The Future Of Promiscuity

Ambers wonders about it:

Will promiscuity define young gays forever? I don't think so. But I also think that society will become more tolerant of what might be called dignified promiscuity: open relationships and marriages, where the negative externalities of promiscuity are dealt with at their source, and where safe sex is respected, even within an ethic that allows for a more interesting sex life. I'd guess that straights will become more promiscuous and gays will become less promiscuous, and some middle ground will be carved out.

That phrase "dignified promiscuity" is a beaut, but maybe a little de trop. What we're really talking about is more like "humane discretion" – along the kind of lines outlined by Jon Rauch in this brilliant essay on the "Hidden Law". This has long worked for heterosexual marriages, because it works for human beings. But I've also long argued that marriages between two men, two women or one man and a woman are inherently different in nature, because of the power of gender. They require different strategies to sustain themselves.

To wit: Lesbian marriages can become suffocating if not tended to; heterosexual marriages can become gulfs of misunderstanding when it comes to the two genders; gay male marriages may require some Weddingaislediscreet adjustments as time goes by in order to keep the union alive and healthy. I don't think the government should be peering into any of this – because the human mess behind the civil veneer is for those in it to understand and grapple with, and no one else. But the external model of life-long commitment to one another may be more durable if different dynamics are allowed to play out in different permutations. People will figure this out. In private. If we leave them alone.

As for the broader cultural impact, I think there's little doubt which group will be most influenced by which. Gay people, almost entirely brought up in straight households, will increasingly see their potential marriages as no different than their siblings' and peers'. And the cultural power of 95 percent of marriages over the 5 percent is much greater than the other way round. So chill. Let this social shift take its time. I'd add only one more thing: we really need a dialogue within the gay community of how better to support, celebrate and include married couples. Marriage is hard. We need to talk more about how to stay together, avoid the pitfalls of marriage and its high rate of divorce in the past, and air the unique issues a gay male couple and a lesbian couple inevitably face.

We are pioneers; and we need to discuss more clearly how to keep our marriages secure and safe and durable. That isn't political work; it's personal and social work. We're at the dawn of this new era, which is why the success of actual, durable marriages – in providing mutual security, fidelity and responsibility for life – is so important. Maybe we gays can lead the way in resuscitating this vital social institution for the 21st Century.

Maybe we already have.