Monday, July 11, 2011

A Response to a Critique on Open Marriage

 Closing the Book on Open Marriage by W. Bradford Wilcox

The Open Marriage, by Nena and George O’Neill, was published in 1972, as the sexual revolution gathered steam in America. The best-selling book encouraged spouses to “to strip marriage of its antiquated ideals” and, most famously in one chapter, to explore sexual partnerships outside their marriage, if they so desired. 

This is true. However, as the Wikipedia article (which Wilcox provides as a source) describes, the concepts of sexual partnerships outside of marriage  "entered the cultural consciousness and the term "open marriage" became a synonym for sexually non-monogamous marriage, much to the regret of the O'Neills. In the 1977 publication of The Marriage Premise, Nena O'Neill advocated sexual fidelity in the chapter of that name." Even though the writers did touch upon the idea, they didn't necessarily believe that this mode of marriage was the best one for everyone, only perhaps for some.

Fortunately, the book has since come to be seen as an antiquated relic of the Me Decade, when all too many men and women put their own desires—in the sexual arena, as in so many other arenas—ahead of the needs of their spouse, their marriage, and their children. While swinging may have seemed reasonable to some at the height of the sexual revolution, many couples and the vast majority of Americans have since turned away from the idea. Source, please. 

In fact, notwithstanding the recent marital misbehavior of athletes, actors, and politicians, public tolerance for marital infidelity has fallen since the 1970s, with fully 79 percent of American adults now saying that infidelity is“always wrong.”  Okay, okay, hold up. Infidelity is one thing and having an open marriage is another. Infidelity does not mean having sex outside of a relationship. Infidelity means that, usually, one is having sex outside of a relationship without the consent of one's partner. It requires no communication and no honesty. If you and your partner are in agreement that one or both of you will have sexual and/or romantic relations outside of the relationship/marriage, then that is not infidelity and that is not cheating. Second of all, the link provided has absolutely nothing to do with infidelity. Moreover, recent research from the National Marriage Project indicates that infidelity has also declined in recent years to the point where just 16 percent of married men and 10 percent of married women now report that they have been unfaithful. Key word is "report". Yes, there are a large amount of those who are cheating on their spouses who don't report that fact. I'd also like to see this recent research and how the survey was directed. So, clearly, in contemporary America that vast majority of couples reject infidelity in theory and practice. I'm not sure how true this is, but even so, that has absolutely nothing to do with open marriage. Again infidelity does not equal consentual agreement of having sex outside of the marriage. The former requires no consent and no knowledge of such an action and the latter requires both consent and knowledge. See the difference?

Unfortunately, sex-advice columnist Dan Savage and academic apologists for open marriage would like to turn back the clock to this dark chapter in American marital history. Dark chapter? Are you serious? Tell me, what's the divorce rate today? Savage, who got a big plug in a recent The New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story, argues for a more “realistic” marital ethic that makes a place for nonmonogamy for some couples (so long as both parties consent), and is more forgiving of the occasional affair. Again, affair is a term that is linked with infidelity. There is no such thing as an affair in an open relationship unless the sexual possibility was not discussed beforehand. In his view, “we’re not wired for monogamy,” some spouses can actually enrich their marriage by spicing up their sex or emotional lives with an extramarital relationship, and a one-size-fits-all sexual ethic cannot begin to cover the variability of human sexual desire. I agree with Savage. Some people are monogamous, some are not. That is totally fine and we should have relationships in which we are happy, not constricted by societal or personal restrictions. 

By the way, the article linked above is actually a pretty good read. 

Savage-style love has also been getting a pass from some progressive family scholars. Family sociologist Judith Stacey signaled her basic agreement with Savage’s philosophy in the Times profile: “What integrity means for me is we shouldn’t impose a single vow of monogamy as a superior standard for all relationships.” And in a recent New York Press article, family historian Stephanie Coontz said “nonmonogamy” is “one of the ways that some people may handle the pressures of a world where people want partnerships but live long lives and have frequent opportunities.”

So, what is the problem with a little “nonmonogamy” in marriage, so long as everyone is open and honest about it? There are at least five problems with open marriage.

