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Why you should (and shouldn't) be monogamous
Why should you only have sex with the person you are in a relationship with?
Why should you only have sex with the person you are in a relationship with?
After all, there exist many successful relationships involving people having passionate interactions, of whatever kind, with people other than their primary partner. This is done with their primary partner’s knowledge and consent and, presumably, consenting to their primary partner doing the same.
Whatever name we use - polyamory, ethical or consensual nonmonogamy – it is important to recognise such relationships exist, are fulfilling and successful.
Many assume that a relationship can only exist if it is monogamous: in the sense that you can only have sexual relations with one person, with whom you probably share a deeply personal relationship. But these assumptions should be questioned.
As with any idea, thinking carefully about why we accept (or don’t accept) monogamy has important advantages for us: either we strengthen our view regarding the idea, in this case monogamy, or we realise it is found wanting. In this latter sense, we can replace, discard or improve on the original idea.
Trust is essential to relationships. Many will say that by being with other people, you are breaking that trust.
However, that misses the point entirely.
Betrayal and dishonesty is precisely what a mutual, consensual nonmonogamous relationship can look like and is based on; such relationships precisely attempt to avoid and undermine betrayal and dishonesty. By being open about your sexual needs, you can articulate what those needs are to your partner, improving your life, your partner’s life and, therefore, your relationship. Bjarne Holmes, a Champlain College psychologist conducting research on nonmonogamy, told LiveScience:
"People in these relationships really communicate. They communicate to death [...] They're talking a lot, they're negotiating a lot, they're bringing their feelings to the table a lot."
Early research has indicated there is consistent openness and honesty displayed in consensually nonmonogamous couples – but this seems obvious by definition. These properties, after all, are not only moral but necessary properties for an ethical nonmonogamy to function at all.
Being nonmonogamous without your partner’s consent isn’t ethical, it’s betrayal. Betrayal, secret affairs and so on, defeats the point of being nonmonogamous. Consistent openness and honesty is what makes nonmonogamy function and exist.
Notice that openness and honesty is worthy of emulating and engaging, regardless of the relationship you have.
If you cannot be this open with the person you are in a long-term relationship with, who can you do it with? Sometimes, of course, it is because you are scared, because you are uncertain what your partner’s response will be.
Perhaps if your partner immediately discards, denies or dismisses your sexual or emotional needs, he is the not the person to be in a long-term relationship with.
Many couples break up entirely because one – or both partners – are sexually or emotionally unsatisfied. But this is a reason to explore different options with your significant other, not to dismiss the relationship entirely. Again, exploring nonmonogamous options must be done in an ethical manner – with openness and consent – not behind your partner’s back.
Being open to alternatives – other than breaking up entirely – should be important and can be discussed maturely, without the assumption that the other person is “overly” sexual, “a whore”, untrustworthy, and so on.
Even if the conclusion doesn’t result in nonmonogamy, it seems an important test of a relationship to be able to discuss openly your needs.
Another legitimate worry is being betrayed or “losing” your partner to someone else.
But notice that this is a danger even for monogamous relationships.
If a purely monogamous relationship “demands” only the one sexual relationship, there is probably a higher chance of betrayal and secrecy. This makes sense since you cannot communicate to your partner that you wish to be with other people (while still remaining with her).
In this case, the only way to satisfy your need is to be secretive about it.
Furthermore, the inability to communicate or be more honest with your partner is a good indication of whether that relationship will be successful.
Again: even you both reach the conclusion that seeing other people won’t work, at least you’ve discussed it maturely and can propose alternative solutions.
It’s unfortunate and it ought not to be happen, but people do abandon relationships entirely because of not being sexually or emotionally fulfilled. The possibility of seeing others hasn’t even entered the conversation; or if it has, not without knee-jerk responses and harsh exchanges. This means instead of finding a solution, couples opt for immediate disengagement.
An ethical nonmonogamy is premised on honesty and understanding, meaning that it should undermine secrecy, betrayal and withholding of sexual longing for others. Honesty in the sense that you convey what your sexual wants are; understanding in the sense that it is possible to have sexual relationships with other people without betraying your partner.
