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.
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