Tag Archives: traditional love

Polygamy Vs. Consensual Non-Monogamy: Is There A Difference?

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When it came to dissecting the absurdities of language, nobody did it better than George Carlin. Beyond being one of the funniest comedians of all time, Carlin could break down certain concepts in a way that was as insightful as it was hilarious. His brilliant analysis of what he called “soft language” is more relevant now than it was when he was still performing.

Given the rise of outrage culture, I often wish George were still alive today so that he could tear the absurdities down, as only he could. We can only imagine how he would’ve tackled issues like fake news, alternative facts, and toxic masculinity. At the very least, his legacy of attacking soft language lives on.

In his book, “Parental Advisory,” Carlin defined soft language as terminology people use to help them avoid unpleasant truths. It helps fat people feel better about being “morbidly obese.” It helps poor people feel better about being “economically disadvantaged.” It helps drug addicts feel better about being “substances abusers.”

The face of a man who didn’t buy such bullshit.

Whatever the case, no matter how many colorful words people utilize, the underlying theme is the same. There are certain aspects of reality that bother some people, so they decide to re-frame it in a way that feels less serious and more palatable. It’s rarely overt. There’s rarely an official announcement or anything. Most of the time, it’s just a trend that people forget is absurd.

This leads me to the emerging concept of “consensual non-monogamy.” It’s kind of what it sounds like. It’s a form of a non-monogamous relationship in which both partners grant one another permission to seek sexual or romantic entanglements with others. Sometimes it involves certain rules and boundaries that are openly negotiated. The key is that there is consent and understanding at all levels.

This is not a new idea. If it sounds a lot like polyamory, an idea I’ve touched on before, that’s because it is for the most part. It’s a non-monogamous relationship that people pursue for any number of reasons. It’s actually one of humanity’s oldest forms of relationships and some even argue that it’s more natural than monogamy.

I’m not going to argue how natural or unnatural such practices are, but I think this latest manifestation of soft language requires scrutiny. Like every other kind of soft language, these sorts of linguistic quirks don’t evolve randomly. There’s often a method behind the absurdity and while I’m not as brilliant as Carlin, I have a pretty good idea of why it’s happening.

In terms of definitions, there isn’t that much difference between polyamory and consensual non-monogamy. Logistically, though, there are a few complexities that differentiate the two practices. They’re minor, but relevant to the extent that inspired soft language.

While there hasn’t been much research into consensual non-monogamous couples, the little we do have paints a fairly comprehensive narrative. In these relationships, there is a “primary” partner who holds the role of spouse/lover. This is the partner with which they love and seek to share their lives with. They’re the ones whose names are on emergency contact forms, loan applications, and wills.

Beyond the primary partner are all the girlfriends/boyfriends with which the sexy stuff occurs. The extent and motives behind these encounters are communicated and understood with the primary partner. Every couple is different so the boundaries vary. Some couples have to be together when they’re getting sexy with others. Some are okay with it happening more randomly.

If that sounds a lot like polyamory, then congratulations. You’re starting to understand how George Carlin thought. While polyamory has its own dictionary definition, it’s connotations are not the same as consensual non-monogamy. What people think of when they hear the word “polyamory” conjures different mental images than a term like consensual non-monogamy.

Polyamory, for better or for worse, is one of those terms that has a certain level of linguistic baggage. It’s less associated with the free-spirited couples who get their own reality show and more with outdated traditions associated with polygamous marriages. Think “Big Love” rather than “Friends With Benefits.”

Now, I know I’ll upset those in the polyamorous community for just hinting at that association. For that, I apologize. I know most who identify as polyamorous or consensual non-monogamous don’t like being associated with the kinds of practices that are often associated with horrific crimes. That gets to the heart of where this soft language comes from.

Even if the principles are the same, those sexy free-spirited couples have a valid incentive to set themselves apart from polyamory. It doesn’t matter the disturbing practices of extreme religious cults are only a small subset of polyamorous relationships. They’re distressing enough for most reasonable people.

I dare you to find something more creepy.

As a result, a less broad term emerges. Consensual non-monogamy may have a few extra syllables, but it feels more technical and official. It’s harder to apply to the more distressing aspects of polyamory because it emphasizes consent, a concept that has only become more heated in recent years.

You can’t have child marriages or even arranged marriages of any kind under consensual non-monogamy. It would undermine the whole “consensual” part of the term. In that context, it’s understandable that this kind of term would emerge. There’s nothing in the definition of polyamory that weeds out those negative associations. Rather than actually confront it, soft language acts as a filter.

Given the frequency with which the negative aspects of polygamy still occur, it’s hard to blame those who practice consensual non-monogamy for wanting to set themselves apart. As those relationships become increasingly acceptable, there will be an increasing desire to frame it in a particular way and “consensual non-monogamy” checks all the right boxes.

It emphasizes consent.

It implies choice and personal freedom.

It’s technical, but doesn’t completely undercut the sex appeal.

