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Dating Mating Sex and Reproduction

Practical Non-Monogamy

Over the past week, I’ve devoted a great deal of time to the idea that humans are and always have been non-monogamous.  Today I want to examine the possibilities and problems associated with openly practicing non-monogamy.  Before I do, I must also throw in a caveat:  I am not suggesting that anyone necessarily ought to practice non-monogamy.  Rather, I’m offering some simple advice for people who want to think about ways to incorporate their knowledge of our “true nature” into a practical lifestyle, even if they are still open to or even looking for an exclusive relationship.

Recognize Our Existing Non-Monogamy

In many ways, we already behave non-monogamously.  Especially in our younger years, we often date more than one person at a time while we’re looking for “the one.”  Sometimes we like to pull the wool over our eyes and pretend that the person we just started seeing immediately dropped any other sexual partners the moment they got in the sheets with us.  But deep down, we know better.  We routinely “try out” new sexual partners while we’re single, and many of us see several people over the course of a few months.

So the first and easiest step towards practical non-monogamy is to call our existing practice what it really is.  Many of us already cycle between non-monogamy and monogamy.  What we call “being single” is just as properly called “being non-monogamous.”

Embracing Our Non-Monogamy

Once we’ve admitted that we sometimes practice non-monogamy, it becomes easier to do it safely and respectfully.  I really like the idea of ditching the word “single” and replacing it with “non-monogamous.”  It’s great on several levels.  First, it takes away some of the stigma of single-hood.  We often equate being single with failure.  But there’s no failure for being in a non-monogamous phase.  Second, it takes away a great deal of the shame associated with being sexually active outside of a “committed relationship.”  Perhaps most importantly, it gives us a framework to discuss a new relationship honestly while escalating towards either monogamy or some other form of commitment.

I also like the idea of expanding the meaning of “relationship.”  In our monogamy-culture, we generally equate “relationship” and “monogamy.”  Until someone is committed to exclusivity, we say they’re just hooking up, or fuck buddies, or whatever.  But the reality is that once we’ve swapped bodily fluids with someone, we are in a relationship with them.  It might be a very casual relationship, but it’s a relationship nonetheless.  (See my post from a few months ago on this topic.)  Once we separate exclusivity from the concept of a relationship, it becomes very easy to see that we are already non-monogamous for much of our lives.

Practical Advice For Men


Adopting the language of non-monogamy is easier for men than women.  We already play the part pretty well, but we hide it behind nebulous terminology and half-truths.  According to a recent study, up to 40 percent of “couples” don’t even agree on whether they’re monogamously committed!

Changing our dating language is really pretty simple.  It mostly boils down to telling the truth instead of lying.  Many men seem to believe that telling the truth will keep them from getting laid as much, and perhaps it’s true to some extent, but for the most part, I don’t believe it makes a big difference.  True, many women lie to themselves by conveniently not knowing a man’s intentions or relationship status, but generally, when a woman’s ready to go, she’ll conjure up an appropriate excuse to do the deed, regardless of what the man says or doesn’t say.

During a non-monogamous phase, all a guy really has to do is say something like this:  “Just so you know, I’m not dating anyone exclusively right now, but I am seeing a couple of people from time to time, and they know it’s not exclusive.”  It’s possible that the girl will run for the hills at that point, but it’s not as probable as you might think.  If she’s really interested, she’ll probably want to ask questions.  And it’s perfectly appropriate to answer them. Yes, we have sex.  Yes, we’re always safe.  Yes, I’m open to the possibility of exclusive dating. (Or, No, I’m not open to the possibility.  Whatever is true…)  No, I’ve never cheated on someone once I was committed. (Hopefully you can say that…)

Alternatively, if a guy isn’t seeing anyone, it just takes this:  “I just want to make sure you know that I am not seeing anyone right now, but I am looking, so there’s a possibility I’ll be going on dates with other people while we’re getting to know each other.  If that happens, I’ll always be safe, and I trust that you will be too if you go out with anyone else.”

Yes, it takes a little bravery to be this open and honest, but the benefits are twofold.  First, there’s no misunderstanding during the non-monogamous phase, and no risk of anyone’s feelings getting hurt because one person thought it was exclusive and the other didn’t.  Second, it allows for a clear delineation if both people decide they want to be exclusive.

By adopting this language and attitude, it’s possible for a guy to go for quite some time in a non-monogamous phase.  Especially in college, it makes it easier to have real relationships based on honesty, even in the predominant hookup culture.

Practical Advice for Women


It’s a lot harder for a woman to be openly non-monogamous.  The great double standard looms large.  Men respect other men for having many partners, but they view women as “damaged goods” for doing the same thing.  There’s a real loss of “marriage value” for women with “promiscuous” pasts.  But there is hope.

Just like men, the first step for women is simply changing the language for existing behaviors.  Women are just as capable of saying the same things to men.  “I just want you to know I am seeing other people, but I’m really enjoying my time with you and hope we can continue to see each other.”

Ironically, at this point, it’s pretty easy for a woman to remain non-monogamous if she wants to.  Check out any dating advice website, and a majority of the complaints from women are about how hard it is to get men to commit exclusively.  The difficulty comes not so much from the men involved but from friends, family, and well… everybody else who loves sticking their nose into other people’s bedrooms.

The simplest way around this obstacle is probably just choosing our language carefully.  “Yes, I’m seeing a couple of guys.  Yes, they know.”  It’s true that this simple answer won’t deflect all of the questions, nor will it prevent the inevitable push from peers telling you to make one of them commit.  But it does buy a lot of time, and it also gives the woman a great deal of power.  Let me explain:

Women:  Take Back the Value of Sex


One of the biggest concerns women face when they sleep with more than one person is the inevitable accusation that they’re giving it up for too little.  They’re taking away all their leverage and selling themselves short.  But this is easily cured.

Here it is in a nutshell:  Exclusive or not, always get something in return for sex.  In a previous article, I mentioned the major components of an exclusive relationship that women tend to want:  Social Status, Companionship, Emotional Support, Security, Resources, and of course sex, and sometimes children .  There’s no reason a woman can’t demand these things even in a non-monogamous phase.  Man of mine, you want sex?  Ok.  I want lunch, an afternoon of shopping and a movie, and my sink needs some repair. Obviously, it’s not a good idea to phrase it exactly that way, but it’s pretty easy to make the booty contingent on some boyfriend-like behaviors.

In a very real way, it’s about putting the dating back in dating.  There’s tons of chatter around the blogosphere about how women are devaluing themselves to the point that they get virtually no return for sex.  And ironically, it’s probably a combination of demanding too much and expecting too little! In today’s sexual marketplace, it’s generally too much to ask for exclusivity in exchange for sex, at least right off the bat.  But many women seem to believe that if they’re not getting an exclusive boyfriend, they aren’t getting anything at all.  And it’s simply not true.

The necessary changes in behavior are subtle but powerful.  Got a booty-call buddy who only calls when he’s horny late at night?  Booty calls are fine, but get something in return.  “Yes, Booty-Buddy, you can come over, but only if you’ll stay here and take me to lunch tomorrow afternoon.”  Trust me, most men will gladly trade lunch for sex.  If your guy won’t, you’ve got the wrong guy — for a booty call OR an exclusive relationship.

As time goes on, it’s perfectly fine to demand more of non-exclusive partners.  In fact, it’s quite possible to have two boyfriends at once, each of whom pays for dinner, cuddles on the couch and watches chick flicks, and takes you to swanky office parties.  It’s all about setting the bar from the very beginning, and making it clear to any potential bed-buddies that the price of vagina isn’t exclusivity, but it’s never free.  Never.  Even while it’s still “just casual.”

The emotional support and commitment (even casual commitment) are a little trickier to get, but far from impossible.  “No, Booty-Buddy, you may not come over for sex tonight.  I tried calling you and texting three times yesterday because I was having a horrible day and needed someone to talk to.  It was disrespectful of you to blow me off.  If you expect me to be here when you’re in need, you have to be there for me as well.” Again, any man who won’t listen to a fifteen minute bitch session in exchange for sex is not worth your time for any relationship.

Once it becomes clear to your dates that sex isn’t free, but it also isn’t exorbitantly expensive, you might be surprised how much fulfillment you can get from “casual” non-exclusive relationships.

Respect the Boundaries


Of course, there’s a flip-side to non-exclusive dating.  For one thing, both people must respect the other’s privacy and boundaries.  We already do this in our exclusive relationships.  We know that no matter how upset we are about our bad day, we can’t interrupt a business meeting to gripe.  We know that Thursday is “Girl’s Movie and Margarita Night,” so we schedule poker with the boys then.

It’s no different in a non-exclusive relationship.  If Friday is date night with Bob, it’s inappropriate for Joe to call or text on Friday night.  If I’ve spent the whole day today shopping with Susie, it’s inappropriate for her to make a last minute date with another guy tonight.

Everyone who is non-monogamous (née single) should practice safe sex.  Every Time.  Without Fail.  We owe every partner that respect — whether they’re a one-and-done or a candidate for monogamy or a friend with benefits.  Any sex without a condom should only happen after everyone involved has passed an STD screening.

Blur the Lines


Interestingly enough, the line between monogamy and non-monogamy is already pretty blurry.  What we often call “single” is really just casual non-exclusivity, and the “normal” path from casual dating to exclusivity is not as inevitable as we make it out to be.  For both men and women, a little honesty at the very beginning changes our attitude, but leaves our behaviors largely intact.  For women, simply demanding boyfriend behaviors at all times (which they ought to do in any case!) creates an almost instant relationship, even if it’s casual.

More importantly, it also sets the bar at an appropriate level.  If someone is worthy of sex with us, they are relationship material.  There is no more place in our life for someone who will only be for sex.  There is no such thing as a “strictly sexual” relationship.  This kind of lifestyle demands higher standards from everyone involved.  Anyone who is sharing the bed with us needs to demonstrate responsible adult behaviors from the get-go.  Instead of dividing our potential partners into “non-relationship material we might fuck anyway” and “relationship material we’re going to try to land exclusively,” we only involve ourselves with people who will treat us as relationship material from day one.

When we take this approach, we find that we have some level of relationship with everyone who shares our bed.  From there, weeks can turn into months, and months can turn into years.  If we find that one person becomes so important to us that we want to see them exclusively, then fine.  If not, there’s no pressing need to fix what has never been broken.   All that’s left is to ask the question:  Why did I want exclusivity in the first place, and what would I get that I’m not getting now?  Or, to put it even more clearly:  What will I gain by dropping one or more of these people from my life?

