Empowered Sex Asks: Is Monogamy Realistic? Variety is the spice of life. And anyone who can’t admit that, in my opinion, 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.
My 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 that 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….”
I 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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- Helen Croydon: Monogamy is not our natural state (independent.co.uk)
- The New Monogamy (psychologytoday.com)
- Till Death Do Us Apart: Where Did Love and Monogamy Go? (socyberty.com)
- Defining the ideal marriage: It’s not that easy (seattletimes.nwsource.com)