Empowered Sex Asks: Is Monogamy Realistic?

Empowered Sex Asks: Is Monogamy Realistic? Variety is the spice of life. And anyone who can’t admit that, in my wedding ringsopinion, hasn’t had enough variety. Monogamous relationships have been the mainstream expectation of our society for centuries. This is what we define as ‘normal’ and decent, and monogamous marriage is the only type of love relationship sanctioned by law.  But do we ever think about why? With more than 50% of marriages ending in divorce and a very high percentage of marriages adversely impacted by infidelity, or unsatisfying sex lives, is monogamy just an unrealistic fantasy?

Disclaimer:  This is only my opinion, and I’m sure it will be an unpopular one, especially with a lot of women. I am not dissing conventional monogamous relationships if they are working or proposing that everyone should start swinging. Furthermore, my belief is that sex with connection is sustenance for the soul, like food, air, and water are for the body. But regardless, I do not judge any of the various sex-lifestyles people choose as long as whatever takes place is between consenting adults.  I understand that sometimes we just need to have our physical needs met with a warm body as opposed to an inflatable toy or a battery-operated device – and this applies to men and women equally. But I do hope to open minds with an intellectual approach to this age-old topic.

lion coupleMy belief is that human beings are not monogamous by nature. Monogamy is a choice – a choice made by reasoning minds based on what we have been taught. Studies of mating behaviors of the animal kingdom show that even those species once thought monogamous are very rarely sexually monogamous. In fact, now that scientists differentiate between social monogamy (social living arrangement) and sexual monogamy, they have found that less than 3% of all mammals and 15% of primates are socially monogamous. And even though 90% of avian species are socially monogamous, only 10% of them are sexually monogamous. And let’s face it – we don’t have private investigators following them around so we really don’t know if that 10% of birds are leaving the nest for a little on the side.

Human beings naturally long for companionship, acceptance, partnership, and intimacy. But how many people end up in unhappy or sexless relationships because they believe that a conventional, monogamous partnership is the only way to meet those needs? How many of them stay in unfulfilling relationships because they fear being alone? What is a marriage anyway?  Is it a public statement and celebration of unconditional love or a contract of ownership? When we love someone, why do we need exclusive sexual rights to that person?  This possessiveness is not only condoned by Christian religions, it is the only type of relationship that can be considered legal in most western countries.

So where did the custom of monogamous marriage come from anyway? What many people think is that it was ‘God’s law’ handed down to us through the Bible. I used to think that this tradition was created by religious leaders and government, in order to exercise more control over mankind. And in fact, that is partly true.  I recently came across some articles and interviews with Dr. Israel C.S. Lim, a former minister and proponent of patriarchy. While I hardly agree with his patriarchal viewpoints, he had some interesting things to say about the history of monogamy.

In eight years of Catholic school, no one ever told me that priests had been allowed to marry up until 1022 when Pope Benedict VIII banned marriage for priests. In fact, it was common for Catholic priests to have multiple wives and mistresses even though their offspring were not allowed to inherit church property. In 1139, Pope Innocent II voided all marriages of priests forcing them to divorce their wives -all this, in order to protect church property and money. “Making polygamy a sin and marriage unacceptable for a priest was a slow and purposeful process”, Dr. Lim writes.

But when you look at the connection between the Catholic Church and the powerful Roman Empire, it becomes clear vaticanthat the Romans desire for power played a bigger role in monogamy than the church did. Social monogamy, at least, was practiced by the Romans in order to maintain control over title, possessions, and power. In 212 AD the Romans made monogamy law. Is it a coincidence that the word ‘romantic’ is closely linked with marriage, monogamy and weddings? I think not.

It isn’t natural to expect to have all of your needs met in one other human being. Couldn’t we eliminate many of the pressures and stress factors of a relationship, if we could all accept this? What if we could be open and honest with our partners without fear of repercussion and social stigma? What if we could love another without feelings of jealousy or a need to control or possess them? Why is it that the animal kingdom seems to get it, and we don’t? Let’s face it – we all know that intimacy does not always lead to sex and sex does not equal intimacy. Nor does great sex equal love or love lead to passionate sex.

It will take a long time to change the beliefs of a society driven by fear, which has been created by the religious leaders’ and government’s desire to control mankind by maintaining power. I wonder though, how different this world would be if we were able to create bonds of unconditional love and intimacy, whether sexual or not, that would create expanded familial units, and eliminate possessiveness, anger, and jealousy – the very things in this world that fuel wars between sexes, races, cultures, or nations.

Dr. Lim concludes with this: “The enforced should-be monogamy, no matter how much it is sanctioned legally or socially, or how righteous it is portrayed religiously, never originated from the Scriptures, and has never been set as the only standard for marriage by God. It originated from the pagan Romans….”

1940s coupleI understand the desire for a romantic, idealistic, monogamous marriage. I made the choice to participate in monogamy most of my adult life, in my own (former) marriage. No matter how many people I meet who are living ‘alternative’ lifestyles, it is still socially unacceptable. Let’s face it, weddings are big business and so is divorce. And then there’s marriage counseling, sex counselors – the list goes on. Would the porn industry be thriving if we all got to live out our fantasies and have satisfying sex lives? Would our incidence of sex crimes drop? Would there be less depression, less suicide, less need for pharmaceutical drugs, such as anti-depressants and Viagra? What would happen if we didn’t need drugs from big business anymore to make us happy or get our dicks hard? Wow. Just thinking of the ripple effect that might occur if we began to reevaluate what we define as a ‘healthy relationship’ is mind-boggling. Look at the stir caused by the gay marriage bill alone! There will always be sectors of people in some cultures who secretly or openly practice polyamory, polygamy, and polyandry. I’ll be discussing those topics in another blog. But the bottom line is that I don’t see the norm changing any time soon. And I would love to hear your opinions on the topic.