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Discussion

45 thoughts on “Practical Non-Monogamy

  1. I think I disagree with you about a few things here. One, the idea that sex is never free. Why not? It seems that if a booty call is requested, the question is whether both parties want sex. If they do, then the exchange is sex for sex (because everyone wants sex sometimes). Why must some lunch or some other favor be involved?

    This seems to be a mild form of prostitiution, rarther than thinking about it as two people deciding to enjoy one-another with no need of further expectations. If I called someone for a booty call and they said yes, but only if I bought them lunch…I would recognize that either they really don’t want to sleep with (in which case I’m talking to the wrong person) or they do and want to try and scam their way into a free lunch too. Sure, many men (and women) will be willing to do so, but that does not mean it is required.

    (BTW, I have no problem with prostitution, whether it is someone marrying for money/security or a simple cash-for-sex exchange, it’s all fine with me so long as consenting adults agree.)

    You said:

    “If someone is worthy of sex with us, they are relationship material. There is no more place in our life for someone who will only be for sex. There is no such thing as a “strictly sexual” relationship.”

    I cannot disagree more. There are simply some people that we have great sex with, but don’t complement each other in other ways. Sometimes all the people need/want from each other is sex. Yes, it is a relationship–a sexual one–but it is not necessarily more than this. I have had a few such relationships, and while I don’t get much emotionally from them, that’s not what I need from that person so that doesn’t matter. In fact, this is one great thing about non-monogamy; I don’t have to force an emotional relationship where all we want is sex from each-other. How many people have you seen “dating” that you can’t imagine what they talk about, do together, etc (besides sex). With some people, the sex is just hot, and we shoudl accept that for what it is.

    These relationships tend not to last long, and the people involved generally do not see each other much, but they exist.

    Bottom line; just figure out what you want or need, find peope to satisfy those, and don’t limit yourself artificially to one person because you think that you should. Just be open and honest about what you want, and you will find relationships of many shapes and sizes.

    Posted by shaunphilly | February 8, 2011, 8:07 pm
  2. I think I disagree with you about a few things here. One, the idea that sex is never free. Why not? It seems that if a booty call is requested, the question is whether both parties want sex. If they do, then the exchange is sex for sex (because everyone wants sex sometimes). Why must some lunch or some other favor be involved?

    Well yes. Clearly if two people both want sex, they should have sex. What I’m talking about is part of a larger systemic issue in the current sexual marketplace. Young women very often find themselves in dead end non-relationships in which they’re giving up the sex regularly but getting no relationship benefits. The most common cause of this (from where I sit) is that they are not training their men to give them what they do want out of the relationship.

    I know some people object to this kind of thinking, but it’s very standard psychology, and it’s what every decent psychotherapist tells his clients to do. Relationships are exchanges, and it’s a very rare woman who really does only want sex from a guy. So the bottom line is this: There are very few (if any) women in the current sexual market place who are suffering because they can’t find any guys to just give them sex and nothing else. There are plenty who are suffering because they’re giving sex and getting nothing in return other than sex.

    This seems to be a mild form of prostitiution, rarther than thinking about it as two people deciding to enjoy one-another with no need of further expectations. If I called someone for a booty call and they said yes, but only if I bought them lunch…I would recognize that either they really don’t want to sleep with (in which case I’m talking to the wrong person) or they do and want to try and scam their way into a free lunch too. Sure, many men (and women) will be willing to do so, but that does not mean it is required.

    Bleh. Prostitution is such a dirty word. But relationships are exchanges. If we pay money, we call it prostitution. If we give back-rubs and flowers and give up poker night, we call it being a good boyfriend. Again, there is no such thing as free sex. Even when it’s just about sex, it’s still an exchange of things two people want. He wants an orgasm, she wants an orgasm. They give each other orgasms.

    I did say at one point that it’s a bad idea to say it as a direct exchange. That doesn’t feel sexy at all. But part of “training” a partner to be a good companion is giving them clear expectations. If a woman wants to be in a relationship that is about more than booty calls, she has to communicate that to her partner unequivocally. Personally, I’ve had more than one girl tell me straight out that sex was contingent on “boyfriend” stuff that she wanted, and that’s been fine with me. There’s nothing shameful in saying “Yes, man of mine, I love having sex with you. But I’m in this for more than sex, and for the sex to continue, I need to have my other needs met.”

    (BTW, I have no problem with prostitution, whether it is someone marrying for money/security or a simple cash-for-sex exchange, it’s all fine with me so long as consenting adults agree.)

    I agree. The biggest reason for my agreement is that, as I’ve said, relationships are always exchanges, and I can’t think of a good reason for separating cash exchanges from all the other exchanges.

    I cannot disagree more. There are simply some people that we have great sex with, but don’t complement each other in other ways. Sometimes all the people need/want from each other is sex.

    You are right. There are sometimes people with great sexual chemistry with nothing else going for them. And yes, sometimes they can have successful sexual relationships. But again, I think this is the exception that proves the rule. For every one couple I’ve met that fit this description, I’m sure I’ve met fifty where one partner’s biggest gripe is that they’re not getting enough out of the relationship, and are bitter that all they’re getting is the sex.

    I’m all in favor of consensual purely sexual relationships when possible. But both my experience and my knowledge of psychology suggests that this is more myth than reality.

    These relationships tend not to last long, and the people involved generally do not see each other much, but they exist.

    Yes. And like I said, they’re fine when they do happen. But in nearly every instance where I’ve been told that a couple had such a relationship, a little digging has revealed that only one partner viewed the relationship that way. That’s not healthy.

    Bottom line; just figure out what you want or need, find peope to satisfy those, and don’t limit yourself artificially to one person because you think that you should. Just be open and honest about what you want, and you will find relationships of many shapes and sizes.

    That’s pretty much exactly what I’m saying. The difference between your position and mine is that I’m speaking to the majority of women who do not want just sex from a relationship, and who are looking for meaningful additions to their lives outside of the bedroom. When I discover an epidemic of women who are having trouble finding meaningless sex, I’ll address it. But the overwhelming problem I am hearing about is women having trouble getting anything that resembles a real intimate friendship.

    Posted by hambydammit | February 8, 2011, 11:50 pm
  3. Hamby, I’ve loved this series of posts, and I was with you right up until the “value of sex” part. I think I see where you’re coming from here, but I couldn’t disagree more with your perspective.

    What a person, male or female, gets in exchange for sex is sex. Period, end of story. It should be pleasurable for both people and each should do their damnedest to show the other person a good time. Sex, if it’s done right, feels as good to women as it does to men, so there’s absolutely no reason to bring in some other medium of exchange.

    What a person, male or female, gets in exchange for emotional intimacy, companionship, and practical assistance in life is emotional intimacy, companionship, and practical assistance in life. Men need these things no less than women do. In fact men generally need them more from women than women need them from men, since women tend to have more emotional intimacy in their friendships.

    Given these two things, it’s insane to me that anyone has a model of male-female relationships in which women exchange sex for emotional intimacy (etc.) I realize it’s a very common model, but it is based on two false presumptions: that women don’t enjoy sex as much as men, and that men don’t enjoy intimacy as much as women.

    If it’s insane, why is it so prevalent? Largely because of the problems of our monogamous culture that you’ve outlined in these last few posts. First of all, female sexuality has been repressed, denied, and penalized for millenia, so that most women are not taught to be sexual in the way that men are. I’m fairly certain that in a fully sex-positive culture, women on balance would have sexual appetites that would more than match the men’s.

    Second, a related problem of men and women alike not being sure how to show a woman a great time in bed. Because women’s sexuality has been denied and repressed, and because women’s sexual anatomy is somewhat more complicated than men’s, women’s sexual pleasure is viewed as highly mysterious and enigmatic. Many men put in the time and effort to learn how to make sex as enjoyable for her as it is for him, but many don’t… and many women don’t do their own work of learning and communicating their needs.

    Third, because casual sexual encounters are riskier for women than they are for men. There is the physical risk of pregnancy, which of course birth control has done a lot to alleviate. Then there’s the physical power imbalance, which makes us leery of being alone and vulnerable with a strange man. But I think the weightiest risk is the one you mentioned: stigma and cultural shame associated with being a slut. Not only is a promiscuous woman subject to criticism from family and peers, but as you pointed out, her “marriage value” is diminished in the eyes of some men. (Why she would want to marry that kind of man is another question.)

    Fourthly, on the male side: Men are wary of giving emotional intimacy, commitment, and investment because of how we correlate these things with sexual exclusivity. We force men to choose between intimacy and sexual freedom, so is it any wonder that they’re reluctant to be intimate?

    In a nutshell, misogynistic patriarchy has fucked everyone over, women and men alike. But what we need to be doing is not bowing to the norms as they stand now, but working to change them by saying, “Women, sex is as much about your pleasure as it is about his. Men, a woman who’s had a lot of partners is a prize, not a handicap. Everybody, figure out what you need — sex, love, freedom — and don’t settle for someone who won’t give it to you joyfully.”

    Posted by Ginny | February 9, 2011, 11:49 am
  4. I had been thinking a lot about how to respond again, but then Ginny, my lovely lady-freiend, did so with more competence than I could muster. (

    (Not sure if you put it together that we were together, but I did introduce her to your blog).

    Posted by shaunphilly | February 9, 2011, 1:45 pm
  5. Hamby, you speak here about being in a non-monogamous phase. However, the non-monogamous template getting tons of publicity right now is polyamory. I’ve read several articles and memoirs about it and with one or two exceptions, it is the man who essentially gets access to other women by persuading his wife to practice polyamory. In many cases, it’s a thinly veiled ultimatum. Steve Pavlina, the pesonal development mega blogger, is probably the best known example of this.

    As I understand it, the authors of Sex at Dawn are polyamorous, something that has caused critics to question their objectivity.

    I don’t think most people have trouble with the practice of non-monogamy outside of committed relationships – in fact, as you say, that’s what a non-exclusive relationship is, or should be.

    The difficulty is in applying the concept to marriage, including children. One honest account in the Boston Globe last year described the challenges – like a young boy asking his father whether he loves his mother or the woman he sleeps in a bed with more.

    Posted by Susan Walsh | February 9, 2011, 5:31 pm
  6. What a person, male or female, gets in exchange for sex is sex. Period, end of story.

    Well, I hate this phrase, but it seems appropriate. I guess we just have to agree to disagree. In my entire life, I have never, ever, ever seen one mature relationship in which sex was free from either partner to either partner. All of modern psychology disagrees with you, and I’m going to side with that body of knowledge.

