We do this thing that drives me nuts.
We equate sex with love.
Now I know, I know, you’ve heard that before- you remember your sixth grade health teacher telling you that sex and love weren’t the same thing. You know that putting out doesn’t make someone love you- and hopefully, you also know that it’s not a way to get people to like you, and it sure as hell isn’t a way to get someone’s respect.
That said, we still desperately want the two to go together. I know this, because cheating destroys marriages, and because I still have girlfriends calling me up, saying, “I loved him so much, and I slept with him, and he broke my heart, and if I had known, I never would have slept with him” and I have my brother telling me that he feels like a terrible person- in his words, that he’s broken- because after his marriage ended (one that he was faithful in), he finds that he’s attracted to a lot of different women.
And, dear lord, if I hear some idiot say, “If a man cheats, it’s because he’s a man, but if a woman cheats, it’s because there’s something really wrong with the relationship,” again, my head will blow up like one of those kids from the Gushers commercials in the 90s (I also find it important to point out that it is mostly women who have said this to me- and we think men are the ones saying things that hold us back as a gender).
It is time that this stops. It is absolutely time for us to get these two concepts- sex and love- untangled.
I will preface the rest of this post by giving credit to Dan Savage- a gay rights activist (come to think of it, a human rights activist), a sex and relationship columnist/author/podcaster, and a pretty funny and insightful guy- for opening up this train of thought and research to me. If you’re not familiar, get familiar.
The reason I decided to write this post (which, quite frankly, surprised even me considering everything else that’s going on in my life right now) is that a few months ago, I found out that someone I knew loosely had “had an affair” with someone outside of her marriage, and the person I found all this out from had been extremely quick to pass judgment and fault onto the woman. Meanwhile, I found out that this woman’s husband was actively defending her, trying to get her friends to believe that she still deserved love and respect, and, as far as I could tell (on facebook, because I stalked), was extremely respectful of her. Interestingly, though, it seemed to me the woman could not stand to forgive herself. You could see from her posts on facebook that she had regrets- that she, in her eyes, had done the unthinkable.
It’s not unthinkable. It’s human nature.
I am going to tell you something that you will not like. Several things, in fact. I am going to tell you that cheating does not make someone a terrible partner. I am going to tell you that you (and what you believe) are the problem. That the way you think is what makes it so hard for people to stay together. That it’s not a big deal. Because it isn’t. And I’m going to tell you all of this in a way that will seem remarkably simple and easy to argue with. But you won’t be able to. Not effectively, at least.
Scenario 1: Choose one friend for the rest of your life. One person to hang out with, tell personal problems to, go out to eat with, get presents for and from, text, etc.
Scenario 2: Choose one food to eat the rest of your life. Hell, I’ll make it easier. Choose one restaurant. Every meal, all day, every day.
Scenario 3: Choose one outfit to wear the rest of your life.
See where I’m going with this? Yes? Mad at how simplistic I am making the complex and emotional issue of fidelity? Yes? Good. You should be mad. At yourself.
Sex is not love, dummy.
Sex is sex.
Sex is a biological function. Made for two purposes, and serving two end goals: pleasure and babies. You may think that’s vulgar- my mother certainly would- but let’s face it- our bodies were designed- our genitalia were designed- SPECIFICALLY FOR PLEASURE. Now, this may have been our bodies’ way of tricking us so that we’d see a benefit in reproducing (yay, bodies, and yay, birth control), but we can’t deny that that’s what it’s there for.
Part of that sexual pleasure is the excitement and adrenaline that comes from your partner- so, what happens when that feeling starts to go (ask your parents, your grandparents even, if they still feel the same sexual attraction they did in their twenties)? Well, if you’re anything like the everybody I’ve ever met, you chalk it up to “not being in love” with that person anymore.
Connecting the dots yet?
So… we say we understand that sex is not love… and then we break up with people who don’t make us feel all tingly down south because we must not be in love with them anymore. Or, someone cheats on us and we break things off because they’ve ruined the relationship. They must not love us if they want to have sex with someone else.
YOU ARE GIVING YOUR GENITALIA WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY TOO MUCH POWER.