Even if the definitions aren’t that different, consensual non-monogamy still does just enough to set itself apart from polyamory. In terms of soft language, it adds some critical, but necessary complications to something that is still subject to plenty of taboos. In a perfect world, such a differentiation wouldn’t be necessary. Sadly, that’s not the kind of world we live in.

Sadly, indeed.

I like to think even Carlin would understand that some amount of soft language is necessary. Whether you call it consensual non-monogamy or polyamory, how we think about these ideas are going to affect our attitudes towards it. If consensual non-monogamous couples don’t want to be associated with crackpot religious cults, then they have every right to set themselves apart.

That said, it’s also entirely possible that more soft language will emerge as consensual non-monogamy becomes more mainstream. Love, sex, and relationships are complicated and human beings are uniquely talented at complicating things. Years from now, we may not call it consensual non-monogamy. We may use something along the lines of “mutually non-binding romantic intimacy relationship agreements.”

At that point, hopefully someone will have picked up on the absurdities. George Carlin may no longer be with us, but that doesn’t mean we should tolerate more bullshit in a world that already has too much of it.

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Why Extremists (Of All Kinds) Seek To Destroy Sex And Love

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Whenever a tyrannical power gains influence, it’s only a matter of time before it attempts to control sex and subvert love. Whether it’s a theocracy like “The Handmaid’s Tale” or a communist dictatorship like North Korea, those in power will eventually get to it. It’s just a matter of how repressive they dare to be.

When it comes to the extremes of authoritarianism, those envisioned by George Orwell are the standards by which all are measured. Whether they’re fictional tyrannies like those in “Star Wars” or real-life autocracies like Nazi Germany, the extent of their repression is best measured by contrasting it with the one Orwell crafted in “1984.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve cited that book or Orwell’s writing, but I do so for a reason and it’s not just because it’s one of my favorite novels. The narrative Orwell envisioned took our understanding of repression and pushed it to its greatest extremes. On every level, the world of “1984” is a worst-case-scenario for anyone who values freedom.

Under the ruling party, Ingsoc, every aspect of human life is controlled, managed, or outright subverted. That includes sex, but it’s certainly not limited to it. Through institutions like the ironically-named Ministry of Love and the Junior Anti-Sex League, people aren’t just shamed or bullied into certain sexual practices. They’re tortured, brainwashed, and forced into it.

It’s a level of control that the Catholic Church, the religious right, and even conservative Muslims would find excessive. It’s also an important part of the story because so much of the events surrounding “1984” emerge from Winston’s relationship with Julia. In fact, the love they share is framed one of the biggest threats to the party.

That, in and of itself, is extremely telling of the power of sex and the love that emerges from it. Even in a world in which the repression is so complete that the party can convince people that two plus two equals five, it still has a problem dealing with sex. If Big Brother can’t manage it, then what hope does the Vatican have?

I ask that question within the context of “1984” because I’m seeing more and more issues inevitably link back to sexuality. It’s not just from religious institutions, though. They’ve made their eagerness to shape sexuality to serve their interests known for centuries. They aren’t always overt about it, but it’s not too hard to understand why they want their adherents having sex only for procreation.

For them, linking sex to making babies means all those sexual thoughts people have will result in more adherents. More adherents means more money. More money means more power and influence. It’s often cloaked in sin and morality, but this is the ultimate byproduct of their sexual morals.

However, it’s at the other end of the spectrum where a different, but powerful kind of sexual subversion is at work. The link isn’t quite as obvious as those espoused by religious institutions, but it is there in that the byproduct is the same and the underlying themes are richly reflected in “1984.”

On that end of the spectrum are those who identify as secular, but still hold extreme ideologies. This includes extreme brands of feminism, social justice ideology, and even old school communism. These are people who don’t just want to reform the current system through political and social discourse. They seek to overthrow the system and replace it with their own Utopian ideal.

Like the religious zealots they often clash with, they see the current order as oppressive. Whether it’s a religious sect facing persecution or the historical oppression against anyone who isn’t part of a historic majority, these individuals see revolution as the only way to right these wrongs. Part of that revolution involves destroying sex, albeit indirectly.

Whereas religious zealots rely on outright censorship, those on the opposite end employ a more subtle approach. They denigrate and bemoan sexual imagery, be it in video game characters or a shirt somebody happens to be wearing. They obsess over inequities and victimization, singling out egregious crimes while ignoring others that don’t fit the narrative.

Some will go so far as to claim sex as inherently oppressive. A few radical feminists have gone so far as to say that the fundamentals of sex can only ever be oppressive. In the same way some religious preachers will shame someone for looking at anyone with lust, this ideology identifies anyone who has or pursues sex as an oppressor.

That might have been absurd several decades ago, but in the current state of outrage culture where the dress Jennifer Lawrence wears to a movie premier becomes a controversy, it’s steadily creeping into the discourse. Concepts like beauty are now oppressive to those not born with beautiful bodies. Anything that may titillate or excite is seen as dangerous or damaging to the oppressed.

It’s at a point where the idea of people seeking any kind of release outside the narrative espoused by extremists is pathologized. For religious zealots, it’s sinful. For the non-religious extremists, it’s oppressive. Both see it as something that needs to be reformed or envisioned.