    Sex, if it’s done right, feels as good to women as it does to men, so there’s absolutely no reason to bring in some other medium of exchange.

    To be pedantic about it, it’s likely that sex feels a little better for women than for men, but that’s never been conclusively proven, so we’ll leave it lie. I’m a little surprised you say there’s no reason to bring in other exchanges since you clearly understand that human existence is anything but rational. The reason other exchanges come into the picture is that humans want other exchanges to come into the picture. It doesn’t have to be rational. It’s an evolutionary adaptation.

    What a person, male or female, gets in exchange for emotional intimacy, companionship, and practical assistance in life is emotional intimacy, companionship, and practical assistance in life. Men need these things no less than women do. In fact men generally need them more from women than women need them from men, since women tend to have more emotional intimacy in their friendships.

    It’s a nice picture, and in a rational world, it would probably be true. Because it makes sense. But it doesn’t match the real world. Again, I have to refer back to the mountain of empirical evidence which clearly shows that it just ain’t so. Men and women are not the same. We are physiologically and emotionally different, and we just don’t like 1 for 1 exchanges.

    You’ve said it yourself: Men and women get their emotional intimacy from different places.

    Given these two things, it’s insane to me that anyone has a model of male-female relationships in which women exchange sex for emotional intimacy (etc.) I realize it’s a very common model, but it is based on two false presumptions: that women don’t enjoy sex as much as men, and that men don’t enjoy intimacy as much as women.

    With all due deference, I’ll wait for the paper. Cause I just don’t see it in real life. Women do trade sex for emotional intimacy. They don’t write it out on a receipt. They prefer to have sex on a recurring basis with people who also provide them emotional intimacy. (As compared to those who do not.) If that ain’t an exchange, then we’re talking a different language.

    Granted, the standard model may be wrong. I challenge standard models all the time. I’m doing it with this very entry. But again, with all due deference, I can’t take the word of fringe-dwellers (which I imagine all three of us — you, Shaun, and me are) that the middle isn’t what the middle appears to be.

    I’m fairly certain that in a fully sex-positive culture, women on balance would have sexual appetites that would more than match the men’s.

    The circumstantial evidence points that way. However, you seem to be asserting that sex drive, and only sex drive, is the determining factor for both men and women in the pursuit of sexual satisfaction. It is clearly not.

    Second, a related problem of men and women alike…

    I don’t think I see the relevance. Are you suggesting that if men were all equally skilled in satisfying their female lovers that an orgy would result? ‘Cause I don’t see it. Again, I have to return to the observation that across every culture I have every read anything about, both men and women assess more than sexual desirability in the pursuit of sexual satisfaction.

    Third, because casual sexual encounters are riskier for women than they are for men.

    Well, yes. But that’s also complicated territory. Women are at slightly higher risk of contracting STDs from men than vice versa, and only women get pregnant. But without the moral belief that abortion is wrong, most STDs and most pregnancies are relatively easily cured. The morning after pill and even an overdose of birth control pills early enough is a bit unpleasant, but I hesitate to call it more unpleasant than getting a cotton swap stuck up your urethra.

    The point I’m making — and I hope you’d agree — is that many of the “female” problems with casual sex are bigger problems culturally than physically. Yes, they are real physical issues, but a woman who’s had a chemically induced miscarriage can return to work pretty much as fast as a man whose had ten warts frozen off his penis. The fact that so many pregnancies go to mid or late term is just as much based on the influence of the church, friends, family, and dumb-shit boyfriends who’ve never kept a houseplant alive for a month as any inescapable fact of biology.

    Then there’s the physical power imbalance, which makes us leery of being alone and vulnerable with a strange man.

    And curiously, it appears that evolution has given us a built in adaptation to at least partially solve the problem of sexual assault by unknown males. Females appear to instinctively prefer engaging in mating rituals with men who have already established a sense of intimacy, security, and familiarity. It’s almost as if the man is trading intimacy for sex…

    But I think the weightiest risk is the one you mentioned: stigma and cultural shame associated with being a slut. Not only is a promiscuous woman subject to criticism from family and peers, but as you pointed out, her “marriage value” is diminished in the eyes of some men. (Why she would want to marry that kind of man is another question.)

    It’s a very complicated issue. How much of a woman’s “slut value” is cultural, and how much of it comes from the feeling of having gotten too little in exchange for sex, and how much of it is from over-valuing sex in the first place? The only thing I can say about it right now is that in all cultures I know about where sex is largely egalitarian, the population is also very small, and there is already a built in familiarity and intimacy between the woman and any of her possible partners.

    Men are wary of giving emotional intimacy, commitment, and investment because of how we correlate these things with sexual exclusivity.

    I agree, and I think my system helps account for that by making it clear that intimacy is not an exchange for exclusivity.

    In a nutshell, misogynistic patriarchy has fucked everyone over, women and men alike. But what we need to be doing is not bowing to the norms as they stand now, but working to change them by saying, “Women, sex is as much about your pleasure as it is about his. Men, a woman who’s had a lot of partners is a prize, not a handicap. Everybody, figure out what you need — sex, love, freedom — and don’t settle for someone who won’t give it to you joyfully.”

    I appreciate your opinion, and I get where you’re coming from. I disagree, but I’m a moderate. (Isn’t that odd?) I believe baby steps are the only way to get from an entrenched position to a better position. I also agree that there are real cultural limits on a population as large as ours, and that a certain amount of the “system” is probably inevitable. But then, I’m also a bit of a pessimist with things like that.

    Thank you again for your thoughtful comments. I hope you take my disagreement in the best of possible lights, and I welcome any more thoughts you have on the subject.

    Posted by hambydammit | February 9, 2011, 5:46 pm
  7. {Fixed Formatting — HD}

    In my entire life, I have never, ever, ever seen one mature relationship in which sex was free from either partner to either partner.

    That’s… shocking and a little sad, to me. In MY entire life, I have had sex for one of three reasons: 1) because I was hot for the person in my bed (the vast majority of the time), 2) because my partner was horny, I wasn’t averse, and I wanted to make him happy, or 3) because I was curious about an experience and the opportunity to try it had just appeared. I can honestly say I have never felt that I was either giving or receiving sex in exchange for anything outside the bedroom.

    Women do trade sex for emotional intimacy. They don’t write it out on a receipt. They prefer to ha to those who do not.) If that ain’t an exchange, then we’re talking a different language.

    If by “emotional intimacy” you meave sex on a recurring basis with people who also provide them emotional intimacy. (As comparedn real closeness, sharing, and vulnerability, I’m not sure you’re right about this. Certainly sex acquires a different dimension when you’re emotionally intimate with your partner, but I think men and women are both able to appreciate this (although culturally women are encouraged to overvalue it and men to undervalue it.) But I know too many women who enjoy casual and semi-casual sex, myself included, to accept a blanket statement about women’s preferences.

    I will concede that women more often require an element of familiarity to be sexually interested in someone. Not intimacy, but a sense of knowing who their partner is beyond just having a hot body. Having seen someone a few times at the coffee shop, or having a mutual friend, is generally enough. And as you point out, this could well be an adaptation to compensate for physical vulnerability. It’s harder for us to get turned on without a sense that the partner is a known quantity.

    But both of these things — the acknowledged preference for familiarity and the debatable preference for intimacy — are things that enhance the sexual experience for a women. It’s bizarre to me that you phrase it as an exchange… these are not things women are using sex to obtain, these are things that make sex desirable, or extra-good. Calling it an exchange is as nonsensical to me as saying men trade sex for a woman’s dressing cutely. Her dressing cutely is part of what made him want to have sex with her in the first place. Ditto for familiarity.

    You keep pointing, in your comments, to the way things are in the mainstream, and I think your assessment of the mainstream is fairly accurate. But in your blog post, you were giving advice, which by definition is talking both about how things are and how things ought to be. It’s on the “how things ought to be” point that I’m calling you out. You advocate, without batting an eye, a series of I-give-you-sex-you-buy-me-lunch exchanges, when I was really hoping that as a society we could be working to move past that model of male/female relationships. Because that model is insulting and frustrating to both men and women.

    Just so we know I’m not speaking strictly theoretically, in addition to my dear Shaun (who will be responding with his own thoughts shortly), I am casually involved with two other men. They’re both intelligent, mature, average in attractiveness, and below average in financial position. When we go out, sometimes they pay, sometimes I do, and sometimes we split the bill. We talk a little bit about our lives, talk more about subjects of mutual interest, but the sharing and chatting is pretty much evenly distributed (in other words, it’s not me bitching about my rotten day all the time.) I spend time with them because I like them. I have sex with them because I think they’re sexy. I assume they have the same reasons for hanging out with/having sex with me. If you see a commercial aspect to this dynamic, I’m mystified as to where it lies.

    Ms. Walsh, regarding this statement: I’ve read several articles and memoirs about it and with one or two exceptions, it is the man who essentially gets access to other women by persuading his wife to practice polyamory.

    All I can say is, you’ve been reading a very selective sample. I know a number of polyamorous families which bely your point… as well as my own above-cited experience.

    Posted by Ginny | February 9, 2011, 10:47 pm
  8. Ugh… sorry my formatting didn’t go through. Don’t see a way to delete or edit it… feel free to fix the quotes if you can.

    Posted by Ginny | February 9, 2011, 10:49 pm
  9. Susan,

    you said:

    “I’ve read several articles and memoirs about it and with one or two exceptions, it is the man who essentially gets access to other women by persuading his wife to practice polyamory.”

    In my experience, it is often the case that women play more of a leadership role within the polyamorous community. And while there may be segments of the “normal” world where men convice their wives to try something in the interest of getting some novelty in their sex-lives, when this happens what is likely to happen is the woman will find she enjoys it and then that’s all that man can take…1) it’s easier for women to find willing partners and 2) because the men who do such things tend to be biting off more than they can chew (emotionally). Many mainstream men think they want non-monogamy, but what they really want is a mistress or a ‘unicorn’ (hot bi woman who is willing to jump into a bed/relationship with him and his wife). The fantasy is not always what they thought itwould be.

    You continued:

    “In many cases, it’s a thinly veiled ultimatum. Steve Pavlina, the pesonal development mega blogger, is probably the best known example of this.”

    I don’t know who this is. It seems like an anecdote. Yes, there will be people who have bad experiences with attempts at non-monogamy (including people I know), but I think this speaks more about their ability to deal with what they really want and their own insecurities than anything else. Polyamory is not easy, and people who are not willing to challange themselves emotionally, intellectually, etc will almost certainly fail in some regard.

