Saturday, December 19, 2009

Typology of long-term sexual relationships

Over the years there have been a number of attempts at a typology of human sexual behavior. Some account of them emerges from the appendix, an article that I wrote some twenty years ago with Stephen Donaldson for the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality.

In rhe remarks that follow I set forth a particular typology, one which governs long-term sexual arrangements between and among human beings. This typology (perhaps suprisingly) encompasses the whole range of human sexual arrangements in a mere thirteen categories. I have been thinking of such distinctions and linkages for some time. I believe that the result is valid cross-culturally and transhistorically, world-wide.

Here goes:


1) Age-differentiated. Historically, this category, involving a relationship between an older man and a youth, has been termed pederasty. Although it is now widely disparaged, pederasty was the dominant form of male-male relationships in ancient Greece, medieval Islam, and pre-Meiji Japan.

2) Gender-differentiated. In this caregory one of the two male partners assumes some features of dress, deportment, and work role associated with women. This pattern has deep roots in Paleo-Siberian an Amerindian cultures. Today it is common in Thailand, Indonesia, and many parts of Latin America. It enjoys some currency in modern Western societies under the rubric of “transgender.”

3) Egalitarian. Historically, this type (involving two partners who are relatively equal in age or status) is less common than the other two. However, it characterizes. the earliest known examples of same sex pairs, which are from the Old Kingdom of ancient Egypt: the pair bonds of the two hairdressers known as the “two brothers” and Pepy II and his general Sasinet. The type is now the dominant form of same-sex pairing in advanced industrial societies.


4) Asymmetrical. In its classic form, the older woman is a preceptor, conveying her wisdom to the younger partner, whom she guides and protects. The emblematic instance is the Greek poet Sappho, with her retinue of younger women. A different form of asymmetry is found in the modern butch-fem subtype.

5) Egalitarian. This type, similar to that found among gay men, is common in modern industrial societies


6-10) The forms of bisexuality show a similar range, mutatis mutandis, to the gay-male and lesbian types shown above.


11) Patriarchal-polygamous. In this type, dominant males, usually of the upper strata of the class hierarchy, have several wives. Familiar to us from Abraham and other patriarchs of the Hebrew bible, this type is very common in tribal and other traditional societies. Closer to home, is also characteristic of some versions of Mormonism.

12) Patriarchal-monogamous. In this type, there is one man and one woman, with the man dominant. It is characteristic of ancient Rome, as well as the European medeval and early modern eras.

13) Egalitarian. This type begins is ascent with the “companionate marriages” of eighteenth cenrury Europe. It is now dominant among the educated in advanced industrial societies.

As I have noted this enumeration is surprisingly comprehensive. There may be a few hybrid variants, the result of special circumstances. For example, some prisons show a kind of “lesbian family,” in which a single older authority figure presides over a group of less experienced female prisoners--a lesbian version of polygamy, in other words.

Clearly there is some influence from socioeconomic factors. For example, in all the orientations egalitarianism rises to the fore as societies become wealthier and better educated.

That being said, it is surprising that the enumeration is so parsimonious--only thirteen basic templates for stable sexual relationships. Contrast this finding with the fact that there are now some 6000 languages, and there were once countless numbers of others that have perished. It is as if one went into one bookshop and found thousands of books to chose from, while another bookshop carried only thirteen titles. (I believe that there are actually Scientology bookshops of the latter type.)

Why is there such a lavish profusion of variation among languages and so little when it comes to sexual relationships? The answer seems to be along these lines. Setting aside certain linguistic fundamentals discerned by Chomsky and others, when it comes to languages CULTURE RULES, not nature. By contrast, what one might term a kind of dreary monotony prevails regarding sexual relationships. Here NATURE RULES.

This finding suggests that the current notion of an almost infinite variation in sexual (“gender”) relationships is misleading--in fact highly so. The fashion is buttressed by continuing recital of some version of the following comparison--nature:sex::culture:gender.

At one time I subscribed to this simplistic formula. Further reflection, though, has led me to conclude that it must be abandoned. Contrary to the views of relativists, it is nature, not culture, that rules in sexual arrangements.

