“Monoga­my is not natural, nonmonogamy is not natural. Variation is what’s natural.”

Judith StaceyMark Oppenheimer’s epic and exciting piece on Dan Savage’s new framework for marriage included an extensive interview with Judith Stacey, author of Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China. I thought Prof. Stacey gave the best quote of the article (printed above), and gave Savage’s argument the academic perspective it lacked.

Judith Stacey, a New York University sociologist who researched gay men’s romantic arrangements for her book “Unhitched,” argues that gay men, in general, will continue to require less monogamy. “They are men,” she said, and she believes it is easier for them — right down to the physiology of orgasm — to separate physical and emotional intimacy. Lesbians and straight women tend to be far less comfortable with nonmonogamy than gay men. But what matters is that neither monogamy nor polygamy is humankind’s sole natural state. “One size never fits all, and it isn’t just dividing between men and women and gay and straight,” she said. “Monoga­my is not natural, nonmonogamy is not natural. Variation is what’s natural.”

I asked Stacey if, given the differences between men and women, she thought Savage’s vision was unrealistic for straight couples. Yes and no, she said: “I believe monogamy is actually crucial for some couples and totally irrelevant for others.” That does not mean that nonmonogamous couples are free to do as they please. Creating nonmonogamy that strengthens rather than corrodes a marriage is surely as much work as monogamy. Couples should make vows and honor them. Not all good relationships require monogamy, but they all require what she calls integrity.

“What integrity means for me is we shouldn’t impose a single vow of monogamy as a superior standard for all relationships,” Stacey said. “Intimate partners should decide the vows you want to make. Work out terms of what your commitments are, and be on same page. There are women perfectly happy to have agreements in which when you are out of town you can have a little fling on the side. And rules range from ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ to ‘I want to know’ to ‘bring it home and talk about it and excite our relationship.’ ”

Stacey and Savage each say that monogamy is the right choice for many couples; they are exalting options, not any particular option. As a straight, monogamous, married male, I happen to think this is a good thing: if there are people whose marriages work best with more flexibility, they should find the courage to choose an arrangement that works for them, society be damned. I also recognize, however, that we may choose marriage in part to escape the terror of choice. There are so many reasons to marry; we could call them all “love,” but let’s be more specific: admiring how she looks in a sundress, trusting her to improve your first drafts, knowing that when the time comes she will make the best mother ever. But another reason might be that life before her was so confusing. In all those other relationships, it was never clear when there was an exclusive commitment or who would use the L-word first or when a Saturday-night date could be assumed.

Judith Stacey had another piece in the Times, on the Room for Debate blog, about marriage, and you can read an excerpt from her book on From the Square.

Bitch Loves Us, Three Times Over

BItch 2011Three NYU Press titles are reviewed in the Summer 2011 issue of Bitch Magazine:

Toilet, edited by Harvey Molotch and Laura Noren, “The 12 essays in Toilet make clear that public toilets are anything but neutral, and argue that, in fact, restrooms–not just their design but where and to whom they are available–are loaded with cultural insights into views on race, sex, ability, and class…Toilet imparts a lesson: Pay attention. Those issues that most quietly fall into the background, unquestioned and seemingly benign, may be the most loaded and deserving of scrutiny.”

Fat Shame, by Amy Farrell, “As part of an actual campaign against weightism, as opposed to Colbert’s satirical one, Fat Shame allows us to see how discrimination against fat people became a central feature of American life. Armed with this history, we can better imagine a day when the declaration Farrell made on The Colbert Report–”I like the word ‘fat’”–won’t be greeted with laughter.

Unhitched, by Judith Stacey, “Unhitched thoughtfully explains how unconventional relationships can thrive across cultures with some intention and practice…The book says it’s about love and marriage, but it’s actually about parenthood and the myriad of ways a family can look to support raising children well.”

Three polyamorous brothers-in-law

A short excerpt from Judith Stacey’s Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China, detailing one of the dozens of committed relationships she found outside the bonds of marriage.

Matt and Robert enjoyed close relationships with most of their siblings, nieces and nephews, and extended kin. Particularly titillating to Matt, Robert, and to most of their relatives was the household in which Matt’s gay brother-in-law Kevin Engelhard lived. In 1997 Matt’s younger sister Sophia had married Kevin’s older brother. When I interviewed Sophia in 2001, she reported that their three-year-old daughter was basking in the adoration of five gay uncles. Sophia chortled, “I get a giggle out of it.” Evincing admiration and perhaps a bit of envy, Matt described a successful, if improbable, domestic-sexual trio that Kevin and his committed life companion Tom Leske had formed. The thirty-something couple had invited Scott Jones, a “gorgeous boy toy” twelve years younger than they, to join their bed, household, and marriage.

Kevin and Tom had exchanged rings, fused their finances, and lived together in wedded harmony for eight years before they added Scott to their family. Their sexual relationship, like Matt and Robert’s, had evolved from early years of tacit monogamy into a negotiated form of open relationship. In this case, Kevin and Tom had agreed to permit each other “occasional serendipitous” recreational sexual encounters and also to occasionally go cruising jointly for a sexual threesome. They were not seeking a permanent threesome, however, the first night they invited Scott to share their bed with them, nor even when they offered him temporary lodging after Scott’s landlord had suddenly sold the apartment building where he had been living. However, all three men soon fell in love with one another, and Scott never moved out of their bed or lives. Instead, one year later, Kevin and Tom placed a ring on Scott’s finger as well. Continue reading

Happy Valentine’s Day from NYU Press

As Pope Gelasius I, the last pope of African descent, may have said when he first established a feast day for multiple St. Valentines in the 5th century, “Who needs a box of chocolates when you’ve got a scroll or two from the University scribes?” Here are a few NYU Press titles we think St. Gelasius may have enjoyed.

The Passionate Torah: Sex and Judaism, edited by Danya Ruttenberg
In this unique collection of essays, some of today’s smartest Jewish thinkers explore a broad range of fundamental questions in an effort to balance ancient tradition and modern sexuality. Covering topics such as monogamy, inter-faith relationships, reproductive technology, homosexuality, and a host of other hot-button issues, these writings consider how contemporary Jews can engage themselves, their loved ones, and their tradition in a way that’s both sexy and sanctified.

Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus by Katherine A. Bogle
An intimate look at how and why college students get together, what hooking up means to them, and why it has replaced dating on college campuses. Breaking through many misconceptions about casual sex on college campuses, Hooking Up is the first book to understand the new sexual culture on its own terms, with vivid real-life stories of young men and women as they navigate the newest sexual revolution.

Sexual Rights in America: The Ninth Amendment and the Pursuit of Happiness by Paul R. Abramson, Steven D. Pinkerton and Mark Huppin
The Constitution of the United States guarantees all Americans certain rights, such as the freedoms of speech and religious expression. But what guarantees our sexual freedoms? Sexual Rights in America presents a bold and intriguing look at the constitutional basis of sexual rights in America. Resurrecting the “forgotten” Ninth Amendment, which guarantees those fundamental rights not protected elsewhere in the Constitution, Abramson and colleagues argue that the freedom to choose how, when, and with whom we express ourselves sexually is integral to our happiness.

And coming soon…
Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China by Judith Stacey
Built on bracing original research that spans gay men’s intimacies and parenting in this country to plural and non-marital forms of family in South Africa and China, Unhitched decouples the taken for granted relationships between love, marriage, and parenthood. Countering the one-size-fits-all vision of family values, Stacey offers readers a lively, in-person introduction to these less familiar varieties of intimacy and family and to the social, political, and economic conditions that buttress and batter them.