This is possible, even if it is difficult for many people to both do and accept.
Sex and meaning
Many people give sex a lot more power or meaning than perhaps it should have, which leads often to irrationality. This is clear from the way people react to homosexuality, sex work, antinatalism (not having children), paedophilia, pornography, incest, and so on. All these topics are often discussed with knee-jerk reactions from all quarters - not just conservative religious people.
But: Why should consensual adult sex have any more meaning than what you and your sexual partner(s) want?
True, we often can’t help our feelings, especially in romantic or sexual endeavours: A relationship based initially on sex can develop into something else, just as friendships can develop into sexual partnerships (often concluding in monogamous relationships).
The point, though, is that there is nothing significantly different about being sexually active with other people as well as a primary partner; since, like any relationship, what we want from these might not end up happening. That is not a reason to err on the side of absolute avoidance, however.
For example, we could end up falling in love with friends and be forced to end the friendship because the feelings are not reciprocated. But just because friendships have the potential to be something more – when one or both do not wish it to happen – doesn’t mean we negate all friendships:
We learn, adjust, grow.
Honesty about relationship status
Similarly, we can maintain healthy, almost purely sexual relations with other people without either developing deeper emotional connections or breaking up with our primary partners.
This isn’t a slight against anyone involved, as long as honesty and openness is maintained. There should be no illusions about what primary partners and their individual sexual partners want. The sexual partner must be made aware of the limits of the relationship, just as the primary partner is.
Just because you as a couple are nonmonogamous is no reason to emotionally disregard other sexual partners and their expectations. Here again we see the problem is betrayal or dishonesty, not nonmonogamy: not letting the person know exactly where the relationship stands and what you want from it is consistently problematic. Being made aware allows the other person to opt in or out, knowing that – for example – he is not going to be anything more than a sex partner.
Again: this is not a reason to disregard nonmonogamy. Making people aware of what you want from a relationship is essential to all sexual interactions. If you’re a single individual, making others think their relationship to you is more meaningful than just sexual encounters is still probably wrong.
Many people when first encountering nonmonogamy wonder at how such couples don’t die of jealousy.
Of course, jealousy isn’t an argument: It’s merely a feeling. However, it is worth considering, since long term relationships – whether monogamous or nonmonogamous - are premised on making individual lives better through emotional commitment of whatever kind. This means, even though jealousy isn’t a rational, justified “argument”, its occurrence is worth considering since we do not wish to harm our partner.
We can question its occurring; we can provide evidence that worries about, say, betrayal are unfounded, and so on. But jealousy should probably never itself be a reason to act one way or another.
Consider for example how nonmonogamous people react to actions which often drive people to great heights of jealousy.
As that LiveScience article indicates, many nonmonogamous individuals’ reactions to their partner finding sexual fulfilment with others is completely the opposite of monogamous’: Nonmonogamous individuals are glad, elated, happy to see their partner meet and enjoy the company, passion, or whatever of someone else.
This is because, as a partner, they recognise their own limits to what they can provide and can share the joy of their partner being happy, as they would with anything else he achieved or accomplished.
We do not rule over the minds or desires of others: We can attempt to meet these, but they are not locked to us. Monogamy which expects complete sexual or emotional linking might be not only impossible, but immoral: Why can’t we have multiple individuals meeting us in our multiple desires?
The worry here is that the partner will leave us – but, again, this worry is not special to only nonmonogamy. Furthermore, being open to this kind of discussion can help prevent betrayal and acts of dishonesty from happening at all.
Is monogamy wrong?
Being nonmonogamous is not about being better or worse than monogamous couples: it’s about what works for you as individuals and as a couple. For example, it would be wrong for you to have multiple partners beyond your primary partner without her consent or approval. Again, this would be unethical nonmonogamy and therefore betrayal.
Notice, too, the problem isn’t monogamy or nonmonogamy but betrayal which an ethical nonmonogamy is undermining.
