A big part of being a romance/erotica writer is finding new ways to explore romantic and sexual love in novel ways. Let’s face it. There are only stories you can tell about love at first sight. Those themes are as old as Shakespeare and it’s hard to make those stories interesting these days.
There’s still a place for these kinds of bland, basic love stories and there always will be. I’ve certainly used those elements in my own books. We’re an affectionate species. We love to love every bit as much as we love to hump. However, the ways in which loving and humping manifest will change with time, culture, biology, economics, and whatever happens to be a popular internet meme at the time.
There are already some ongoing trends that are making religious zealots, registered republicans, and anyone overly fond of the 1950s very nervous. According to the Centers for Disease Control, marriage rates are declining. Divorce is declining as well, but that’s to be expected when people aren’t getting married in the first place.
If that weren’t horrifying enough to the “Father Knows Best” crowd, the average number of sexual partners isn’t one. According to the CDC, men average approximately 6.7 sexual partners over the course of their lifetime while women average around 4.3. Seeing as how men tend to exaggerate the amount of panties they’ve moistened and women underestimate how often their panties get moist, let’s just call it an even 5.0 for both genders.
For some people, these numbers are truly terrifying. It means people are daring to love more than one person over the course of their lifetime. It means they’re daring to have sex for reasons that don’t involve consummating a marriage, making a baby, or showing homosexuals on how it should be done. The horror.
I hope everyone can appreciate the sarcasm in that last paragraph because this really shouldn’t be terrifying. People have sex. People love more than one person. It happens because people are complicated creatures. We can’t even agree over pizza toppings and ice cream flavors. How can we possibly agree on the right way to love and make love to one another?
I say this as someone who comes from a family that has a fair number of divorces and a fair number of marriages that’ll probably last until the sun explodes. I know how erratic and fickle our passions can be. It makes sense that our eyes, as well as other parts of our bodies, would wander.
I’ve talked about it before on this blog. Our bodies and our biology don’t know that we live in an era of Tinder, internet porn, and no fault divorce. As far as our brains are concerned, we’re still hunting and gathering in close-knit tribes on the plains of the African savanna.
Within those tribes, monogamy can happen, but it’s not the only way our passions manifest. In some cases, like when women die in childbirth or men die hunting sabretooth tigers, we need to be able to share our passions with others.
Loving more than one person doesn’t just make sense from a biological perspective. It makes sense in that it ties us together closer as a tribe. If we love each other and want to have sex with each other, we’ll be that much more dedicated to protecting and supporting each other. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s also a sexy thing. Even the most ardent clergyman or nun can’t deny that.
So when I hear stories about how monogamy is in decline or that family institutions are decaying, I want to roll my eyes and bash my head into a brick wall. This sentiment gives the false impression that monogamy has always been the end all/be all of sex, love, and relationships. That’s just not how the world works. It’s not how we’re wired as humans. It’s not even the theme of most sitcoms anymore, as “Modern Family” can attest.
So who is claiming that monogamy is in decline? It isn’t just the usual cast of clowns from the overly religious types who think their particular deity wants them to micromanage every aspect of our personal lives. Even more liberal types, like the Young Turks, are proclaiming loudly that monogamy and family life is going the way of disco, bell-bottom pants, and the Macarana.
Now I can understand the doom-saying from both sides. They’re looking at the same data and noticing the same trends. People just aren’t getting married, having children, and living around a white picket fence for the rest of their lives anymore. For some strange reason, this life doesn’t appeal to every member of the human species. Go figure.
That’s more sarcasm by the way. Sarcasm is necessary when addressing any form of doom-saying, be it from wide-eyed hippie liberals or fire and brimstone loving religious nuts. However, this sentiment that monogamy is in serious decline is worth taking seriously, if only because it means I may have to tweak the themes of my books.
As I’ve noted before, the current economics for marriage and monogamy are shit. The legal framework in which love and marriage operate are woefully unequal. In some ways, men get screwed over. In some ways, women get screwed over. It is a horribly unequal, inefficient institution that may as well have been crafted by divorce lawyers getting paid by the hour.
Since I’ve beat that dead horse more than it needs to be beaten, I won’t go off on another rant about why divorce sucks and why expectations of monogamy are unrealistic. I don’t think I need to belabor those points than I already have. However, there is one element to this sentiment that I think is worth pointing out and it’s something the Young Turks even discussed to a certain extent.
While it may be true that marriage and monogamy are in decline, it’s not necessarily declining in an equitable manner. What do I mean by that? Well, in the same way that divorce and marriage laws are woefully unbalanced, our cultural concepts of sex, romance, and gender relations are just as out of whack.
It isn’t because of the rise of feminism or radical feminism. It isn’t because of men losing their edge or fearfully protecting their male privilege either. In many respects, the problem has to do with the lingering impact that our uptight, puritanical, monogamy-loving culture still has.
Keep in mind, we still live in a culture where women can’t agree on whether Kim Kardashian showing her naked body on the internet counts as empowering or shameful. We live in a culture where a man can’t just walk up to a woman, say she has nice breasts, and not dread being sued for sexual harassment. We live in an environment where false accusations of sexual assault can ruin lives.
In other words, our current culture isn’t ready to let go of monogamy. We’re still kind of stuck on it. We still have these strange, skewed expectations about how men and women relate to one another, both romantically and sexually.
We expect women to be reserved and prudish, never freely engaging in sex with as many men as she wants. If she does, we as a society just assume there’s something wrong with her and go out of our way to shame her. It can’t possibly be that she just enjoys having sex and all the toe-curling pleasure it gives her.
We also expect men to be aggressive, pig-headed brutes who would gladly hump a dead cow if it looked enough like Jennifer Lawrence’s ass. If a man goes out and humps every woman within his area code, then he’s just being a man. If he actually goes out of his way to love and be faithful to one woman, then he must be a total pussy.
You see the problem with these expectations? Now try to imagine a society functioning without monogamy. It just can’t work. Our collective heads will explode from all the double standards, hypocrisy, and conflicting biological imperatives.
The fact remains that gender relations in our current society are just too fucked up right now. They’re too unequal. They’re too imbalanced for monogamy to decline to the extent that doomsayers fear. I’ll let the immortal Eric Duckman sum it up in the most crude, offensive way possible.
It’s unavoidable. Men and women today aren’t ready for a post-monogamous society. Too many of us still cling to the “Father Knows Best” principles of how love, relationships, and sex should manifest. Almost as many cling to the politically correct sentiment that one gender must be guilted and shamed to no end for past injustices. It seems like there’s no way for society to achieve a healthy balance.
I try to be more optimistic than that. Our society always has room for improvement. Trends change. Cultural attitudes change. We, as a species, are great at adapting to new conditions. It’s part of what makes us the dominant species on this planet.
We tend to be slow, clumsy, and inept as hell when adapting our culture to new conditions, but we do get around to it. I believe that at some point, the incentives for a truly balanced understanding of love, relationships, and sex will be greater than the forces driving us apart.
It may take a long time, but it’s one of those goals that is worth the wait and the effort. It’s a goal I hope to explore in my books in various ways. I might not be able to speed up the process, but I can at least make the wait entertaining and sexy as hell.