What’s So New About the New Non-Monogamy?

What’s So New About the New Non-Monogamy?

Photo credit:  Pedrosimoes7 via Creative Commons   “Monogamy Lite” For those of you who missed “Open Marriage,” the ethical non-monogamy movement of the 70’s: Ethical non-monogamy is back.  Not that it ever actually disappeared.  But it seems to be making news again. Last year the New York Times bestselling book Sex at Dawn (extensively reviewed on these pages)  argued that we’re all really designed for sexual promiscuity, and proposed that we adopt a more relaxed, European-style sexual ethic. This year sees couples expert Tammy Nelson’s thoughtful piece on “The New Monogamy” –which if I understand it correctly is not quite monogamy at all, but something closer to non-monogamy.  “Monogamy Lite,” perhaps. And last week in the New York Times Magazine,   Mark Oppenheimer’s article, “Married, with infidelities,”discusses the work of Dan Savage — writer, activist, and married but not entirely monogamous gay man – who feels that heterosexuals could learn from homosexual men to be more honest about extramarital sex.  And more accepting of it.   Why is Ethical Non-Monogamy Suddenly Hot Again? The internet, of course, for one. We leave denser electronic trails.   More secret infidelities get discovered — in private life, as well as in public life. When it’s  more obvious who’s being secretly unfaithful, it’s natural to wonder if there might after all be better alternatives to the traditional lying and cheating. Then there’s the “You Are Not Alone” factor.  The internet has fostered electronic communities of like-minded polyamorous and nonmonogamous people.  As it has for many other sexual minorities. But I think the strongest force bringing attention now again to non-monogamy may be  the successes of the gay civil...
Eros, Thanatos, and Sunday Afternoon

Eros, Thanatos, and Sunday Afternoon

Part 3 of a series based on Vanessa Woods’ Bonobo Handshake   Across the River and Into the Trees One day last summer my son came home from a birthday party covered with bruises, bleeding, and looking very proud of himself.  Happily examining his wounds in the bathtub, he explained that he’d been playing paintball, which was actual combat with kids shooting at each other. The bullets splattered paint on you, and they really hurt. And it had been the happiest day of his life.  Within a week, I’d somehow agreed to drive a car full of 12 year old boys to play paintball.  We pulled in to the parking lot, which was filled with men and women and kids of all ages wearing camouflage and toting weapons.  And an hour later, outfitted with a mask and fatigues and armed with a paintball gun loaded with bullets, I was marching up a muddy hill with my team on the way to a battle. It was every bit as exciting as my son had portrayed it.  The adrenaline, the instant camaraderie, the fear of being hit with a paintball.  The thrill of seeing the other team first come over the hill, bent on our destruction. Reality intervened quickly.   Hit in the shoulder in the first 3 minutes, I was required according to the rules to evacuate myself to a neutral spot.  The adrenaline wore off, and I sat down exhausted.  The other team swept us from the field.   The next battle came, and I was again eliminated early.  Again we lost. At that point, our team was assigned a late arrival – a...
Empathy’s Magic

Empathy’s Magic

Part 2 of a series prompted by Vanessa Wood’s Bonobo Handshake. Part 3 will follow shortly, after which we’ll return to our main subject. Photo credit:  pedrosimoes7 via Creative Commons   Empathy and Its Impediments When my daughter was seven, our nanny Irene got married and moved to Florida.  This was a big loss for my daughter, who for the next several weeks would wander around the house saying “I miss Irene” to anyone who would listen.   She drove us all crazy. One morning I remember in particular. I was hurrying to finish breakfast so as not to be late for work.  My daughter was by my side, telling me as always how much she missed Irene.  I was dividing my attention between trying to console her and trying not to spill my cereal. I remember telling her about how I knew how hard this was for her, how she could call Irene in Florida tonight, how just wait she would feel better some day, and so on – everything I could think of.  But nothing seemed to help. Then suddenly, as if by magic, I had a flash of memory — of a woman in college whom I’d pursued unsuccessfully, who had been with me briefly then called the whole thing off.  I remembered days of long lonely walks through campus, feeling half alive.  I looked in my daughter’s eyes, the memory still painful after all these years. “I’m sorry,” I said.  “I’m really sorry.” After that, for the first time in days, she sat quietly by my side and let me eat my breakfast. Saved by the magic of...
Sex in the Wild

Sex in the Wild

A New Twist on the Apple At a recent informal meeting of New York City sex therapists to discuss his new book Sex at Dawn, psychologist Chris Ryan played us a videotape showing a bonobo orgy. The tape was several minutes long.  It showed a small crew of cute little apes cavorting in the grass in all possible heterosexual and homosexual variations.  He explained that this was a bonobo “quickie.”  There didn’t seem to be a lot of orgasms.  Each encounter was just a few quick strokes, then on to the next partner. Ryan explained that the group sex we’d just been watching had been prompted by someone throwing some apples into the midst of the group. The part about the apples didn’t make any sense, until he explained to us more about bonobo society. Bonobos like apples.  They like them a lot.    As a matter of fact, it’s difficult to do bonobo research without a supply of green apples to motivate them to do the experiments. But they like group harmony most of all.  And the sudden appearance of the apples in their midst immediately raises the threat of discord.  Who will get to eat the apples? If these were chimpanzees, the strongest males would immediately claim the fruit.   There would be a fair amount of shoving, and possibly some bloodshed. But bonobos are so communal that the tension produced by something so precious as an apple in their midst must be dispelled by a gesture of community. In this case, everyone gets to cool off with a little sexual comfort from their neighbor. Then, self-interest replaced by a certain yummy...
The Year in Clinical Sexuality, 2010

The Year in Clinical Sexuality, 2010

As we get ready to close the books on 2010, I would like to express my gratitude to  family,  friends, and colleagues for your support and encouragement over the past year.   And to all my patients for your trust and confidence.   May we all merit much happiness in 2011. In ending the year,  here’s my rundown of 2010’s most blog-worthy events in the field of clinical sexuality     New Books and Other Happenings Sex at Dawn, the breakout volume by the previously-unknown writing team of Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, took a sledgehammer to conventional evolutionary sexual psychology  (See my interview with lead author Chris Ryan).   Some thought Sex at Dawn might help promote a more relaxed, European-style attitude towards non-monogamy in America.  In “Will Sex at Dawn influence sex therapy?” I argued that this was probably wishful thinking. This summer,  SEC staffers were caught surfing porn at work. In my blog,  “Men and Their Computers, Alone Together,” I wondered whether the traditional Jewish laws of Yichud might be applicable to whether a man should ever be alone with his computer, unsupervised.  I also contributed a piece to an Italian magazine on workplace infidelity – and how to avoid it. In “Contemporary Sexuality and the Brazilian Wax,” we discussed the modern disappearance of young adult women’s genital hair — and in the process had a dialog with Kinsey researcher Dr Debra Herbenick on the subject. A new book, The Nine Rooms of Happiness, sought to teach women the occult male art of compartmentalization.  I reviewed it, and also briefly interviewed my 9-year-old daughter (she’s since turned 10) on the subject of “What Does a...