    “As I understand it, the authors of Sex at Dawn are polyamorous, something that has caused critics to question their objectivity.”

    So, a person who agrees with an argument is considered less-objective because he agrees with it? Well, ok, but….[facepalm}…one can be something and still be objective about the issue. Whether polyamory is doable on a larger social scale is determinable upon the facts themselves, not who says them. Objectivity is a matter of methodology, not identity.

    “I don’t think most people have trouble with the practice of non-monogamy outside of committed relationships – in fact, as you say, that’s what a non-exclusive relationship is, or should be.”

    I want to clarify that there is no necessary tension between commitment and non-monogamy. One can be committed to more than one person, as in polyfidelity. Also, swingers are often committed to each other, even if they have sex with other people.

    “The difficulty is in applying the concept to marriage, including children. One honest account in the Boston Globe last year described the challenges – like a young boy asking his father whether he loves his mother or the woman he sleeps in a bed with more.”

    Oh please…. I know so many children raised in poly environments. I’m almost ready to call POE here. Children raised in environments of many people loving each other get this idea that that man loves both of them, in the same way that parents love their children. More? Who cares? and what does that even mean?

    I agree with Ginny; it seems you are experiencing selection bias. I suggest you expose yourself to more views from the polyamory community.

    The maturity and willingness to be honest in such a community are the types of strengths that lead to objectivity more-often than not. Poly people think much more about these things than normals because they have to. Normals don’t because they don’t need to…or think they don’t need to.

    Posted by shaunphilly | February 9, 2011, 11:23 pm
  10. Re the sample of articles, I’ve read about polyamory, it’s limited because I don’t seek them out. It’s not a topic that I find particularly interesting or rewarding. However, if there’s an article on it in the Sunday magazine, as there was in the Boston Globe not long ago, I’ll read it.

    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles/2010/01/03/loves_new_frontier/?page=1

    Prior to becoming parents, they would each typically have at least one or two relationships beyond their own. Currently Alan, a user interaction designer for a local software company, has one — a steady girlfriend of four years — and Michelle has none. How long has it been since Michelle has dated anyone? “Long enough to be annoying,” says Alan, who would like to see his wife find a boyfriend.

    …Then there are the kids, who in this case, according to Alan, understand as much about their parents’ lifestyle as they want to. The two boys have attended several Boston Pride Parades, and they know and interact with their parents’ partners as they would with any other close adult friends. But the Wexelblats have not yet explained the specifics of their lifestyle to their sons. “Kids deal well with things they think are normal,” says Alan. “To the degree that we can help them be comfortable with this, then they will treat it as normal. That’s the theory, anyway.”

    @shaunphilly
    Steve Pavlina writes one of the most successful blogs on the internet:

    http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2010/03/letting-go-with-love/

    He announced his decision to embrace polyamory in Jan. 2009. He and his wife split in Sept. 2009.

    Re objectivity being unrelated to identity, I assume this means you’re open to considering the findings of studies conducted by The Heritage Foundation?

    Posted by Susan Walsh | February 10, 2011, 12:17 am
  11. Ms. Walsh: If you want to make public assessments of a non-mainstream subject like polyamory, I suggest that you investigate deeper than the Sunday paper.

    The case of a married couple where one partner (it’s not always the man) realizes monogamy is not working for them, and the other partner is happy with it, is always difficult. Do they try to reach some kind of compromise? Do they choose monogamy or non-monogamy and let one partner suffer? Or do they split up? Sometimes splitting up is the best choice, if no compromise can be reached. I don’t know any more about Steve Pavlina than you’ve written here, and it’s a shame that the course of his relationship has given a bad impression of polyamory to the unfamiliar public. But once again, if you’re going to seriously criticize the way a particular lifestyle works, you should look a little deeper first.

    As far as the objectivity of Sex at Dawn, would you feel better about their credibility if they were monogamous? Their bottom-line argument is “non-monogamy can work for humans”… isn’t it a credibility bonus that they have personal experience to back that up?

    Posted by Ginny | February 10, 2011, 10:29 am
  12. Hi!
    Great blog!
    I am interesting in using some of your blog posts for our ebulletins- they are free and go out to around 10,000 people each month. I am from The Center for Progressive Christianity- http://www.tcpc.org. Please let me know if you are ok with me using some of your blogs sometime!
    Thanks!
    Deshna

    Posted by Deshna | February 10, 2011, 5:09 pm
  13. Hamby, you speak here about being in a non-monogamous phase. However, the non-monogamous template getting tons of publicity right now is polyamory

    I am fairly convinced that this kind of arrangement — especially the guy pressuring a girl into allowing a second girlfriend — doesn’t represent anything more “natural” than the enforced monogamy model. I’m not a big fan of it, primarily because it’s still an unequal arrangement. I’ve dated exclusively and non-exclusively, and anytime it was non-exclusive, the girl was just as free as me to see other people. To me, that seems like a more equitable arrangement, and tends to reduce the kind of power plays inherent in the polygamy model.

    As I understand it, the authors of Sex at Dawn are polyamorous, something that has caused critics to question their objectivity.

    As I understand it, the judge in the gay marriage case was gay. There is no such thing as objectivity in the social sciences. That’s half the point of this kind of entry. When everyone says things are a certain way, that’s a very good reason to question it.

    Also, consider: If the authors are correct, then they’d be pretty daft to be monogamous, wouldn’t they?

    I don’t think most people have trouble with the practice of non-monogamy outside of committed relationships – in fact, as you say, that’s what a non-exclusive relationship is, or should be.

    The question is what commitment means, why it is enacted, and what justification exists for it. It’s my suggestion (not even a contention in the traditional sense) that a lot of people might be happier if they didn’t try to force every relationship into a commitment box. Especially in your audience’s age range, I’m often baffled by women who give themselves ulcers trying to find a “committed boyfriend” for the three or four years before they move away and start a new life. Ethical non-commitment seems like a very good option.

    The difficulty is in applying the concept to marriage, including children. One honest account in the Boston Globe last year described the challenges – like a young boy asking his father whether he loves his mother or the woman he sleeps in a bed with more.

    When I was a kid, I asked my grandmother which of her grandchildren she loved the most. She said, “I love all my grandchildren in their own special way, and there’s just no way to compare any of you. I wouldn’t give any of you up for the world.” I was perfectly happy with that answer.

    I get that childrearing is an issue in non-exclusive relationships. But lets not be cloying in our application of “good old family values.” For half of my childhood, I had a mom, a step-mom, a dad, a step-dad, and a few passing boyfriends applying for the father-figure job. And by most accounts, that’s a pretty conservative number. With over half of marriages ending, we shouldn’t pretend that children are incapable of having perfectly functional and happy childhoods with multiple parent figures.

    Posted by hambydammit | February 10, 2011, 5:57 pm
  14. Deshna, I’m perfectly fine with my posts being reposted with proper attribution and a direct link to the post. Thanks!

    Posted by hambydammit | February 10, 2011, 6:04 pm
  15. I can honestly say I have never felt that I was either giving or receiving sex in exchange for anything outside the bedroom.

    A social scientist wouldn’t be nearly as interested in how you feel about it as whether or not it’s true. Without having a very in-depth discussion with you, it’s impossible for me to tell whether you just feel like you give sex for sex, or whether — like so many people in psychotherapy — you are suffering from a delusion about the nature of your relationships. Perhaps you’re being used in ways you haven’t discovered. Maybe you’re unconsciously exploiting others for some reason or another. Or maybe you really are an exception to the rule, and you really do separate sex from everything else in your life.

    But I know too many women who enjoy casual and semi-casual sex, myself included, to accept a blanket statement about women’s preferences.

    Oh sure. I know lots of women who have casual and semi-casual sex. I’ve had casual and semi-casual sex with several of them. The problem is that the blanket statements aren’t just off-the-cuff guesses. They represent the combined experience of therapists all over, working with people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, religious (and non-religious) beliefs, and so forth.

    I am sure I’ve never said or implied that all women feel one way or the other. But it’s fair to say that a very large percentage of women feel a certain “emptiness” when all they get is casual booty calls. Is that a result of societal pressure to have a relationship? A lack of true intimacy with friends and family? Misplaced self-esteem issues? A combination of these and seventeen other factors? It’s hard to say.

    But both of these things — the acknowledged preference for familiarity and the debatable preference for intimacy — are things that enhance the sexual experience for a women. It’s bizarre to me that you phrase it as an exchange… these are not things women are using sex to obtain, these are things that make sex desirable, or extra-good.

    It’s equally bizarre to me that you seem to believe that only things which someone doesn’t enjoy may be exchanged. What possible reason do I have to believe that women aren’t capable of having their cake and eating it, too? If sex without intimacy is good, and sex with intimacy is extra-good, why wouldn’t a woman try to leverage herself into a position of more intimacy?

    Calling it an exchange is as nonsensical to me as saying men trade sex for a woman’s dressing cutely. Her dressing cutely is part of what made him want to have sex with her in the first place. Ditto for familiarity.

    That seems awfully linear. Yes, intimacy and familiarity enhance the sexual experience for women. They also enhance the conversation, the going to dinner, the crying over a bad day at work, and the trivia on Tuesdays at the local TGI Friday. At the risk of arguing from anecdote (which, I might add, is largely what you’re doing… which is disturbing…) I have found that the closest friendships I’ve had experienced a kind of “synergy” in which the friendship enhanced the sex which enhanced the friendship. I suspect it is the same with most humans.

    Likewise, girls wear short skirts to find guys to lay. And when they’ve found the guy to lay, they continue to wear the skirts because it enhances the sexual experience for them. Again, anecdotally, I’ve found that I enjoy sex more and participate more… um… vigorously… when I’ve spent the night drooling over my date’s low-cut blouse and high cut skirt, as opposed to sitting around in frumpy sweats watching infomercials on starving children in Africa. Likewise, when I wear a snappy suit, I find that not only does my date seem more sexually attracted to me, but I feel sexier, which makes the sex better for me.

    In a nutshell, I’ll have to get a much clearer picture of why you are portraying sex as a strictly linear arrangement before I can buy your notion that it’s not a complicated series of exchanges for various “goods and services.”

    Posted by hambydammit | February 10, 2011, 6:40 pm
  16. @Ginny
    As I said, I am not interested in learning about polyamory in depth. What I already know about it is sufficient for me to reject it. In any case, it’s not a discussion I anticipate having again any time soon.