Chances are these individuals don’t see themselves as the authoritarians depicted in “1984.” They still see themselves as the underdogs in a “Rocky” movie, fighting to win an epic battle against an oppressive bully. Beyond being an absurd conflation of what they’re fighting for, this very approach is envisioned by Orwell and is key to empowering Ingsoc.

In the world of “1984,” the Ministry of Truth builds a similar narrative for the masses. They’re told that prior to Ingsoc taking power, the world was a terrible, oppressive place. It was only by rallying around the party and Big Brother that they were able to triumph. Moreover, it’s through the wisdom and guidance of the party that they escape this oppression.

Part of that process involves reshaping/subverting sex. In “1984,” the party isn’t just looking to control it. They seek to destroy it. The Junior Anti-Sex League even says it outright at one point.

“The sex inherent aptitude will be eradicated. Reproduction will be a one-year formality like the reclamation of a ration card. We shall get rid of the orgasm.”

Even by extreme repression standards, this seems extreme. It might even seem like something that would give zealots of all types pause. However, Orwell’s way of justifying such extremes reveal more than just a twisted ideology. He ends up exposing why sex is such a huge concern for any extreme ideology.

“When you make love you’re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you’re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother?”

Read over that quote again, but replace Big Brother with the name of any religious sect or political ideology. It has the same meaning and the same implications. In order for both the zealots and the radicals to achieve their goal, they have to destroy sex. It’s the only way they can achieve their Utopian ideal.

Religious zealots can’t shame or guilt people entirely out of wanting to enjoy sex for non-procreative purposes. They can certainly make it difficult and painful for many, even to the point of serious abuse, but it never works in the long run. The drive to just want to hump for fun is too strong.

Certain brands of radical feminism have a similar issue. They can’t stop straight men from enjoying the sight of a beautiful woman. They can’t stop anyone from wanting to enjoy something different in their sex lives that they don’t like. No matter how much they’re triggered, it doesn’t turn off that powerful, instinctual drive.

In “1984,” the party actively works towards destroying that drive through technology. This is a lot scarier now because that kind of technology is already in the works. In theory, an extremely repressive religious zealot or a very regressive feminist could turn the implants in development at Neuralink into something that removes all pleasure from sex.

From there, they could redirect that energy into serving their ideology/religion. The procreative function could still be utilized, but only to the extent that it’s necessary. That may not be the ultimate goal. It’s not even the ultimate goal of Ingsoc. It’s just necessary in the grand scheme of pursuing and securing power.

As it stands, those in the religious right and other extremist circles aren’t remotely close to gaining the influence and control exercised by Big Brother in “1984.” Logistically speaking, it’s impossible for them because subverting human nature requires an understanding of it and the scientific process for achieving that understanding rarely adheres to ideology.

It still says something about their goals when the only way to achieve them in the long run requires that they destroy sex. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Orwell built a major part of “1984” around two characters falling in love and experiencing the joys of the sex act. That proved to be one of most powerful ways for them to oppose the party.

To that extent, Orwell’s understanding of sexuality is nothing short of prophetic in terms of how revolutionaries on both ends of the political spectrum view it. In an Orwellian world, sex and love aren’t just a hindrance to a revolution. They’re an outright threat.

The fact that it took repression on the level of Big Brother to confront that threat is a testament to the power of sex and love. If Big Brother couldn’t contain it, then what hope does any religion or ideology have?

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A Sweet (Atypical) Love Story In “Sugar”

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Not every love story begins with a daring rescue followed by a witty exchange, culminating in an act of passionate lovemaking. Fairy tales and romantic comedies tend to present an obscenely skewed picture of how love actually manifests. In the same way porn gives fanciful depictions of sex, most love stories present an idealized, but flawed understanding of romance.

To be fair, though, love in the real world tends to lack that magical nuance. That’s why those fanciful depictions have so much appeal in the first place. It’s also why “Sugar,” the latest slice-of-life graphic novel from Matt Hawkins and Jenni Cheung, brings something interesting to the world of romance.

It doesn’t involve superheroes. It doesn’t involve elaborate emotional entanglements, either. It’s just a unique, engaging, and distinctly sexy story that resonates in the current year. This being the same creative team behind “Swing,” another novel love story that I lauded earlier this year, the bar is higher than most.

While I’ll won’t say “Sugar” is better than “Swing,” it has plenty to offer for those looking for a different kind of love story. This is not one of those boy-meets-girl or girl-crushes-on-cute-guy narratives that follows a familiar script. It doesn’t try to reinvent the genre, either. Instead, it takes two characters who find themselves in frustrating, but believable predicaments and has them find each other in a unique way.

Julia Capello and John Markham aren’t eccentric personalities with extreme quirks. Julia is a 23-year-old college student working multiple jobs, constantly worrying about tuition and her financially struggling mother. It’s not a ground-breaking basis for a young woman, but it never comes off as overly-tragic. Hers is a story that many young people today can relate to.