The point isn’t the label of one’s relationship. What matters is that the relationship has a foundation of honesty; that openness is consistent and on-going. Whether this results in monogamy or nonmonogamy is irrelevant since how you arrive there matters more: You might switch between monogamy and nonmonogamy. You might want other partners purely for sex, or yearn for lots of deep, emotional romantic relationships.
Whatever it is, your needs should be discussed with your partner, without the danger of him reacting irrationally and harshly.
What we should begin insisting and establishing is that we have a hold on sex and romance, not the other way round; that sex has as much power as we want to give it, not an ineffable measure it gives us. This doesn’t undermine that sex can be powerful, that sex does come with measures of caution. But these, also, can be controlled.
What concerns me is our inability to communicate honestly with the very people in our lives we should be able to; that people who enjoy sex with lots of people are somehow bad as opposed to merely honest with themselves; that couples still hinge their relationships on irrational jealousy, to the point where partners are in an emotional burka of not being able to even look at attractive people, without their partner’s irrational scorn.
We are not rulers of a little emotional fiefdom, with only one loyal subject: we are partners on a journey which is unknown and dark and terrifying. This means we should be more open, more accepting of what we discover when we shine a light on our partner’s yearning, since often we can barely make sense of our own. We’re beyond static, hard-and-fast labels: We should be grown up enough as people, as a species, to see that monogamy is not the only way to conduct a relationship and there exist viable alternatives.
Image Credit: ARTSILENSE / Shutterstock
Scientists used CT scanning and 3D-printing technology to re-create the voice of Nesyamun, an ancient Egyptian priest.
- Scientists printed a 3D replica of the vocal tract of Nesyamun, an Egyptian priest whose mummified corpse has been on display in the UK for two centuries.
- With the help of an electronic device, the reproduced voice is able to "speak" a vowel noise.
- The team behind the "Voices of the Past" project suggest reproducing ancient voices could make museum experiences more dynamic.
Scientists have reproduced the voice of an ancient Egyptian priest by creating a 3D-printed replica of his mummified vocal tract.
An international and interdisciplinary team, led by David Howard, a professor of electronic engineering at Royal Holloway, used computed tomography (CT) scanning technology to measure the dimensions of the vocal tract of Nesyamun, a mummy that's spent about two centuries on display at Leeds City Museum in the United Kingdom.
The team then used those measurements to 3D-print an artificial vocal tract, through which they produced sounds using a peculiar electronic device called the Vocal Tract Organ. (You can check it out here.)
"The Vocal Tract Organ, a first in its own right, provided the inspiration for doing this," Howard told CNET.
Nesyamun, whose priestly duties included chanting and singing the daily liturgy, can once again "speak" — at least, in the form of a vowel noise that sounds something like a cross between the English pronunciation of the vowels in "bed" and "bad."
Of course, the new "voice" of Nesyamun is an approximation, and given the lack of actual recordings of his voice, and the degeneration of his body over millennia, it's impossible to know just how accurate it is. But the researchers suggested that their "Voice from the Past" project offers a chance for people to "engage with the past in completely new and innovative ways."
Howard et al.
"While this approach has wide implications for heritage management/museum display, its relevance conforms exactly to the ancient Egyptians' fundamental belief that 'to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again'," they wrote in a paper published in Nature Scientific Reports. "Given Nesyamun's stated desire to have his voice heard in the afterlife in order to live forever, the fulfilment of his beliefs through the synthesis of his vocal function allows us to make direct contact with ancient Egypt by listening to a sound from a vocal tract that has not been heard for over 3000 years, preserved through mummification and now restored through this new technique."
Connecting modern people with history
It's not the first time scientists have "re-created" an ancient human's voice. In 2016, for example, Italian researchers used software to reconstruct the voice of Ötzi, an iceman who was discovered in 1991 and is thought to have died more than 5,000 years ago. But the "Voices of the Past" project is different, the researchers note, because Nesyamun's mummified corpse is especially well preserved.
"It was particularly suited, given its age and preservation [of its soft tissues], which is unusual," Howard told Live Science.
