"Untrue": New pop-anthro book reclaims women's non-monogamous desires
Wednesday Martin's new book Untrue got a lot of media notice this past week. The title has two meanings. It's about female infidelity, yes; Martin assembles evidence that women have always cheated and engaged in other forms of non-monogamy — or wanted to — just as much as men. And, she denounces as untrue the whole patriarchy-inspired mythology of women's weak, demure, second-tier sexuality. The book is subtitled "Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust and Infidelity Is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free."
Martin is a pop-anthropology writer with previous books about stepmothers and rich mothers. Now she seems to be picking up where Sex at Dawn (2010) left off: focusing on modern women rather than the ancient multipartnering roots of the human race as a whole.
● First, Bustle published an early summary of what the book is all about: 'Untrue' By Wednesday Martin Will Challenge What You Think About Women & Sex (April 16, 2018):
...When it comes to women and sexuality, stereotypes are presented as truth more often than the actual truth. Women are confronted with a combination of poor sex education and the societal effects of slut shaming, and all of that has a real impact on the way individual women experience sex and lust and love. ...Martin deconstructs many of the false beliefs that have negatively affected the way women's sexuality is viewed — including the deeply entrenched notions that women are the more naturally monogamous sex or that women's sex drives are shrinking violets compared to men's.
...This book turns everything we think we know about women and sex completely on its head, essentially undressing the falsehoods of female sexuality to reveal what lies beneath the layers of distortion women operate under. ...
● Early this month Martin published a 4,000-word excerpt from the book in Psychology Today: A Natural History of Female Infidelity It appears in the print issue (September 2018 issue) and online (September 4):
"Untrue" women threaten modern notions of coupledom and propriety. But new research suggests that polyandry is far from novel or unnatural in human history, and may even suggest a path into the future.
By Wednesday Martin Ph.D.
"So here's something kind of interesting. My wife has two husbands."
Tim is a good friend and trusted confidante whom I see whenever he is in town. He is several years older than I am, dark-haired and fit, calm and positive, generous and centered. ... They had great chemistry, and one date led to another and another. Lily was direct and honest, more than any woman he'd ever been with, but she was also a great compartmentalizer. Tim was smitten.
A few weeks before their wedding, Lily told Tim, in effect, that whatever his dreams were, he should follow them, and that he had freedom to do as he wished. "She said to me then and has always said, 'Whatever it is that is a dream for you, you will be able to pursue your dreams if you're married to me. ..." It never occurred to Tim to offer anything less, once she opened the discussion. In their marriage vows, they removed "forsake all others."
Their understanding, Tim explained, was explicit, and its bedrock was the agreement that their relationship had priority. "If she ever asked me to stop seeing someone, I would, in a second," he said. Lily never asked. Tim never asked Lily, either.
So, hierarchical with a veto provision (despite Lily's grand statement above) and bordering on a don't-ask-don't tell. But after 10 years it became clear to Rick that Lily was getting really serious with someone else.
...Over time, Tim learned that Rick was everything Tim was not—big and strapping, a physical laborer who also loved to cook. After several months, the two men met. Tim was relieved that he did not dislike Rick. Many years later, when Tim was back at work and his career was booming, Rick moved into Lily and Tim's second home, where he became caretaker, chef, and a kind of "uncle" to their kids.
Tim has long had relationships with other women but says that what has kept his marriage going is a sense that he and Lily are allies. And he says the most important thing is that in their first conversation when things got difficult, "there was no feinting, no dodging, no machismo on my part. There wasn't room for it." There had been a learning curve to their open relationship, he says, but "she's my friend, and she's a protector of me and of our marriage."
While Lily occasionally fools around with other men—she particularly enjoys being pursued by younger guys—she has remained committed to her marriage for more than 25 years, and to her boyfriend for a decade and a half. ...
Their arrangement may strike others as unnatural, a departure from traditional values, or even a corruption of how things are supposed to be between men and women. But we would be wrong to think of Tim and Lily as aberrant. Their strategy is informed by and consistent with the flexible social and sexual strategies that helped Homo sapiens flourish. In the words of the late anthropologist Marjorie Shostak, who famously studied the !Kung, hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari Desert, gender inequality is an aberration in the long calendar of human history. So is dyadic monogamy for life, and many of our gendered assumptions about sex.
Illustration by Eddie Guy
...This momentous change was put into motion 10,000 to 12,000 years ago in the Jordan Valley, where hunter-gatherers began to domesticate plants, increasingly depending on food they grew rather than food they foraged. This was a watershed moment—the rise of agriculture. ...