Yes, sex is important. Yes, sexual chemistry can enhance a relationship. Yes, sexual monogamy can reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections. But sex does not make a relationship. And monogamy does not guarantee the success of a relationship.
Compassion, genuine fondness of a person, and care for their well-being do. Those things make the foundation of a strong partnership. It’s called companionate relationship. THAT is the important stuff. Sex can enhance that, but it won’t make it appear where it wasn’t.
So why, then, if sex doesn’t make the relationship, do we let sex break the relationship?
Open the doors. Have a conversation. Understand that you- and your partner, and all of your future partners- are human. We like sex. We are biologically designed to want to spread our seed everywhere- with everyone- on everyone. And yes, it may be hard to acknowledge that your partner is designed to want to have sex with other people, but you HAVE to get used to that. You HAVE to.
Now that I’ve given you a free pass to embrace your sexuality, let’s be realistic. Yes, I’m telling you that it’s normal and natural to want to do a lot of people. But what this is not is a free pass to go cheat on your partner. What this is is encouragement for you to set realistic expectations for your relationship. A tool for you to use to start the conversation with your partner(s) about your concept of fidelity and love. And, most importantly, I want this to be encouragement to BE HONEST WITH YOUR PARTNER ABOUT YOUR SEXUAL REALITIES AND NEEDS BEFORE YOU COMMIT TO SOMETHING OF WHICH YOU ARE NOT CAPABLE. Don’t see yourself being able to be sexually monogamous? Don’t tell your partner that you can be. It’s that simple. And if they can’t handle the fact that you like porn? Or want to have a threesome? Or are bi-curious? Or would like to entertain the thought of an open relationship? THEN THEY AREN’T A SEXUAL MATCH, and planning on a sexually exclusive relationship will not bring good things.
So, yes, it hurts when someone cheats on you and you find out about it, but what should actually hurt about it is the commitment they made that was broken. They agreed to do something and didn’t follow through on it. That’s what stings. So handle it from that perspective- we agreed to something, you didn’t follow through, so let’s talk about expectation, honesty, and how to fix this is the future. But let’s not make the sex part bigger than it is. It’s a bodily function. One that’s natural and lovely and diverse. And our refusal to acknowledge that is tearing our relationships apart. Not infidelity. Now, if the other stuff is not there- compassion, friendship, real love- then, you need to start thinking about splitting ways.
Sometimes, I get sick of French fries (should that be capitalized?). But I still love them. You just can’t sustain a diet on all fries. It doesn’t work that way. It’s unrealistic. And if you did, it would be unhealthy.
So, if see Jake “liking” some pretty girl’s facebook picture, yes, my first reaction is going to be one of insane jealousy, and hurt, and genuine crazy-girl rage. But what we have to do, once that internal battle happens, is tell ourselves that our relationship is more than sex. That my value to Jake is more than a piece of ass. That by saying to myself, “If Jake likes so and so’s picture, he clearly doesn’t love me, and doesn’t want to be with me anymore,” I am doing myself the disservice of making my value to him nothing more than a breathing sex toy. That this man respects me and honors me in many ways, and that by asking him to shut off a part of him that comes naturally (as it does for me), I am tightening the lid on the bottle of soda and fucking shaking it up.
Dan Savage has a really good philosophy on all of this: keep the door open, just a little bit, because otherwise, the door will blow off the hinges.
This is not a pass to be an asshole. This is permission to be okay with your sexuality. To forgive yourself for wanting someone else besides your partner. And, most importantly, it’s me telling you that if you find out that someone else is dealing with “cheating” in their relationship, or someone else handles their sexuality differently from this failing norm of strict monogamy that we’ve all adhered so closely to, just shut up about it. Seriously. Shut up. It’s none of your business, and if you think that you, or your partner, or you both won’t be dealing with exactly the same circumstances sooner or later, you’re in for a nasty shock, my friend.
So let’s stop judging love by the success and singularity of our sex lives. Instead, let’s focus on companionship, respect for ideas, and plain old liking the person we love. That, friends, is what we do have control over.