As to whether Nesyamun's reconstructed voice will ever be able to speak complete sentences, Howard told The Associated Press, that it's "something that is being worked on, so it will be possible one day."
John Schofield, an archaeologist at the University of York, said that reproducing voices from history can make museum experiences "more multidimensional."
"There is nothing more personal than someone's voice," he told The Associated Press. "So we think that hearing a voice from so long ago will be an unforgettable experience, making heritage places like Karnak, Nesyamun's temple, come alive."
Ancient corridors below the French capital have served as its ossuary, playground, brewery, and perhaps soon, air conditioning.
- People have been digging up limestone and gypsum from below Paris since Roman times.
- They left behind a vast network of corridors and galleries, since reused for many purposes — most famously, the Catacombs.
- Soon, the ancient labyrinth may find a new lease of life, providing a sustainable form of air conditioning.
Ancient mining areas below Paris for limestone (red) and gypsum (green).Credit: Émile Gérards (1859–1920) / Public domain
"If you're brave enough to try, you might be able to catch a train from UnLondon to Parisn't, or No York, or Helsunki, or Lost Angeles, or Sans Francisco, or Hong Gone, or Romeless."
China Miéville's fantasy novel Un Lun Dun is set in an eerie mirror version of London. In it, he hints that other cities have similar doubles. On the list that he offhandedly rattles off, Paris stands out. Because the City of Light really does have a twisted sister. Below Paris Overground is Paris Underground, the City of Darkness.
Most people will have heard of the Catacombs of Paris: subterranean charnel houses for the bones of around six million dead Parisians. They are one of the French capital's most famous tourist attractions – and undoubtedly its grisliest.
But they constitute only a small fragment of what the locals themselves call les carrières de Paris ("the mines of Paris"), a collection of tunnels and galleries up to 300 km (185 miles) long, most of which are off-limits to the public, yet eagerly explored by so-called cataphiles.
The Grand Réseau Sud ("Great Southern Network") takes up around 200 km beneath the 5th, 6th, 14th, and 15th arrondissements (administrative districts), all south of the river Seine. Smaller networks run beneath the 12th, 13th, and 16th arrondissements. How did they get there?
Paris stone and plaster of Paris
It all starts with geology. Sediments left behind by ancient seas created large deposits of limestone in the south of the city, mostly south of the Seine; and gypsum in the north, particularly in the hills of Montmartre and Ménilmontant. Highly sought after as building materials, both have been mined since Roman times.
The limestone is also known as Lutetian limestone (Lutetia is the Latin name for ancient Paris) or simply "Paris stone." It has been used for many famous Paris landmarks, including the Louvre and the grand buildings erected during Georges-Eugène Haussmann's large-scale remodelling of the city in the mid-19th century. The stone's warm, yellowish color provides visual unity and a bright elegance to the city.
The fine-powdered gypsum of northern Paris, used for making quick-setting plaster, was so famed for its quality that "plaster of Paris" is still used as a term of distinction. However, as gypsum is very soluble in water, the underground cavities left by its extraction were extremely vulnerable to collapse.
Like living on top of a rotting tooth: subsidence starts far below the surface, but it can destroy your house.Credit : Delavanne Avocats
In previous centuries, a road would occasionally open up to swallow a chariot, or even a whole house would disappear down a sinkhole. In 1778, a catastrophic subsidence in Ménilmontant killed seven. That's why the Montmartre gypsum quarries were dynamited rather than just left as they were. The remaining gypsum caves were to be filled up with concrete.
The official body governing Paris down below is the Inspection Générale des Carrières (IGC), founded in the late 1770s by King Louis XVI. The IGC was tasked with mapping and, where needed, propping up the current and ancient (and sometimes forgotten) mining corridors and galleries hiding beneath Paris.
A delightful hiding place
Also around that time, the dead of Paris were getting in the way of the living. At the end of the 18th century, their final destination consisted of about 200 small cemeteries, scattered throughout the city — all bursting at the seams, so to speak. There was no room to bury the newly dead, and the previously departed were fouling up both the water and air around their respective churchyards.
