Open Marriage Hasn’t Caught On?

Why hasn’t open marriage caught on?

Open marriage, the sensible alternative to monogamy?

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

Sex columnist, Dan Savage, is all for it. But he acknowledges that 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 often run along the lines of “sex for fun without emotional involvement.” But for most women the only good sex is emotionally connected. So it can be hard for men hoping for openness 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 and she finds less non-monogamy among lesbians.

And therein lies the rub.

I suspect women’s widespread desire for emotional connection is more cultural than biological, as I’ll discuss next time.

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.

Bu then, 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 non-monogamy.

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.”

Maybe for half of us. Research shows that about half of us — men and women alike — seem to prefer non-monogamy and half seem to prefer just one life partner.

Yet for those who are non-monogamous 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.”

Animals have it easier. They seem to lack the human capacity for jealousy or the deep emotional bonding that humans so often crave in relationship.

And we live in a culture that celebrates monogamy and soul mates who will fill us with passion, joy, intimacy, transformation, and oneness.

Open marriage may work for some couples when they are lucky enough to find suitable others. But that choice can be a struggle in our culture, especially when a non-monogamous person marries a monogamous one.

Related Posts
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 3, 2017, in psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 41 Comments.

  1. Its nothing but a recipe for disaster in an already confused world. Any man who has his priorities in order will tell you that sex with a partner you trust and can be open.with in every way is 10x any Hooker or office romp sex. Because thats how we were created to be one man and one woman.

    • Well, non-monogamy does present its challenges. One of my male students wrote his final paper on how he prefers a lot of relationships yet he eventually wants to be in a monogamous marriage because of the deep bonds it offers. So I’m curious about research showing that about half of both women and men alike prefer variety in sex. Do they also prefer that after marriage? Do they prefer not to get married? It is confusing since three quarters of women and men also prefer emotional connection in sex. And you can do that through polyamorous relationships but then the jealousy still comes up. I have friends who are in open marriages and I know a guy who thinks it’s no problem at all but I know that his wife has dealt with jealousy issues even though he doesn’t see it, or doesn’t want to see it. She’s more monogamous so he doesn’t have to do with the jealousy so much.

  2. “I suspect women’s widespread desire for emotional connection is more cultural than biological, as I’ll discuss next time.”

    So… you’re saying you’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchy? What are you going to do about this disturbing turn of events?

    • I should have reworded that.

      This is a repeat for the holiday. I originally wrote this before I knew that 3/4 of both women and men prefer emotional relationship in sex. Suggesting that the desire for emotion is probably innate in both women and men. However, men are still more okay with non-emotional sex. And that may well come from the fact that women and men are socialized differently, with women’s sexuality much more punished, leading to lower desire. When you have a lower desire it takes a lot more to be interested. And strong emotional connection is something that I can create or enhance interest. You don’t find this pattern in all cultures which is why I think it’s socialized.

      What to do about it? Stop punishing women’s sexuality. Women and men will both be happier. For instance, when couples marry men’s sexual desire lowers a little bit but over time women’s plummets. Women’s sexuality is punished and repressed so much that it takes a lot to get them interested. If women’s sexuality weren’t so punished and repressed Women wouldn’t need so much to stay interested and would stay more more interested in long-term relationships.

  3. How long can you really go separating sex from emotional involvement? It seems to me that while an occasional one-nighter might work in a non-monogamous relationship, over a period of time some competing emotional entanglements are going to pop up that are going to impact your marriage.

    • Yeah, about 3/4 of both men and women prefer sex WITH emotional connection. But women are more insistent on it. It’s men’s preference but they can more easily go either way on average. Next time I will try to discuss why you find that difference. And based on research it does seem that emotions do make non-monogamy difficult even for those who want it. Yet about half of both women and men do seem to prefer non-monogamy. Just difficult to figure out how to make it work.

  4. I think open marriage is retrogressive…reminds me of the beginning of the history of man!

    • Yeah, I don’t know. My personal feeling is that you can get much deeper bonding in a monogamous relationship. I haven’t talked about that in my classes but one of my male students who prefers a variety of partners wrote a paper where he described feeling the same way. He prefers a variety of partners but eventually wants a monogamous relationship to sustain that deep bonding. I don’t know how you can have deep bonding when you are putting your energy in a lot of different places. But maybe different people want different things. Surveys suggest that about half of both men and women prefer a variety of partners. There may be advantages genetically to both monogamy and non-monogamy that create that pattern. So who knows? Maybe it’s different strokes for different folks.

