Inquiry: A reflection on monogamy, non-monogamy and intimacy, 2nd edition

Credit: LJ Frank, Artist

by LJ Frank

Old ideas are rewritten, reexamined and metaphors created. Did primitive humans really have time to contemplate the idea of monogamy, non-monogamy and intimacy in their transient, raw struggle to live in the natural world?  Are such concepts purposeless to the ancient male and female searching the land and seascape for their next meal?

Partnerships evolved and formed among those who had something of value to exchange. Monogamy and non-monogamy were non-issues. Intimacy was a matter of language with multiple translations depending on the tongue one spoke. The feelings of the heart are of the human animal. And human relationships varied depending on the ethnic group and emerging culture.

In the story of Beowulf  (725 CE) to wed or wedde etymologically signified being mortgaged. Marriage was tied to the concept of property. Such a mortgage meant an exchange of something of value.  It was not a new idea. Language progresses. Variations in meanings are altered over time within a specific cultural context.  Geography and climate play roles. Weather extremes affect food, water, cultural and the social interactions in daily life.

What is true or not true varies within the context of a culture and an environment, which includes an unfolding and developing definition of family, religious and social ties and the politics of “to exist” and how an individual learns and translates the society and community in which they live. See The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman.  We gain knowledge or begin “to know” in relationship to others.

During Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, humans were able to separate different types of relationships – sexual intercourse for example was viewed as an act of recreation and not simply procreation. Monogamy and non-monogamy meant very little for the sake of survival. Timothy Taylor’s Prehistory of Sex is a worthy resource for understanding the dynamics of sexual relationship variations. Is monogamy a myth peculiar to humans? See D. Barash and J Lipton’s work, The Myth of Monogamy.

Patriarchy and monogamy it appears were not part of the daily vocabulary of ancient ethnic groups. Eventually, to wed was a verbal contractual arrangement. Roles were woven into the ethnic context in which people were born. To wed simply meant an agreement to share something of value, however that value is defined.

When ethnic groups began developing agriculture, along with the introduction of a male God, the phallus and its sexual implications and the challenges in worship emerged. See Howard Eilberg-Schwartz’s God’s Phallus.

The idea of possession, such as land, animals, family, servants and slaves affected attitudes and the development of what was considered sacred and written as such. Man invented what he considered to be sacred with a tendency toward ritualizing his inventions to empower their meaning.  Would it have been different in a matriarchal world?  The Genesis version is a metaphor to justify patriarchy. It’s not history. It’s a rationale for a way of life.

Jealousy? Is jealousy genetic in the human species or is it learned behavior associated with the concept of possession and ownership? There is a question whether jealousy was widespread. Did it become more so when property, spouses, servants, slaves and animals were more formally incorporated within the structures of society? Patriarchy and property, (human and otherwise) appears to have been viewed as an investment and a return on investment. Sex and relationships became more compartmentalized depending on the ethnic group’s rules, guidelines and commandments to insure order. One is led to ask, to what degree is control, power, money, monogamy, non-monogamy and jealousy interwoven?

In primitive groups, sex was a vehicle for more than just producing children. It was experienced as part of natural behavior and at times within an ethnic group’s rites and ceremonies.  It was also considered a joyful occasion and what we describe today as homosexuality, heterosexuality and bi-sexuality were viewed as natural and in some cases considered possessing magical and mystical elements.

Cultural conditioning affects behavior. Studies such as The Manipulated Mind by Denise Winn, indicate that people are subject to conditioning. And, conditioning takes many forms – defining a relationship is one form of conditioning, mostly through a species of religious and cultural belief. We are raised to view things in a certain way and think it’s natural or unnatural or perverse to whatever the norm is at the time. Our informal and formal education feeds into our conditioning, as noted in Brain Washing  by Kathleen Taylor.

The paradigm or model for relationships is evolving and progressing at a fresh pace. Partnerships and the entire concept of monogamy, non-monogamy  and marriage will continue to dramatically change through the 21st century. We are living in a period of a rebirth of consciousness and thinking as a result of the downstream effects of technology, the dynamics of politics and social constructs and the quality of spiritual and sensual life and the questions raised by the existence of artificial intelligence. The consequences of nuclear and chemical war, natural disasters, plagues, diseases and global warming have consequences on human behavior. Increasing numbers of people are looking at origins and beginnings to better understand the present and where and how to live with each other and survive.

Lifestyle variations have emerged as more information and knowledge becomes available. See My Two Husbands by Angi Becker Stevens, and Ryan and Jethra, Sex at Dawn, The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. These are variants relationship types and under increasing scientific study as is  the monogamous man coupled with the non-monogamous woman, see Insatiable Wives – Women who Stray and the Men that Love them by David Ley, Ph.D.

Regardless of the lifestyle, intimacy can be viewed as a cultivated familiarity.  It’s fluid and immeasurable regardless of how the relationship is being defined – the individual’s chronological or biological age or physical and gender similarity or difference, and so forth. Intimacy allows for the opportunity for self-transparency. Still, in a world of social media the private nature of intimacy appears increasingly reshaped – intimacy is experiencing a paradigm shift.

Along with the shift in the nature of intimacy the monogamous/non-monogamous couple though not fitting the model we are conditioned with continues to take root. We realize that caricatures and labels are never adequate relationship descriptions. See Ethical Slut by Easton & Liszt.

The monogamy myth offers insights into both in animal and human relationships. Non-monogamy it seems is the norm, more for the female than the male. Will increasing numbers of women find more balanced emotional and biological satisfaction and marital accord when she is non-monogamous – does female satisfaction lead to greater male satisfaction and a more of a balanced relationship – emotional, physical, sensual, health and spiritual?

A visit to the ancient Ajanta Caves in India with its Buddhist influence I was struck by the erotic secular art in painting and sculpture conveying the woven nature of the spiritual, mystical and sensual. Intimacy is fluid as is  gender and biology. In an increasingly unstable world is a new paradigm shift needed that rises above the older models and constructs defining categories of empowerment? Will such a development be cause for adopting a more sharing and nurturing life? In Gnostic literature from ancient Egypt, particularly the Nag Hammadi Library, there is a metaphor within the fragmented text of the Gospel of Thomas that observes in effect – when the male becomes female and the female becomes male, the truth will emerge.

We know that diverse forms of communication are being incorporated into our life of which the looming  artificial Intelligence is one dimension. Is there a need for a new model of social consciousness? Monogamy, non-monogamy and intimacy are experiencing multiple paradigm shifts. What will the paradigmatic shift in relationships begin to look like in the wake of human technologies? Will technologies be designed to create other technologies that are human-like? Artificial intelligence will create new issues of intimacy within the structure of human relationships. Will the software be equipped with an emotional interface? By the person(s) designing the software?


Sidney Jourard wrote in The Transparent Self,  “Shall I permit my fellow-men to know me as I truly am, or shall I seek instead to remain an enigma, and be seen as someone I am not?”