Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Jealousy as a motivator for sexual monogamy
How does jealousy play a part in sexual monogamy, and is this healthy for relationships?
Monogamy refers to a state of relationships in which the two participating individuals are dedicated to one another, with the mutual understanding that there will be no external romantic or sexual activity. In contrast to this, there is polygamy, a state where there may be three or more partners participating in the same sexual or romantic relationship simultaneously, with full consent on all accounts. These relationships may include any combination of genders and sexualities, may or may not involve marriage and may or may not involve sexual intercourse.
This chapter will specifically focus on sexual relationships, with sex viewed as an activity external to romantic relationships, but not exclusively. There is much evidence to support the fact that social, cultural and legal expectations play a large part in human sexual activity in the context of long-term relationships, but the main focus in this chapter will be on emotional influences such as jealousy and possessiveness.
Contextual definition of sexual monogamy
Sexual monogamy, contrary to popular belief, is not necessarily a natural state of humanity.  Monogamy has long been an unquestioned ‘natural’ state of a healthy romantic relationship, despite any sexual instincts we may have which contradict this. When entering a new relationship, it is usually socially expected that we are entering a sort of contract of ‘faithfulness’ wherein we will only participate in sexual acts with the partner we have chosen. Monogamy is seen as the default state of a relationship, and normally any breach of this state will result in the termination of the relationship by the ‘betrayed’ partner. The fact that we seem to generally accept this relationship format as the default means that there are very few conversations about other possible sexual set ups. We are less inclined to consider our own sexuality in terms of emotional attachment and flexibility, which can result in an unconscious sexual tension that may build up and fester over the course of the relationship. Additionally, superfluous emotional significance can be placed on sexual intercourse which can lead to jealousy, possessiveness and the erasure of healthy, consensual relationships that reject sex all together .
Defining the aspects of sexual jealousy
In this chapter, sexual jealousy will be defined as jealousy as a result of any act which is linked to potential sexual behaviour. More specifically, human jealousy does not come about purely from outright sexual activity. Due to our often very subtle social semantics, individuals prone to jealousy may be incited by the merest of actions, such as non-sexual communication, physical contact or socialisation. It is through these behaviours that the jealous mind can make misinterpretations based on a social fear of infidelity and sexual promiscuity. Further below , we will discuss this in relation to gender, feminism and the historical male possessiveness in regards to females and the repression of their sexuality.
It is important to make a distinction between polygamy and 'swinging'. Whereas swinging is a solely sexual arrangement, normally held outside of a romantically monogamous relationship, a polygamous relationship involves the consensual arrangement of three or more people in a relationship involving any combination of sexual, romantic and intimate commitment. It is more than a group of very close friends, as all participants may be in love or sexually involved with all other participants. These relationships may or may not involve marriage, the raising of children and mutual living arrangements. Like with all varying sexual and romantic identities, it is most important to note that the outsider cannot define the relationship by appearances; the definition of these more complex relationship arrangements ultimately comes down to whether or not the participants define their arrangement as a romantic or sexual relationship. In this chapter, the focus will be not on polygamous relationships, but on sexual flexibility and jealousy within romantically monogamous relationships.
Gender differences and theories of sexual jealousy
Many researchers have argued that sexual jealousy is an evolutionary trait, developed in the interest of child-rearing. The . This view, however controversial, has long been believed by many. The patriarchal state of Western society has certainly contributed to this, with the assumption that women rely on men for financial and physical support, leaving men with little to be concerned about other than whether or not their partner is having sex with other men. This leads to the debate over whether gender difference in terms of sexual jealousy are due to biological or social influences.theory is that men are more concerned about sexual infidelity while women are more concerned about emotional infidelity. According to Buss et al. , this is because males do not have any way of knowing naturally if the child conceived is theirs, and therefore, in evolutionary terms, sexual infidelity is a more serious crime because it would mean a possibility that their genes will not be passed on. On the other hand, women can know for sure that the child is theirs, so their primary worry is losing the parental support of their partner through emotional infidelity. This theory has been disputed in recent years, because of some of its controversial implications, with therapists being urged to not apply gender assumptions to cases of jealousy when counselling ailing couples
Harris argued that sex differences in jealous reaction to infidelity do not exist, stating that it would not be an adaptable evolutionary trait for us to develop, because by the time a person has identified what might appear to be a threat to their relationship, it is usually too late to do anything about it. Harris also stated that jealousy is often incited by a great variety of cues which overlap between emotional and sexual implications; additionally, these are defined differently across cultures and social environments and so it would not be an adaptive trait for men to evolve an awareness for potential sexual infidelity. Harris stated that it was more reasonable to consider that we evolved a tendency to appraise potential threats to our relationships rather than a set group of cues that might set off jealousy. Due to the vastly varying cultural differences between what is considered sexual or flirtatious behaviour, it would simply not be reasonable that we could develop some gender-defined capacity for detecting infidelity.
Another criticism of the EP perspective is the double-shot perspective. DeSteno and Salovey argued that the gender differences were not a black and white as the EP perspective would suggest - rather, they speculated that both males and females saw infidelity as a 'double-shot' due to to gender stereotypes existing in society. That is, that when a man suspects his female partner of sexual infidelity, he assumes that his partner has an emotional attachment to the outsider as well as a sexual attachment, due to a stereotype that women only like to have sex with people they are emotionally connected to. Likewise, women would assume that if the male partner is emotionally attached to another woman, then they must certainly be having sex with them also. Therefore, it is not that men consider sexual infidelity more serious than emotional, and vise-verse for women - rather, it is that both men and women consider that the two come hand-in-hand, due to gender stereotypes. Though the conclusions about infidelity are reportedly reach in different ways by either gender, it remains true that the assumptions are a result of gender stereotypes, according to DeSteno and Salovey.