The same goes for John, a middle-aged businessman who thought he did everything right. He married his high-school love, created a thriving business, and played by the rules that men believe they’re supposed to follow. Then, out of nowhere, he finds out his wife is cheating on him and she serves him with divorce papers. In an instant, everything he thinks he knows about love is shattered.

These are two people with significant emotional deficits. Julia makes it clear that being alone doesn’t sit well with her. Her love of romance movies and her reactions to her roommates kinky antics with her boyfriend make that apparent. John is broken and lonely, needing a new connection to fill the void that his ex-wife left in his heart.

How they come together isn’t that romantic, in terms of logistics. Their first interaction is an otherwise forgettable joke in diner. However, their paths eventually cross again, this time with much sexier interactions. Instead of turning into a traditional relationship, though, these two follow a different path.

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This is where “Sugar” twists the standard romantic narrative. Instead of two people coming together in moments that go onto inspire Taylor Swift songs, they end up following a much messier path. John, who is still very hung up on his wife, doesn’t jump into another relationship. Instead, he seeks an “arrangement,” of sorts.

Instead of an actual girlfriend, he asks Julia to be her sugar baby. That’s a term that exists in the real world and often gets conflated with prostitution. In fact, that’s a common refrain throughout “Sugar.” Julia goes out of her way to belabor the fact that she’s not just exchanging sex for money. It’s worth belaboring too because that’s not the crux of their arrangement.

Yes, the arrangement does involve sex.

Yes, the arrangement does involve activities associated with dating and relationship.

No, the arrangement does not involve the promise of marriage, kids, and a white picket fence.

No, the arrangement does not involve contracts, dungeons, and bondage in the mold of “50 Shades of Grey.”

In practice, it doesn’t necessarily convey the traits of an epic love story. It doesn’t depict that of a kinky porno, either. The arrangement between Julia and John serves a defined purpose that benefits them both.

John is someone who has spent most of his life in a relationship. Being alone for him is untenable. Julia is someone who clearly wants intimacy, but struggles to fit it into her hectic life. The arrangement they pursue together fulfills them both in a particular way. John gets companionship. Julia gets intimacy and some badly-needed financial support.

If that were the only result of the arrangement, though, there wouldn’t be much of a story. It doesn’t take long before Julia and John encounter various complications to their arrangement. Emotional entanglements do enter the picture. Some of them are a bit predictable, but others are less obvious.

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There’s an underlying sense that neither character really understands what they feel for one another. John often finds himself pulled in multiple directions by his emotions whereas Julia tends to make more assumptions than she should. It makes for an eventful emotional journey, which leads to some interesting choices in the end.

When all is said and done, “Sugar” comes off as a real love story, but in an indirect sort of way. It take a strange, meandering path to get to that point, but it still gets there. While a second volume of the story is teased at the end, the story feels complete. There’s a sense that both Julia and John take a step forward in their lives, both together and as individuals.

There are a number of flaws with how “Sugar” goes about guiding Julia and John through the story, though. Neither character has much of a supporting cast. Both Julia and John are surrounded by archetypes with the personality depth of meathead jocks from 80s teen movies.

John’s business partner, Richard, is basically a well-dressed frat boy whose only role is to present the idea of an “arrangement.” His ex-wife, Karen, is even less developed. She is the personification of everything that rabid anti-feminists dread, a callous bitch who preys on the emotions of rich men while indulging her hedonistic proclivities on the side.

Julia’s supporting cast isn’t much better. Aside from a roommate who constantly encourages her to get laid and bosses that see her as nothing more than a cog with a pretty face, there’s nobody that really complements her. The people around her are just extra and bring little to the table.

On top of that, there are times when Julia and John rely too heavily on tired tropes. John has a few moments where he tries to be a White Knight and Julia has a few moments where she tries to be overly independent to the point of being an asshole about it. While these parts of the story can be eye-rolling at times, they don’t take away from the overall story.

At its core, “Sugar” is still a love story. It’s just a very different kind of love story. It takes two people in need of love and brings them together, albeit in an unorthodox way. It still works, though. It still evokes just the right emotion without resorting to princesses and dragon-slaying.

If I had to score “Sugar,” I would give it a 7 out of 10. It’s a solid, above-average story that applies just the right amount of romance and sex appeal. It has a novel concept that has plenty of potential, sexy and otherwise. It lacks the various support structures necessary to make it feel complete. Compared to “Swing,” it doesn’t quite measure up in terms of refinement.

Unlike “Swing,” this is a love story that feels more definitive. It’s concise, streamlined, and genuine in ways that few love stories dare to be in an era where one or more love interests has to be a superhero. Hawkins and Cheung once again achieve something special and sexy with “Sugar.” It may never be an epic love story that inspires a James Cameron movie, but it doesn’t have to in order to be sweet.

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Do We Expect Too Much Of Our Lovers?

When it comes to our ideal lover, most of us know what we want. In fact, what we want should be pretty damn clear, given that it’s laid out perfectly in every song ever made by Taylor Swift, the Beatles, and the Backstreet Boys.

