When I was in New York last month, I sat down for a chat with a friend of a friend who’s a professor of Human Sexuality. Hunter Kincaid is an visiting lecturer at Hunter College and an adjunct professor at Pratt University, and we met up to muse over about how anal sex is like homeschooling, the ethics of asking consent before you cry on a first date, and how the future of heterosexual marriage is all about gay marriage.
Ariel: Ok, so have you read that Carrie Jenkins, What Love is and What it Could Be book yet? She’s a math philosopher being like, “Let’s think critically about love, which is this squishy, weird thing.” It seems like there’s a growing language around this kind of stuff in the mainstream American dialog.
Hunter: I think so. Scientifically, we’ve had the language for a long time, mostly like animal behavior and evolutionary psyche, but nowadays, people just know what to talk about. I think that changes it a little bit because if the only language you had before to talk about is cheating or sluts, then all of a sudden you have polyamory, open marriage, monogamish, all sorts of things.
It allows you to define very specifically what you want and to feel like you’re defining yourself out of those other groups that get the negative vibe or the thing that you don’t want to be construed as.
Ariel: Ok, so one of the things in that Carrie Jenkins book, she talks about how part of the progress that’s happening with relationship structures is that women are no longer expected to have sex with their male partner and women do not need a male partner to financially support them. As a woman, you don’t need to do the trade-off of “you’ll pay my rent and you get to have sex with me whenever you want.”
…And that’s good! This is progress.
However, does it contribute to a place where since we don’t need each other in the traditional ways, so some people wonder “why fucking bother?” How is that freedom going to affect the interdependencies that have historically brought people together? What brings people together if the coercive fucked up shit isn’t there anymore?
Hunter: I think it’s likely to change a few things. First, marriages that are unhappy won’t last as long because people would feel more independence to leave on their own. That would especially be the case for women, in particular. Men have always had that fucking option.
But I think if we need to look at evidence, we can just look at relationships between gay men. You still see the same desire for intimacy. Nowadays, especially, you still see a lot of gay men wanting traditional monogamy and want to be together forever.
Ariel: So if you’re saying if we want to understand the future of heterosexual marriage, we need to look at gay men.
Hunter: Yeah. It could also explain the rise in polyamory and open relationships in heterosexual relationships. You’re looking at two people who have both been trained to have privilege and power, coming together and forming a relationship together as independent entities.
Ariel: This is blowing my mind.
Hunter: The first book on that was by Dr. Pepper Schwartz in 1983, wrote American Couples and her big finding was just that gay couples are no different than straight couples. I mean, just based on that early finding, then the closer that our privileges start to become, we can just start to compare things.
If you’re looking at what happens when you have two independent privileged partners in a relationship, look especially at white gay male relationships, and you start to figure out what it’s gonna look like.
Ariel: So that could mean polyamory.
Hunter: Over 50% would be non-monogamist to some extent. Monogamish or whatever it might be. So maybe all the rises and rates that we’re seeing are just what you see with a relationship with two partners that have more independence.
Also, sharing household duties. Queer couples are more likely to share burdens of the household. For instance, with a gay couple or lesbians that have a kid in school, the school can’t even unconsciously assume which parent to call when the kid is sick. You actually have to have that discussion with the parents, which is what we would like to see them do as straight couples, is not make that assumption. Again, if things get more equal, we’ll start to see it look like that too.
It’s weird how gay culture ends up becoming the marker… sometimes, you can see what heterosexuality’s gonna look like by looking at queer cultural trends.