APPENDIX (an article from the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, 1990).


A valuable conceptual tool in seeking to understand a wide-ranging phenomenon or related group of phenomena which show both commonality and diversity, typology is the arrangement or classification of the elements under study so as to highlight both points of similarity and points of difference. Typology traces its roots back to the biologist's taxonomy, or classification of species, a practice which stems ultimately from Aristotle and his school.
In 1922 the great sociologist Max Weber applied the notion of "ideal types" to social behavior. These types were characterized as hypothetical constructs made up of the salient features or elements of a social phenomenon, or generalized concept, in order to facilitate comparison and classification of what is found in operation. Psychology, linguistics, anthropology, the history of science, comparative religion, and other disciplines have since made considerable use of such tools, often called "models" or "paradigms."
Once a typology has been constructed, it becomes an aid in the interpre­tation of a variety of concrete phenomena, but it can be misused to distort reality, as the features selected to compose them may acquire a distorted importance or concreteness, leading to the neglect of other factors. Hence typologies must be continually subjected to reexamination as new data become available, and revised as the understanding of the phenomena becomes more sophisticated.
Typologies are most helpful in preventing the ascription of traits in one subgroup of the phenomena under study to other subgroups where they may not belong, and in underlining points of commonality which may disclose historical influences or causal factors that otherwise might not have suggested themselves to the investigator.
In natural science, the term "paradigm" has been used since Thomas S. Kuhn's widely read book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) to designate the prevailing system of understanding phenomena which guides scientific theorization and experimentation, and which is held to be the most useful way of explaining the universe, or a part of it, until that paradigm is eventually overthrown by new data and replaced by a newer paradigm. As Kuhn has pointed out, paradigms may function without the con­scious adhesion of those who employ them, and in the broadest sense they often form part of the unvoiced inner structure of human existence.

Popular Paradigms and Homosexuality. A somewhat different use of typologies may refer to the models or conceptual schemes held up to groups of people or the public at large in order to assimilate difficult or strange phenomena. When these models substantially guide the concepts and behaviors of the people most involved with them, they take on a normative reality which goes far beyond the theoretical utility of the academic model. Thus, it is one thing for the anthropologist to ascribe monogamous marriage to tribe A and polygamous marriage to tribe B; it is another if the only model of marriage known to the members of tribe B is the polygamous one, so that they react in horror to any suggestion of monogamy.
In the field of homosexuality, such popularly adopted typologies or paradigms have become extraordinarily powerful, though seldom of universal application. One of the great issues remaining in the study of homosexuality is how such popular paradigms are adopted by a culture and how they are lost or overthrown. A puzzling historical example is the paradigm shift in England and other industrializing Western countries which occurred from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, such that male homosexual relations came to be seen as usually involving two adults rather than an adult and a boy. A current example is the emergence in countries like Japan and Thailand and in much of Latin America of a new paradigm (mutual androphilia or relationships between two adults, both male-identified) to compete with traditional paradigms such as pederasty and the model of "normal" males pairing with effeminate surrogate females.