We want our lover to be our everything. We want them to always be there for us. We want them to be 100 percent dedicated to us so we can be 100 percent dedicated to them. We want them to be the center of our world and everything orbiting around it. We want them to give us all the love, passion, and sex we want from now until the end of time. Is that really so much to ask?

Try and look at those demands without the aid of music or screaming fans. Read over them carefully. Think about them without imagining someone like Taylor Swift or Paul McCartney making them sound so sweet and appealing. Is that really a reasonable expectation to put on any human being, no matter how much you love them?

That’s a serious question that too few want to ask, let alone answer. Most people would rather listen to more sappy love songs and entertain fantasies of that perfect, ideal, completely devoted lover. Then, we’re somehow shocked and disappointed when we can’t find someone to be that devoted.

Setting aside, for a moment, that we don’t live in one big One Direction music video, this feels like one of those things where it’s impossible to see the forest from the trees and vice versa. It’s not just that popular culture has established so many unrealistic expectations about love, sex, marriage, and everything in between. There’s a certain disconnect in these expectations that seem to undermine the very concept of love.

This is one of the few disconnects that is pretty much the same for men, women, and those of unspecified gender. Men want a woman who is as devoted as Mother Teresa, but fucks like Jenna Jameson. Women want a man with status of a French aristocrat, but with the sexual prowess of Wilt Chamberlin. We may as well be asking for rich schizophrenic supermodel Olympian and there are only so many of those in the world.

This wholly unreasonable criteria also undermines some fundamental components of what love is and how it’s actually practiced in the real world. Wanting someone who is that devoted and that endowed doesn’t fit the profile of a mutual lover. It fits the profile of a super-powered butler/fuck buddy.

I know this may sound like the pot calling the kettle black because I write erotica/romance novels where some of those unreasonable expectations are explored. Some of my books deal with lovers who seem to check all the right boxes for each other. Some even involve actual superhuman abilities in matters of sex and love. I fully acknowledge that disconnect.

The difference is that my novels, as with most works of fiction, are molded in a fantasy world. These are worlds where it is possible for a princess to kiss a frog and have that frog turn into Hugh Jackman. Like pop songs, porn, and the lottery, they give others a means of entertaining this fantasy world, if only to escape from the frustrating realities of the real world.

That still doesn’t make the real world any less real. It doesn’t make our expectations surrounding sex and love less reasonable. So what’s the solution? How do we revise our expectations? Moreover, what exactly should we expect from our lovers?

To answer that, we need both caveman logic and a bit of context. In terms of context, we need to remember that up until the 18th century, most marriages and sexual partnerships were arranged and not chosen. In the same way we didn’t get to choose our parents, we didn’t get to choose our spouses either. Two family just got together, signed a contract, and that was as romantic as it ever got.

This worked fairly well for the many centuries wherein most of the human population lived on farms, barely knew anyone outside their small town or village, and were ruled by regional kings or despots. Then, we collectively decided that people should be able to choose who they marry, love, and spend their lives with. It’s actually more radical than it sounds and not in the Ninja Turtles sort of way.

Before this shift, the expectations were as low as the quality of an old Roger Corman movie. Your family picked your spouse. You’re then legally allowed to have sex with that spouse. If you’re lucky, you’ll enjoy it, but you kind of have to do it because the farm needs new workers and the local army needs new soldiers. The orgasms, if they come, are just a very nice bonus.

These being the expectations, it wasn’t hard to exceed them. Sometimes, arranged marriages do result in love. However, like orgasms, that’s a bonus and not an expectation. These days, we don’t just expect love and orgasms. We expect a goddamn superhero as our lover.

This gets even more ridiculous when you inject a little caveman logic into the mix. Out of necessity, our caveman ancestors operated in hunter/gatherer societies. One of the many key components of this society is that there could be no one superhero, white knight, or alpha male. Small bands of humans had to cooperate, share, and help each other.

This means two people and their children aren’t going to survive as well as a few dozen closely-knit groups. That two-person unit is just one stray bear attack away from being wiped out. With a tribe and a group, they’re better able to adapt and protect each other.

Why is that important? For one, it establishes a different set of expectations and those expectations extend to lovers, spouses, and children. Hunter/gatherer societies are fairly egalitarian in that one gender can’t treat another like a glorified pet and expect to survive. They need everyone to contribute. They need to be equals so they can share both resources and responsibilities.

This also means that strict monogamy isn’t always the best way to go. That’s not to say that these hunter/gatherer societies are some sort of hippie love fest that make for bad pornos and eccentric cults. It’s more likely that there’s a mix of polygamy and monogamy, but in either case, there’s a shared commitment to each other and the group.

This kind of balanced sharing doesn’t exactly jive with the “You Are My Everything” narrative that every Barry White song loves to convey. In fact, outside of an occasional X-men comic, a relationship of equals wherein neither partner does anything and everything for the other just isn’t seen as sexy enough.

