Please evaluate your own nonmonogamous scene or culture. Compare your scene to the above list of warning signs. Above all, ask yourself if your culture is friendly to women and satisfies their actual desires. Are there changes (possibly radical) that you could make to your scene that would make the women in it happier or increase the range of women who attend? Whatever your own gender, have you asked a number of women in the scene what they would like to change?

27 Responses to “Nonmonogamy and the double standard”

  1. Chris Says:

    “everyone from conservative commentators to evolutionary psychologists attempt to convince us that men are naturally monogamous and women are naturally nonmonogamous, in the face of mounting evidence that they are simply wrong.”

    I think you meant this to be the other way around, yes?

    “It has become a cliche that the leaders of small fringe religions (always men) will be having sex with a lot of women in their movement.”

    There is actually a woman-led group in SF that some argue borders on a cult – so the “always men” might be better changed to “almost always”…

    “While I believe there are no intrinsic (or biological) differences in men’s and women’s desires…”

    No biological differences? It would seem to me that there is a lot of evidence pointing to biological differences. Even just considering that we are just complex animals, looking into the animal kingdom we see plenty of examples of biological differences at work. Or – do you mean something else here?

    As for the pickup scene… Yeah, mostly it is pretty icky. But I do know a group that is teaching a much more positive take on it – focusing on establishing connection through authenticity rather than tricks. Check out


    – chris

  2. Steph Says:

    Polyandry is the name for a marriage with one woman and more than one man.


  3. pepomint Says:


    I think you meant this to be the other way around, yes?

    Indeedy. Thanks for the catch.

    There is actually a woman-led group in SF that some argue borders on a cult – so the “always men” might be better changed to “almost always”…

    The “always” referred to the leaders getting funky with half the cult, instead of the men always leading. But it needs an “almost” anyways – thanks.

    No biological differences?

    If we are talking about complex behaviors (like say, monogamy and nonmonogamy), then I definitely believe that men and women are not biologically different. There have been entire books arguing this point, like The Trouble with Nature by Roger Lancaster.

    More importantly, I find that these days people use the biological arguments as a stand-in for actual arguments around what we should do, given that we are intelligent beings who can figure out a course of action and then follow it. In other words, people endlessly argue about whether monogamy is natural, instead of the argument they should be having, which is whether monogamy is a good idea for us at this point in history.

    As for the pickup scene

    Though I only know what I’ve seen on the website, I would not lump Aunthentic SF in with the bar pickup scene, so what I’ve said here about bar pickup culture does not apply. It’s much more of a self-improvement culture than a “let’s get laid” culture, which is refreshing to see.

    However, it could have a double standard in other ways. If you are involved with this group, perhaps you should evaluate it according to the criteria I’ve laid out here. For example, it definitely passes the “imagery and language” test above, if you look at the pictures on the website. Also, the fact that the equivalent women’s course costs $700 (!!!) means that there is probably not a entry price disparity. How well does this group stack up to the other warning signs?

  4. Lex Quaynt Says:

    “there is no word describing a multiple marriage with more than one man”

    actually, there is. Polyandry.

  5. Lex Quaynt Says:

    Always love to read your work and this was no exception. These are things I’ve thought about too, and to read them itemized like this has helped me think critically about my current poly incarnation.

    I would like you to consider making recommendations of behaviour or books rather than using the word “should”. That this word shows up in your writing, given your sensitivity to and focus onpower dynamics, is troublesome.

  6. pepomint Says:

    Lex and Steph:

    Point taken on polyandry. I’ve changed that section.


    Re: “should” You are correct that this sounds arrogant. I’ve edited this to change tone in a couple places.

    Thanks to both of you for catching various oopsies!

  7. bitchyjones Says:

    This is a great essay.

    I am always snippy about sociobiological explanations of sexuality – but this is a pretty interesting site

  8. pepomint Says:

    BJ: Yeah, I tend to run screaming whenever someone wants to tell me about the supposed inherent differences in gender and what that means for sexuality. However, I do like the writings that treat sex in other species as a) very complex and b) make it clear that we are not trying to say something about people here.

    I should get Dr. Tatiana’s book. Other books in this category are Biological Exuberance, which I have but is way too heavy to read, and The Myth of Monogamy, which catalogs the fact that there’s sexual nonmonogamy in pretty much every species.