    As far as the objectivity of Sex at Dawn, would you feel better about their credibility if they were monogamous? Their bottom-line argument is “non-monogamy can work for humans”

    Christopher Ryan has said that “monogamy is the equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.” What does he mean by this?

    “Our culture has convinced many of us that a Big Mac, fries, and a milkshake constitute a good meal. But when we eat this way, our bodies inevitably rebel. “

    That is not saying that non-monagamy can work for humans.>\

    That is saying that monogamy does not work for humans. In fact, it will make you sick. There is a very obvious agenda here – this is a polemic.

    @Hamby

    For half of my childhood, I had a mom, a step-mom, a dad, a step-dad, and a few passing boyfriends applying for the father-figure job. And by most accounts, that’s a pretty conservative number. With over half of marriages ending, we shouldn’t pretend that children are incapable of having perfectly functional and happy childhoods with multiple parent figures.

    But did you have all of those potential father figures competing for the job at the same time? Was it Joe at the breakfast table on Monday morning, Dad on Tuesday, and Sam on Friday? As a young boy, how would you have felt about understanding that your mother was having sex with several men concurrently?

    Posted by Susan Walsh | February 10, 2011, 7:18 pm
  17. Re: arguing from anecdote — nobody here has pointed to any studies or research works, so as far as I’m aware we’re all arguing from anecdote and our own personal spheres of awareness. My sphere is clearly rather different in makeup than yours. (You seem to be appealing to a lot of things that “everybody knows” … unnamed therapists and assumed “large percentages” of women without any statistics to back it up.)

    It’s possible what we have here is a language problem. To me an “exchange” indicates doing something I wouldn’t otherwise do, in order to get something I value. I spent seven hours at work today in exchange for money. I don’t hate my job, much of the time I even like it, but I would never go there if I wasn’t getting paid. Suggesting that there’s a sex-for-intimacy exchange in male/female relationships implies, to me, that men wouldn’t want to be friendly with their sex partners if they could get sex without it, and that women wouldn’t want to have sex if they could get their drains fixed and their dinners paid for without it. I simply don’t think that’s true… at least not when you’re talking about mature, emotionally healthy men and women. (And again, in your original post you were giving advice, which means you should be pointing people in the “mature and emotionally healthy” direction.)

    I’m not sure what you mean by “linear” in your last few paragraphs. And your examples of dressing up seem to support my point. When you’re wearing a snappy suit and your date later has sex with you, she’s not giving you sex in exchange for the pleasure of looking at you in the snappy suit, and you’re not giving her sex in exchange for the pleasure of looking at her in her short skirt. You and she are increasingly motivated to have sex with each other because of what you’re wearing, and you find the experience is enhanced. It’s the same way with feeling a personal connection with a partner: it makes us more motivated to have sex with them, and it enhances the experience. (And I think both these effects are generally much stronger for women than for men.)

    Now I’ve never contended that sex and relationships aren’t a complicated series of exchanges. Nearly everything is, if you have your economic goggles on. But I think in most healthy relationships, sex is exchanged for sex: “I go down on you, you go down on me; I agree to sex even when I wasn’t particularly feeling it knowing that you’ll do the same for me when I’m horny and you’re not; I tie you up, you lick my feet.” Et cetera. And intimacy is exchanged for intimacy: “I listen to your day’s woes, you listen to mine; I change your oil, you cook me dinner; I change my plans at the last minute to console you in a time of grief, you subject yourself to dinner with my parents.” We give and take because we recognize that the world doesn’t revolve around our needs, and because we care about our partners and want to give them happiness and pleasure and comfort, as well as receiving the same from them.

    As for my personal experiences, I suppose you’ll have to send a psychotherapist out to interview me.

    Posted by Ginny | February 10, 2011, 7:59 pm
  18. Hamby, I think you, Ginny, and I should have drinks together and talk about all of this. I have not seen you since the 2007 AAI conference in DC, and we should rectify that. We will be leavinf Georgia soon, so let’s do this sometime. I think this conversation would benefit from face-to-face communication.

    Call me, if you still have my number. If you don’t, email me.

    Posted by shaunphilly | February 11, 2011, 1:34 am
  19. What Shaun said. ALSO, I had a thought: the transactional language of sex and intimacy in male/female relationships is problematic for a lot of reasons, and maybe you will start to understand if you reverse the dynamic. If a woman can say “Clean my drains and listen to me whine for ten minutes, and then I’ll give you sex,” then a man can say, “I’ll clean your drains and listen to you whine, and then you owe me sex.” If that turnaround is as appalling to you as it is to me, maybe you can start to understand why I object to the transactional language.

    Posted by Ginny | February 11, 2011, 1:40 am
  20. What if that language isn’t appalling at all? I hate to say this, because it’s anecdotal, but most men I know would be all over a woman who was this honest about what it took to keep getting laid consistently.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | February 11, 2011, 10:34 am
  21. Oh god, really?

    I’m beginning to see that you people live in a different world than I do. In the world where I conduct my romantic life, what it takes to get laid consistently is being a likeable human being and a great lover, and being honest about your wants and needs. (Including a wish for multiple partners, if that’s what you want.) Also, men and women consider each other as individual human beings, whose wants and needs can’t be predicted by a quick look down their pants. By and large, women in this world have sex because they enjoy it, and men in this world develop emotional connections because they are rewarding.

    It’s nice over here. More people should join me.

    Posted by Ginny | February 11, 2011, 11:41 am
  22. I’m gonna have to question you here, because I think you’re missing a part of the point.

    It’s not typically about what makes someone want to have sex, it’s about what makes them not want to. If he doesn’t do the things that make him a likeable human being, you don’t have sex, ergo if he does (and meets other criteria) you do.

    That whole bit about being a likeable human being, tends to involve things like “Clean my drains and listen to me whine for ten minutes” when it’s a boyfriend/lover. If he refused to do anything for you besides have sex, I seriously doubt you’d be having sex for very long (the first few times I’ll give you for wanting to have sex, but after that?).

    No one is saying we don’t want emotional connections, just that (at least for me) I’d love to know that someone understands that having sex is part of getting that emotional connection (if it’s a required part of it, as in a sexual relationship otherwise we’re just friends anyway and this is a moot point). Being openly honest about wanting/needing to have your drains cleaned and listened to in order to have sex would be refreshing to say the least.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | February 11, 2011, 3:02 pm
  23. But did you have all of those potential father figures competing for the job at the same time? Was it Joe at the breakfast table on Monday morning, Dad on Tuesday, and Sam on Friday? As a young boy, how would you have felt about understanding that your mother was having sex with several men concurrently?

    I don’t recall a time when all of them competed at the same time. But yes, there were plenty of periods of my life where I was in regular contact with both of my biological parents, and each of them had different partners going to bed with them. That’s pretty typical, no?

    I can only guess that my feelings about my mother having sex with multiple people would be almost entirely dependent on what cultural clues I could glean from adult onlookers. Considering that children in openly polygamous cultures don’t have any problems with it, but children in strictly monogamous cultures do… well, there you go.

    Susan, outside of cultural stigma, I can’t find any evidence that children suffer ill effects from their biological parent’s choice of lover(s). Can you point me to any?

    Posted by hambydammit | February 11, 2011, 3:09 pm
  24. You seem to be appealing to a lot of things that “everybody knows” … unnamed therapists and assumed “large percentages” of women without any statistics to back it up.

    You and my regular reader Captain Pineapple should get together. She’d probably at least buy you a drink for that statement. But I’m less than phased 🙂

    The reason I keep making such sweeping statements is that except for the handful of books challenging the monogamy/mild polygamy model, and the five or so scientists brave enough to publish challenges to the model, it is ubiquitous. And being ubiquitous, it’s the only model accepted by the psychology textbooks. And being the only model in the textbooks, it’s the only one taught in college. Which means that’s the ones the psychologists practice. Which means all their patients are subject to it.

    Need I go on? I hardly think I need to drum up a study proving that nearly everyone in the traditional psych/sociology community buys the mono/mild poly model. That’s why the folks who challenge it are shouted down so vigorously, no?

    It’s possible what we have here is a language problem. To me an “exchange” indicates doing something I wouldn’t otherwise do, in order to get something I value

    Let’s go to dinner. I’ll buy the appetizers and you buy the entrees and Shaun can get the drinks. We’ll all share, then we’ll each have three things we like instead of just one.

    Yes. We are having language difficulties. You seem to be assuming that sex is a zero sum system, and it’s not.

    Suggesting that there’s a sex-for-intimacy exchange in male/female relationships implies, to me, that men wouldn’t want to be friendly with their sex partners if they could get sex without it, and that women wouldn’t want to have sex if they could get their drains fixed and their dinners paid for without it

    Well, your implication is unfounded. Maybe this is part of what a psychologist would discover if he really started digging into your subconscious feelings regarding your sex life 😉

    I’m not sure what you mean by “linear” in your last few paragraphs. And your examples of dressing up seem to support my point.

    Then I’d say there’s probably a pretty good chance you agree with me and haven’t realized it yet 😉

    Now I’ve never contended that sex and relationships aren’t a complicated series of exchanges. Nearly everything is, if you have your economic goggles on.

    True. And surely you’d agree that like the proverbial blind men and the elephant, if I’m talking about sexual relationships from an economic perspective, I must use the language of economics. If you have preconceived negative emotions attached to the idea of exchanging something to get something else you want… hmmm…. perhaps you’re already having that in depth discussion with a therapist, and perhaps he’s already gleaning some valuable information about your view of sex…

    But I think in most healthy relationships, sex is exchanged for sex: “I go down on you, you go down on me; I agree to sex even when I wasn’t particularly feeling it knowing that you’ll do the same for me when I’m horny and you’re not;

    Yes. This is one way of getting sex. Exchanging sex for sex. And if sex was the only thing being exchanged in a relationship, this would probably work as the only form of currency. But in the real world, it’s never just about sex. Except with you. Which I don’t believe for a second, by the way. Not the way you gush about how awesome Shaun is on your website.

    Have you ever checked out Athol Kay’s blog? I’ve mentioned it many times. (marriedmansexlife.com) I find his views on monogamy, marriage, and minimizing the total number of sex partners to be quaint and somewhat misguided, but overall, he paints a pretty accurate picture of the day to day life of a married couple struggling to maintain sexual interest over the years. It’s mostly not about sex. It’s about being a good partner and for lack of a better term, a “sexy person” in non-sexual situations.