      • maybe people who want variety, need to simply exhaust their curiosity and sow their oats? The male student says he wants a variety of partners, and many guys do. Wome being sex objects and so sexually appealing is probably a lot to do with it. As there’s that lust and curiosity for the various beauty of each woman. I think women’s looks and bodies are more varied or a bigger variation than men’s bodies. A lot of the different with guys (coming from a straight guy though) is slimmness, heavy, height, body strutcure. For example, it seems like seeing a slim, toned male torso, like they are seemingly all the same, I don’t know. I can’t say that with women even if women are basically of the same slim build.

        But I think a lot of guy’sf find themselves caring less about that stuff if and when they do so their oats. Some never get out of it, but it could be a relief so that a guy can focus on a serious relationship with one woman for the rest of his life and a family. I can see how things could seem dull with the same person, especially considering how couples over time and women, their sex drive goes down over time. As well as I think couples stop doing things they used to do and stop the flirting and spontaneous sex and exciting. They make sex routine instead of fun. But I don’t see how open relationships can work. I would never want that, because it’s hard for most people to be fine with their spouse having sex with another person, especially the opposite sex right? There would be jeaolousy. There’s some guys maybe who like open relationships or are beta, who get involved with what’s called a “cuckold” and get turned on watching their gf or wife having sex with another guy and the husband watching it. But I don’t get it.

      • I just wrote this to someone else:

        I know some families who practice non-monogamy but put great emphasis on providing resources for children. Given that half of us seem to be monogamous and half not I’m starting to think it might be better to be open about both types so that the monogamous people can find each other and the polygamous people can find each other. Because the worst situation is a monogamous person marrying a polygamous person — but open marriage needs to be done such that children are provided for. And sometimes polyamory provides a great deal of resources. (Full disclosure, I’m monogamous myself but have friends who aren’t.)

        That said, they seem oftentimes to be difficult to maintain.

        “I think couples stop doing things they used to do and stop the flirting and spontaneous sex and exciting. They make sex routine instead of fun.”

        Yeah. And the relationships that seem to be the best sexually long-term are those were the couple is very closely bonded. Or novelty and variety is introduced in other ways.

      • btw, my eyes really need to rest so I am only posting twice a week. And I really need shorter comments. I’ll post some of yours and ask you to shorten them.

        You are a good thinker and have the potential to be a good writer. You could practice the latter by editing your thoughts down and organizing them. I’d actually like to post more of your stuff on this blog.

      • I agree with you Georgia, monogamy has been successful due to bonding, which develops naturally and slowly. Trust follows and these two virtues are essential for a healthy society. Freedom must have some limitations otherwise it has always been exploited by whosoever got an opportunity.

      • Its very important for children to have parents to provide resources. Probably why monogamy is preferred in almost all cultures. I know some families who practice non-monogamy but put great emphasis on providing resources for children. Given that half of us seem to be monogamous and half not I’m starting to think it might be better to be open about both types so that the monogamous people can find each other and the polygamous people can find each other. Because the worst situation is a monogamous person marrying a polygamous person — but open marriage needs to be done such that children are provided for. And sometimes polyamory provides a great deal of resources. (Full disclosure, I’m monogamous myself but have friends who aren’t.)

  5. btw, my eyes really need to rest so I am only posting twice a week. And I really need shorter comments. I’ll post some of yours and ask you to shorten them.

    You are a good thinker and have the potential to be a good writer. You could practice the latter by editing your thoughts down and organizing them. I’d actually like to post more of your stuff on this blog.”

    thanks for the compliment and sorry for the posts. I thought I shortened some, but I don’t realize the legnth sometimes, because there’s just all these thoughts in my head. Yeah I think I posted something in the recent porn related post you had. I said to delete one and I thought I wrote something else and thought I had it shorter but if you post it and I’ll write it short and I put something in the men don’t feel sexy it sucks post. My thought on what you wrote and what is happening for you and other women. I wanted to know if you commenting or what would cause more posts would be better or answer backs. I would have short posts but more for me to say, but your answer would bring up my follow up question or other thoughts but they would be small, broken up ones, but more of them. I don’t know if that’s fine or not, but then I would have small posts like this or shorter.

    • Thanks for your concern.

