Relationship norms and the issues surrounding them

You’re new here—or maybe you’re not. But whether we’re sexually inexperienced or skilled, it can be difficult to feel safe talking about and living the relationships that appeal to us. The pull to a conventional, monogamous relationship may be strong for some, but less validated are those who want to explore their sexuality with more than one person. Too often, violent stigma and the threat of being marginalized play roles in shaping our sexual and relationship decisions, especially if one identifies as a woman, non-binary, and/or LGBTQ. When already in an established relationship, many feel that it’s an unnecessary risk to broach the subject of monogamy or lack thereof. These conversations can still happen and even become more normative as a result.

“In an ideal world, people interested in discussing the structure of their relationships would just present themselves from day one as like, ‘Here’s what I want,’” said Lisa Dawn Hamilton, associate professor at Mount Allison and current head of the women’s and gender studies department.

So why is non-monogamy so stigmatized? Established understandings of sexuality are typically formed through the lens of sexual power structures; in a world dominated by heterosexual cisgender men, it’s no surprise that this leads to a narrow scope of sexual scripts, which can be described as the accepted norms through which men and women interact with one another.

“We have this social script of: You’re supposed to grow up, find the person you love, get married, have babies. There is this idea of what is supposed to happen, and any sense of deviation from that can feel uncomfortable,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton also said she believes the reason that we have difficulty having conversations about monogamy is because they challenge normal assumptions of what a relationship should be. She said this can still include when you want to discuss asserting the norm of monogamy.

Under heteronormative and often-dominant scripts, women are often discouraged from discussing their sexual preferences.

Toxic societal notions, especially those which say women “should be chased, and not [enjoy] sex,” can also dissuade people from having mutual and respectful conversations in which individuals can articulate sexual preferences, said Hamilton.

Hamilton said that the discussion of monogamy, and any other way relationships work, can often be easier for people in LGBTQ relationships.

“The research comparing gay men and straight couples [shows that] gay men have almost all […] talked about [monogamy],” whereas straight people rarely do, said Hamilton.

While most of us would say we support freedom of expression and condemn the subjugation of others, it’s easy to adhere to deterministic sexual hierarchies that restrict and punish individuals for the benefit of others. These deterministic hierarchies can be described as the way in which society attempts to tell women what they should do with their bodies.”

Why do we engage in these subjugations of the female body? Hamilton said that it is because these norms provide simple rules which govern our place in the world which give legitimacy to male hetero-dominance and erase questions we would otherwise have to grapple with. “People like social order, and they like to know what to expect,” she said.

Hamilton also said the media shows people what heterosexual relationships “should” look like and helps categorize them as the norm because most of the relationships in media like television and movies are heterosexual.

Pornography additionally helps categorize the norms we see in sexual scripts. Additionally, mainstream corporatized pornography is often criticized for abusing and taking advantage of vulnerable women and creating content that places little to no value on female pleasure. It can also reinforce violent tropes that trivialize consent and remove for the viewer women’s control over their own sexuality. Hamilton provided an example of a way by which we should oppose the way culture treats women’s bodies through supporting ethical porn. Ethical porn can be characterized by non-exploitative practices, better benefits for those involved, and typically more genuine enjoyment on the part of those performing. Ethical porn is also far more often created by women.

Otherwise, confronting our internali-zations of sexual hierarchies requires us to delegitimize positions of social dominance as well as create space for women and LGBTQ people to determine what their own sexualities should look like.

“I would encourage everyone to figure out for themselves what they’re looking for in their relationships, and what they’re looking for in sex, and present that as early as possible,” said Hamilton. “The more people who do that, the more normative it would become to have those conversations.”

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