    I can’t think of a reason it wouldn’t be exactly the same in non-exclusive relationships, and (anectodally, of course) I’ve found that if anything, I have to step up my out of the bedroom “game” when it’s non-exclusive. If all I’m bringing to the table is compatible sexual skill and a comfy bed, there are at least a thousand alternatives to me at any given moment for a reasonably attractive girl. If I hope for repeat performances, I have to do the work outside the bed to make me an overall package.

    And intimacy is exchanged for intimacy: “I listen to your day’s woes, you listen to mine; I change your oil, you cook me dinner; I change my plans at the last minute to console you in a time of grief, you subject yourself to dinner with my parents.”

    I understand why you think this. You’re a girl. And girls never have to trade these behaviors for sex. But I’m going to let you in on a guy secret. In doing so, I’m probably inviting a secret visit from the goon squad, and disembodied horse-head as a bed mate for the next night or two, but here goes…

    99 out of a hundred men do 125-200% more listening to griping, back rubbing, putting up with parents, and so forth when they know it will get them laid than when they suspect it will not. I’m sorry if that bursts any bubbles for you, and I will grant you the right to continue believing that Shaun would treat you exactly the same if you weren’t having sex with him. But the rest of us will snigger at you behind your back and think you’re being really quaint in a naive sort of girl way.

    As for my personal experiences, I suppose you’ll have to send a psychotherapist out to interview me.

    Oh, trust me. The interview’s going well.

    Posted by hambydammit | February 11, 2011, 3:41 pm
  25. Hamby, I think you, Ginny, and I should have drinks together and talk about all of this. I have not seen you since the 2007 AAI conference in DC, and we should rectify that. We will be leavinf Georgia soon, so let’s do this sometime. I think this conversation would benefit from face-to-face communication

    I couldn’t agree more. I think most of what we’re disagreeing on is semantic. I get that Ginny especially seems to balk at the idea of sex as a non-zero commodity, (and I really don’t know how you feel about it) I’m guessing that’s due more to language and never being a guy than anything else. I’ve found that many women have trouble comprehending how much work guys put into getting laid. Poly or not, the difference is huge. The biggest concern for most reasonably attractive women is which guy to stop saying “no” to, and when. Men, on the other hand, work from the complete opposite side of the fence. The question is how much we’re willing to “pay” before we give up on this girl and decide her “price” is too high.

    Yes, I know in the occasional magical coffee shop or poly communities, there are rumors of not having to do more than “being yourself” and casually slipping into bed with anyone and everyone who strikes your fancy, but as far as I can tell, the people telling these stories either have magical blinders so they’re incapable of seeing how much work they put into sex, or they’re just lying.

    I’ve been through three IPhones since we exchanged numbers. Somehow, I still have your number. I thought that you’d already left Georgia, so shame on me. I’ll call you soon.

    Posted by hambydammit | February 11, 2011, 3:58 pm
  26. the transactional language of sex and intimacy in male/female relationships is problematic for a lot of reasons, and maybe you will start to understand if you reverse the dynamic. If a woman can say “Clean my drains and listen to me whine for ten minutes, and then I’ll give you sex,” then a man can say, “I’ll clean your drains and listen to you whine, and then you owe me sex.” If that turnaround is as appalling to you as it is to me, maybe you can start to understand why I object to the transactional language.

    AHA! I was right. Our issue with discussing sex as a commodity is suffering from gender bias. That turnaround isn’t appalling to me, and it’s probably not appalling to a LOT of men. It’s the way most men think. I’m sorry to tell you that, but it’s true. Most of the nice guys (I like to believe I belong in this group) don’t put it in 1 to 1 language. That is, they are not saying to themselves or to a woman, “If I buy you this expensive dinner, then you have to put out or else.” But don’t kid yourself. If a guy asks you to an expensive dinner five times in a row, and by the fifth dinner, you haven’t thumped bunnies with him, how much longer do you think he’s going to keep footing the bill? Try not to think of it as a strict price tag and cash register thing. It’s more like bidding on E-Bay. We’re willing to bid up to a certain amount for sex, and if the seller is demanding too high a price, we stop bidding.

    I think where you may be creating a false dichotomy is in believing that men only do nice things to get laid. That’s not true, of course. We often do nice things for women we do not hope to sleep with, and many times the nice things we do for our sexual partners are motivated strictly from human empathy and compassion. But don’t believe for a minute that we aren’t aware of our efforts when we are trying to get laid. And don’t believe that we’re being equally nice to girls we’re not interested as those we are hot for.

    Posted by hambydammit | February 11, 2011, 4:24 pm
  27. What if that language isn’t appalling at all? I hate to say this, because it’s anecdotal, but most men I know would be all over a woman who was this honest about what it took to keep getting laid consistently.

    It’s true. I’ve been lucky enough to date women this honest. And you know what? I got laid almost as much as I wanted (which is saying something…) and they got what they wanted. Crazy, huh?

    Posted by hambydammit | February 11, 2011, 4:27 pm
  28. By and large, women in this world have sex because they enjoy it, and men in this world develop emotional connections because they are rewarding.

    It’s nice over here. More people should join me.

    I’m really sorry, but I think you’re just viewing your part of the universe through slightly tinted glasses. Like I said, I totally get why you would see things that way. It makes sense from the perspective of a person (read: woman) who never has to trade anything other than sex for sex. But over here in guy-land, 999 out of 1000 guys have to do more than sit with their legs slightly open and look available to get laid. I am not being flippant. And I’m not saying you’re not an awesome person outside of the bedroom, or anything like that. From what I know of Shaun, I’m sure you’re awesome. But it’s just not the same being a guy. We don’t necessarily always have to put up money to get laid, but we always have to do something.

    A lot of what you think of as “just being a likeable person” is calculated. Or at the very least, subconscious pavlovian training. That is, we know formulas: Behave thusly, create favorable response in female. Increase chance she thinks we’re a likeable person. Increase chance of getting laid. If you don’t want to look at this in terms of exchange, then fine. But it does fit the economic model, and the language is appropriate, if not sexy.

    Posted by hambydammit | February 11, 2011, 4:34 pm
  29. Okay. Economic goggles on. I think the phenomenon we’re looking at is an artificial scarcity of sex, on the hetero male demand side. In a typical scenario, a man and woman are mutually attracted and both desire sex. The woman, however, pretty much just has to say “yes,” while the man has to jump through a bunch of hoops to get into her pants. He’s willing to do this because getting laid is worth a fair amount of effort, expenditure, and annoyance to him, and because he knows that he’d have to jump through similar hoops in order to sleep with any woman.

    I don’t dispute that this is the common dynamic, the pattern most mainstream people are accustomed to. A sexy, horny woman can put forth a number of demands, and be confident that she’ll still get laid. A sexy, horny man meets the demands and thanks his lucky stars. This is how it works. And it works because of the artificial scarcity women have created around their own sexual availability. They (on average) want to have sex as much as the men do, but because of the economics of heterosexual sex in our culture, they get to have their sex and their string of demands, too.

    I can guarantee you that if the landscape were radically altered — if, say, 90% of attractive and eligible men died or became gay — things would change. At first the remaining 10% of hot het men would soak up all the hungry pussy surrounding them, and even go through the same motions of bending over backwards (or forwards!) to please women and get sexual access to them. But at some point it would dawn on them: “Hey, I’m getting all the pussy I want and there are still horny girls out there I have a shot at. If Cute Girl A turns me down because I didn’t spend enough on her dinner, there are Cute Girls B, C, and D waiting in the wings.” Eventually the supply-and-demand would reverse, and women would have to work ever harder to win the rare men’s interest.

    The point I am trying to make, have been trying to make since my first post, is that there is no “natural” scarcity in sexually available women. The experiences you describe, the hoops men have to jump through to get laid, result from an artificial scarcity, generated and propagated culturally. My question is, as a man, why are you standing for and even encouraging that? Anything that is culturally generated can be culturally undone. It has already started coming apart at the fringes of sexual culture — the queer, kinky, and polyamorous communities (and I do all my dating and mating within some intersection of the three, which is why I say we live in different worlds) — and I would like to see that change continue, and move through the rest of the culture as well. Because, while it looks like a sweet deal for the hot and horny women of the world, I think ultimately it hurts us as much as it hurts you.

    I think most of what is said in the PUA and MRA communities is disgusting and vile, but they have a smidge of a legitimate grievance. It really is unfair that women can “charge” personal favors for a pleasure that they enjoy as much as the men. It’s unfair and it’s unhealthy. It’s also normal… but there’s no reason it has to stay that way.

    I’m no longer amused by your cutesy comments about my subconscious. Please desist. You don’t know me, and you never will if you can’t give me the respect of at least considering that what I say about myself might be true.

    Posted by Ginny | February 11, 2011, 9:00 pm
  30. Ginny, I get that you don’t think there’s a natural scarcity of sexually available (and generally willing) females. The thing I can’t get past is that I can’t find any evidence for your position. And that’s really the bottom line. I certainly want this discussion to stay civil and constructive, so I’ll cease and desist with the smiley faces, because we still have lots of ground to cover.

    There’s plenty of evidence that women have often had multiple sexual partners, that without social constraints, they have similar sex drives to men, etc. But as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, all the evidence points to a small, well known and familiar group of males as the environment in which these “natural” tendencies evolved and manifested.

    If we’re simply following evolutionary logic, it really doesn’t make any sense for women to *want* to follow the same strategy in a gigantic multicultural society marked by anonymity and a distinct lack of reputation building and reciprocity.

    So what I’m saying is this: Fine. I agree with you that in a non-agriculture environment, women probably acted a lot like men act today with regard to casual sex and sex partners. Why wouldn’t they? But that’s not the kind of society we live in today, and if you read my post from yesterday, you saw that mice (which are extremely close to us genetically) take around 8 generations to develop adaptations to novel sexual environments. We’ve had around 200 since exclusivity began being enforced on women.

    If we’re going to use this evidence to prove humans used to be different than they are, we can’t turn around and say they are the same in the next sentence.

    I’m really sorry that you feel slighted by the cultural (and possibly biological) “norm” of women being the selectors and men having to “bid” for their attention. I’d change it if I could. But I can’t agree with you that it’s “naturally” different just because it’s unfair, or because you believe it’s unhealthy. And I’m also sorry that I am disinclined to believe you when you say that you never trade anything but sex for sex. I’m a skeptic, and I’d be doing you, me, and any other readers a disservice if I ignored the evidence at my disposal. I have not in my life met one woman who’s truly been “sex for sex,” and I’ve met lots who claimed to be. (You’ve made interesting assumptions about me as well, Ginny. I don’t think you know anything about what circles I date in, but you seem to believe you do…)

    So… my challenge to you is this: Account for enormous populations, the impossibility of reliable reputation building, and the mobility of modern humans in a model of sexual strategy in which it benefits a woman to be sexually indiscriminate and to trade only sex for sex.

