When I originally conceived of this essay, I was just going to discuss my love life and romantic experiences. I still plan to do just that but from a different direction. Eros love or passionate love is all about romance, at least to the ancient Greeks. Romantic love takes many forms and evolves with the culture one lives in. There are always traditional approaches and fringe ideas. One fringe idea I hold dear is simple and complex in the same breath: Love is not a finite resource. Personally, I see humans as being socially monogamous but biologically randy.
I’m the product of late 20th-century America. Born during the Reagan years but raised during Clinton’s, I’ve seen my country shift back and for the between the political extremes numerous times. I’ve also seen an explosion (no pun intended) of sexual expression in that time. The fight of the LGBTQ+ community to gain recognition and full citizen rights grew during my teen years.
I wasn’t comfortable with alternative sexualities for two reasons. One, I was a fundamentalist Christian and while my pastor never openly spoke out against homosexuality (that I can remember, at least), I saw how known homosexuals were treated by the parishioners. Disdain would be the polite word. Revulsion would be more appropriate. The second reason was that I had a difficult time dealing with my own sexuality.
Bisexuality (now pansexuality) isn’t easy to live with. More than a few straight people say you’re not straight enough. Some in the gay community will say you’re not gay enough. Sexual orientation is not a choice. There are several dozen different animals that exhibit homosexual behavior. As Gaga wrote, I was born this way. For anyone who claims it is a choice, I issue this question as a challenge: Do you choose which gender identity you are attracted to? Or is it just a choice of who ends up in your bed? I would say that the choice is less about the gender of the person and more about the intangibles you find attractive in that gender.
My mother did not make the adjustment well. I’ve wondered which was more difficult for her: accepting that her son has sex with both men and women or accepting her son doesn’t believe in god. What was a liberating moment for me seemed to me to feel like a slap in the face to her and her beliefs. It didn’t help that we had a shitty relationship at that time. For years, our conversations were tinged with amounts of unspoken shame, both shared because we felt we had fallen below her expectations. Part of me feels that she saw my sexuality as simply acting out, one more rebellion from a consistently defiant child. Since then, things have become much better. She’s accepted me for who I am and loves me as her son. At the end of the day, that’s all I could have hoped for during those years.
As I met more people who were open and honest about sexuality, I came to accept my desires as well. Sometimes boys want to have both girls and boys. Accepting alternative sexual behavior (the legal kind) becomes easier over time. Having a plethora of romantic options helps as well. Dan Savage made an observation at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2013 that discussing and confronting “kinky” behavior is easier for LGBT people. To paraphrase Savage, it’s easier to discuss kinky or “aberrant” sexual ideas after revealing same sex attraction to a parent.
Recently, I came out as pansexual after waffling between bisexual and heteroflexible for years. My preferences also shifted with regards to romantic love. A close friend suggested I read The Ethical Slut. It changed how I viewed sexual openness. I’ve never been a jealous person. My time spent around swingers and open relationships helped change that view. The Ethical Slut codified my views on polyamory and non-monogamy.
I’m not against monogamous love. Monogamy is, however, a social construct rather than a biological one. The logic behind my stance is simple: you don’t have to threaten harm for someone to follow their innate nature. The social and law-based admonitions against multi-partner relationships are there because it is not in our nature. I would suggest taking a look at The Ethical Slut as well as the work of Jesse Bering (Perv and Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That) if you’re interested in the basis for my views. Another particularly fascinating work is Sex at Dawn. The technical term is polyamory, which means to engage in multiple romantic relationships at the same time.
Being in romantic love does not preclude the desire to have sex with other people. If you’re in a relationship, you are going to want to have sex with other people. And so will your partner.
It’s a fact of life. Better to accept it than try to find fault in your partner, particularly since you have the same fault as well.
Some would say that you can only love one person. This only applies to eros love, though. The other forms of love are not considered finite. We love multiple family members. We love multiple friends. Yet when it comes to eros love, we are taught that we can only feel that way about one person. I’ve been in romantic love with multiple people and studies like the ones Bering does shows that I’m not the only one. I identify more with polyamory and non-monogamy when it comes to romantic relationships. Being open and honest about needs and desires is the only way to have a successful relationship, based on my experiences. If monogamy is your bag, commit to it and realize it will be the most difficult thing you do, even more so than parenting. A lifetime with another person, the life and home built, the family grown around that union, should be more important than a sexual fling on the side.
Romantic love is arguably the most powerful emotion our minds create. Society deemed the most restrictive form of that love as the norm, despite being not based on biology. The same goes for heterosexuality as the social norm. Romantic love is far more complicated than that. Embrace and explore that complexity. If you are someone who doesn’t feel right with straight love or monogamous love, you’re not alone. You’re a perv, just like the rest of us. Even the monogamous people.