      But this one’s kind of long too — I tried to skim through this one and not read too much.

      It might take me a few days to get to some of yours.

  6. Arletta Ellington

    Hi! I’ve lived in a monogamous relationship for 41 years. It was a happy marriage, and we had two lovely daughters. Now, as a widower since five years, I’ve learnt from my own experience that I don’t need another monogamous relationship. But I’m not really fond of separating sex from emotion either. The best relations for me now are those where we both care fully for one another when we meet and then let the other go his/her own ways till we meet again.

    I think monogamy has its time when you have a partner and you have children together.

    I sometimes think about what would have happened in our marriage with the urge for freedom we both had, if my wife had lived. I think – but I don’t know – we would have found out that we could not be everything for each other. And perhaps, loving each other the way we did, we would have found ways of allowing each other the freedoms we both needed to keep emotionally alive. But these are things I will never know. What I know is that now I rather live without sex than giving up my freedom.
    Ellington

    • I wonder if things would work better if we recognized that half of us are monogamous and half of us are polygamous in our preferences. Because then the monogamous people could find each other and polygamous people could find each other and live the way they wanted. I might write something on this sometime. For the good of children polygamous people would need to stay highly involved with the children they produce — which is what seems to happen in Open marriage these days.

  7. I suspect this “Open Marriage” concept is a fantasy, for all but a few and why would those few even get married in the first place.

  8. I can’t think of anything worse, but if it works for some people, then who’s business is it really?

    • That’s pretty much how I feel about it.

      I have some friends who are in open marriages and sometimes it works and sometimes things are pretty strained. I wrote this for one of my friends who is in an open marriage and isn’t sure why everyone isn’t doing it. (And I was plenty annoyed with his trying to pressure others into it (like me) –“oh, you’re just too prudish but would love it if you did it.”)

      I wrote this before data came out showing at about half of us prefer monogamy and half of us prefer a polygamous lifestyle. Had I known that, I would’ve added that half of us are monogamous and just aren’t interested. (This is a repeat for the holiday and I actually may have added that — can’t recall.)

      • Well hang on now. When I pointed out that virtually all (I would argue all) societies are patriarchal, your argument was “Yeah, but…. look over here.. there is some remote society I discovered that doesn’t seem patriarchal. Therefore patriarchy is a social construct”.

        But now when you you find some humans promiscuous and some monogamous you say “Oh, must be biological”.

        Why the inconsistency? Why not acknowledge that most humans gravitate to patriarchy, and even if some don’t, it doesn’t eliminate its biological reality? That testosterone does something, whether to promiscuity or dominance.

        Sounds like cherry picking to me.

      • Patriarchy has to be a social construct because you don’t find it everywhere.

        We have records written by Europeans who were stunned by the gender equality among the American Indians and Pacific Islanders when they first came into contact with them. And you still don’t find it in forager societies.

        Since forager societies are most similar to our earliest ancestors, gender equality must have been the norm for 99% of the human experience, and more natural.

        Testosterone can’t be the reason for patriarchy since even within patriarchal societies many families are dominated by women. I grew up in a strongly patriarchal subculture and within that subculture I know several families where the wives are dominant. You must know families like this too.

        That doesn’t mean that biology never plays a role in anything. Testosterone does make men more muscular. One of the few things you can predict just by knowing sex is who’s stronger. It will almost always be the man.

        But like like I said, men can be more muscular and yet we have gender equal societies and female-dominant families within patriarchy.

        Things aren’t always so simple as they may seem.

        What I don’t understand is why you are so wedded to patriarchy?

        I’m against it because it hurts people. Why are you for it?

  9. This post just made me think of, how I can see how monogamy can be tough for people, maybe especially men. Because being out on a boat with friends and docked out and amongst others out on the lake. A boat party and there was some boats nearby anchored with what had to be 100 guys and girls. College students back out from school. Well this being a wealthy town and that lake explains the boats as when I was that age, I wasn’t out because many I knew didn’t have either parents that had boats like that or would not allow that ha. But it was obviously there parents, as they sure as hell wouldn’t have money for them. But I was next to some guys who were married and they are faithful of course, but they noticed like I did the girls over there ha. Been on plenty of boats so seeing girls out is not new, but jesus they were all sexy in many different ways. And then you think you wish you could time travel back for a minute ha.