    These books are doing the important task of debunking “women are naturally monogamous” myths, so they’re important. But I think it’s kind of sad that we have to have that debunking in the first place: I wish people would step away from the bogus biological explanations and start seeing the social ones that are right in front of them.

    On an entirely different note, I was considering talking about domliness (fem or male) and nonmonogamy in this essay and whether or not it deals with the double standard, but I didn’t have a clear answer and so dropped it.

  9. bitchyjones Says:

    I don’t know. I mean, I am dom and I am not monogamous. And I am getting used to calling myself poly, because I am, but I hadn’t heard that word when I started having more than one relationship so it is still a bit weird for me.

    There is a stereotype that a dom would automatically have several submissives or slaves, I guess. The more you have the more dom you are – even. It is another source of dominant-boasting (ick). But even though I am dom and the men I have always been in relationships have always only been in relationships with me, that is more, how it worked out than anything. I hate any kind of implication that I have a stable of interchangeable men, or that starting a relationship with a new man isn’t a huge deal for me. Some men are often surprised that because I am a dominant woman I might say stuff like, ‘I haven’t got time for another man.’ Because, obviously, I live in a palace and don’t have to work for a living.

    Sorry. Is this relevant? I don’t even know.

    What I mean to say is that apart from a few basic levels (like needed a kind of sex sometimes I can’t get from my primary partner) my being dom and my being poly have nothing much to do with each other.

  10. pepomint Says:

    BJ: Yeah, getting into polyamory can be a bit weird. I’ve been nonmonogamous my whole life and did not start describing it as polyamory until age 27.

    That stereotype you describe is exactly what I would be talking about. There’s this whole myth of the domly dom (any gender) keeping a whole set of tied-up love and torture slaves in their basement, who never get it on with other people. It just doesn’t happen, though lots of people seem to find it hot – sexual fidelity control being yet another kink, as in chastity devices.

    Like you, I’m nonmonogamous but not due to BDSM – I was nonmonogamous long before I got into kink. Sure, I’m seeing four submissive women in my area, but they all have other lovers, and in two of those four cases I’m way down the totem pole on their personal hierarchy.

    People buy into the myth though. A guy dom I was talking with the other day said he wanted a “harem”. I managed to not crack up in his face. He made some relatively weak correction after a moment.

    There’s a countering stereotype though, of the submissive (any gender) who “wants to be shared with other tops” or “is available to please anyone”. Overall, I think subs are getting out and about just as much as doms, which is supported by this research (p. 60).

    It’s like there’s just lots of nonmonogamy floating around the kink scene, and we come up with various ways of incorporating that into our kinky stereotypes, most of which should not be taken too seriously. I do think there’s a connection between kink and nonmonogamy (like not being able to get all your kinks/sex in one place, or maybe just being in an outcast sexual culture) but it’s not these stereotypes.

    Add in the fact that any of the above can go any direction in gender, and we don’t really have a double-standard situation here. Which is why I didn’t put it in the essay.

  11. pepomint Says:

    Additional note: the research I pointed out was number of BDSM partners for men and women, not tops and bottoms. Oopsies.

    The reason it’s relevant is because it basically blows away a double-standard argument based on domly stuff, given that the same study (p. 17) found significant differences in top/bottom rates between men and women.

  12. bitchyjones Says:

    I think with the submissive having multiple owners (other than maybe being the sub of a top couple) the fantasy is usually around having a point of ownership that is moved from one person to another without the sub having control. But usually the owner is one person at a time.

    But here’s the thing. That’s pretty much fantasy.

    Meanwhile so is the harem. Or the slave boy stable. Like most kink cliches – they’re fantasy. But there is a clearly a kink fantasy about 1-2-many, with the 1 being the dom. And if it’s a fantasy is it one only doms have? Do subs fantasise about being one of many?

  13. pepomint Says:

    Do subs fantasise about being one of many?

    We should probably ask subs about this. But, I suspect the answer is yes, at least for some subs. Certainly subs collared to multiple doms show up on poly lists from time to time, asking if folks have any advice for co-ownership situations. So if it’s being done, it’s probably desired. Is this a common fantasy? Hard to say.