Earlier Attempts to Create Scientific Paradigms of Homosexual Behavior and Relationships. In classical antiquity a major division was drawn emphasizing an active-passive contrast in sexual behavior, with the active (penetrating) partners considered "manly" and the passive (penetrated) role reserved for boys, slaves, foreigners, those vanquished in battle, and so forth. Beyond this simple dichotomy, little thought was given to typology.
Those, like K. H. Ulrichs and K. M. Kertbeny, who initiated serious comparative scholarship on homosexuality in the nineteenth century tended to view all homosexual behavior in essentially monolithic terms. They were largely unaware of the degree to which same-sex activity in other times and climes differed from that with which they were familiar. This tendency to assimilate all homosexual conduct to a single model has survived into the present day in what is sometimes called "naive essentialism," evident in the tendency to speak of ancient personalities such as Plato and Alexander the Great, or even mythical figures such as Hylas and Ganymede, as "gay," thus (in this instance] obscuring the difference between ancient pederasty and modern mutual androphilia.
An advance occurred with the more detailed research published by many scholars in the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen (1899-1923) under the editorship of Magnus Hirscbield. In his own comprehensive work Die Homosexualitat des Mannes und des Weibes (1914), Hirschfeld outlined a typology based on the age of the love object of the homosexual subject: pedophiles, who are attracted to pre-pubic children; ephebophiles, whose love object is from 14 to 21 (in current usage, from 17 to 21); androphiles, who prefer those from maturity to the begin­ning of old age; and gerontophiles, who like older people. Equivalent terms for lesbian relationships given by Hirschfeld were korophile, parthenophile, gynecophile, and graophile.
In addition to these schemes, which reflect object choice, Hirschfeld drew up a typology of homosexual acts which distinguished four major catego­ries: manual, oral, intracrural, and anal.
Hirschfeld's older contemporary Richard von Krafft-Ebing advanced a typo­logy based on the time of life of homosexual activity, thereby emphasizing adolescent experimentation, "temporary" (situational) homosexuality, and late-blooming homosexuality-- this latter concept relates to the notion of "latent homosexuality."
In 1913 Hans Blüher, who was influenced by Sigmund Freud, distinguished three basic types: the "heroic-male" form, characterized by individuals who are markedly masculine and not outwardly distinguishable from heterosexuals (and may in fact be bisexual); the type of the effeminate invert; and latent inversion, in which the longing for one's own sex is unconscious, rising to the surface only on particular occasions or not at all.
In the 1940s, Alfred Kinsey and his associates developed a sevenfold scale of sexual orientation, but this was not a true typology since there were no clear criteria dividing, say, those in group II from those in group III. In fact, Kinsey viewed this fluidity as an advantage since he opposed what he regarded as overrigid classifications.

Toward a Contemporary Typology. None of these writers sought to develop a more global typology which might encompass the full range of cultures and time periods, in part because they had no access to or were not inclined to deal with ethnological and other data regarding societies apart from their own. As gay studies began to expand horizons, however, the need for more comprehensive typologies which included a wider range of popular paradigms became evident.
One of the major flaws of earlier typologies was their tendency to concen­trate on a single linear axis, producing two-dimensional structures. Inevitably, these schemes left out major lines of differentiation and similarity. More sophisticated new typologies might be drawn on three or even more axes, making them difficult to state simply in words (though sometimes more easily in diagrams), but probably more realistic. One must, of course, stop somewhere, or one ends up with the 687,375 types posited by the Dutch writer L.S. A.M. von Römer in 1904. (Most of these are theoretical, von Römer admitted, with only a tenth of them really viable. But even restricting oneself to male homosexuality as such, one would have more than 11,000 types.)
For their part, anthropologists have ascertained, during the first half of the twentieth century, that there are some 3,000 living cultures. The rapid progress of acculturation will probably prevent anthropologists from learning the native organization of homosexuality in the majority of them. Records of the past, however, permit one to add data from many cultures that are now dead, but are sufficiently known for their systems of sexual organization to be catalogued. If there truly were 11,000 same-sex types available for distribution, each culture could have one of its very own - a conclusion no doubt pleasing to the social constructionists, who believe that cultural differentiation inevitably produces differentiation of the forms of homosexual behavior. John J. Winkler has claimed that "almost any imaginable configuration of pleasure can be institutionalized as conventional and perceived by its participants as natural." Empirical research has not borne out this universal-polymorphous hypothesis, for there are only a handful of basic types. The conclusion is inescapable: since cultures are legion but sexual arrangements are few, there can be no one-to-one correlation of culture and sexual-orientation typing.
As Stephen O. Murray notes, "There is diversity, intraculturally as well as cross-culturally, but there is not unlimited variation in social organization and categorization of sexuality. Despite pervasive intracultural variability which is highlighted by [the] anthropological tradition of seeking exotic variance, relatively few of the imaginable mappings of cognitive space are recurrently used by diverse cultures." [Social Theory, Homosexual Reahties, New York, 1984, p. 45).
Why such a limited repertory of types? Although progress in this realm is probably linked to the still-unsolved riddle of the biological and constitutional underpinnings of homosexual behavior, some conclusions may be offered.