Feminism and virginity
As noted above, the idea that evolution has left women with a natural sensitivity for emotional infidelity and men for sexual infidelity, is based on the outdated notion that the male half of a couple is supporting the female half. This assumption is both sexist and heteronormative, and does not explain cases of sexual and emotional jealousy between couples that are not heterosexual, monogamous, or sexually active. For instance, the EP perspective would not include homosexual couples, non-reproducing couples (such as infertile, elderly or asexual couples), yet evidence and logic would suggest that these types of couples are not unanimously devoid of jealousy.
A large part of the feminist movement at its very beginning was the sexual liberation of women. Women embraced their own sexuality as a form of escape from the typical oppressive, heterosexual relationship. In the times before feminism, and enduring somewhat to the present, is the notion that a woman in a heterosexual relationship somehow belongs to and is indebted to the man, both emotionally and sexually. This is a very old view, present still in society's obsession with female virginity, a myth of female 'purity' designed by men to track whether or not a woman was wholly 'theirs' or if she had ever 'belonged' to another man. This of course is a tradition steeped heavily in religion, and perpetuated constantly by the way sex is portrayed as a dirty, secret thing, especially when females are involved. A borderline disturbing example of the way this issue endures today is the prom-like 'purity ball' in which young girls pledge their virginities to their fathers as a symbolic promise of abstinence. It does not take a lot of examination to realise why the purity balls can come across as disturbing.
Absurdly, sex is presently seen as simultaneously shameful (as seen in often lacking and discriminatory school sex education), and marketable, as can be seen in advertising across all areas - even food. Sex is at once seen as a commodity to be exploited at all costs (especially in regards to women) and as a secret thing that nobody should talk about seriously. . This is also inadequate, as pornography if often highly unrealistic and inherently discriminatory towards women .Society has a very unhealthy attitude towards sex and sexuality, and this contributes to morbid jealousy, sexual repression and frustration in relationships, with participants who have never developed a healthy, inclusive attitude towards sexuality . Studies show that due to the inadequate and often sexually-negative sex education practices across Western countries, many students are turning to pornography for elucidation of different aspects of sex, including anal sex
Also to be considered is the phenomenon of 'slut-shaming'. This is the colloquial term coined to describe instances where people, usually female, are shamed for displaying their sexuality in any way. This includes dressing in certain ways, interacting flirtatiously with males, or even through nonsexual social interactions with males. First and foremost, it occurs when women had multiple sexual partners. This phenomenon can be attributed to the gender expectations held by society in regards to female virginity and 'purity', in contrast to the way men are often praised and celebrated for the same things that women are 'slut-shamed' over. In her article, Laurie Penny said about young girls' sexuality, "you are meant to polish the thing to a shine, twirl it about; perform sexy but don’t actually have sex. You can play with power, as long as you never claim it." This is a very poignant statement about the way we fetishise the sexuality of young girls, while also preaching 'purity' and 'virginity' - an example of how sex is a widely misconstrued topic in society.
Asexuality is a sexual identity characterized by rare or non-existence feelings of sexual desire. The obsession with monogamy as an evolutionary state designed to protect reproduction completely erases couples who do not participate sexually at all, including asexual couples. The erasure of entire sexual identities, and a discrepancy between the way genders are treated in terms of sex and sexuality immediately removes credibility from the idea that sexual jealousy is a natural, necessary trait of human relationships. The examples of non-sexual couples are myriad, and they should not be excluded from studies and discussions about the human state in terms of meaningful, emotional issues like jealousy.
Many couples will claim that a little bit of jealousy is desirable, because it shows that the jealous partner truly cares and wants to be with the other. Extreme jealousy can lead to controlling behaviour which very quickly crosses into the territory of emotional abuse . Jealousy is closely linked with anger and can incited inclined individuals into violent and aggressive behaviour . Similarly, it can cause serious trust issues on both sides of the relationship . Generally, the partner who is not jealous will more often suffer most at the hands of a jealous partner . Jealous thoughts can fester and become more and more convincing if not addressed, leading to farfetched assumptions and harmful speculations .. Additionally, in therapy couples have complained that if their partner is not jealous enough, because they feel like they do not truly care for them . It has also been considered that jealousy is a natural trait designed to help people to realise their feelings for others. Despite these things, jealousy can quickly turn into a morbid problem, causing serious rifts in otherwise healthy relationships
The conclusion that can be drawn from the above discussions is that there are not set reasons for sexual jealousy in relationships. When we consider relationships that do not involve sexual activity or that cannot involve reproduction, we lose any grounds for an evolutionary theory of sexual jealousy. One then needs to consider that sexual jealousy is a product of a society that commodifies and places prejudiced emphases on sex and sexuality. When sex is seen as a very human activity separate from - but not necessarily exclusive of - love and emotion, then it can be seen that sexual jealousy can certainly be managed and contained. This is not to say that polygamy or sexual openness should universally replace monogamy, but that people should feel more free to talk about and explore the potentials of this very human topic. Polygamous, asexual, elderly and otherwise non-reproducing couples should not be erased from common knowledge and psychological discussions of human relationships. Humanity is broad and colourful, with infinite combinations of social, emotional and sexual capabilities within relationships, and these deserve exploration.
- Open Marriage
- Keeping a Sexually-Open Marriage Intact
- Margaret Cho on 'Emotional Monogamy'
- Types of Marriage
- Life in an Open Marriage
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