Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

July 12, 2010

Poly-Mono advice from Sex At Dawn author

The Stranger online

A new book is getting a lot of buzz: Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, by Christoper Ryan and Cacilda Jethá. Their most talked-about point is that our accepted beliefs about monogamy are built on falsehoods and are a recent and unnatural social construct.

I'm getting the book and will have more to say about it later. Meanwhile, from the publisher's blurb:

Ryan and Jethá's central contention is that human beings evolved in egalitarian groups that shared food, child care, and, often, sexual partners. Weaving together convergent, frequently overlooked evidence from anthropology, archaeology, primatology, anatomy, and psychosexuality, the authors show how far from human nature monogamy really is. Human beings everywhere and in every era have confronted the same familiar, intimate situations in surprisingly different ways. The authors expose the ancient roots of human sexuality while pointing toward a more optimistic future illuminated by our innate capacities for love, cooperation, and generosity.

Sounds like my version of poly. Here's a review in Seed magazine.

Dan Savage, of "Savage Love" column fame, has been touting the book (in his hyperbolic style) as "the single most important book about human sexuality since Alfred Kinsey unleashed Sexual Behavior in the Human Male on the American public in 1948." And he invited Ryan to guest-host some advice columns on the website of The Stranger, the alternative newspaper that Savage edits in Seattle. For example:

Letter of the Day: More Advice From Sex At Dawn Coauthor Christopher Ryan

July 7, 2010

Q: I'm a 29-year-old straight male. My girlfriend and I have been together for four years... We are very much in love. However, since the beginning of our relationship, my girlfriend has told me that she is not interested in being monogamous for her entire life.... Over the course of our relationship, she has made it very clear that I am her man, her #1 priority, BUT she knows that in the future she's going to want to sleep with other guys. She also has said that I would be free to sleep with other girls.

My question is, how do I get over this terrible feeling that I get whenever I think about my girlfriend having sex with another man? I try to be open-minded, but every time the idea is presented, I get a sick feeling in my stomach....

...Am I making too big a deal out of this? I am very happy with our relationship, and our sex life. And she has told me on numerous occasions that sex with me is the best she's ever had, but also that variety is the spice of life. Which then makes me think, “Why would she want anyone else if I'm the best?” And honestly, it makes me feel as if I'm not enough.

—When The Best Isn't Enough

Christopher Ryan: Whether or not you’re making “too big a deal out of this” depends on several things. First, assuming you could overcome this sick feeling you get when the issue comes up, would you want a long term (possibly life-long) relationship with this woman, on these terms? In other words, is your reaction something you see as a weakness in yourself that you’d like to overcome, or does it represent a fundamental difference in how the two of you understand and experience sex and intimacy?

You sound like a sincere, thoughtful, self-reflective guy, so I’m going to assume the woman you love is similarly evolved, psychologically. She’s not going to change, and even if you could find a way to make her, that would only lead to resentment and disaster. Our greatest ambition for Sex at Dawn is that it will encourage young people like you to clarify their sexual nature before signing on to long term commitments they can’t get out of later without making a huge mess. [Ed. note: basically the same ambition as the whole poly awareness movement.] It sounds like she’s very clear on who she is and what kind of relationship can/cannot work for her long term, so it’s up to you to try to take it or leave it.

As to your insecurities, since she’s already risked losing you by being up-front about her unwillingness to sign on to long-term sexual monogamy, I see no reason to doubt her when she says she loves you and that her intimacy with you is far more than she has with anyone else. One of the advantages of sexual experience (which she seems to have) is that you realize that sex isn’t magical. She’s never going to leave you because another guy has a bigger Johnson or screws her better. She already knows what’s out there, and she’s found what she likes best with you. It sounds like she’s offering you emotional, but not sexual monogamy. So now you’ve got to decide whether you want to try to disentangle those two issues in your own experience.

If you do, I’d suggest seeing this as a way to deepen your connection with her. Explain that you want to really understand her experience and share yours. Ask her to tell you about her experiences with other men and notice your feelings. Are you disgusted? Turned on? Afraid? All of the above? Tell her about some of your experiences with other women and explore her reactions....

If you can develop a relationship in which sex becomes something the two of you share — even when it involves other people — you might end up with something very special. But if this sounds like more trouble than it’s worth, you might want to seriously consider looking for someone whose views on monogamy are less challenging for you.

Read the whole article (July 7, 2010).

Here's another Dan Savage column, drawing on the book to explain the unexpected reactions that a reader and her husband had to an experience of group sex.

And here's more from Savage on these themes.




Anonymous Christopher Ryan said...

Hey Alan. Hope you enjoy the book and will let us know your thoughts when you've read it.

July 12, 2010 9:00 AM  
Anonymous Bitsy said...

My eyebrow goes up at thing claiming to tell me what is natural or what is in my nature, weather or not it resonates with me or it agrees with my politics. Reading the preview on Amazon set off all of those bells, particularly as the claim agrees with my politics.

But that doesn't mean, of course, it isn't worth reading.

July 12, 2010 12:39 PM  
Anonymous Angi said...

I'm skeptical of things making arguments from "nature," as well, but when monogamy is so frequently presented to us from that angle--as being in "our nature"--I'm all for something that refutes that by presenting an alternative view. If nature were just left out of it entirely by everyone it would be lovely, but since people are always going to invoke nature as an argument *for* monogamy, I'm happy to see something deconstruct that notion. Haven't read the book, but definitely want to.

July 12, 2010 8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just happy to see Dan Savage not bashing polyamory with an underhanded insult disguised as "wisdom".

July 14, 2010 12:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I would argue that it is entirely factual to say that monogamy is not natural *species-wide*. That is, we have loads of evidence to suggest that the human species is not naturally monogamous.

However, something else that is species-wide, is an incredible variety within the species and the ability to adjust and be flexible. So saying that the species is non-monogamous doesn't tell us anything about any specific individual. So a person could say they are naturally monogamous (whether they mean that literally or they mean it in conjunction with learned behaviour) and not contradict the trend of the species, just as we can say the species trend is non-monogamy and not contradict an individual who claims monogamy.

And, as you pointed out, the argument being used is wrong - that humans are monogamous. This is clearly factually incorrect. And that incorrect fact is being used to justify punishment when people behave exactly as they're supposed to.

So, I believe that policy should be made on the basis that people have the right to choose what they do with other consenting adults regardless of what is "natural" (because of the complexity of the word "natural" and of human sexuality), but at the same time, factually incorrect statements ought to be corrected - particularly when those statements are used to influence policy.

July 14, 2010 12:53 AM  
Anonymous Angi said...

Oh, Joreth, I totally agree. I'm all for deconstructing the entire notion of anything as "natural." Just as with sexual orientation, I don't believe the essentialist/non-essentialist debate has to factor into granting equal rights.

July 15, 2010 12:49 PM  

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