A Triaxial Typology. Keeping in mind the wealth of data now available, and the necessity for clear and simple principles governing the definition of ideal types or paradigms, can one construct a useful typology of transcultural and transhistorical homosexual relationships?
Yes, but only along multiple axes. One of these needs to acknowledge that there is more than one gender, and moreover that homosexuality does not always exist in strict isolation from heterosexuality. At one end of the "gender axis" both partners are exclusively male homosexual. Moving toward the middle, at least one of the males also relates heterosexually, then both also relate heterosexually. At the other end of the gender axis one finds two exclusively homosexual/lesbian females, with intervening positions for one or both of the females also to relate heterosexually. In the middle, so to speak, one could place an exclusively heterosexual relationship, but with that position one is no longer concerned. 
A second dimension, the "role axis," can account for the major division between relationships which are role-oriented (generally along active-passive, penetrator-penetratee lines of sexual activity) and those which are significantly sexually reciprocal (with the partners exchanging sexual roles frequently if not customarily). The role axis would have gender-differentiated relationships at one end, followed by age-graded relationships; at the other (reciprocal) end is mutual androphilia. In between but still on the role-oriented side are to be found most forms of situational homosexuality; near the middle and tending to straddle the line are adolescent sexual experimentation (which can be mutual or one-sided) and ephebophilia (which shows many role characteristics but can be sexually reciprocal).
A third dimension, the "time axis," needs to be added to show the major division between those homosexual relationships which are necessarily temporary, or time-limited, and those which have at least the potential for relative permanence. On this axis one finds gender-differentiated and androphile relationships at the "permanent" end; situational and adolescent experimentation at the "temporary" end (some might add one-night stands and anonymous encounters here), with ephebophilia and age-differen­tiated relationships also on the "temporary" side.

[graph omitted]

Features of the Types Noted. Some basic features of these paradigms merit notice, bearing in mind that variations of a relatively minor nature can easily be found.
In the age-differentiated type, as seen in ancient Greek and in Islamic pederasty, Spartan korophilia, pedophilia, Japanese Samurai, the apprentices of the Middle Ages, and perhaps the initiatory homosexuality of tribal Melanesia, the older partner has something, namely adulthood and the knowledge that goes with it, that the younger is seeking to acquire. Accordingly, there is a sense of passage of power from the one to the other, aptly symbolized by the fact that the older is the penetrator and the younger the re­ceiver. This state of inferiority that the protege finds himself in is, however, only temporary, since he will pass to adulthood and penetrator status. The modern term "irttergenerational sex" is misleading, since in many societies only a difference of a half or a third of a generation is typically found. The adult in this relationship may often relate to opposite-sex adults or children as well.
The gender-differentiated type is seen among the berdache of the North American Indians, the shamans of Siberia, the mahu of the South Pacific, the butch-fem lesbian pair, the Indian hijra, the homosexual transvestite, the Thai katoey, the kadesh sacred prostitutes, the argr of medieval Scandinavia, and the "straight trade" who goes with "queens," and can be found in many Mediterranean-derived cultures today. In these cultures the pene­trated partner in male relationships relin­quishes his male identity and the prerogatives of manhood for various compensations, which range from relative freedom of dress and manners to the magical pow­ers of shamans. It is not necessary that the passive partner be reclassified as a full woman, though this sometimes occurs; he may be termed "not man" or some ap­proximation to "third sex." What is important is that he is not considered to be of the same gender as his partner. Berdachehood means lifelong commitment to the role; it is not a career stage, as occurs in the age-differentiated type. The other, penetrating partner is in the gender-differentiated model considered to be a normal or typical male who might as easily bond with a female. Female counterparts found in the Amazon type relinquish feminine identity and sometimes become warriors, perhaps marrying a "true" female. The "masculine" partner in a male relationship or "fern" partner in a lesbian one will usually relate to the opposite sex also, though the "changed gender" partner does not, leaving two spaces open on the gender axis.
In both of the above models, the gender- and age-differentiated, two distinct roles are assumed, with virtually no overlap or reciprocity; the two partners are also viewed as distinctly unequal, if complementarity so.
Mutual androphilia, the third major type, is relatively recent, found as a widespread model only in the industrialized societies of Western Europe and North America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (though it was probably a marginal practice in many earlier complex societies). In mutual androphilia both partners are adults and neither relinquishes his manhood or her womanhood. Sexual reciprocation and sexual role reversal are generally honored if not universally practiced, and in theory the partners are equal. However, the relationship is only relatively egalitarian, since other differentials, such as those of race or class, may play a part.
Adolescent sexual experimentation usually does not lead to an adult homosexual relationship. It may be either reciprocal, especially in the form of mutual masturbation, or it may be role-oriented, depending on the power relationship pre­existing between the youths concerned; generally the horny adolescent male seems to prefer to maintain a dominant role but may accept reciprocation if he is unable to persuade or coerce his partner into a submissive role. The teenage girl, however, seems more willing to recipro­cate in experimental play.
Ephebophilia shows characteristics that relate it in some respects to age-differentiated relationships, such as age difference itself, social role differences, and transfer of knowledge, while in other respects it reveals marked contrasts. The ephebe concerned, rather than being penetrated, may take the "male" role as "trade," considering his older partner to be "less than male," or there may be reciprocity as in androphilia.
Perhaps the most amorphous type in this schema is situational, a category which frequently shows some overlap with the gender-differentiated because the heterosexually identified participants apply the heterosexual paradigm known to them to the previously unfamiliar homosexual experience. In situations such as prison life, this is particularly marked. Because situational homosexuality usually takes place where access to the opposite sex is denied (on shipboard, in army camps and barracks, harems, and boarding schools), there may be no actualized relationship to the opposite sex, though heterosexual feelings are often expressed. Male slaves and prisoners of war as well as victims of rape and those subjected to sexual forms of enforcing dominance find the role orientation to be emphasized; these victims commonly relate to the opposite sex as much as their penetrators. Still other instances of situational homosexuality involve initiations and rituals, usually emphasizing both role and transience.
Male prostitution should not be seen as a unitary phenomenon, but it is occasionally situational (in which cases it is usually role-oriented and highly transient), and in the case of transvestites is clearly gender-differentiated. Most commonly it seems to follow the ephebophilic model.

