On the surface, from the perspective of contemporary American culture, people who willingly live without sex are the very opposite of people who openly acknowledge having multiple sexual partners simultaneously. However, in practice, these two groups are united by the fact that they are not practicing mono relationships.
First of all, it is worth noting that there is an assumption that someone who has more than one sexual partner is having sex more often than someone who has only a single sexual partner. This is not necessarily true, in fact, I am not even sure there is much correlation between # of sexual partners and frequency of sexual activity (though obviously there is a correlation between having zero sexual partners and never having sex).
Ever since the United States was founded in the 18th century, (serial) monogamy has been the social norm for adults. Monogamous marriage is the only kind of marriage which is legally recognized, but even outside of married relationships, it is considered ‘normal’ to only have one socially recognized sexual partner at a time. People who deviate from monogamy – either by having zero sexual partners, or by having 2+ sexual partners simultaneously – are both deviating from this norm. They are especially deviating from it if a) their consider their lack of sexual partners to be desirable or b) they choose to treat their multiple sexual partners with respect, such as by engaging with all of them with honest communication rather than ‘cheating’ and trying to hide the relationship from the ‘primary’ partner.
From the inside perspective of people who reject having a single sexual partner – either by not having any sexual partners, or by having multiple sexual partners – there is a natural alliance based on facing the same social stigma of being non-mono. That said, as in any alliance between different groups of people, there have always been internal conflicts, but that is beyond the scope of this series of blog posts.
Even though the outside perspective often pegs the people with no sexual partners as ‘not being sexual enough’ and people with multiple sexual partners as being ‘too sexual’, outsiders paradoxically also often conflate the two groups, by shaming the people without any sexual partners as being too sexual (huh?) and the people who have multiple sexual partners as not being sexual enough (huh? again). That is because outsiders also understand that both groups are rejecting monogamy, and have a bunch of claims they make of non-monogamists in general, regardless of whether they are intensely theist anti-sex celibate non-monogamists or godless ‘sex-positive’ polyamorists.
It is also important to consider the context of choosing between a mono and a non-mono lifestyle – in particular, social status of women, private ownership of property vs. communal ownership, religion (or lack thereof), and social class.
In the next post of this series, I will focus on people in the United States who chose a non-mono lifestyle in the 19th century, including groups such as the Shakers (theist, celibate), the Church of Latter Day Saints (theist, poly), the Owenites (atheist-friendly secular, poly), the Perfectionists (theist, poly), and the Associationists (atheist-friendly secular, poly).