    With pop culture and stuff, well bikinis have always been skimpy, but I’ve noticed it seems like bikinis now it seems are a litte bit more “cheeky”. One piece suits are more in too, but yeah, a lot of those cheeky too, a lot of buns out. Sorry not trying to sound like a perve, I don’t stare but of course I noticed, just like I think every guy did out there from the various boats. And then it made me think of your post with 80% of girls being body self conscious and that would mean with the %, some or many of those girls would have to be in that %. And it’s hard to fathom that. And it’s a funny way of being self conscious or doesn’t seem it. I’d think the last think a self conscious girl would do is show her ass like a lot of them did. Seems you would have to be proud of your body actually or have assets to be proud of to show off and not be hidden.

    • I just wrote this to someone else and I think I might write a blog post on this topic with this being the main point:

      I wonder if things would work better if we recognized that half of us are monogamous and half of us are polygamous in our preferences. Because then the monogamous people could find each other and polygamous people could find each other and live the way they wanted. I might write something on this sometime. For the good of children polygamous people would need to stay highly involved with the children they produce — which is what seems to happen in Open marriage these days.

  10. I wondered what your thought was on the umm temptation as far as women as sex objects in society thus clothes reflecting that. And how it can make married guys, not be unfaithful but u know think damn I wish I was young like that ha. And college girls even going skimpier with bikinis and swimsuits as far as ass coverage. They seem more cheekier for sure yet women are and girls such as even college girls are body self conscious? Sometimes the dress and actions doesn’t seem so

    • I see the problem with objectification as causing harm so here’s the harm depending on who you’re looking at, and what might be done about it (and I’m feeling a blog post coming on so thanks! And I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this.)

      A young woman objectifying herself:
      First, wearing sexy clothing isn’t necessarily objectifying yourself. If you just see yourself as reduced to an object that exists for others pleasure there’s all sorts of problems. You don’t developed the multi-dimensions of yourself. You deserve something for yourself, too. And girls find they can’t focus on other things like School and sports. It really stunts them in many ways. They may feel high status but it’s just based on this one dimension which only lasts four a few years. And they’re more likely to attract men who objectify women, Who aren’t the best guys.

      About 80% of young women don’t have good body image, so while 20% may be successful at objectifying themselves (even if it hurts them) this other 80% can end up with low self-esteem, feeling like inadequate sex objects — and it’s a huge distraction in the bedroom, I might add. (Young women who don’t objectify themselves are less likely to have these problems.)

      A single man who is lusting after young women in sexy clothing:
      Noticing and appreciating isn’t the same thing as objectifying. So he’s not causing a lot of harm unless he’s making her uncomfortable, leering, Catcalling… Then he’s treating her like she exists forces purposes and her thoughts and feelings don’t matter.

      A man (single or partnered) who lusts after young women in sexy clothing:
      Another potential problem could be that he has certain expectations for a partner and they are never met. So he is never satisfied, Or he gets low self-esteem from his inability to attract a particular type of look, men who objectify their partners don’t tend to treat them well in bed — put them down and expect them to do things that are harmful to make up or it. They don’t tend to have good relationships.

      They are also more likely to make their Partners uncomfortable as they lust after other women. That makes their partners miserable — which can in turn make them miserable.

  11. And that other post I was just saying since there’s a lot of layers to my thoughts. I can write them short but there will be follow up replies if that’s ok. So it would be short but more multiple replies back and forth if that’s ok or still better for you

  12. Every time I consider the idea of an open marriage, or an open relationship, I think it’s a wonderful idea. However, that is soon followed by the crushing realities of my inability to be able to handle all the intricacies that come with an open marriage or relationship. The stress of jealousy would simply be too much to carry a meaningful relationship. It would be smarter for me to just avoid the idea entirely. I applaud all those that are able to make open marriages and open relationships work.

    I believe the biological standpoint is well worth mentioning. Years ago, I read the book The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris for a project in my biology class. It discussed the biology and nature of humans, as if through a zoologist’s eyes. Human nature is truly fascinating, and there are many practices we have that I believe are out of our control, whether we like that or not. It is surely up for debate to say monogamy is ingrained in our “evolutionary inclinations,” but I tend to agree that monogamy is a cornerstone of human society.

