The Oxymoron of “Negotiated Infidelity”

CNN.com posted a story today about former sugarbaby Holly Hill’s perspective on men, sex & fidelity. She’s of the opinion that men are going to stray/cheat anyway, so women might as well make room for that. Or as she puts it, “It’s better to walk the dog on a leash than let it escape through an unseen hole in the back fence.”

Now, if that’s something that folks want to agree to, I have no problem with that. In fact, I generally think it’s a better option than sneaking around, since you can agree to boundaries that help you each feel comfortable and safe. The problem I have is with her phrase “negotiated infidelity.”

I understand that for many people, fidelity means sexual monogamy and cheating means having sex with someone other than your partner. But I think this is an overly limited view and that “negotiated infidelity” is an impossibility.

The root of the word fidelity is faithfulness and adherence. As in, how well do to stick to your agreements? If you have an agreement and you abide by it, you’re being faithful. If you don’t, you aren’t. If your agreement is to not have other sexual partners, if your agreement is to only have sex with other folks in certain circumstances, if your agreement is to introduce your prospective partners to your primary, as long as you abide by that, you’re not cheating. While this may seem like nothing more than a semantic difference, finding the language to talk about sex is difficult enough without muddying the waters with oxymoronic phrases.

Granted, within a hegemonic culture that says that fidelity equals monogamy, I can understand the confusion. But calling consensual non-monogamy “negotiated infidelity” only reinforces the rule of monogamy. I’d much rather step out of that cycle and create new rules. We get to create the rules for each of our relationships and as long as they serve us, it’s nobody else’s business. After all, what makes more sense- only using your hands in basketball or never using your hands in soccer? The rules define the game, just as the rules define the relationship.

Since the CNN piece says that Hill is of the opinion that an open relationship “has no rules,” I’m not surprised that she’s confused about what these terms mean. I know a lot of people in many different types of open relationships and they all have some rules.

So rather than taking Hill’s advice on non-monogamy, I strongly suggest looking through Opening Up. It has much more useful information on the topic. And there aren’t any oxymorons in there, either.

Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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