Framing sexless marriages as progress is not fooling anyone
This week a piece in the Guardian asked its readers to share their experiences of platonic marriages. I had not come across this term before, and it struck me as something of an oxymoron.
I know of Platonic love, of course. Most of us do. Although Plato himself never used the term, Platonic love refers to partners who love each other, who are bonded by common interests or some spiritual connection; there is no sexual involvement, though it may be yearned for by each partner. It’s all there in Plato’s Symposium.
The idea has a long reach; in my studies of Arabic literature stories of unrequited love are commonplace, such as the tale of Layla and Al Majnun. Platonic love in these writings are suffused with sexual innuendo that is never consummated with sexual union.
Platonic marriage is different. According to the Guardian, this is a trend where best friends of varied sexual identities are choosing to be legally married, with all the legal ramifications of wedlock — sharing a home, raising children etc — with one catch: no sex. This means that two consenting adults enter into contractual agreement not to have sex with each other, but they can have it with other people if they want. Suffice to say this does not feature in Plato.
But Platonic marriage did pop up in The New York Times, which published an article last month depicting several happy couples who rave about the benefits of marrying their best friends and keeping sex out of the home.
“A platonic marriage is more than a passing year with a roommate who has different ideas about kitchen cleanliness,” one enthusiast told the Times. “A platonic marriage is a deep bond and lifelong commitment to a nesting partner you build a shared life with.”
But what is a marriage in which sex has no part? Platonic marriage splits the mind from the body by outsourcing sexual needs to exterior partners. The mind stays with the ‘nesting partner’ and the body pursues sex mechanically, as if it is errand like cleaning a fridge. The body is reduced to little more than a tool.
Platonic marriage is really another example of the concept of “asexuality”. People are “choosing” to replace established concepts such as marriage or biological sex with what they believe is a more dynamic concept that suits their fluid moods and sexualities. The NYT article mentions “Demisexual” a few times, which it defines as “only being sexually attracted to someone with whom you have an emotional bond” — isn’t that simply being in love?
Ultimately, sexless marriages have always existed, happily or unhappily. Framing them as progress ushered by another wave of the sexual revolution is not fooling anyone. It certainly wouldn’t have fooled Plato.