Something radical had to happen. And it did. From 1785 until 1814, the smaller cemeteries were emptied of their bones, which were transported with full funerary pomp to their final resting place in the ancient limestone quarries at Tombe-Issoire. Three large and modern cemeteries were opened to receive the remains of subsequent generations of Parisians: Montparnasse, Père-Lachaise, and Passy.
The six million dead Parisians in the Catacombs, from all corners of the capital and across many centuries, together form the world's largest necropolis — their now anonymized skulls and bones methodically stacked, occasionally into whimsical patterns. The Catacombs are fashioned into a memorial to the brevity of life. The message above the entrance reads: Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la Mort. ("Halt! This is the empire of Death.")
That has not stopped the Catacombs, accessible via a side door to a classicist building on the Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, making just about every Top 20 list of things to see in Paris.
An underground economy
However, while the Catacombs certainly are the most famous part of the centuries-old network beneath Paris, and in non-pandemic times draw thousands of tourists each day, they constitute just 1.7 km (1 mile) of the 300-km (185-mile) tunneling total.
Subterranean Paris wasn't just used for mining and storing dead people. In the 17th century, Carthusian monks converted the ancient quarries under their monastery into distilleries for the green or yellow liqueur that still carries their name, chartreuse.
Because the mines generally keep a constant cool temperature of around 15° C (60° F), they were also ideal for brewing beer, as happened on a large scale from the end of the 17th century until well into the 20th century. Several caves were dug especially for establishing breweries, and not just because of the ambient temperature: going underground allowed brewers to remain close to their customers without having to pay a premium for real estate up top.
Overview of the Paris Catacombs.Credit: Inspection Générale des Carrières, 1857 / Public domain.
At the end of the 19th century, the underground breweries of the 14th arrondissement alone produced more than a million hectoliters (22 million gallons) per year. One of the most famous of Paris' underground breweries, Dumesnil, stayed in operation until the late 1960s.
In that decade, the network of corridors and galleries south of the Seine, long since abandoned by miners, became the unofficial playground for the young people of Paris. They explored the fantastical world beneath their feet, in some cases via entry points located in their very schools. Fascinated, these cataphiles ("catacomb lovers") read up on old books, explored the subterranean labyrinth, and drew up schematics that were passed around among fellow initiates as reverently as treasure maps.
As Robert Macfarlane writes in Underland, Paris-beneath-their-feet became "a place where people might slip into different identities, assume new ways of being and relating, become fluid and wild in ways that are constrained on the surface."
Some larger caves turned into notorious party zones: a 7-meter-tall gallery below the Val-de-Grâce hospital is widely known as "Salle Z." Over the last few decades, various other locations in subterranean Paris have hosted jazz and rock concerts and rave parties — like no other city, Paris really has an "underground music scene."
Hokusai's Great Wave as the backdrop to the "beach" under Paris.Credit: Reddit
Cataphiles vs. cataphobes
With popularity came increased reports of nuisance and crime — the tunnels provided easy access to telephone cables, which were stolen for the resale value of their copper.
The general public's "discovery" of the underground network led the city of Paris to officially interdict all access by non-authorized persons. That decree dates back to 1955, but the "underground police" have an understanding with seasoned cataphiles. Their main targets are so-called tourists, who by their lack of knowledge expose themselves to risk of injuries or worse, and degrade their surroundings, often leaving loads of litter in their wake.
The understanding does not extend to the IGC. Unlike in the 19th century, when weak cavities were shored up by purpose-built pillars, the policy now is to inject concrete to fill up endangered spaces — thus progressively blocking off parts of the network. That procedure has also been used to separate the Catacombs to prevent "infiltration" of the site by cataphiles.
Many subterranean streets have their own names, signs and all. This is the Rue des Bourguignons (Street of the Burgundians) below the Champs des Capucins (Capuchin Field), neither of which exists on the surface.Credit: Jean-François Gornet via Wikimedia and licensed under
The cataphiles, however, are fighting back. In a game of cat and mouse with the authorities, they are reopening blocked passages and creating chatières ("cat flaps") through which they can squeeze into chambers no longer accessible via other underground corridors.