Conclusion. The triaxial schema presented above seeks to accommodate the current state of knowledge, but doubtless it will be subject to criticism - no typology being able to account for the great diversity of human sexuality -- and, as knowledge deepens, will eventually be revised. Nevertheless, it should be helpful in making clear not only the diversity of paradigms encountered in any comprehensive study of homosexuality, but also the limited number of lines or axes of difference which serve as the main features delimiting one model from another.

Stephen Donaldson and Wayne R. Dynes (1990)



Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I generally concur with the triaxial typology (even though typological thinking is anti-scientific, it is helpful in some forms of categorization, such as genotype and phenotype), I was perplexed by the absence of very common tripartite (trilateral) relationship, in which three beloveds cohabitate.

In many ways, this "three-way" relationship is simply a more "open" form of heterophilia's wife and mistress arrangements, and are often inclusive of both intergenerational and egalitarian mates.

Over the decades, over a dozen couples I've known, not bound to the binary limits, have created both intergenerational and egalitarian relationships in the SAME relationship (rarer is three egalitarian, but it is extant -- while three intergenerational was more common in the 1970s than present).

But these three types are mirrored in heterophilia, just less tripartite, and more divisive (or elusive as in "hidden"). I've questioned the "probability" of such relationships; but, I concede the facts instantiate their existence. Perhaps, "trilateral" would be more accurate than tripartite, while both are true.

Since the overwhelming majority of homophile relationships I've known are of the egalitarian type, and relatively few (actually none) are of the genderification type, I'll have to take your and LOGO channel's claim as true (perhaps it is a regional variance). While the intergenerational relationship was far more common when I first came-out, it is now relatively rare in the Bay Area (I stress "relatively").

If homophiles (1) secure marriage equality, and (2) yet, a sizeable population engages in trilateral and/or tripartite relationships, we might want to ask whether these types of relationships should be statist sanctioned, or simply allow the binary types currently allowed for heterphiles.

1:46 PM  

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