“Swans mate for life.” Heard that before? I’m sure someone reading this has. Just one problem – closer scientific observation has shown that it ain’t necessarily so. Some swans cheat, have open marriages, and even divorce.
Besides, we’re not swans. We’re not even in the same class. So why do some religious folks try to make human beings behave like water fowl?
The ideal of pure, lifelong monogamy has become so ingrained in our culture that it’s become almost meaningless. It is an example of what many theologians call “legalism” – an almost mechanical adherence to rules, forgetting the real end to be desired. That’s a core reason for the title of this month’s column. So often have we heard of “mindless promiscuity” that we forget that there’s also a lot of mindless monogamy going on. And that there are other options for sharing love and pleasure.
Rather than rules, let me challenge you with four core principles for sexual relationships, whether it’s a temporary hookup, a long-term ménage, or a life journey with a soulmate:
The first principle is honesty. This is often defined as “telling the truth,” but we all know that some truth-telling can be hurtful. I prefer to think of honesty as “respect for truth,” which takes into consideration the need to discern when and how one can share that truth with others.
The second is compassion. We often think of this as caring for another person, but it can also include care for oneself. Compassion calls for empathy, for understanding the needs of the one who receives care, whether it is listening to them, giving them space, or sharing space and sensation in lovemaking.
The third principle does not really have a simple word in English, and so I like to borrow from the Sanskrit: ahimsa. The best translation is “a striving towards non-injury,” both emotional and physical. Ahimsa is the foundation from which we can grow towards a fuller sense of well-being.
Now, a little aside here, for all my fellow kinksters. Yes, it would seem that some BDSM practices might fly in the face of this principle. How do you strive towards non-injury while doing erotic flogging and piercing? Well, the Vedic scholars discussed this in the light of other principles. Each person and living thing must follow their own rightful path, or dharma, according to their calling or purpose. Warriors have a rightful path of defending their land and people, doing so without malice towards their opponents, and without involving non-combatants. Doesn’t that some similar to the values embraced by the BDSM community? So yes, you can pick up that cane or violet wand with a spirit of ahimsa – what I would call “warrior ahimsa.”
Last but not least, there is enjoyment. Western cultures have tended to view sexual and sensual pleasure with distrust, so much so that H. L. Mencken famously defined puritans as people with the uneasy feeling that someone out there was enjoying themselves. But when I talk about enjoyment, I don’t just mean the passive receiving of joy and pleasure. I think we should also embrace an active sense of enjoyment, infusing joy and pleasure in all that we do.
Respect truth. Care for one another, including yourself. Strive towards non-injury. Bring joy to your lives. Whether you have only one partner or a thousand, whether it’s for a single moment for a lifetime, may you create and nurture the best relationships you possibly can. And never be afraid to ask for help along the way.