    And there is that whole strain of “I’m available for use by anyone at the party/dungeon/training ranch” fantasy, which sometimes plays out as co-ownership “slave to the inner circle at the training ranch”. Though there is sometimes a hierarchy of ownership even in those cases.

    But I think you’re right, that there’s a strong strain of 1-to-many in dom fantasies that is not matched by sub fantasies, to my knowledge. This is probably because we conflate monogamy with ownership, so monogamy-ownership ends up mixing it up with dominance-ownership. Dominants are supposed to have stables because they are not owned (monogamous). Subs are supposed to remain faithful to one dom because they are owned (monogamous).

  14. bitchyjones Says:

    I think the correlation with ownership is exactly right. But the point I failed to make before was is there a submissive fantasy about being part of a group of submissives owned by one dominant? Because if there isn’t then the harem is probably more of a fantasy than a reality. It has to be a fantasy for both sides – I guess – for it to be a stable (ha!) reality.

    Course there is cuckolding – but I think that’s a little different

    BJ x

  15. pepomint Says:

    is there a submissive fantasy about being part of a group of submissives owned by one dominant?

    Goooood question. We should ask some subs, but I suspect the answer is no, unless the sub in question is getting something pretty obvious out of it. For example, play with other subs, possibly in hierarchical arrangements.

    Yeah, I just don’t think “I want to be your fifth stableboy of the third rank, which means I see you occasionally and otherwise wash the leather” is real high up on the sub fantasy charts. But hey, I’m not a sub so I’m not sure.

  16. RC McCloud Says:

    Thanks for another very helpful article – it definitely gives me some tools to think about my poly-like situation and, in assessing the little tribe I’m in, makes me feel quite positive about the way we’ve been organizing ourselves. Your argument makes a lot of use of what you call the male “fantasy of access” and how encounters are structured around female sexual availability. I think that’s a very solid observation. I wonder though if you have any thoughts on the corresponding female fantasy? Would it be a fantasy of access, or is it different? I note that the women I hang with do have fantasies of access too, but there seem to be differences around the expectations and definition of access that include, perhaps, more time, more shared emotional investment, more displays of partnership/friendship, depending on the person. You mention romance, freedom, etc above. I’m trying to avoid a gender essentialist statement here, but just thinking about behavior/expectations as part of the overall system.

    • Brynndragon Says:

      I wonder though if you have any thoughts on the corresponding female fantasy? Would it be a fantasy of access, or is it different?

      I am clearly not speaking for all or even a significant subset of women here, but for me the corresponding fantasy is selectivity – getting to pick and chose from a flock of men (like that scene in History of the World Part I – “yes yes yes no no yes no no no yes no YEEEEEEES”). Take him, sleep with him, send him on his way, rinse and repeat. Even romance novels hint at this theme, where the protagonist frequently gets to choose between two men (it’s usually set up as a terrible thing to please society’s gatekeepers). Another version goes, “Bring me all of the *insert list of physically attractive qualities* men in the land, and I shall have whomever and however many of them that truly please me”. This fantasy gives me something that men generally get to take for granted: power over my sexual experiences. I am choosing my partners, not letting them woo me (although the wooing process can look a lot like this fantasy, it still places a lot of power in the hands of the man/men by giving them action while the woman is expected to be passive).

      (You might have noticed the unspoken “no one tells me I’m wrong or bad for doing this”. That’s actually pretty important, both that it’s in there and that it goes without saying – it’s a strong expression of power, assuming that you can do what you want without anyone thinking poorly of you for it.)

      • pepomint Says:

        Brynndragon: thanks for this information!

        The idea of selectivity as a fantasy is neat, and not something I would have noticed if you had pointed it out.