  13. Personally, I would not agree to the concept of an open marriage. I strongly believe that marriage is the union of two individuals, and only two. I am unable to see how an open marriage would avoid conflicts, and as discussed in the article, jealousy. While the idea may sound exciting at first, it can quickly lead to the deterioration of the relationship between the couple. Having sexual relations with someone can easily lead to emotional attachment, so if that connection develops between a spouse and a sexual partner, the marriage can be ruined. The spouse may no longer be able to develop a strong connection between them and their spouse.

    However, I do believe that the choice to be part of an open marriage is fully up to the individuals involved in that relationship. If they can tolerate their partners engaging in sexual activities with others, whilst keeping their relationship intimate and alive, I commend them for being able to do so. No matter what the societal norms are, couples should be able to choose the direction they want to take their relationships to.

    • Yeah, I think we might be better off if the idea of open marriage were accepted and destigmatized. Then people who want that can find each other and monogamous people can find each other instead of ending up with the worst case: monogamous and polygamous people marrying each other.

  14. I don’t think an open marriage is going to be very popular. Most people get married because they want to be with their partner for the rest of their life so I don’t see them accepting to be part of an open marriage. The other problem can be jealousy, like you stated. Spouses are usually of the mindset that you should belong to each other in a sense so when you add sex with other people to the mix, it is very likely that someone in the relationship is going to get jealous.

    For those in an open relationship, it is important that both parties understand what the ground rules are before they start anything. If half of us expect monogamy while the other half do not, it is better to find someone with the same mindset. We are raised to think that monogamy is the only way so it may be hard to change one’s mind.

    • I agree that if you were going to do it you need the ground rules before hand. I have friends in open marriages and the one who was open about it before they got married still seems to be fine. But the one who “Changed the rules” after the wedding — it’s not so good.

  15. Open Marriage should never catch on. It is my belief that the concept of marriage for two people to unite and become one while still maintaining a healthy amount of individuality. I don’t believe that it is possible to meet the needs of your partner effectively if you are searching for something in another person. We often miss out on what is in front of us searching for something different. I believe that it is not monogamy that is boring but the routine that we allow ourselves to fall into once comfort has set in. This leads me to believe that having an open marriage will soon bring about boredom as well. I think it is the idea of wanting something that you do not have. Single people want to be married and married people want to be single. I also found it interesting how the young man in the blog wanted to have open relationships but did not want to be in an open marriage and also how the man divorced his wife but remarried a women who did not believe in discarding monogamy.

    • You know, the more I think about it the more it makes sense to me to have opened marriage for those who want it, Partly so that they can find each other because a a relationship between a polygamous and a monogamous person has got to be the worst!

  16. It’s curious how society today treasures monogamy when in our history we have cultures who’ve had multiple spouses, for example in Ancient China when men would have multiple wives or when kings had concubines. Perhaps it is like the article stated that our jealousy takes us to only want one partner, or is it because of our insecurities we have about ourselves that pushes us to stay monogamous? With an open relationship although we do have the real dangers of sexually transmitted diseases we also have the solution in which is each partner being tested before any physical intimacy. However, what it seems that the people fear the most is their partner leaving them when and if they find someone better suited to them. With a monogamous partnership we also have the pros of a lifetime partner, but we also have the cons of infidelity. What I think is that in the end it really depends on the individual whether or not they want a open or closed relationship some may want the freedom of have different partners and some many want the choice of just one.

    • I suspect that jealousy is a prime mover. In the few societies where people are encouraged to be nonmonogamous they have to find ways to manage to jealousy.

      But some also suspect that children are more likely to thrive when they have two parents who are sticking around and taking care of them. That can be done in nonmonogamous relationships. Still, some theorize that this is why nearly all societies encourage monogamy.

  17. RobertFoothill

    This is a very interesting topic to me, because there seems to be somewhat of a revolution towards the idea of non-monogamous relationships. Previously, these relationships were simply labeled adultery, and banned. It was very taboo to have sexual relations with someone other than your partner. The way I see it, the Internet fuels this revolution, it allows you to meet and connect with people all over the world in an instant. Whereas previously, it would be hard to find a partner to help indulge your extra-marital sexual exploration, now there are websites dedicated to doing just that. Within minutes you can sign up and look for other people with similar desires. The way I see it this is a good thing for people who are open about their non-monogamous marriages, but for people who think their partners are monogamous, it can be quite disastrous. For example some of these sites are designed to help people discretely cheat on their spouses.

    • I am monogamous myself but think it would be best for our society to be open to non-monogamy. That way people who are non-monogamous can find each other and people who are monogamous can also find each other.

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