1. Even today, sex often results in pregnancy. In the heat of the moment, couples do not always use contraception. And for those who do, more than 10 percent of women aged 15-44 engaging in “typical use” contraception get pregnant over the course of a year, according to a recent Guttmacher Institute study. So, open marriages pose a real risk that children will be born without the benefit of two, married parents. Of course it does. Any kind of sexual relationship in which one doesn't use contraceptives (or even if one does) carries the risk of producing something living within the womb of the woman. This doesn't just include open marriages or relationships though, this also includes monogamous marriages as well as monogamous relationships, especially if there is sexual infidelity involved. That's why it's important to always use the contraceptive, yes? I promise you that somebody who uses protection in an open marriage is less likely to have surprises than somebody who doesn't in a monogamous marriage. As a further thought, only because you are in an open relationship does not necessarily mean that you have more sexual partners than someone who is in a monogamous relationship. Ever heard of serial monogamy? It depends completely on the person's willingness to use the correct protection and how many partners one decides to have.

As an aside, what does it matter if a baby is born without two married parents? I thought American society was over the issue of having a child out of wedlock. A child can be raised very well by parents who have not been married. 

2. Monogamous, married sex is more likely to deliver long-lasting satisfaction than the quick thrill offered by infidelity.Again, open marriage does not equal infidelity. I don't understand how Wilcox can come to this conclusion when the very definition of open marriage is "a marriage in which the partners agree that each may engage in extramarital sexual relationships, without this being regarded as infidelity"According to the renowned University of Chicago Sex Survey, a “monogamous sexual partnership embedded in a formal marriage evidently produces the greatest satisfaction and pleasure.” This study found that both women and men like the emotional security that fidelity affords, and are more likely to report that they are “anxious,” “scared,” and “guilty” when they have had sex with multiple partners in the last year. It would help if the link provided was of the actual results rather than the abstract of the study. It would also help if there were a study that isn't about 20 years old. Until the proper link is provided, I will disbelieve this point. 

3.People often do not realize what they are really consenting to when it comes to open marriage. Absolutely untrue to a degree of complete bullshit I don't even know how to react to. People do know exactly what they're getting into when it comes to an open marriage. People know exactly what an open marriage is and if they don't, they can look it up quite easily. What may be a bit more confusing is what a marriage is in the first place because it seems that nowadays, people have different definitions of it. But open ones are quite clear. If you are married to someone and you do not realize what you are consenting to when you say 'yes' to open marriage, then you're absolutely, undeniably stupid. Sexual relationships require some combination of time, money, and emotional effort. No, actually that would be a romantic relationship. The only thing that a sexual relationship requires of you is time. If money is included, you're going to a prostitute for her services, and if emotional effort is required, that's not simply sexual, that's also a bit more romantic. Efforts devoted to an outside partner can detract from efforts to invest in your spouse. Again, absolutely not. How much effort are you putting into an outside partner? How much time are you spending with your one-night stand? The only effort you need to put into that partner is a penis/vagina/both/fingers/tongue/insertable object, and that takes at the very most several hours and at the very least several seconds. Don't tell me you'd be paying attention more closely to your spouse in those several seconds of premature ejaculation. Women who have sex with multiple partners are significantly more likely to end up depressed than women who do not. Please, give me the source! This statement is so incredibly sexist. Wilcox assumes that (all) women cannot deal with the emotional and sexual consequences of having more than one partner because of their, I assume, inability to cope with no-strings-attached sex. Let me tell you, from a woman's point a view, that I am actually happier having sex with multiple partners than with only one. And, because sex is an emotionally bonding experience for many (but not all), extramarital sex can easily lead to the breakup of an existing marriage, even when all parties go into the situation with their eyes open. Okay, here's the deal. If you view sex as an emotionally bonding experience and you cannot have no-strings-attached sex, then an open marriage or even an open relationship, or possibly even a polyamorous relationship, is not for you. You are free to be in your monogamous marriage all you'd like. HOWEVER. For those who are okay with romantic-free sex, their relationships are not likely to crumble because of that. If you are okay with something, you are okay with it. If you aren't, you aren't, and you will have issues with the situation if you pretend that you are. That is not the relationship's fault, that is your fault for not being honest with your partner and yourself. If you go into something with your eyes open and then later change your mind and see that you are not okay with the idea, that's perfectly fine. In that case, you should speak with your partner and if your marriage fails because of that, it's because you and your spouse were not compatible, not because the institution of marriage is flawed. The institution is rarely flawed, it is the people in the institution who fuck up that are flawed. 