  17. inkisgirl Says:

    Good essay
    A couple of things – if you are polling the subs; no, I have no desire to be part of a Harem of subs.
    As women I think we are still fucked up about this whole issue, lets take bar culture, women going to a bar can almost expect to be hit on, dose that mean if she doesn’t want to be hit on she shouldn’t go out for margaritas? I truly dread the thought of men hitting on me, ok that’s not true, I love when men talk to me and I have to ask myself later if they where or where not hitting on me, men- this is a talent and you should learn it! But I digress, I agree with something Minx said once – I should not have to buy myself drinks, but then a man walking up with a drink for you (aside from a safety thing) is just kinda creepy.
    So what then? I don’t want to get hit on but I want to be able to go to a bar, and maybe I want to be able to go with out the 6 girlfriends I would have to take to keep men from bugging me. And who’s responsibility is it to change this? I’ll shoot down whatever dumb ass ‘have you opened your third eye through tantric sex’ line you toss at me but its going to piss me off for the rest of the night that I had to do it.
    Oops sorry not my soap box. = )

  18. inkisgirl Says:

    corrections Minx said “I shouldn’t pay for my drinks” the rest is my rambling.

  19. pepomint Says:


    it definitely gives me some tools to think about my poly-like situation and, in assessing the little tribe I’m in, makes me feel quite positive about the way we’ve been organizing ourselves.

    Yeah, I’ve had the sense for a while that most poly practice is more friendly to women than past nonmonogamous systems have been, but that was just observation. Writing out a pile of ways that nonmonogamy can be unfriendly to women was very useful in that it showed that most poly people seem to be avoiding these.

    I wonder though if you have any thoughts on the corresponding female fantasy? Would it be a fantasy of access, or is it different?

    First, two disclaimers: We’re dealing in the land of rank generalization here, and like you I do not mean to essentialize any of this.

    I didn’t include this in the essay because I really don’t have a good answer. I’ve been meaning to read The Gender of Sexuality, hopefully that will give some clues.

    Also, it may be that there isn’t a culturally-determined women’s equivalent to men’s fantasies of access. The culture attempts to construct sex as something that men do to women, so it may simply create some fairly coherent standards of men’s desire and fail to do the same for women, because women aren’t supposed to have desires period.

    However, maybe there are some, based in fairly icky stereotypes about how women are all supposed to be obsessed with love and romance. Certainly we can view the romance section of the bookstore as erotic material for women. (On a funny side note, the standard romance script of woman-choosing-between-two-men is an oddly nonmonogamous monogamy. Recent innovations like the books of Laurell K. Hamilton go straight to nonmonogamy.) So perhaps our sterotypical women’s desire is romance, or connection, or the sexualized version, passion.

    Something I didn’t address in this essay is the “sex for fun” nonmonogamy, where what’s going on is “just sex”, and “not meaningful/important/life-changing/etc”. It has been a marker of a number of these nonmonogamous movements, namely free love, swinging, and open relationships. Notably, it is something that poly people tend to get huffy about: “it’s not all about the sex”. This is one of the few differentiators between open relationships and polyamory.

    “Sex for fun” is gendered: it’s what guys are supposed to want. Sex is always supposed to be deathly serious for women, according to culture. “Sex for fun” seems to be at odds with “passion”.

    So we’ve got various potential markers for “nonmonogamy for women”: passionate, serious, connected, etc. And these do seem to work for polyamory (and for tantra communities, which I would characterize as women-friendly despite what I said in the essay). Perhaps this is why the fantasies of access you describe include these elements, and are not the “no strings attached” fantasies of access men are supposed to have.

    Of course, this is generalization. I’m dating a woman who can’t stand romance novels and prefers the written stuff Penthouse puts out because it’s dirty. There are plenty of queer women’s play parties that approach things with an air of playfulness and fun. It’s hard to say if these cultural tropes are effective at making women desire certain things, or if they are more likely to just make us think women desire certain things, regardless of actual desires. In other words, do they have an effect, or are they entirely mythological and inaccurate?

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  22. fin Says:

