I was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend today regarding people's predispositions towards relationships. The question I really pondered was where the line is between choice and orientation when it comes to human sexuality. I'm going to share some of those thoughts here.
Is a gay life style a choice? Of course it is. At various places and points in history people who had a homosexual orientation chose to live heterosexual lifestyles. It's not a choice as to whether a person has a homosexual orientation or homosexual tendencies, there is a variety of current scientific data that supports this, but people do make choices in how they live their life. Choice is one of the fundamental qualities of the human condition. My daughter well tell you I'm fond of saying "In any situation we have the choice to choose our attitude.".
But this then led to a question about monogamy, marriage and social norms. I probably have a more diverse group of friends than many people. I have a friend who ran for local office as a Republican and another friend who worked on the campaign for a Democratic mayor. I have a lot of friends in between and on the edges of the political spectrum. I have friends who march in pro-life rallies and friends that have been escorts at Planned Parenthood. I have friends who are Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, Atheist and even one that leaves weekly offerings at a local tree. In this group of diverse friends, it seems I know an increasing number that are in non-monogamous relationships.
More people live an openly gay lifestyle today in the US than in the 50's. More people live an openly gay lifestyle in the US than in Iran. Does this mean that more people have a homosexual disposition in the US today than they did 60 years ago? Or that more people are born gay in the US than in Iran? I haven't seen any scientific evidence of that. More people are choosing to live an openly gay lifestyle today in the US because it is more acceptable to do so. There are less negative and more positive ramifications than there were even 20 years ago. I'd even go as far to say gay men have become fashionable, at least in certain circles.
Is the same thing happening with non-monagamy? Is it a natural human predisposition or sexual orientation? I tend to adhere to the idea that human sexuality is a spectrum. People don't fit in neat little compartments. As well, human sexuality blends into other human attributes. It's hard to separate it out or consider it without considering a person as a whole.
Is being non-monogamous a lifestyle choice? Of course it is. Are people choosing it because they are predisposed to it? Is polyamory a sexual orientation? Is it a trend? Or is it just one of the many variations of the human condition that we've seen throughout history? I can't say I have an answer, but I trend towards thinking the last option may be the case. Maybe all the options play a role.
One of the most interesting books I read last year was called "Marriage, A History" by Stephanie Coontz. That book brought something to my attention- that in feudal England marriage between peasants wasn't recognized. Marriage was something that royalty did, and the royals cared little for the details of the relationships of their peasants. Only when the underclass was allowed to own property did marriage become a recognized institution. It simply wasn't important what kids belonged to who until property rights were fought over by potential heirs. The book suggested that was the primary reason for marriage and enforced fidelity in monogamous marriage- property rights and legal rights by the heirs to that property.
Look at famous figures and stories throughout history- monogamy is rare. There are many examples of people who kept multiple lovers or wives. Women having multiple husbands is rare, but I think that's more because of women's rights throughout history than their desires for fulfilling relationships. Look at marriage in the US today- monogamy almost seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Many marriages have one (or both) partners that cheat or take on partners with the implicit (or even explicit) blessing from their spouse. Is this evidence of weakness in the human condition, like drug addiction, or is it normal human sexuality? I think more people are considering it as normal human sexuality. This article in Scientific American lists 4-5% of the population as being in declared non-monogamous relationships. Of course, my view could be skewed due to my peer group. I'm curious to see what the future brings.