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13 comments to Empowered Sex Asks: Is Monogamy Realistic?

  • Colleen

    This is an excellent post. I’ve often felt this way about monogamy myself. I’m in a relationship where we are redefining what intimacy means to us, and it doesn’t necessarily involve sexual monogamy. It actually bonds us closer together emotionally. Great read!

  • As is true with so many things … monogamy itself is not an issue or problem. It is our (individual and social) attachments to the concept/ conceit that create distortions and unease. I agree: it is fundamentally a choice … and one that is made moment by moment throughout life. If it becomes dogma or doctrine, it is as meaningless as the “serial” relationships so many use to disguise their personal desire for variety.
    Just one point of view! :o)

  • glenn

    Figures Pope Innocent II would be involved. I appreciate your thoughtful perspective on these issues. I too wonder what it would be like if we were all free to explore our sexuality without the preconditions laid forth by social mores. If one partner is unable, unwilling or uninterested, it carries a big burden on the other to adhere to the “rules”. Perhaps this is what makes porn, infidelity and divorce so prevalent.

  • What a great piece! Thought-provoking, enlightened, down-to-earth. While living in Saudi Arabia with my wife and two children during a two-year U.S. Army assignment 1976-1978, I often wondered if those “extra” wives that some Saudi men had actually felt as happy as they seemed; and, although Saudi law mandated that all wives (four per man were allowed, yet I never saw Saudi wives having “extra” husbands) had to be treated equally, material things like gifts of jewelry were always equal, but I’ll never know if all Saudi wives were treated equally emotionally/respectfully/physically/sexually and love-wise. I don’t think the aforementioned Saudi traditions would be very welcomed in America.

  • After years of being divorced, I married again, but she had one condition – no monogamy. I agreed, and probably am more active than is she. I do not think monogamy is realistic. And I think the notion that it is expected ruins relationships. I believe in honesty, not monogamy.

  • Joe

    its good to know that there are people out there that think and feel the same as i do. i got to this page after reading the article by dr. lim that the admin (patti) mentioned, and like her don’t agree with everything dr. lim is about, but definitely like the evidence he sights (hopefully, its true).

    i am divorced, mostly because of the should-be monogamy of american society. i found the woman who was my soulmate. we were uncannily alike, liked and (i thought) loved eachother totally. for reasons that are somewhat complex, i sought sexual contact outside the marriage, not for the purpose of finding love, but purely for sexual satisfaction, and for those transgressions, my marriage was destroyed. unfortunately, the woman i totally loved, and who i thought shared everything in my life, felt betrayed and because of the possessiveness and jealousy inherent in monogamy, she divorced me.

    i wish i could have the honesty and openness that brian (above) found, maybe there’s hope for the future, but i do lament losing a person who was closest to me. i thought love conquered all. i was wrong.

    i guess my looking into monogamy was precipitated by seeing a number of tv shows and movies that show seemingly solid and strong relationships destroyed by one person having sex with somebody other than their spouse. is it right to throw all that away for what seems to be a violation of somebody’s possessiveness?

  • admin

    In my humble opinion, Joe, the worst reason to throw away an otherwise good marriage is because of infidelity. I’m not saying that lying and breaking a promise to another, then living a double life is a good solution either. I think there are many people who do live this way in our society, and it is a painful way to live. This is certainly by no means living an authentic life, which I believe is the key to happiness. People stray from the marital bed for a number of reasons. How can any of us judge another unless we walk in their shoes, when the dynamic of each relationship is unique? Unfortunately in our society, films, TV shows, and all of our media still proliferate the image of the ‘happily-ever-after’ monogamous marriage or relationship and then condemn anyone who steps outside of it. Until more of us can attest to the fact (publicly) that life-long monogamy is not natural for most of us & that there are healthier options – and stop judging those who successfully live those options, it will be difficult to change this pattern of misguided thinking that seems to break so many hearts, spirits, & relationships.

  • Brad

    I like to think that I’m doing what my mind and body ask of each other. Repressing urges and hiding feelings are no way to live your life. Regret is something I never wanna have. If I want to do it, I am certainly gonna try. If that’s sleeping with many, many women, jumping out of airplanes, driving fast cars

  • Brad

    Oops… accidentally hit submit…

    … than so be it. Why not grab life by the horns and seize the day. If you never sample the fruits and Pleasures of life… can you ever say you lived?

  • [...] years old, is a difficult choice to make. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t think monogamy is natural for any species, but that it is a choice we make. Sadly, our society and religion has [...]

  • [...] years old, is a difficult choice to make. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t think monogamy is natural for any species, but that it is a choice we make.Sadly, our society and religion has [...]

  • jollyjj

    It isn’t the sex outside the marriage that distroys it because of an affair. It is the broken promises, secrets & lies. The other spouse is cheated of honesty and openness that is the true bond of intimacy. The person you are having an affair with (if you aren’t lying about being married) now has more of THAT kind of intimacy with the cheater. Sexual intimacy is actually more casual than that emotional intimacy. The “other” knows about the spouse while the spouse is in the dark. That is what makes the spouse feel the most betrayed.

  • admin

    Couldn’t agree with you more Jollyjj. I’ve said in a few of my 303 articles above that it is not about the ‘sex’ but the ‘betrayal’. And I have recently found that this can also happen in dating relationships, even when you don’t have monogamy agreements. It always comes down to the lying. Unfortunately there are those who are avoiding true intimacy, and that’s exactly what they achieve with their lies. Sadly, they don’t know what they are missing, not experiencing the joy and connectedness that true intimacy provides. And that has nothing to do with monogamy.

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