    Posted by hambydammit | February 13, 2011, 4:03 pm
  31. P.S. Ginny, I don’t believe you’re intentionally lying to me. I think there’s something we’re missing in semantics, or something you hadn’t considered, or something you’re unaware of, or something… but again, you’d be the first woman I’ve ever met who never ever expected anything in return for sex other than sex. And that would be shocking if true. So I’m skeptical.

    Posted by hambydammit | February 13, 2011, 5:01 pm
  32. It seems to me that you’re noting two indisputable facts, and combining them to create a disputable interpretation.

    Fact one: a hetero woman, in our culture, can generally demand various favors and attentions from a man interested in having sex with her — regardless of how strong her own sexual interest is — and the man will comply without complaint.

    Fact two: women, probably universally, tend to prefer having sex with partners they have some level of friendliness toward, and familiarity with. (As you noted above, this is probably to some extent biologically hard-wired, due to women’s greater physical vulnerability.)

    The first fact undeniably involves an exchange dynamic. The market value of a sexually available woman is higher than the market value of a sexually available man, so she can demand an additional price. As I said in my last comment, in my opinion this is largely due to an artificial scarcity, but that’s not relevant right now.

    The second fact is due to the way women’s and men’s sex drives operate. Generally speaking, women’s sex drives are more sensitive to inhibiting factors, and lack of trust is a huge inhibitor. So many women are not able to be aroused unless they feel some level of trust toward the potential partner, which means anonymous sex is much less appealing. (Emily Nagoski has a good overview of sexual excitation and inhibition here: http://enagoski.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/how-sex-works/.) It’s not an exchange: it’s a necessary condition for arousal.

    It seems to me that you’ve confused these two dynamics, perhaps understandably. From a man’s perspective, I can see how they’d look the same: in both cases, a man has to spend time with and do nice things for a woman in order to get laid. But from a woman’s perspective, they’re quite different. In the first, she is either a) withholding sex that she wants until she gets the favors she’s asked, or b) agreeing to sex she doesn’t want because she got the favors she’d asked. In the second, she doesn’t want sex at all until the man has shown himself trustworthy enough to knock out her inhibition system.

    So, if “expecting nothing but sex in return for sex” means having sex anonymously, or regardless of my personal feelings toward my partner, then no, I don’t do that. Like most women, I don’t get aroused unless I have a baseline of trust for my partner. Typically I have to have had about three good-sized conversations with a person before being interested in having sex with them. (The exception being group sex where my boyfriend is also present… because, y’see, I feel safer with him there, so I can relax into arousal more quickly.)

    But if “expecting nothing but sex in return for sex” means never leveraging a man’s lust to get him to do things for me he wouldn’t otherwise do… then yes, I do that. I don’t want affection and favors that come insincerely. There are plenty of people who care about me, who will give me the emotional and material support I need in life — I don’t need to go buying those things from guys who will only pretend to care because they’re hot for me. I can honestly say that if either of my casual partners said, “Hey, I really don’t have time for hanging out with you, but I’d love to meet up every couple of weeks for a good fuck,” I would say yes to that. Why wouldn’t I? I know I enjoy fucking them, and I have plenty of other people in my life for companionship and support.

    Of course you don’t have to believe me, and I don’t know how I can prove it (unless you hunt up one of my fuckbuddies and get him to say it on a dare.)

    I have lots more to say on the subject of the way our environment has shaped the supply-and-demand imbalance in sexual availability between men and women, but first I want to see if I’ve clarified my position. Is this a semantic problem we’ve been having, or a problem of perspectives, or a core disagreement?

    Posted by Ginny | February 14, 2011, 10:23 pm
  33. All that is fine, but it changes nothing from the man’s perspective. He must still exchange something to get sex, even if you don’t feel like you are demanding it for the sex.

    From the man’s perspective:
    A) Give up X nice activities in order to get laid. Woman can either be explicit or implicit in asking for them.
    B) Give up X nice activities in order to get laid. Woman will always be implicit in asking for them.

    I can understand how you see the world and it’s nice from that viewpoint, it just doesn’t work in the current social climate for men. I’d also have to point out that the first is still more preferable as it has the potential to be significantly less prone to error (due to the clear understanding of the explicit method vs. the miscommunication common in the implicit method).

    Posted by Alex Hardman | February 15, 2011, 8:33 am
  34. Mr. Hardman,

    Well, in a very real sense, I AM demanding it for the sex… just as a man demands my physical attractiveness if he’s going to have sex with me. The difference it makes is in the integrity of the relations between the sexes. (Whether the requirements are explicit or implicit is really irrelevant.) If I go around saying, “I don’t really want to have sex, but I’ll give it up if you’ll buy me a really nice dinner,” or (worse, in my opinion) “I really want to have sex, but I’m going to pretend to be unsure in order to extort more goods and services from you” then I’m not treating you like a fellow being working with me toward a common goal (our mutual pleasure and enjoyment); I’m treating you like the opposing party in a negotiation, where both of us are angling for the best deal. Some people may be perfectly content relating to other people that way — I’m not.

    And I’m not saying that most hetero people don’t relate to the opposite sex as the opposition in a complex negotiation. Everything you and hamby have said about the way our society works. All I’m saying is, we should be encouraging this to change. We should be saying to women, “Hey, if you want to have sex with him, just do it, without worrying about whether you’re extracting the highest possible price.” I can’t fathom why you’re resisting this.

    Posted by Ginny | February 15, 2011, 10:08 am
  35. *Everything you and hamby are saying about the way our society works *is true.* Missed a couple of words there.

    Posted by Ginny | February 15, 2011, 10:10 am
  36. I think perhaps you are misunderstanding us.

    We completely agree that we should all be working towards a situation where:
    Hey, if you want to have sex with him, just do it, without worrying about whether you’re extracting the highest possible price.

    The problem lies with the decision to “want to have sex with him”. For women it typically involves a number of required behaviors on the part of the man, several of which he may otherwise not display if he didn’t desire sex. What I’m having trouble understanding is how would any woman make that decision without considering various “bids” of varying types of behavior (such as the man who cleans your drains, listens to you bitch, and is polite, versus the man who is just polite).

    Put simply, we’re saying that men would rather a woman be honest about what behaviors lead them to “want to have sex” with someone and explicitly request them, versus implicitly expecting them.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | February 15, 2011, 1:19 pm
  37. Alex, I will keep this short, being on my phone…

    There seems to be a point reached where this is a discussion about the man’s pov, although my experience is different from yours. Excuse the crass bluntness, but the point of view you espouse is one I experienced from the emotionally immature dating world, most of which is the normal monogamous world. The women withwhich the giving up of things to get sex are emotional children. The simple fact is that this is the vast majority of the people in our culture. What ginny is talking about adults. And in even my recent experience, in having sexual relationships with women from their early 20s through their later 40s, most women are emotionally stunted when it comes to sex, hence their behavior and your perceived need to give up things.

    I have stopped playing those childish games, and I have little problem getting sex from multiple partners. Yes, if you want to have sex with many women you will have to play that game. But rather than seeing the other option, you seem to be resigning to that rather than demanding more. When you deman better behavior from potential lovers, you may find you get it (or that the people you wanted it from are emotional children, and then you should be asking yourself if that is worth it.)

    Posted by shaunphilly | February 15, 2011, 2:32 pm
  38. Shaun and Ginny,
    I’m sure we’re talking past each other now. I think we probably do have a fundamental disagreement on one point, and everything is stemming from there. Let me see if I can state it simply:

    YOU: Humans are biologically and psychologically designed for non-monogamy, and anyone who is not practicing it today is doing themselves a kind of “un-natural” disservice, and not becoming “adult” about their sexuality.

    ME: Human sexual strategies are responses to the environment, and in a non-resource based, small community setting, the most evolutionarily effective strategy is communal non-monogamy. In resource based societies, sexual strategies become resource based, almost as a necessity. While non-monogamy can work on a small scale in such a setting, asking everyone to do it is asking them to buck human nature.

    Put simply, why in the world would a woman sacrifice her (arguably) largest source of resource generation for altruism? Until and unless women’s resource needs are met entirely without reference to their sexuality, why wouldn’t they use it to their benefit.

    I think there are a lot of women who would take great offense at the suggestion that they’re “children” because they ask for resources in exchange for sex. Women still make 70% of the salary as equally qualified men, and that in itself begs for a resource exchange.

    In short, large resource based societies naturally create resource inequality, and whichever group has fewer resources is essentially forced into an exchange economy for “personal” resources like sex.

    I asked Ginny earlier, and I’ll repeat the question for Shaun: Can you describe a functional model of sexual behavior which accounts for huge populations, lack of reputation building, and anonymity, yet allows women to behave essentially as men sexually? Because I really can’t think of one, and it’s not for a lack of trying.

    Yes, if you want to have sex with many women you will have to play that game. But rather than seeing the other option, you seem to be resigning to that rather than demanding more. When you deman better behavior from potential lovers, you may find you get it (or that the people you wanted it from are emotional children, and then you should be asking yourself if that is worth it.)

    Yes. To get ANY sex, you have to play the appropriate game. Isn’t that what I’ve been saying? Now, Shaun, realizing that you have pretty much lived in a large city environment where you can find almost ANY sub-culture you want, I don’t doubt that you have always been able to find poly communities. (All the poly guides are quite complimentary of Atlanta.) But in a smaller environment, you’ve got to admit the majority of girls are going to bolt the moment their prospective guy says, “Ok, I’ll be your boyfriend, but I’m going to have other girlfriends, too. And I also might have some one night stands. And threesomes here and there…”

    In any environment where women willing to have sex represent a scarcity, women make the rules. And what both you and Ginny are talking about is convincing women — who have a natural scarcity in a monogamous society — to give up the right to make the rules. Seems far fetched to me. Might as well ask Steve Jobs to give up all rights to proprietary software.

    Posted by hambydammit | February 15, 2011, 3:55 pm
  39. Hambydammit: That is the most backward, wrong-headed comment on the relations between the sexes that I have ever read coming from an otherwise intelligent, reasonable, liberally-inclined person. I hope my response here will allow you to reconsider, or backtrack, or clarify your point. If not… if this is really where you are and how you think… then I don’t see any further point to this conversation. Our aims and priorities are too different.