I beg to differ. I believe this is the sexiest way that love and intimacy can manifest between partners. Whether they’re gay, straight, monogamous, or polygamous, a relationship of equals can accomplish more than any song, movie, or sitcom. If anything, those narratives only skew our expectations.

Look at any TV show or movie, be it animated or live-action, and the “happy” couple involved have the same problems. They can’t always deal with each other’s shit. They struggle to satisfy one another. In some cases, as in one particular sitcom, the differences are so toxic that the relationship would be downright unhealthy in the real world.

I know media tends to skew reality horribly, but it also creates the perceptions on which we build our expectations. If those expectations continue to fail us, then what are we to do? Are we setting ourselves up for romantic and sexual disappointment?

I try to take a more optimistic outlook on human affairs, even in matters of love and sex. I do think our expectations are changing, albeit slowly, and there’s only so much that music, TV, and movies can do to add luster to these lofty expectations.

The fact that there is a market for a relationships of equals, even if it is just an X-men comic, gives me hope that we as a species will find a way to improve our ability to love and be intimate in all the right ways and, most importantly, for all the right reasons.

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The Paradox Of Traditional Romance

The more I read and write about love, sex, and the elaborate hoops we jump through in order to get them, the more I notice something frustratingly profound. When it comes to love and sex, there is no normal. There is no true tradition. There is only the ever-evolving, constantly-adapting dynamics between lovers, love interests, and fuck buddies alike.

Human beings are such complex, diverse creatures. That’s a big reason why our stories about them are so elaborate and varied. I’ve written stories about repressive religious communities that engage in ritualistic orgies. I’ve written stories about strippers who find love in the never-ending party that is Las Vegas.

In each case, there are elements of what some people, namely those who watch too much Fox News, would call “non-traditional” behavior. Whether it’s in love or sex, these people and the mentality they embody represent a standard set of assumptions that we in the Western world cling to, despite any evidence or anecdote to the contrary. They cling to it so hard that it can openly conflict with the very nature that makes us human.

Now I’m not talking about the kinds of assumptions that lead to uptight religious leaders calling same-sex marriage a cause for terrorist attacks or old men thinking granting women equal rights will turn them into lesbians. Those assumptions are the product of one too many intimate encounters between a baseball bat and a skull. They can’t be taken seriously, nor can they be effectively debated.

The assumptions here involve our standard perceptions of sex and romance. Some call it the “standard model” and since I’ve used that term before, that’s the term I’ll keep using until someone comes up with something better/sexier. We all know about these assumptions to some degree. It goes like this:

  • Boy meets girl
  • Girl meets boy
  • Boy and girl fall in love
  • Boy and girl get permission from religion and government to legally have sex
  • Boy and girl move into together, start having babies, and become upstanding members of society
  • Boy and girl constantly struggle to avoid the urge to cheat one another with more exciting sex acts
  • Boy and girl do what they can to abide by societies expectations about how a married couple and family should behave

These assumptions are a big part of the narrative in “Sex At Dawn,” a book that continues to intrigue/arouse me with each chapter. In one of the early chapters, this book makes a keen observation that even my dirty mind missed. It’s an observation that’s so painfully obvious that you really do wonder if psychic lizard people are controlling our thoughts to make us think such crazy things.

If this traditional model of sex and romance is so natural, as many traditionalists claim, then why does it need all these elaborate legal, religious, and social institutions to reinforce it. If it’s so natural, then those protections wouldn’t be necessary, would it?

Think about it. There’s no need for a thought experiment this time. Look at all the elaborate tactics that religion, government, and society uses to preserve and reinforce the traditional model of romance and sex.

They make cheesy sitcoms. They make elaborate love songs. Entire countries even create this massive web of benefits for married couples that, until very recently, were reserved strictly for couples that stuck to the standard model of romance and sex.

This says nothing about the draconian extremes that religion went to in preserving this standard model of romance and sexuality. For some, just having laws, TV shows, and legal benefits wasn’t enough. Entire religions had to make this standard model of sex and romance a matter of spiritual importance. To go against it would be to go against an all-powerful deity that doesn’t want you using your genitals in a certain way.

Combine all that together and you start to see an odd pattern. This institution that’s supposed to be so “natural” needs all these elaborate traditions to protect it. It’s almost as if these traditions are not at all conducive to mankind’s natural inclinations for love and sex. If I could say that with any more sarcasm, I would.

Now some will claim that these traditions are necessary because mankind is naturally rebellious and immoral. Hell, that claim is the basis for no less than three major religions in this world. However, if you think about it just a little bit more than any priest or mullah ever dared, you should be able to see the flaws in that logic.

Take a moment to channel your inner Mother Nature. Pretend for a moment you’re programming a successful species from scratch. Why the hell would you install a program that makes the species rebellious and deviant? You want them to survive and reproduce, right? Making them rebellious just means you’re giving them a mechanism to defy the very goals you established in the first place.

That’s not to say that some people don’t have faulty wiring in their brains and their biology. Some really are naturally deviant, rebellious, and arrogant to a point where they get their own reality show on Fox. Those individuals are a byproduct of the diversity that every species have, daring to venture into uncharted territories to pave the way for others. They’re supposed to be the exception and not the norm.

