A Bro Asks:

On a number of occasions now I’ve had female friends request special dispensation from their boyfriends to casually hook up with other ladyfriends. And in every telling of these arrangements it’s been said that “[S.O.] let’s me have sex with other women and it’s OK because it’s just other women” or, alternatively, “Ughhhh [S.O.] won’t let me have sex with other women, even though I tried telling him it would only be with other women!”
Now, as someone who has never made any such request of anyone he’s ever dated (despite being himself known to proverbially switch-hit from time to time in the proverbial sexual batter’s box), this all seems pretty bizarre!

I mean, am I wrong in having always thought our unease when it comes to infidelity in monogamous relationships is twofold? That’s it’s both emotional and sexual? Even if we’re sure there’s no emotional betrayal taking place (even though that seems, frankly, like an impossible conclusion to reach in any romance when something’s happening on the side) isn’t it still the case that it feels kinda grody when someone we’re doin’ it with is off doin’ it with someone else?

My confusion is only furthered by the fact that in my limited anecdotal experience it’s only ever gone one way (i.e. it’s been the lady asking to make out with other ladies and never vice versa). Now why do you suppose this is? And why is a limited-engagement same-sex partnership considered less taboo than its hetero alternative? And am I wrong in thinking all kinds of uncomfortable sexually normative biases may be at work here, both in the different moral judgments afforded hetero- versus non-hetero- pairings as well as in the fact that men don’t ask to be allowed to have sex with other men? Or do men actually ask this of their girlfriends and I’ve just never heard of it?

Our response:

Huh!

Well, I guess a lot of it comes down to homosexuality being treated really differently if it’s between men or women. If a man hooks up with a man, it’s considered a big deal. He is going to be considered gay by many people. Though, in some ways, that’s good, because people will actually take those relationships seriously, whereas as I think many lesbian pairings are, at least initially, dismissed.

Often, if a woman hooks up with a woman, it’s considered “a drunken night at a sorority party.” Or, more politely, “experimentation.” Frankly, women who say things like “it’s cool if I hook up with someone as long as it’s a girl, because that’s not actually cheating!” probably aren’t doing a lot to help people take lesbianism more seriously.

I think it’s also seen as more okay because so many men seem to fantasize about two women hooking up. And – this is just a totally speculative theory! – maybe that has to do with penetration. Think about it. When two men hook up, there are penises. There are places to penetrate. A woman doesn’t look at that situation and think “I can fill a necessary role here”. When two women hook up there are places to penetrate, but no penises. A man can look at that situation and think “My penis is necessary for that act to be complete.”

Now, obviously, real lesbians have got the penetration thing worked out just fine. Still, I think many men could see two women making out and think “they’re aroused, they need me to help them out.” That obviously wouldn’t be a thought they’d have if their girlfriend was hooking up with another man.

But that doesn’t really take into account the emotional issues that arise when you’re being physically intimate with someone. Or why these women want to look outside their relationship for something on the side to begin with. I’m sort of curious if the women in these situations feel fully satisfied by their partners on an emotional and/or physical level – because wanting to go hook up with other people, male or female, could be a sign that something is lacking in the relationship.

But mostly, yeah, I think that “all kinds of uncomfortable sexually-normative biases may be at work here.” That.