    I was very pleased to find this article online.
    I have been in and out of all sorts of relationships some monogaous, some non-monagamous for 20 years.
    The specific situation of trying to create polyamorous situations I have found difficult, frustrating and unfair upon me because I am gendered female. I have found that, my immediate contemporaries will jump at the chance to mentally categorise me as the property of a man I have sex regularly with very strong ideas then around what is acceptable behaviour around me once i am ‘taken’. Specifically contact is not initiated by another man but must come from me (i had a lover for 6 months who never once asked me over i had to do all of the asking!). And in a room with my percieved male owner present or not, men will keep wider physical distance from me, avoiding physical contact and keep communication shorter and more business like than when they saw me as ‘single’ even if they understand that I am not monagamous and the man in question is regularly seen being physically intimate in public with a host of different women.
    The inverse is not true for my male partners. They are not seen as my property but as their own person by our contemporaries. Women will happily initiate contact with them be physically available and welcoming and communicative with them in social situations whether i am present or not.
    More importantly, it is much MUCH! easier for men to find women who are prepared to enter into relationships with people with existing partners than it is for women to find men. Men will commonly stomach a one night stand and then claim that they are ‘too jealous’ for it. I see this in others in my social network doing the same and as far as I can tell in the people around me, it is very common for a non-monogamous man to have 3 female partners or so on the go. At least one of these will be monogamous to him. The others will probably have one other lover at most and struggle to find other partners prepared to have a relationship with them because they are already in one.
    I find this situation pretty insufferable a lot of the time.

    My jealousy issues in non-monogamy come from the fact that this societal structuring puts me at an unfair disadvantage where my needs don’t get met compared to my male contemporaries beacause of gender inequality.
    The men are getting a lot of love here while the women get an occasional look in.
    And what the f*ck an I supposed to do about that? Is it not natural to feel jealous of the privilidge of others when the odds are stacked against you?
    I have recently asked a partner for solidarity around this issue that is to curtail the extent of their other romantic interests until I can have similar access, to which they agreed in principle
    but in practice because they are male, and due to this also have less responsibilities and more financial freedom than I do, it often does not translate into very concrete steps in this direction because they have much more time and access to socailise and make connections and have relationships than I do. They inevitably go out there and do polyamoury, while I am left to be woman, trapped in the home alone.

    • pepomint Says:

      Hello fin, and welcome to freaksexual.

      Thanks for pointing out this manner in which men are at an advantage in nonmonogamous situations. I think you are absolutely correct that this happens.

      At the same time, it is important to recognize that there are advantages for women as well. Specifically, there tend to generally be less women in nonmonogamous scenes, putting them more in demand. I hear a lot of complaints from men that are the exact opposite of yours – they think that women have an unfair advantage in polyamory circles and they blame their gender. I discussed this at length in an essay on nonmonogamy for men. Maybe go take a read to see the other side.

      I would recommend that you change your dating practices in some way. This may simply mean finding a different social group with more experienced poly men. The poly men I hang out with do not have the issues you describe, but then most of them have been successfully poly for over a decade.

      Or, it could mean taking a look at your own dating practices and seeing if you are somehow playing into this bad behavior. Which isn’t necessarily your fault, but perhaps is something you can change.

  23. Peter Gerdes Says:

    There are so many fallacies here it’s hard to know where to begin:

    But since most people won’t read the whole thing I’ll state the key point at the outset. The existance of difference preferences between individuals or statistical differences across men and women don’t amount to any kind of harmful discrimination or unfair treatment. To give just a single example bars offer a kind of sexual experience (when it happens) that men tend to find more desierable than women. So what? It’s not unreasonable that people with all sorts of preferences for sexual experiences have a place to meet like minded people.

    On the flip side there are tons of women who would really like to meet a nice guy at their dance class where and would prefer a long flirtatious courtship during that class. Again, even though men are substantially underrepresented in most such classes they are not being unfair or harmful to ment. Furthermore, offering inducements for men to attend (discounts etc…) is nothing untoward. Those discounts would simply overcome the opportunity cost borne by the man who would rather be doing something else while providing the female students the chance to meet men in a situation they prefer. Vice versa with bars and free drinks.

    Unless a free drink so overcomes women’s rational deciscion making it is hardly coercion to balance her decreased base interest in an activity with an additional benefit. Or do you think it’s coercion if I want to go to a movie tonight my wife says ‘I’m feeling lazy’ and I counter by offering to drive and take out the dog when we get back so it’s overall pleasant for her.

    Whether it be sex of anything else different people have different preferense. As a matter of course we choose between bundles of options and there is nothing wrong or insidious about doing something you aren’t that into because you get something you really like. Not only isn’t it wrong TRADING things you aren’t that into for things you are really into is the cornerstone of a good sexual relationship (and hopefully u start getting into them). Sex would be awful if we always refused to do things our partner liked but we felt were kinda ‘ehh, that’s slighly not-hot.’ Sorry, I’m not a big fan of oral sex but when my wife wants it I enthusiastically agree because I know she isn’t a huge fan of wiping cum off her face but will occasionally do so for me.


