Sexual marital freedom varies in different cultures. Each culture has its own perception of what constitutes right or wrong, acceptable or rejectable, and legal or illegal, to establish what would constitute the sexual norm. Freedom is always subjective in nature although measuring it is usually done by comparing the existing norm to the generally acceptable norms which the global society has established.
Sexual Norm and Sexual Freedom
A sexual norm can either be personal or social in nature. When the norm is co-related with culture, the general reference will be to that of a social sexual norm. These same norms will typically define what constitutes “normalcy” in relation to sexuality and activities related to it. People who conform to these norms are said to be normal people while those who go against them are usually seen as too liberal at the very least or perverts, at the very worst.
It is a reality that what society says is right is not automatically what every individual would think of as right. Actual practice is a lot different from set standards. Thus the degree to which cultures allow its constituents to deviate from those standards is what is often seen as the amount of sexual freedom granted.
Sexual freedom is made up of the sexual norms that are non-restrictive in nature. Restrictive sexual norms on the other hand are described as part of sexual oppression since it represents the limitation being required of people to be seen as conforming. The “normalcy” of a person is difficult to define strictly thus many adhere to the basic premise that anything done consensually between two people in private as long as they do not hinge on what are generally admitted as perverse acts are considered normal. The main factors to consider here are mutual consent, legality, and privacy. In effect, people in society generally allow and accept certain deviations from standards as long as they are not disruptive, harmful, and forced upon the participants.
The Religious Factor
It is no secret that the amount of sexual marital freedom allowed by different cultures usually has its religious component. Religion is a common basis for determining what is right or wrong. Thus social laws and legal laws will somehow refer to a moral law that will lay the foundation for their existence and acceptance.
The Catholic Church sees marriage as something sacred and therefore attributes the same principle to related issues including sexual marital freedom. The religion teaches its followers of the importance of respecting the human body which includes approving of sexual relations only between legally married spouses. It promotes sexual abstinence between unmarried couples, and disapproves of same sex marriages and contraception. The foundation of Catholic marriages is monogamy and having other sexual relations is considered cheating.
Islam and other similar religions allow the practice of polygamy wherein one person can have multiple sexual partners. However, polygyny wherein one man has multiple wives appears to be more practiced than polyandry wherein one woman has multiple husbands. Some cultures practicing polygamy have clearly defined rules regarding the practice while some don’t. In spite of the relative freedom that such arrangement provides, participants can also cross the line by having relations with other people who are not part of the polygamous relationship.
Other marital practices which have evolved from various religious beliefs and modifications from existing ones include remarriage, divorce and annulment of marriage, same sex marriage, and arranged marriages, among others. Although cultural practices in marriage generally hold on even in the passing of time, it has been shown that changes will occur one way or the other.
Kinds of Marriage
This brings us then to what kind of marriages are there in our society today. Marriage types arise from beliefs, practices, and the general desires of the society. It is impossible to tell which one is superior over the other since people will always have varying views about marriage. If one kind of marriage works for one culture, who are we to say that it is wrong or it is an inferior option.
The most common kind of marriage is that which is based on romantic attachments and sentiments. This simply means that couples in a romantic marriage enter the relationship because they love each other and would like to avail of exclusivity on whatever degree they decide on to spend their lives together. Since romantic marriages rely heavily on emotions that can change through time, commitments tends to be short-term since there is nothing that holds the marriage together once the romance is gone.
There are marriages that come about through some formal arrangement usually related to family politics. The participants in arranged marriages rarely consent by choice to the marriage. They give their consent to follow a tradition. Since spouses start out on the tone of conformity to established rules and practices, most arranged marriages “succeed” in terms of longevity although personal satisfaction of spouses is debatable.
The marriages that provide for having multiple partners are defined by different values which may or may not be dictated by romance or arrangement. Legality is a question among cultures. Implied acceptance of society is most of the time given when participants are willing to be part of such a relationship. The main problem arises when force is used either through indoctrination or physical means to obtain acceptance. Marriage between one man and one woman remains the most common and accepted although it has been observed that the pressure to accept same sex marriages is mounting.
How Sexually Free are Societies Today?
Again, we have to emphasize that actual marital practices we see today may not be strictly conforming to existing standards set by society. What is interesting is that in spite of apparent deviations from what is termed as generally acceptable, cultures continue to function either to totally reject the deviation or accept the deviation through modification of standards. When people are generally left to themselves to decide what will suit them better, the culture is said to be generally permissive. Cultures that crack down on non-conformists through direct or indirect punishments are seen as restrictive.
Generally, the Western world is more permissive while Asian and African countries are more traditional. A good example of this observation is the history of legality of gay marriage. Most countries that have approved it are from Europe and the Americans. These would include Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg, New Zealand, UK, South Africa, Canada, and the US. Countries from this part of the world also exhibit more tolerance of other deviations from the usual standards.
Asian and African countries follow a more conservative approach in the context of sexual marital freedom. Long-standing traditions are still being practiced and proposals from deviations undergo close scrutiny and are usually faced with strong opposition. Although there are many people in these countries who have more liberal ideas and actually practice them, they are still considered a minority. It is not even uncommon for modern marital values to be stamped out instantaneously after being proposed because of strong and more predominant cultural and moral convictions of the majority. Regardless of cultural dictates however, sexual marital choices still remain personal. It should be noted however, that polygamous marriages are accepted in some Asian and African countries.