I recently wrote a book review of the first novel to open my eyes to the idea that open marriage could be a regular, mainstream idea. The Swedish novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, features a journalist and a sexy punk hacker who don’t blink an eye at the idea of a non-traditional marriage. The book was wildly popular, so I believe it may have impacted people across America the way it did me. But it definitely wasn’t the only factor.
A Perfect Storm of Perversion
A lot of popular culture components came together around the same time and helped elevate these ideas into a culture of eye-opening—and marriage opening—considerations. Heck, one of the first examples of a non-traditional relationship in pop culture was Murphy Brown introducing the world to the idea that a woman could have a baby without a baby-daddy and, guess what, Dan Quayle? That was absolutely okay.
But other unusual sexual proclivities have slowly migrated from being the way pop culture would characterize the “weird” people to being just the way things are. For example, when I was growing up, on any given crime show, if a detective found out a character visited an S&M club or a dominatrix, 9 out of ten times, THAT was your bad guy. Now, half of the time, the detectives on these shows are visiting S&M clubs and dominatrixes themselves. We’ve come a long way, baby, haven’t we? SAY IT! Whip crack!
All of this has helped pave the way for a less traditional view of traditional sex, families, and relationships in mainstream media. While maybe not the “norm” it’s no longer the “abnorm” when you see Veronica and Kevin’s throuple arrangement on Shameless or the swinger retirement community of Lynn’s parents in Bob’s Burgers. Books such as The Ethical Slut have soared in sales and popular writers such as Sarah Dunn and Zoey Leigh Peterson treat non-traditional relationships as everyday chick-lit material.
The Normalization of Throuplenation
And that’s the crux. When non-traditional relationships are portrayed in pop culture today, it’s so much more casually noted—dropped in among other tidbits and details as if it’s no big thing. Much like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, there were no pearl clutching shrieks when these relationships are introduced—it’s just how things are, making these situations feel normal, making them okay. When Tiger King became all the rage, it seemed like people were not nearly as disturbed by Joe Exotic’s multiple husbands as they were that all of his multiple husbands claimed to be straight.
In many ways, what’s been happening in the world of heterosexual non-traditional relationships in culture today mirrors the gay movement circa 1990. As the media began to showcase gay relationships, (OMG Roseanne kissed a woman!), celebs began to become public (Ellen!), and even Ikea ads showed gay couples perusing end tables. Gay couples being portrayed as they are, normal people in love, led to them being accepted by society. These days, it’s rare to find a show without an openly LGBT character. If things continue the way they are progressing with non-traditional relationships spilling over into common sitcom scenarios, we’ll eventually get to everyday TV shows like Mork & Mindy & Mandy & Matt. And while all this progresses on the screen, just wait until you find out what’s happening in your backyard.
A full-time copywriter, Lilly Winters lives outside Washington, D.C. in a house full of animals—which include her husband and teenager. Under a different name, she’s written a book of short stories, a Young Adult novel, and was most recently published in Gravity Dancers. Lilly Winters isn’t posting her real picture because it’s possible she is currently wanted by the Mexican drug cartel. It’s also possible she watches too much Ozark.