Nonmonogamy, The Moral Compass, and Cultural Bias

One of the problems with exploring polyamory and ethical sluttiness in a world where they aren’t commonly accepted is that reading your moral compass is difficult. We all absorb cultural norms about morality to an extent, even when those norms are fucked up. Cultural norms regarding polyamory and sluttiness are generally negative. Having more than one romantic partner is bad, cheating, selfish, destructive, unfaithful, immoral. Enjoying casual sex is shallow, disrespectful, immature, means you have no standards, etc.

For me, the problem is that when something I’ve done in the context of being slutty feels wrong, my first gut instinct is that the sluttiness is what’s wrong. That it feels wrong because (following the cultural narrative) I’m being shallow, disrespectful, immature, etc, to even be trying it. Forget that I’m being honest about it with the people I fuck, forget that I’m careful about consent, safety, and all that good stuff. The moral compass always beelines to familiar tropes. Every time something goes wrong and I want to try to figure out what, I have to first spend a bunch of time reminding myself all of the reasons why I know it’s not just that living the way I do is wrong.

If I feel uncomfortable about casual sex I had with someone, and want to figure out why, I first have to tackle the part of my brain that insists it’s because I’m having casual sex and casual sex is wrong. I have to step back and remind myself that I’ve had a lot of positive experiences with casual sex, and that as much as my culture may enjoy extrapolating about hook-up culture from negative anecdotal evidence, that’s a stupid way of drawing conclusions. After I’m done reminding myself of that, I can start on the work of asking, “So what might it have been that actually made this experience negative?”

When you’re monogamous and trying to figure out what’s going wrong in your relationship, you ask about the individual circumstances of the relationship. When you’re poly or slutty and trying to figure out what’s going wrong with something, the reflex is to attribute it to the ways you’re different, rather than looking at the individual circumstances of the situation. That reflex has to be grappled with before any useful introspection can get done.

Very frustrating.

It helps me to remember that this is something that happens often, and to talk about it out loud. It brings it out in the open where I can stare it down more directly. It helps me remember to ask the important question:


3 comments on “Nonmonogamy, The Moral Compass, and Cultural Bias

  1. “I reminded him we werent monogomous to which he replied that he had been “testing me”.”

    Ew. Ew, ew, ew, ew, EW.

    really he wanted his cake and eat it too, all the perks of a relationship w none of the work.

    A de facto One Penis Policy guy. Ick.

    Evolution, however is an unstoppable force. Humans evolved to be monogomous (for the most part).

    I’m very skeptical of this. Evolutionary psych, while I do find it very interesting, is incredibly vulnerable to “Just so story” thinking. Drawing neat, hard conclusions from it is incredibly difficult at best. The author of Sex at Dawn, for example, from what I’ve heard, uses evo psych to draw the opposite conclusion: the we evolved to be nonmonogamous. My impression is that neither side has ever been well-supported.

    Emily Nagoski writes well about some of the issues with this kind of thing:

    Her blog is fucking wonderful, incidentally.

    Personally, i was raised that “slut” is a dirty word.

    I’m curious: what’s your take on my use of the word slut to describe myself? I like using it, because I think it’s generally accurate, and I also hope that in a small way it will help with the “taking back” of the word. But I’m curious how it actually comes across.

  2. So, first off, thank you so much for the personal response to my comment on your last post- nice to know people are listening and have solid advice for you.

    About sluttiness. I have been called a slut rampantly across WordPress. My ex, when discussing the downfall of our relationship he commented “and you have to stop being such a slut!” – backstory -HE had made it a point to never make it official or monogamous – I was NOT his gf. I was just the chic he lived with, hung out with and had sex with. He never slept w anyone else while we were dating. I did. On three separate occasions, all of which took place when I was on vacation or away. He knew because he asked and I don’t lie. After the first time he pulled away and it was probably the beginning of the end for us. At the verrrry end when it was all fighting and resentment he again brought up how I’d slept w other guys. I reminded him we werent monogomous to which he replied that he had been “testing me”. Bullshit. I freaked out. I wanted to only sleep w him, HE didn’t want that, HE didn’t want to be my bf. really he wanted his cake and eat it too, all the perks of a relationship w none of the work.

    I don’t an didn’t feel bad about sleeping w those guys. In fact, I felt really good. I wasn’t getting all my emotional needs met from my pseudo bf and receiving comfort in the form of sex (two of the guys I had ongoing affairs with, and they were kind and provided not just sex but the closeness I was seeking).

    Personally, i was raised that “slut” is a dirty word. That everyone is free to have sex at will and when they do in a conscious fashion to experience physical and even enotional satisfaction there is nothing wrong with it. At all. Cheating is wrong, lying is immoral but polyamory (or an open marraige as they called in when my dad had one with his first wife) or sleeping around when your single is not shameful or wrong. However, if you are doing it to validate yourself, your attractiveness, trying to fill a void in your life – random hookups are not the answer and will ultimately make you feel shittier about yourself.

    If your not doing in for validation and you STILL feel bad about your “slutty” behavior, I suspect evolution is the culprit behind these feelings. Social norms play a part but if you really don’t think what your doing is wrong, they wouldn’t affect you so strongly. Evolution, however is an unstoppable force. Humans evolved to be monogomous (for the most part). Technically, physiologically, everytime you bang a child may be produced. As a man you are programmed to stay and care for that offspring. Even though BC and condoms make that issue moot, your brain doesn’t really know that. The guilt or bad feelings you are experiencing, could be your “caveman” brain regretting abandoning his generic heratige. That’s one take on it. I am a strong believer in evolurionary psychology (if your unfamiliar with it’s precepts RESEARCH THAT – enlightening!). The same social norms your blaming stem from these evolutionary principles.

    Ok, another entry-like comment by j. Apologies for making you read my ramblings (if u choose to). I just love… Research! And identify with what you write about. So few people are thinking about these things in as much detail as you so it’s cool to find a fellow research junkie!

    ~the audacious amateur blogger

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