Home Quick Thoughts + Shares Commitment Style: The 5th Dimension of Human Sexuality

I am a liberal parent.  I raised a daughter who is bi and poly.  So began Dan Savages’ column in The Stranger this week.

Slowly a new realization is slipping into our discussions of human sexuality –  not only do human beings vary in their gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation, as the Genderbread Person teaches us, they also differ in the extent to which they are exclusive with their romantic partners.

I’ve updated the (awesome! amazing!) Genderbread Person, created by Sam Killermann, to show this new dimension.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 12.03.17 PM

Since the Genderbread Person identifies three key points on each continuum, I’ve chosen casual to denote no commitment and possible multiple partners, polyamorous to  denote commitment to multiple partners, and monogamous to denote commitment to a single partner.  Between poly and monogamous I’d also put open relationship and monogamish.  Like the daughter above, who is both bi and poly, a person can have any combination of traits.  They could be trans, androgynous,  and monogamous or heterosexual, feminine,  and polyamourous.

Though a person on the left of the scale is able to have multiple partners in a way that a person on the right is not, having casual commitment does not necessitate multiple partners.  For example, a person who is serially monogamous could have six sexual partners in a year, each in a committed monogamous relationship,  and a casual person could go on a dozen dates but only sleep with two people.  It is likewise possible to have one commitment orientation and express another.  For example, one could prefer multiple partners but choose to live monogamously.

Commitment style, like the other dimensions of human sexuality should be agreed upon and understood by both/all partners.  A mismatch in commitment style can bring great unhappiness.  For example, a partner who believes he/she is in a monogamous relationship, but whose partner secretly has sex with others – that’s on the scale and that’s just cheating.  Likewise polygamous relationships, in which each wife is monogamous but the husband has multiple committed sexual partners can be the result of a power disparity between the sexes.

The variation in commitment style isn’t good or bad, like all the other dimensions it just is.  Better to acknowledge it, talk about it, think about your own orientation and find someone who is a good match.

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5 replies to this post
  1. This does not compute. Casual, Poly and Monogamous are not commitment styles that can be put on a scale. They are just categories.

  2. Yes, they are categories. I’m arguing that they’re ordinal categories along two dimensions: amount of exclusivity and potential number of partners. I think it’s a fairly reasonable argument.

  3. I see the computational issue. Your graph is 1-dimensional. Representation of your argument requires a 2-dimensional graph.

  4. The heterosexual-homosexual scale gets very confusing if not the previous three are clearly defined. I would much rather use androphiliac and gynephiliac denoting preference for males or females. With ambiphilia in the middle.
    Technically also 2 dimensional since we also have asexuality, i.e. level of sexuality, but it is not as important.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Androphilia_and_gynephilia

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