...And the shift changed everything between the sexes. Multiple mating had established and continually reinforced social bonds, so there were low levels of conflict. Enhanced cooperation meant all were more likely to look after one another and their young, thus improving each individual's reproductive fitness—the odds that their offspring would go on to produce offspring. There's ample supporting evidence of this theory in historical documents about aboriginal peoples everywhere from North America to the South Pacific, as well as among present-day hunter-gatherers and foragers, many of whom raise their young cooperatively and whose mating patterns are less strictly monogamous than our own.
...As sociologist Rae Blumberg has pointed out, it is only for less than 3 percent of Homo sapiens history that women have been transformed from competent, relatively autonomous primary producers into secondary producers who are, in some circumstances, fundamentally dependent. ...
...Couples like Tim and Lily go against the grain of modern coupling, but they are also paving a way forward. Their open relationship has kept them together over the long term, and provided practical benefits—another pair of hands to help in the home, another set of watchful eyes to keep the kids safe, another driver. Their arrangement also provides Lily variety and novelty, which experts increasingly tell us are necessary not just for a man's sexual satisfaction but for a woman's too. ...
Read the whole article.
● A long and not very flattering profile of the author appeared in the New York Times: Wednesday Martin Dares to Call Her New Book ‘Untrue’ (online Sept. 15).
An Rong Xu / New York Times
After a scoffed-at but successful pop ethnography of Park Avenue, she turns to the topic of infidelity.
By Ruth La Ferla
Looking improbably dainty in a white summer frock, Wednesday Martin stepped to the front of a glass-enclosed room in Sag Harbor, N.Y., wielding a mandrake-like piece of pink plastic. “This is your clitoris,” she told her mostly female listeners.
In a childlike singsong, she went on to inform them that the seat of female pleasure is not the size of a button, as has long been supposed, but closer to a full-grown zucchini.
...Legs crossed, arms self-protectively pressed to their chests, they were rapt as Ms. Martin, chirpily reassuring, sought to address that eternal, and eternally vexing, question: Just what is it women want?
It’s not intimacy, she suggested. Wasn’t it time, after all, to ditch that hoary, male-perpetuated chestnut about women deriving sexual pleasure from gazing moistly into their partners’ eyes? Is not the female libido equal to, if not more robust, than the male’s?
...Aware that her scholarly reputation is in question, Ms. Martin, 52, this time around carefully cites a roster of prominent social anthropologists and female primatologists to bolster her argument that women are not and never have been naturally monogamous. ...
Ms. Martin conducted more than 30 interviews with eminent social scientists, psychologists and primatologists. She cites, among others, the primatologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, who studied female langurs mating sequentially with as many males as possible to ensure the safety of their offspring.
The sociologist Alicia Walker also makes an appearance, arguing that many women deliberately pursue extramarital affairs; so does Lisa Diamond, who has written about female sexual fluidity; and Amy Parish, known for her studies of bonobos, a hypersexual, female-dominant species closely related to chimpanzees.
Even buttressed by such academic bona fides, Ms. Martin allowed a flicker of uncertainty about how “Untrue” will be received when it is released on Sept. 18.
“People assume that if you’re writing about female infidelity, that there’s something wrong,” she said. “They hang on to this idea that women who write about sex are doing it for attention. That they are exhibitionists, that they’re pathological, that they must have questionable motives.”
● Newsweek: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Female Sexuality, From Wednesday Martin’s ‘Untrue’ (Sept. 14). The article's five headings are,
1. The gender gap is closing between husbands and wives who cheat.
2. Young women are just as sexually adventurous as young men—maybe more.
3. Long-term relationships may negatively affect female desire more than male.
4. More men are on affair-finding websites, but more women use them to meet up for sex.
5. Women, like men, get erections.
● Time magazine's website presents another excerpt from the book, about the time she attended a seminar on ethical nonmonogamy for marriage counselors: Here's How a Therapist Coaches Couples Who Decide to Have Sex With Other People (Sept. 17)
“Working with Non-Monogamous Couples” was held at a nondescript family services center in a nowhere neighborhood in Manhattan. ...I knew I would be surrounded by therapists who were there for certification credits and to learn from an expert in their field about the best approaches to issues that were likely to come up in their work. I also knew a little bit about consensual non-monogamy: I knew that it was for people who didn’t want to be monogamous, and who didn’t want to lie about it.