Catacomb climate control
Alone against the unstoppable tide of concrete, the amateurs of Underground Paris would be helpless. But the fight against climate change may turn the subterranean labyrinths from a liability into an asset — and the City of Paris into an ally.
The UN's 2015 Climate Plan — concluded in Paris, by the way — requires the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2050. And Paris itself wants to be Europe's greenest city by 2030. More sustainable climate control of our living spaces would be a great help toward both targets. A lot of energy is spent heating houses in winter and cooling them in summer.
This is where the constant temperature of the Parisian tunnels comes in. It's not just good for brewing beer; it's a source of geothermal energy, says Fieldwork, an architectural firm based in Paris. It can be used to temper temperatures, helping to cool houses in summer and warming them in winter.
One catch for the cataphiles: it also works when the underground cavities are filled up with concrete. So perhaps one day, Paris Underground, fully filled up with concrete, will completely fall off the map, reducing the city's formerly real doppelgänger into an air conditioning unit.
Cool in summer, warm in winter: Paris Underground could become Paris A/C.Credit: Fieldwork
Strange Maps #1083
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
Meconium contains a wealth of information.
- A new study finds that the contents of an infants' first stool, known as meconium, can predict if they'll develop allergies with a high degree of accuracy.
- A metabolically diverse meconium, which indicates the initial food source for the gut microbiota, is associated with fewer allergies.
- The research hints at possible early interventions to prevent or treat allergies just after birth.
The prevalence of allergies arising in childhood has increased over the last 50 years, with 30 percent of the human population now having some kind of atopic disease such as eczema, food allergies, or asthma. The cause of this increase is still subject to debate, though it has been associated with a number of factors, including changes to the gut microbiomes of infants.
A new study by Canadian researchers published in Cell Reports Medicine may shed further light on how these allergies develop in children by examining the contents of their first diaper.
The things you do for science
The research team examined the first stool of 100 infants from the CHILD Cohort Study. The first stool of an infant is a thick, green, horrid-looking substance called meconium. It consists of various things that the infant ingests during the second half of gestation. Additionally, it provides not only a snapshot of what the infant was exposed to during that time, but it also reveals what the food sources will be for the initial gut bacteria that colonize the baby's digestive tract.
The content of the meconium was examined and found to contain such varied elements as amino acids, lipids, carbohydrates, and myriad other substances.
A graph of the comparative, summed abundance of different elements in a metabolic pathway after scaling to median abundance of each metabolite. The blue figures are those children without atopy, the yellow ones show the data for those with an atopic condition. Petersen et al.
The authors fed this information into an algorithm that used this data, along with the identities of the bacteria present as well as the baby's overall health, to predict which infants would go on to develop allergies within one year. The algorithm got it right 76 percent of the time.
A way to prevent childhood allergies?
Infants whose meconium had a less diverse metabolic niche the initial microbes to settle in the gut were at the highest risk of developing allergies a year later. Many of these elements were associated with the presence or absence of different bacterial groups in the digestive system of the child, which play an increasingly appreciated role in our overall health and development. The findings were summarized by senior co-author Dr. Brett Finlay:
"Our analysis revealed that newborns who developed allergic sensitization by one year of age had significantly less 'rich' meconium at birth, compared to those who didn't develop allergic sensitization."
The findings could be used to help understand how allergies form and even how to prevent them. Co-author Dr. Stuart Turvey commented on this possibility:
"We know that children with allergies are at the highest risk of also developing asthma. Now we have an opportunity to identify at-risk infants who could benefit from early interventions before they even begin to show signs and symptoms of allergies or asthma later in life."
A model for early childhood allergies
Petersen et al.
As shown above, the authors constructed a model of how they believe metabolites and bacterial diversity help prevent allergies. Increased diversity of metabolic products in the meconium encourage the development of "healthy" families of bacteria, like Peptostreptococcaceae, which in turn promote the development of a healthy and diverse gut microbiome. Ultimately, such diversity decreases the likelihood that a child will develop allergies.