What the assumptions surrounding the standard model of romance and sex do is invert that dynamic. It creates the impression that the norm is the exception. All those powerful mechanisms that urge us to love, hump, and cooperate in ways that make Catholic Bishops cry at night are scolded and shamed. The only way to subvert them is to create entire traditions and cultures that warp peoples’ mind into believing these assumptions.

It is a romantic paradox in many respects. We claim this standard model of romance that is the basis of so many Shakespeare plays and boy band songs is natural, but it still needs all these protections and traditions to propagate.

It’s enough to make you wonder what will happen as these traditions and assumptions fade. It’s another interesting thought experiment, but one I’ll have to hold off on until I finish “Sex At Dawn” in its entirety.

It’s already giving me many interesting ideas for the kinds of sexy love stories that may fly in the face of everything Stephanie Meyer ever wrote, but these are ideas worth exploring. When our love lives and our sex lives are involved, the stakes are pretty damn high. If my erotica/romance novels can flesh out those ideas, then that’s a worthy endeavor if ever there was one.

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How NOT To Talk About Marriage

Picture a scenario with a man and a woman. No, it’s not one of those scenarios. They’re both fully clothed, in public, and otherwise normal. Then, imagine the kind of outrage/public shaming that would occur if this took place in front of one too many cameras.

Woman: I’m so sad! I’m so lonely! Why does the world so cruel?

Man: Maybe it’s because you’re really fat. Were you abused as a kid or something? Just exercise more or get some surgery.

You feel that? That’s the inescapable urge to roll your eyes because you know what kind of outcry this is going to cause. You know the kind of arguments, insults, rants, and raves that’ll emerge from this topic. Human can be pretty crazy and unpredictable when it comes to certain topics. Topics that involve marriage or gender issues, though, are annoyingly consistent.

So why do I bring up this scenario and the predictable outcry it tends to cause? Well, it was inspired, in large part, by a video I came across recently. It involves a small talk show discussing recent trends in marriage, namely why men are more and more reluctant to get married.

I’ve talked about this issue before, namely the part where the legal system gives men and women one too many tools to screw each other over and not in the way they enjoy. I generally avoid talking about it because it tends to make people less horny, which isn’t good for any erotica/romance writer. However, sometimes I do feel compelled to comment on something that feels overly relevant.

With that in mind, here is the clip in question. To get to the part that really annoyed me, fast forward to the 2:20 mark. I should warn you though. You may feel the urge to punch your computer screen.

Did you see it? Is your computer screen still intact? Are you confused as to why someone who is single, in his 30s, and worried about his romantic future would feel uneasy with this exchange? Well, let me break it down in a way that I hope won’t cost anyone a new computer screen.

The argument the man in the clip makes is not a new one. They’ve been made before, the pitfalls of marriage and the reasons men aren’t too eager to participate. In fact, Fox built one of its most successful sitcoms about the ills of marriage and what it does to men. These are not new issues is what I’m saying.

Even so, there’s still this imbalance of sorts between men and women when it comes to the decline of marriage. There’s still a stigma against those who are reluctant to join an institution that has become exceedingly unjust for legal, political, and social reasons that are too complicated and unsexy to get into.

That stigma, however, doesn’t apply to both genders equally. I know this because I’ve actually felt this inequality to some extent. It plays out like this:

  • You’re a woman and you don’t want to get married? You go girl! You don’t need a man! You just need to be you! Girl power!

  • You’re a man and you don’t want to get married? What the hell is wrong with you? Are you gay or something? What kind of creep stays single all his life?

See the difference? The clip itself doesn’t do justice to the extent of this difference, but the man does get crap for making these arguments. When he calmly and reasonably lays out his arguments, the first response isn’t to take them seriously or ask more questions. The response is, “Were you hurt?”

To the man’s credit, he laughs it off. That shows he has more maturity and self-awareness than 95 percent of the people I see on talk shows these days. It’s still a very telling assessment though, assuming outright that the man is criticizing marriage was somehow hurt in the past.

Even as a man who does want to find love and does want to marry someone, I find that pretty insulting. I get that marriage has rarely, if ever, been an equal institution. I get that for most of human civilization, women had it pretty rough with respect to marriage. I’m not denying that.

However, if I’ve learned anything from all the superhero comics I’ve read over the years, it’s that you can’t fight injustice with more injustice. That’s like trying to fight a wildfire with napalm. It’s only going to make the situation worse.

At the moment, marriage is not a good deal for men. At the moment, women have more legal and social protections with respect to marriage then men. Women can divorce their husbands whenever they want for whatever reason and, in many states, get half their husband’s assets by default. They can get custody of kids, get favorable treatment by courts, and are more readily believed with accusations of spousal abuse.

Now I’m not Al Bundy in that I see marriage as its own circle of hell for a man. I believe marriage, love, and all the passion that comes with it is a beautiful thing. The problem is that our assumptions, legal traditions, and social constructs are horribly imbalanced at the moment. It’s only when marriage becomes a relationship of true equals that its beauty can be appreciated.