As I checked in with Michael Moran, one of the program’s organizers, he described a recent uptick in his practice and in general of heterosexual couples seeking solutions to their monogamy quandaries. “It’s pretty incredible that people commit for life, that they get married, without even discussing the issue of sexual exclusivity,” I offered by way of chitchat, realizing as I said it that my husband and I had committed for life, and that we got married, without even discussing the issue of sexual exclusivity. Monogamy and marriage, for straight people in much of the U.S., go together like a horse and carriage. Or they used to. Or maybe not. ...
Featured speaker Mark Kaupp, a licensed marital and family therapist, defined consensual non-monogamy for us.... Kaupp instructed us to break into groups of three or four [and] put a slide up on the projector. There were four bullet points, each ending in a question mark.
What would it be like to watch your partner/spouse have sex with someone else . . . and see them really enjoying it?
What feelings would come up?
What meanings would you make from their enjoying the sex?
What if they fell in love?
I turned back toward my group. We stared at one another in silence. ...
One of my group members and I decided that if we watched our partner having sex with someone else and really enjoying it, we might feel jealous, turned on, hurt, angry, curious, excited, gutted and more. We might derive meanings from it, including: I am not good enough; he/she is bored with me; something is wrong with me or our relationship; being with someone new is exciting and that’s no reflection on me. If our partner fell in love with this other person, we might feel confused, sad, threatened and devastated. I added that I might also feel homicidal.
...Kaupp quickly got to work puncturing our sense of what, exactly, might help us feel in charge of the imaginary situation we were confronting....
“I very rarely see that rules create security in these situations. How can we possibly anticipate all the possibilities? It’s an attempt to control, but it might make people feel more out of control,” he said. He told us that in his work with couples practicing CNM, he kept the focus on their attachment bond and let them come up with the rules without getting too involved in that himself. In his experience, he said, the rules might change or even fade out in time if the relationship security is sufficiently strong. “My job is to help people who have decided not to be monogamous keep turning back to each other if they feel insecure or flooded with fear. That way a negative becomes a positive. What might weaken or sink a relationship strengthens it.”
Kaupp then told us there are three primary types of [consensual] non-monogamy, and while they might overlap, their practitioners belonged to quite different tribes. There are people in “open relationships,” arrangements in which the couple agrees to see others but might not want to talk about it, or even know.
Meanwhile, swingers are committed to having sex with others, both individually and as a couple. They talk with each other about what they are doing, they do things with others together and sometimes separately, and they might go to conventions, cruises or sex clubs...,
Then there are the polyamorous, or poly, people. Polyamory is the practice of having multiple romantic, sexual and/or intimate partners with all the partners’ full consent, Kaupp explained. Those who practice polyamory believe they can love more than one person and be in more than one relationship simultaneously. Sometimes those who practice it have verbal or written contracts — drawn up by lawyers and therapists who specialize in such matters — to keep things clear and fair. And polyamory requires conversation, ground rules and plenty of disclosing and “checking in.”
To state the obvious, non-monogamy is exercising a pull on us because monogamy isn’t working for everyone. ... In fact, it turns out that when it comes to our sexual selves, women have been sold a bill of goods. In matters of sex, women are not the tamer, more demure or reticent sex. We are not the sex that longs for or is more easily resigned to partnership, to sameness, to familiarity. Nor are we goody-goodies relative to men when it comes to fidelity, after all.
● She also wrote a guest column for Hollywood Reporter: Time's Up for the Great Sexual Awakening in Hollywood (Sept. 15)
There is something big happening right now, an earthquake of sorts, that will shake up our world and our beliefs about men, women and sex. I... call it The Great Correction.
...Arguably, The Great Correction is just getting going. Much of it is happening in Hollywood, which has recently been convulsed by the reversals of power by both #MeToo and the undoing of the film-TV hierarchy, which undergirded all the town's cultural logic until yesterday, when prestige streaming kicked it to the curb. On the tails of those two massive shake-ups, there's more to come. The establishment is officially on notice. ...
● Another excerpt from the book, on Flavorwire: ‘Untrue’ Challenges Dated Thinking on Female Sexuality (Sept. 19)
...But perhaps most surprisingly, the majority of women in [researcher Alicia] Walker’s sample reported that they were otherwise happily partnered or married, and that these affairs were a way for them to remain in their primary relationships. They were not looking for an exit strategy or a new husband. They did not seek emotional connection or companionship. They wanted a solution to a dilemma: they felt unable or were unwilling to end their sexless or sexually unsatisfying partnerships or marriages, but they also wanted great sex. ...