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Jakarta Post

In defense of open relationships

  • Sebastian Partogi


Jakarta   /   Sat, December 12, 2020   /   01:00 am
In defense of open relationships Illustration of groom and bride walking together. (Shutterstock/Halfpoint)

Sebastian Partogi





 Many people despise casual sex and open relationships, dsmissing these sexual consortiums as “filthy”, “dirty” and “narcissistic”, while privileging serial monogamy.


On a national level, we have seen a major backlash attempting to restore the privileges of the exclusive heterosexual partnership through the deliberation of the Criminal Code (KUHP) revision.


Both the KUHP revision and the family resilience bill primarily seek to persecute sexual activities among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, as well as cohabitation and premarital sex.


These are reactions to the global loosening of the conventional marriage models recognizing other types of sexual and/or romantic communions beyond heterosexual monogamy. Such a conservative backlash ensures that traditional heterosexual partnerships, corrupted by patriarchal norms, would remain protected under the cover of privilege and sacredness.


It also seeks to make sure that LGBT community members or people who have a vision of different, more egalitarian forms of sexual partnerships will still find their necks beneath the boots of the oppressors.


Having observed some close friends who practice the open-relationship model, however, I begin to question whether the configuration is as negative as people have thought, compared with the much more privileged exclusive heterosexual monogamy. I believe that as long as you and your partners have consensually agreed to conduct an open relationship and that both have the freedom to have some sexual adventures on the sidelines of the long-term relationship, open relationships could be as valid an option as monogamy.


The American writer Erica Jong notes in her 2015 essay “Why Europeans Don’t Care About Monogamy” that people are disillusioned by the fairytale-type fantasy of exclusive, romantic love, thanks to the kind of repression, oppression, violence and abuse that the “sanctity of marriage” often conceal within the folds of its sanctimony.


Long-time partnerships do not simply involve sex. There are a lot of lifelong partners who have already consummated their marriages for quite a long time and found out that their sexual intercourse has turned stale, albeit having already formed a very deep bond of friendship with one another.


Therefore, they often find someone new or have multiple boyfriends/girlfriends out there with whom they can still enjoy their sexuality and sensuality without ever having to abandon their lifelong partners.


Some lifelong partners who would still like to rekindle their sexual chemistry may find a “third party” to enjoy a threesome with, just to add enough novelty to their relationship so that they can regain their sexual spark once again.


Whatever it is, casual sex is not as dirty, coarse or rough as some might imagine in our somewhat infantile, religiously moralistic imagination about sexuality. Consensual casual sex encounters can also involve gentle, affectionate acts that can help you relieve some of your distress, tension and loneliness.


As mammals, we human beings actually rely heavily on touch and physical contact in order to feel safe and good. Furthermore, not all sexual activities need to bend toward procreation.


Evolution studies and cross-cultural anthropology indicate monogamy is not necessarily part of “human nature”. According to scientists from University College London, monogamy has only been the norm among humans for the past 1,000 years. Canadian scientists suggest that as the human population exploded, monogamy became more of the norm to also rein in the increasing levels of sexually transmitted infections. But again, as consenting adults, we can arm ourselves with the knowledge about how to perform these activities safely, can’t we?


To take a more leftist interpretation of monogamy, Friedrich Engels asserted in his seminal 1884 book The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State that hand-in-hand with the agricultural expansion, patriarchy hijacked monogamy as a locus of bondage for women to serve as reproduction machines to produce children, particularly boys. More boys meant more “manpower” to plough the fields, while the women handled domestic chores, according to Engels.


Stereotypically, a lot of people can find this kind of flexibility in approaching the nature of sexual relationships and/or marriage among gay couples. The fact that homosexual couples lack any institutional homes that can recognize traditional sorts of marriage turns out to have its advantages in terms of producing a more malleable concept of sexual relationships.


My homosexual friends usually tell me that their longtime partner has turned into a form of best friend for them, while both sides still open themselves to new experiences along the way. A growing number of heterosexual couples I know have also embraced this configuration.


A consensual open marriage can actually serve as a healthier, more equal alternative to monogamous relationships where partners are constantly cheating on each other, or women are often subjected to abuse by their husbands.


Open marriage is also better than the highly toxic polygamy whereby men can simply marry several other (much younger) women, resulting in a living hell where all the women suffer and the men control everything, devoid of any culpability for all the suffering he has caused. This toxic male privilege in polygamous relationships might be traced back to Engels’ idea of women as property in patriarchal heterosexual monogamy.


The key point is that in any kind of sexual partnership you must ensure that it is based on consensual agreement, mutual respect and equality.




The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.