The Morality of Love and Sex
A reader brought up a very good point regarding polyamory: the morality of it. Most of the people in our culture were brought up in one of the many sects of Judeo-Christian thought, and they find it difficult to come to terms with the concept of nonmonagamy.
I was brought up Catholic, and had you asked me about this 20 years ago my reaction would’ve been the same. If you had asked me 10 years ago, five years after I left the church and Christianity as an organized religion, my reaction would still have been the same. However, as one gets to know themselves and their significant other (SO) better, and assuming one is being honest with oneself and their SO, attraction to the opposite (or same) sex does not go away with “I do.”
As I’ve stated before, sexuality is biological. We are sexual beings. It’s part of our makeup. The need to be loved and for sexual satisfaction (and sometimes sexual variety) are as natural as hunger and thirst.
Let’s look at the Judeo-Christian concept of the Ten Commandments.
“Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”
Yet, why is adultery more acceptable in this predominately Christian society than polyamory? Polyamory is not adultery. If your SO knows and agrees, then there is no cheating. The cheating lies in the deception, not the sexual desire or the sexual act.
One of the things that must be covered between you and your SO is the meaning of sex in your relationship. Define it. Is online flirting sex? What if it’s only “harmless” flirting, which is rarely harmless. Ask yourself if your spouse would be okay with what you are saying to your online flirts. If not, it’s cheating. And that is harmful to your SO and possibly to one or both of the flirts when feelings get involved or if there is a misunderstanding of intent, far from “harmless.”
What if that flirting goes past public “harmless” flirting and into private DMs, messages, and emails? What if it becomes more and more suggestive? Is that sex?
Then there is cybersex, phone sex, and sexting, where two people actually describe sexual acts to each other with or without masturbation. Is that sex?
Holding hands? Kissing? Touching? Oral?
Only you and your SO can decide how to define “sex” in your relationship.
Don’t kid yourself that just because penis does not enter vagina that it’s not sex. Even if there is none of the above sexual contact but you have feelings for another person…it’s an emotional affair. That is cheating.
Ask yourself if your SO would be okay with it…better yet, ask your SO first.
As Dr. Phil says, “Want to know if something is cheating? If you wouldn’t do it with your spouse standing there, it’s cheating.” (Not a fan of Dr. Phil, btw…but his site has some very nice snippets of wisdom on the subject.) Now in the realm of polyamory, depending what you and your SO decide, they may or may not be standing there, but the question remains if they know and approve of your behavior.
Somehow in our culture it has become acceptable to deceive ourselves and our loved ones behind closed doors as long as no one finds out about it. My husband says that stems back to the Puritans: Public Piety, Private Debauchery, a frequent topic of Hawthorne’s work. Politicians, clergy, pundits, celebrities…the list goes on.
Too often, people are more sorry and guilty about being caught than about doing the act itself. Just think of the “celibate” priests of the Catholic faith and what they have been caught doing over the decades (nay, centuries). Is that morality?
When we deny our basic human needs, they have a tendency to find their way out in unhealthy and often abusive ways.
This all said, let me reiterate that polyamory does not necessarily mean having other lovers. You do not have to have sex with other people to be polyamorous. It’s more a state of mind and a healthy state of an honest and open relationship. Whether or not you take it to the level of experimentation, whether that is just online flirting or actual intercourse with someone other than your SO, is up to you and your SO.
The beginning of a polyamorous lifestyle is about being true to yourself and your needs and being true to your SO and their needs. It never needs to go further than that if you and your SO are not comfortable with it going further.
Let’s say that you have cheated before, but you do not want to cheat again. Still, the urge to do so is still there. Or, if not the urge, the desire to have other experiences and to feel desired by (or to express desire for) another.
This is completely natural. You are married/committed, not dead.
The key is to communicate this to your SO.
“I know I have hurt you in the past with my behavior, and I never want to hurt you like that again. I am committed to this marriage/relationship, and I love you dearly. I am not going to leave you, and I don’t want you to leave me. We’re in this together. However, I need to feel safe to express my feelings to you instead of just hiding them and being afraid of hurting you. I’m afraid that if I hide them away it will be more detrimental to me and to our relationship. I’m not saying that I want to sleep with other people, but I do feel the need to flirt and talk sexy (or whatever your need is, again you and your SO decide the boundaries) with people. You can see all my communication if you’d like. I want to be completely open with you, and I want to earn your trust back. Yet, I want to be honest with you and I need you to love me for who I am, not who you want me to be. And I want to know you that completely, too. Wouldn’t you like to feel attractive to another man/woman? Perhaps we can go to out and flirt a little, then come home and devour each other. It will be exciting and new.”
So ask yourself what is more moral: being true to yourself and your SO, being open and honest with each other, which can only serve in bringing you closer together, or to pretend you don’t feel such things, letting them build up and fester, or worse yet, act out on the desires behind your SO’s back.
Adultery lies in deception. The act is secondary.
If everything is open, you are not breaking any commandments.
As far as the rest of the world is concerned, it’s none of their business. You don’t have to tell your friends or family or pastor or priest. It’s akin to discussing your favorite sexual position with them. It’s simply none of their business.
Perhaps you were raised to believe that monogamy is the right way or only way to be. Unfortunately, many of us are. The problem is that it goes against our biological nature. *Very* few people are actually monogamous.
Monogamy is one mate for life.
At best, most of us adhere to “serial monogamy,” being with just one partner until that relationship ends, then finding another. You and your SO likely had lovers before this relationship. If this one ends, you’ll have lovers again.
That’s serial monogamy.
But think of this: you’ve built a home and a family with this person: a good life. Are you willing to risk all of that, throwing it away for something unsure? Risk losing your children? For what, fleeting passion? It’s ludicrous.
Passion is really hot, no doubt. But please let me remind you that the word passion comes from the Greek pathos, meaning “to suffer.” No doubt. Passion generally carries suffering, especially if it ends suddenly.
A new, exciting lover, especially if “forbidden” is very, very hot. But the rest of your life won’t be like that. People who try to sustain that level of passion quickly get very exhausted, as it’s constant suffering. Sexually passionate relationships are often “passionate” in other areas, like fighting, perhaps even abusive behavior.
Ultimately, we cannot sustain such levels of passion, so when it fades, and it will, what will you have then? You will have given up your SO and possibly your children for something that burned hot for a few days, weeks, months…
Cherish the life you built with your SO. Respect them and yourself and just be open with how you feel. You might be surprised.
TAKE IT SLOW…if you’ve deceived your SO in the past, you will first need to Heal Your Relationship and earn back their trust. You must do whatever it takes for however long it takes, if you are committed to this person. But this doesn’t mean you have to deny your needs. Going behind their back, even for something as seemingly innocuous as online flirting is still deception. What you are deceiving them about is not important…*the deception itself is important.*
Please read my other articles on the subject:
Please note that all these articles are for healthy relationships. If you are in an abusive relationship, if your partner threatens you, emotionally or physically abuses you, get out. Fast.
Dr. Phil’s Vignettes:
- Moving Forward After Infidelity
- Ten Relationship Myths
- Communicating with Emotional Integrity
- Advice for Cheaters and Their Partners
- Affair-Proof Your Marriage