    In detail:

    First you tacitly assume that there aren’t biologically based statistical differences in men and women’s desire to have different kinds of sex. While both men and women have strong sexual urges all the anecdotal and empirical evidence we have points to the fact that men are much more interested in having one night stands or other kinds of sex without the corresponding relationship/personality dimension. I think there is good reason to believe that the risk/expense of pregnancy has put evolutionary pressure of women to be more picky and men less so and that is what we see in all sexual animals (except the ones where the man bears the greater expense of raising offspring).

    Once you abandon that assumption half your conclusions can be thrown out immediately. If women are simply less interested in brief hookups with strangers or other low commitment kinds of sex than men YOU CAN’T INFER THAT THE SCENE IS TREATING WOMEN BADLY/WORSE SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY ARE LESS INCLINED TO ATTEND THAN MEN. After all churches treat men no worse than women yet women are substantially overrepresented. It doesn’t follow the church scene is secretly hurtful to men.

    Secondly, you somehow seem to feel that exchange of cash or other benefits is somehow linked to coercion. In what sense. All sexual acts (and other acts) occur against a background set of costs and benefits to performing those acts. Anyone in a relationship knows that if they repeatedly choose not to have sex with their partner the relationship will eventually end (no matter what the reason one can’t insist that someone be morally obliged never to have sex because they unluckily dated someone who decided they didn’t like it). All marriages offer consideration in property and status for sex. Hell, if I promise my wife that if she does our taxes I’ll have that threesome with her and some guy she fancies I face the real harm of her anger, and possibly the disapproval of my friends if I renege yet there is nothing untoward about this.

    True, a law which required you to have sex for money to pay off debts would be coercive. It doesn’t exist. So how do you reach the conclusion that paying for sex involves a double standard (and implicitly seem to suggest it is explotative). Maybe I didn’t want to have a threesome with another guy but my wife didn’t exploit me when she asked if I’d be on the whole happier if I didn’t have to do taxes but did do the threesome. So what if the prostitute wouldn’t be into the sex for it’s own sake, she does judge she is better off with the money even having to have sex. Yes, she is having sex because if she didn’t things would be really bad for her. But if you therefore conclude it is immoral and don’t pay to have sex with her you simply remove her choice and force her into the bad non-money situation.

    Also I would note that a polygamous sexual standard (multiple female partners for a men but not vice versa) is, if the women have full autonomy in their choices of when and who with to partner, actually *favorable* to women and unfavorable to men. It seems otherwise when you think of the few guys with lots of partners but every partner they have corresponds to a man with none. As their is usually a small percentage of high status and sexually attractive guys in a population (sorry we are monkeys and like other monkeys women do change their expressed attraction to high status/rich/powerful men…e.g. learning a guy has a high status well paying job will bump up her estimation of his looks) polygamy lets most women sleep with these guys. As they can always choose to instead marry/date a guy who doesn’t (and even swears not to) have a second woman the resulting arrangement must be superior for virtually every woman as they still have the option of a single man. The fact that historically polygamous societies have also tended to be primitive and have a horrible attitude towards women is a separate issue. In contrast in non-polygamous societies even men who aren’t in the most desirable bracket get to have someone.

    Fantasies aside as a man I would choose to live in the polyandrous society every time rather than the polygamous society.

    • Peter Gerdes Says:

      To be clear I’m not saying it isn’t important to create corresponding non-monogomous solutions for women that are more to their taste. I’m simply saying that having swinger parties or sex parties that happen to cater to men’s sexual appetites is not in itself at all a problem.

      Not being a woman I’m unsure exactly what these alternatives that women would prefer might be. If someone would suggest some we could see if they are plausible. Even if not nothing stops people who go to sex parties from compensating in their own relationship. The couple goes to sex party because the guy really wants to and then maybe lets the woman have an affair (that’s not supposed to be a general characterization more a description of what sort of relationship I’m in). Everyone still ends up better off…and much better off than trying to ensure that there are no sex parties catering to guy’s interests because then my wife wouldn’t get to have her affair and I wouldn’t get my sex party.

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