4. Swinging increases your risk of acquiring a sexually-transmitted disease (STD). One of the best predictors of acquiring an STD is having sex with multiple partners, which is precisely what swinging is all about. Note here also that even consistent condom use often does not protect against STDs that are passed through genital skin to skin contact, such as herpes, HPV, and chancroid. Yes, of course. You know, however, how that can be avoided? Checking that your potential sex partner has no STDs. Sound simple? Betya it is. Problem solved, not a problem anymore. 

5. Open marriages put children at riskThis is the general website, this is not the source. Children are markedly more likely to be physically, emotionally, and especially sexually abused when they are exposed to a revolving carousel of romantic partners in the home, according to a recent federal report on child abuse. I'd love to see the source on that too though I don't doubt it. However, the statement is a bit wrong. "Romantic" partners are not necessarily "sexual" partners. Now Wilcox is stepping into the category of polyamorous marriages. I'd also like to say something about parenting. If your child gets abused because you were not careful who you were having sex (or a relationship) with, then that's your fault, that's not the fault of the institution. You are a bad parent and you should choose your partners more carefully. I'd also like to note that a divorced parent also fits the description of having a "revolving carousel of romantic partners in the home", but Wilcox is not raging against them. And we know nothing of the emotional impact on children of being exposed to open infidelity on the part of their parents. The words "open" and "infidelity" cannot exist within the same sentence. If we know nothing of the emotional impact on children then maybe we should shut the fuck up about it, pardon my French. Actually, I have a feeling, that if children were exposed to more liberal and open, honest relationships between their parents and adults they knew, they would grow up to be much more healthy sexual and emotional people. If you are honest with your relationships and your children about those relationships, I do not see how that could hurt the child. 

And here, for the benefit, a link:

When it comes to marriage, one of the few bright spots to emerge over the last forty years is increasing public support for sexual fidelity—in both theory and practice. Indeed, social science tells us that married couples who remain faithful to one another enjoy higher-quality marriages, lower rates of divorce, and, yes, higher levels of emotional satisfaction with their sex life. Again, I'd love to see the source on this. Now, Wilcox is throwing around the word "faithful". Faithful means whatever the couple wants it to mean. Every couple has its own set of rules. Having sex outside of a relationship for one may not be deemed unfaithful, but for another, it may. The rules change with each different relationship. Sexual fidelity also increases the odds that children are born into and reared in a stable, two-parent home. Wilcox stresses the 'two parent' thing. Does this mean that divorced parents, or one parent rearing the child offer instability within the child's life? Because I can testify to that being utter bullshit. I do agree that both female and male presences allow for the child to have a more rounded emotional well being, but this does not require two married parents, two parents living together, only two parents, or two parents of heterosexual inclinations. Females and males can be included in the child's life through the appearances of friends, parents who see their children frequently, family, different partners, etc. and all of the options I have mentioned can be as or even more loving than the "missing" parent. There are plenty of children who have had emotional, mental, sexual, verbal abuse directed toward them in their household with two parents. 

For all these reasons, and even though Savage is right to point out that fidelity can be a difficult virtue to live, turning the clock back to the swinging seventies is a stupid idea. Better for the sake of adults, children, and marriage as an institution to keep the book closed on open marriage.

No. Just no. The permeating issues in this article were:

1. Infidelity does not equal open marriage or relationship. As I said before, infidelity means no honesty or communication or consent, whereas an open marriage requires complete honesty, communication, and consent.
2. No reasonable sources.
3. Blanket statements. Not everyone is the same. Not all women are happy with romantic sex. Not everyone is happier in a monogamous marriage. Not everyone, not everyone, not everyone.
4. The issue I had most with this article and with all articles like these, is everyone's needs and desires in the love world are different. Why can't you just leave everybody alone to do their own thing if it's consentual and it doesn't hurt anyone? STDs, pregnancy, and abuse of children can happen quite well in monogamous relationships and in absolutely no relationships at all. It all depends on how you yourself pick your partners and how you yourself raise your child. It's all based on you and the responsibility is all yours to not get riddled with STDs or riddle anyone with them, get pregnant (or get someone else pregnant), and take good care of your child. Yes, accidents do happen but with protection, carefulness, asking people to show you their STD tests, and being honest, open, and good with yourself, your partner, and your child, most of these issues can be easily solved. 

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