Why Hasn’t Open Marriage Caught On?

Open marriage, the sensible alternative to monogamy? With several high-profile men caught in sex scandal, the notion is being pondered.

On the plus side, a couple may enjoy a close-knit family and loving spousal relationship,
but with an exciting dash of sexual variety.

In a recent New York Times piece sex columnist, Dan Savage, acknowledges there are advantages to monogamy: sexual safety from infections, emotional safety, paternity
assurances. Still, he thinks monogamy brings boredom, despair, lack of variety,  sexual death and being taken for granted. Plus, society imposes monogamy on  men, who were never expected to be monogamous, he complains.

Men. And what about women?

The ground rules for sex with others run along the lines of “sex for fun without emotional involvement.” But for many, if not most women, the only good sex is emotionally connected. So it can be hard for men to find enough partners to enjoy just-for-fun romps.

New York University sociologist, Judith Stacey, says it’s easier for men to separate physical and emotional intimacy. Lesbians and straight women tend to be far less comfortable with nonmonogamy.

And therein lies the rub.

Asked if his view is male-centric, Savage admits it is. So open relationships may work best in partnerships between men. Luckily, Dan Savage is gay.

I suspect women’s widespread desire for emotional connection is more cultural than biological, and I’ll discuss why in a later post. Either way, that’s most women’s reality. While some want more sexual variety than their spouses, more often it’s the other way

But even when everyone’s open to opening marriage, jealousy can be a killer. Kate Spicer of the London Times researched the nonmonogamous community and said that everyone she spoke with had experienced fierce jealousy.

And likely for good reason. Sex so often leads to deep emotion that partners may be lost as a consequence of the intense involvement.

As one woman put it:

To be honest, neither of us was emotionally prepared for the realities of an open relationship. The first time I found myself not having sex with another man, but making love to him, I cried. I rang my husband to say I could never see this man again. Open relationships can be messy and exhausting.

Her husband eventually left her for a woman who would not tolerate nonmonogamy.

Psychiatrist, Judith Lipton, who co-authored The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and
Infidelity in Animals and People
, says that monogamous lifestyles go against “some of the deepest-seated evolutionary inclinations with which biology has endowed most creatures, Homo sapiens included.”

Yet Lipton doesn’t think open marriage is the best answer for most. “Who can tolerate it?” she asks, “I have not met many people who can.”

Besides, animals have it easier. They lack the human capacity for jealousy or the deep emotional bonding that humans so often crave in relationship.

And is monogamy really so bad? Among the college-educated divorce and infidelity are both down. While the trend is turned around among the working class stress, and not sexual boredom, seems to be the culprit.

Meanwhile, married men are healthier and happier than their single brethren who are free to gain as much sexual variety as they can muster. Men are also quicker than women
to remarry after death or divorce.

In a world where so many of us seek soul mates to fill us with passion, joy, intimacy, transformation, and oneness, the dalliances of open marriage can seem both distracting and lacking.

Open marriage may work for some couples when they are lucky enough to find suitable others. But in a world of imperfect options, most of us seem to find monogamy the happier choice.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Lose Virginity, Lose Self-Esteem?
Sex Objects Who Don’t Enjoy Sex
Women Want Emotionally Connected Sex. Why?

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 11, 2011, in gender, men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Straight couples are in more nomongunous relation than they realize. With 1 in 10 men watch porno they are already cheating on their wives. Consider that men have a stronger sex drive than women before the advent of the internet there was the an enormous number of adult movie theatres and book stores. As a gay man who worked in those establishments there was always a steady stream of ring wearing men at all times going in and out like a revolving door. That doesn’t mean they were having sex with other woman. They’d spend their five bucks watching porno movies in booths. They would get get off and head home or work or wherever the were heading. They were watching not touching anyone except themselves. Were they in a monogamous relationship? You decide. Were they being faithful to their wives or girlfriends?

  2. Mr. Savage needs to speak for himself. I sure would hate to be his wife if his view of their relationship is characterized by “boredom, despair, lack of variety, [and] sexual death.” And he’s such a prize? (Oh, I just remembered he’s gay. Women rejoice!; you’ve just dodged a big, fat, sleazy bullet.)
    I would ask: if the relationship is open, what makes it marriage? The primary hallmark of marriage is the joining of two people into a committed partnership, emotionally and otherwise, thus creating a new family unit which can be enlarged by the addition of children. Sexual fidelity strengthens the bonds of trust and creates a deep sense of safety and security between the couple which then filters down to their children; it’s a great win-win. (This is providing that the relationship is healthy in other important respects. Otherwise, it’s cold comfort knowing that your partner would never cheat on you, but is faithless or abusive in other areas.)
    While marriage has often been used for political or business expediency, I believe that humanity is best served when the basis for marriage is a love based on friendship and respect. Happier people, happier families, happier societies.
    It seems to me that people looking for an open marriage aren’t ready for any marriage, period. If you’re not ready for commitment, you’re not ready for marriage, so why do these guys even bother? Really, what’s the point? Unless for some it’s their own twist on political expediency? After all, a married candidate still resonates more with a conservative constituency than a single one.
    The whole evolutionary psychology argument is just another bit of expediency for people who want to do what they want to do but use so-called scientific findings as their justification.
    Judith Lipton, who asserts that monogamous lifestyles go against “some of the deepest-seated evolutionary inclinations,” needs to dig a little deeper into the animal kingdom. There are a number of animal types which mate for life (wolves, swans, and even one kind of parasitic worm, for example). And while the majority of animals might have more than one partner over the course of a lifetime (though usually not simultaneously), the fact is that humans are a species unto ourselves, different in many significant ways from all the other creatures on this planet. The so-called experts have to look at what actually works for us, and from what the blog indicates, open marriage sure doesn’t seem to fit that bill.

  3. I also think open marriage doesn’t help develop a passionate, respectful, and timeless relationship. When one clings to open marriage, he/she would like to enjoy a wide range of sexual variety instead of long lasting relationship. Why we have to vow and make promise when we get married? It is to declare our spouse to be the one and only lover for the rest of our life. Under open marriage, who should be your true love? Or those people may support freedom to love. They feel no bond to a specific relationship. Once they want to, they can choose to have sex with anybody they like. They feel no burden of hurting other partners’ feelings.
    But I think it alters the original principle of freedom. Freedom to love is not to mess up our relationships. Human beings are different from animals is that we have control over our desire. Human’s love include respect, caring, responsibility,admiration and rationality. Human and animals both have sexual desire but human would think about our norm and value.

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