    First of all, to forestall the inevitable reply of, “but this is how the world IS!”… I know. I have never denied that the dynamics you describe are true-to-life for much of the world we live in. But, as writers and thinkers, we should be helping to shape the world as it will be, which means not only acknowledging the way things are, but advising people on ways to make things better. Or at the very least, not encouraging them to perpetuate the same old rotten patterns.

    Now to the content: I about choked on your assertion that women’s (arguably) largest source of resource generation is their sexuality. If you could get information about every woman in the United States (let’s say 18 and up), and where they get their resources from — including wages and material benefits, like a dinner paid for or a house to live in — and then tallied the amount of resources women generate from each source, where do you think sexuality would fall? I’m betting it would come in between #3 and #5. Really hard to say. But when you take into account that a lot of women are not particularly sexually attractive (elderly, fat, disabled), and that a lot of women are doctors and lawyers and CEOs, I’m really skeptical of that claim. I think you have your hetero-man goggles on, the goggles wherein a woman’s sexuality looms so large that it distorts the entire picture.

    Certainly there are a lot of women whose sexuality IS their biggest resource, by far. Women who have either a) little education and career prospects or b) a smokin’ hot body, or some balance of the two… yeah, they can probably coast farther in life on the arm of a horny man than they could any other way. There are also women who, while they could live at a comparable level of luxury by investing in a career, prefer to leverage their sexuality for material comforts and marry a sugar daddy, because they feel like it’s easier or more fun or whatever. While I don’t respect that choice, I do respect their right to make it, as long as they’re doing it honestly and aware of the costs they’re incurring. And then there are women who make their sexuality into a career, through any variety of sex work — I do respect that choice, as long as it’s made freely (I have considered doing sex work myself, and someday I might.)

    You go on to say “Until and unless women’s resource needs are met entirely without reference to their sexuality, why wouldn’t they use it to their benefit.” I’ll tell you why. Because using it to their benefit feeds the system and inhibits any movements that might change it. Why? Because as long as men can leverage their superior resources to get otherwise-unwilling women into their beds, men have little incentive to grant women equal resources. And as long as a majority of women are relying on their fellow women to keep “charging” for sex, they have little incentive to encourage women’s sexual freedom and autonomy. Slut-shaming in our culture is a predominantly female activity, only echoed by men. Women know, all too well, that they depend on other women’s sexual inavailability to continue extracting their price.

    So when people give the kind of advice you have been giving, it only perpetuates the injustice. Change has to start somewhere: in fact, to work best, it has to start in a lot of places all at once.

    The other casualty of the approach you advise is women’s sexual freedom and enjoyment. We live in an era where women’s sexuality is just starting to be understood… where the constraints of commercialized sexuality have lifted enough that women can say, “Hey, this turns me on, do that more!” In the mainstream world, sex is still male-centric. Penis-in-vagina intercourse (which brings most men to orgasm, and less than half of women) is still considered “sex,” while everything else (including cunnilingus, which brings most women to orgasm) is considered “foreplay” or “fooling around.” Women’s patterns of sexual response are still poorly understood, and alarmingly often considered deviations from the ‘norm’ of male sexuality. And as long as sex is something women sell and men buy, this is unlikely to change. A man who has paid for sex with a lobster dinner is not going to be nearly so invested in his partner’s pleasure as a man who knows that she’ll only sleep with him again if she has a delightful experience. The customer is always right. If the man has exchanged non-sexual favors for her sexual ones, she is going to feel that her first obligation is to please him.

    And that’s just a darn shame, because sex is a delightful experience, one that most women have to learn to enjoy. And men aren’t going to be motivated to help them learn as long as they can leverage their superior resources into continually bedding women. And women aren’t going to be motivated to learn as long as their livelihood depends on being less horny than men.

    I’ve talked long enough here, so I’m not going to try to describe the alternative model of sexual behavior you’ve asked for. I’m working on a post on my own blog which will do that. But really, it shouldn’t even matter whether I can or not. The model you describe is bad, bad, bad, for men and for women. And it is quite possible to act differently, although it means asking both men and women to grow up and be the best versions of themselves. (Now there are some women at the bottom of the barrel in terms of resources, and they might really have no other good choice but to leverage their sexuality. I don’t fault them for doing so. But the rest of us — and that includes most educated women, most anybody who would be reading your blog — owe it to them to reshape the world, so that their daughters can have better options.) Like any economy, the economy you describe both shapes our choices, and is shaped by them. We need to encourage everybody in earshot to shape our sexual economy in ways that will lead to long-term satisfaction and self-actualization for men and women alike.

    Posted by Ginny | February 15, 2011, 8:48 pm
  40. I don’t want to say much, but I will probably end up doing so anyway….

    This issue of disagreement about exchange and sex has nothing to do with polyamory. The emotionally mature people I’m talking about could be monogamous or not, and that does not even address the point we are trying to make. People who are healthy emotionally and sexually will find what they want in terms of sex and relationships, no matter the configuration. I think, if people were healthier, MORE people would end up polyamorous, but that’s not the same thing as saying people who are not are not healthy.

    And to those women that will be offended at being called emotional childrem…well, yes. That’s how children behave when told something they do not like to hear. Too bad; I don’t care if they are offended. Given this opinion of yours, however, I am quite skeptical you have ever had a relationship with an emotionally/sexually mature woman. I’m not surprised, because even older, successful, and otherwise mature people are not mature in this way. (And even we have work to do, but at least we are aware of the problem).

    Hamby, you said:

    “Yes. To get ANY sex, you have to play the appropriate game. Isn’t that what I’ve been saying?”

    Yes, you have been saying this. I have said that this is true for emotionally immature people. The game, as we are calling it, is necessary for the same reasons that accommodationists think we have to respect religion; because we have to respect their values and way of life out of pragmatism. You are an accommodationist towards normal sex roles and values in our culture, and I am saying that we need to call them out on their bullshit and stop treating each other poorly, for the good of all of us.

    Ginny said:

    “Slut-shaming in our culture is a predominantly female activity, only echoed by men. Women know, all too well, that they depend on other women’s sexual inavailability to continue extracting their price.”

    Right. This is like price-setting in the economic market. The more women shame each-other for “giving it up too easliy” (or whatever), the longer this unhealthy cultural behavior will continue.

    You seem to be saying that people at the disadvantage (in this case, women) should try to make up for it with their advantage (in this case sex). In an evolutionary sense, you are partially right. But we should not continue to allow this inequality to determine our behavior in the way you seem to be advocating. In fact, the behavior you seem to be advocating perpetuates the disadvantage, as Ginny was talking about.

    Your postm rather than speaking to the best of our humanity, is appealing to the lower rungs. If this were a religion piece, I would send it to the Huffington Post.

    Posted by ShaunPhilly | February 15, 2011, 9:11 pm
  41. @Ginny and Shaun:

    Let me start by apologizing that I’m cutting this discussion short out of necessity. I’ve been a little lax lately and need to do research on new posts and topics, and I’m afraid this conversation has gotten to the point that it’s taking a good hour of my time to respond, which is time that I don’t have at this time. I’ll throw a caveat and say that I’m not leaving things permanently. I’ll do my best to address each of your more salient points in full entries in the coming weeks.

    Clearly we’re at something of an impasse, and I’ll ask both of you to try to step back for a moment. All three of us are intellectually honest people with good powers of reason. Perhaps we’ll come to an agreement, perhaps not. But for my part, I believe that all three of us are coming at this honestly, and evaluating the information we have as thoroughly as possible. Let’s remember that this is not a solidified topic in ANY branch of science. There’s still research being done, and you could have the same disagreement between three PhDs who had devoted their entire life to the topic. The best any of us can say is that with the limited information we have, it APPEARS that our position has the most merit.

    So to Ginny especially, I’m refraining from snark because I respect you. I ask you to give me the same respect and refrain from comparing me to a religious zealot. Stay tuned, and I’ll try to give my answers in blog posts soon.

    Posted by hambydammit | February 15, 2011, 9:21 pm
  42. I must have missed something. When did either of us compare you to a religious zealot? I scanned the last few comments and didn’t see any of that. Perhaps I missed it.

    Posted by ShaunPhilly | February 16, 2011, 2:23 pm
  43. Ah, sorry, Shaun. It was you, not Ginny. I took your statement that if it was a religious piece you’d send it to the Huffington Post to mean it would have been bad even for a religious piece.

    I’ll be honest, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not sure what the horrible disconnect is here. I suppose it’s the fact that I can’t get around seeing sex as a commodity. Well, I can’t. And I’m very sorry about that, but please understand that your anger doesn’t help. You both know I study this stuff seriously so I’m not just some blunderbuss hacking my way through. Please don’t take it personally. I am not taking your disagreement personally, though I hope to understand it better and find common ground.

    In any case, I need to take some time to back off of this for a minute, because all I am seeing when I read the responses from both of you are examples and arguments that support what I believe. And that’s clearly not what you intend, so I’m either reading it wrong, you’re communicating poorly, or we’re both saying the same thing in very, very different ways.

    Posted by hambydammit | February 16, 2011, 3:19 pm
  44. Indeed, there is a misunderstanding. HuffPo is a place where ateiists go to write about why we should look lovingly at religion (accommodationism) even if they don’t believe in it themselves. You post seems a place where you are looking lovingly at a cultural practice of seeing sex as a commodity, while we over here see that as disgusting and immature. Again, sex is a thing of exchange for many people; those people are immature and doing something unhealthy.

    I’ll await further posts about this.

    Posted by ShaunPhilly | February 16, 2011, 3:26 pm
  45. Neat article- we are a monogamy-obsessed culture! Still, there are a few too many generalizations on men and women for my taste. If we’re ever going to ditch the double standard, we need to stop generalizing about how “men” feel versus how “women” feel, and approach it from a more egalitarian standpoint. I would hope that all of us should demand respect from our sexual partners, and the idea of women holding sex hostage for shopping trips or bitching sessions is frankly offensive, especially considering the concept of the article. I know many women who have acted in relationships like “men” you describe above, and many men who want commitment from day one, like the “women” you describe above. (At the very least, when generalizing, phrases like “many women do this” instead of “all women do this,” or “women do this” help prevent the assumption from being stretched to every single person who self-identifies in that gender category). Similarly, the advice given above would be equally applicable to homosexual couples were it not for the plethora of gender-related generalizations. The only place I find it appropriate to talk about significant generalized differences between genders is when speaking of differing social expectations for them (we all have to deal with those!). Thanks for contributing to the monogamy discourse- definitely something worth dealing with and under-addressed!

    Posted by Kerry Clare | July 2, 2011, 2:43 am

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