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The Standard Model Of Romance (And Why It Needs Updating)

A big part of being a romance/erotica writer often involves reading about romance/erotica in general. I know that sounds like common sense, right up there with mechanics driving cars to learn more about cars, but it’s not as common as you might think.

Now I confess that when I began writing years ago, I didn’t do much reading. I didn’t enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing. Trust me, it showed in some of my early work. Some of those pieces (which I hope never see the light of day) made it painfully obvious that didn’t read as much as I should on the subject.

As I’ve gotten older and refined my skill, I’ve done more and more reading. I don’t just read about erotica/romance. I try to read a bit of everything to get a feel for what it means to tell a story. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a 500-page novel or a 22-page comic like X-men. They still have lessons to tell.

At the moment, I’m reading a book called “Sex At Dawn” by Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha, Allyson Johnson, and Jonathan Davis. Now this isn’t a standard romance/erotica story like “Skin Deep” or “Jackpot.” This is a non-fiction book that explores the hidden side of human sexuality, scrutinizing our assumptions about romance, sex, and the social norms guiding these forces.

It’s interesting to me because it gives me some insight into the lesser known aspects of romance/erotica. There are so many stories that try to fit the romance and erotic components into the same framework we, as a society, have always embraced without question. I’ve found it’s more interesting to step outside that framework every now and then.

Now I’ve just started this book so I can’t give my whole assessment just yet. However, the first two chapters do highlight an important component that’s worth bringing up. The authors call it “The Standard Model” of romance. That model goes a little something like this:

  1. Boy meets girl
  2. Boy assesses girl for health, beauty, fidelity, and an ability to sire healthy offspring
  3. Girl assesses boy for wealth, strength, ability to provide, ability to protect offspring, and a capacity to remain faithful and not stray
  4. Boy and girl pass assessment, enter into a series of formal and informal agreements to love, cohabit, and provide for one another
  5. Boy and girl enjoy early passion, begin a family, and grow together
  6. Boy and girl start to lose interest as passion fades, becoming less sexually satisfied even if love remains strong
  7. Boy begins looking elsewhere for other young, fertile women
  8. Girl begins looking elsewhere for young, virile men
  9. Constant struggle endures, straining relationship

I agree that this model is grossly oversimplified and somewhat formulaic. I don’t doubt that there are plenty of romances, real and fictional, that don’t follow this model closely. However, it’s a model that accurately reflects the ideals and principles that modern society has ascribed to romance and sex.

This book, however, dares to question whether these ideals and principles are actually viable. It also dares to question whether these ideals and principles are even natural to the human condition.

This definitely resonates with me because it fits into my frequent discussions regarding caveman logic, a phrase I love throwing around on this blog to explain the peculiarities of the human condition, both in and out of the bedroom. It also resonates with me because it helps nurture some of my ideas for future novels.

In addition to the inspiration, I also think that our assumptions surrounding this model need greater scrutiny, if only to better-prepare ourselves for meaningful romance. At the moment, the model doesn’t exactly have a stellar record.

In most of the industrialized world, divorce rates are over 50 percent. If a model isn’t working more than half the time, then that’s a clear sign that it needs tweaking. If a car broke down more than half the time, why would anyone drive it? Humans are great at building tools, but when it comes to updating the ways in which we love and make love, our ability to adapt is nothing short of glacial.

The Standard Model is outdated. That’s the primary message that “Sex At Dawn” sends during the first few chapters. It wasn’t adapted for modern, secular society. It emerged 10,000 years ago as a direct result of mankind’s transition from hunter/gatherer societies to sedentary/farming societies.

For the fast majority of human history, people lived on farms and toiled in the fields. That kind of work is less and less necessary these days, due in large part to industrialization and better technology. The Standard Model worked perfectly for that system because it meant keeping women focused on child-rearing while men did most of the work to provide food/safety. That system just doesn’t work as well in our current system of cities, cars, and Big Macs.

So if that system doesn’t work as well anymore, what do we do? Which system does work in a modern society where few people toil on farms and fields? That’s not a rhetorical question. That’s a real, honest question that is worth asking. It hasn’t been answered yet and I feel not enough people are daring to ask it.

I get that there are still those in society who wish to cling to the older ways, seeing the Standard Model as something traditional, moral, and ethical. That’s all well and good, but that’s basically the same as an opinion. It’s as valid as random tweet these days. We’re too diverse and erratic as a species. One model is simply never going to be enough to accommodate the needs and passions of every individual.

Every species, be it human or insect, needs to adapt their systems to a changing environment. The environment for humans is changing so rapidly that some refuse to even acknowledge that change, as if they’re worried about what it implies. There aren’t many constants to human systems, but the desire to love and make love is one of them.

For the sake of our future and that of our descendants, we need to adapt a system that will meet those desires. If we don’t, we’re all in for a cold, lonely, unfulfilled tomorrow. I’m not nearly equipped to create such a system, but I can offer some interesting/sexy ideas with my novels.

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