Take your partners...

By Patricia Stevens

Most Western people believe sex should be reserved for a single partner; the idea of having or wanting more than one partner makes people angry and nervous.

In Against Our Will, Susan Brownmiller says: "The historic price of woman's protection by man against man was the imposition of chastity and monogamy." Monogamy's violent roots are visible in the tradition of 'bride capture', where a woman is kidnapped and raped as part of the marriage ritual. Five countries in Central and South America have laws allowing accused rapists to go unpunished if they offer to marry their victims.

Monogamy is isolating: it can encourage over-dependent relationships. It separates people into self-contained systems of constrained intimacy rather than affirming the potential for many unique relationships. Indeed, monogamy often seems to be held together through jealousy, possessiveness and fear.

A partner is meant to be lover, friend, problem-solver, and emotional support. This is a lot to expect. Some people do get lucky, but there may be a way to make relationships less of a lottery. For some, including myself, this means practising ethical non-monogamy. This can only work when both 'partners' choose it.

Ethical non-monogamy means being honest about the difficulties of living outside the couple-box. Choosing not to use terms like 'relationship', 'partner', 'girlfriend', 'boyfriend', 'wife' or 'husband' means thinking about what the people in our lives really mean. Non-monogamy means stepping out of traditional roles, making a commitment to living more honestly, with greater freedom and trust. This may only work when we feel secure with a

Some people see non-monogamy as a way for men to have their cake and eat it. If women are the unwilling dupes of men, who should we define as the 'victim' in a same sex non-monogamous relationship? Non-monogamy may not be an option for everyone — I don't know if it would be possible if children were involved, for instance. But I believe that 'infidelity' is more likely to end a monogamous relationship than an honest, non-monogamous one. But any relationship may have more chance of working if it is based on mutuality, trust, honesty, flexibility and respect.

The idea of non-monogamy always raises the issue of jealousy. I am still, sometimes, attached to the idea that I ought to be the only one. However, I also think that discussing jealousy honestly can bring you closer to the person you love. But the way we are taught to relate often causes us to keep secrets, suppress our feelings and deny our desires. Perhaps non-monogamy is dangerous because it makes people face these issues. Adam Philips in Monogamy says: 'Monogamy is a kind of moral nexus, a keyhole through which we can spy on our preconceptions.'

When you are 16 you think you will be with your girlfriend/boyfriend for ever. But people get it wrong. Neither monogamy nor non-monogamy will shore up bad relationships or cure insecurity. But monogamy should not be seen as the only option. For me, feminism means more than just equality in work or ending violence. It also includes revolutionising our desire.


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