Sex / Books
So What You're Saying Is That No One Should Be Monogamous?
by Dan Savage
on Wed, Jul 7, 2010 at 2:51 PM
No, that's not what I'm saying—and it's not what the authors of Sex At Dawn are arguing either.
The point of Sex At Dawn—and my point in drawing your attention to it (column, podcast)—isn't that monogamy is unnatural and therefore no one should attempt it and that people have license to break the monogamous commitments they made to their partners. And for the record: I'm happy to acknowledge that there are lots of good reasons to be monogamous or very nearly monogamous.
What the authors of Sex At Dawn believe—what they prove—is that we are a naturally non-monogamous species, despite what we've been told for millennia by preachers and for centuries by scientists, and that is why so many people have such a hard time being and remaining monogamous. I'm not saying that everyone everywhere has to be non-monogamous; the authors of Sex At Dawn don't make that argument either. (Lots of monogamists, however, run around insisting that everyone everywhere should be monogamous—and the monogamists get a pass because, hey, they mean so well and wouldn't it be nice if everyone were?)
The point is that people—particularly those who value monogamy—need to understand why being monogamous is so much harder than they've been lead to believe it will be. In some cases this understanding may help people find the courage to seek out non-monogamous relationships and/or arrangements and/or allowances that make them—gasp!—happier and make their relationships more stable, not less, as a routine infidelity won't doom their marriage/domesticpartnership/commitment/slavecontract/whatever. But understanding that monogamy is a struggle for most people, and being able to be honest with our partners about it, may actually help some people remain monogamous.
UPDATE: This letter arrived in the "Savage Love" mailbox as I was writing this post:
I just wanted to thank you for drawing so much attention to the Sex At Dawn book. I am going to get it as soon as possible so I can better understand myself. I have always felt a certain amount of shame because I've never had a monogamous relationship. Having been married 14 years (and having married at 19, which I know is a no-no in your book), I've had plenty of temptation and only given in a few times. Those events felt like they were saving my sanity, they never had anything to do with me loving my husband any less, or making up for his insufficiencies.
Even if I had waited to get married I still would've had these side relationships. It wasn't until I started listening to your advice that I realized that maybe I wasn't the problem. Now there's this book and it gives me hope that our culture might one day be more open about this subject and perhaps more people will come to see the inability to be monogamous as less of a character flaw and more of a fact of life.
For all these years I didn't even know that's what it was, or what was wrong with me, all I knew was that I felt like shit because I couldn't do it. Thanks for cluing me into evolution, reptile brains, etc. This is all very pertinent now, as I am at a serious crossroads and I need all the help I can get.—M
I'm not giving M here a pass on the cheating. I think people should be honest with their partners, etc. What I'd like to see—and what I think a book like Sex At Dawn brings us closer to—is more realism and more honesty. People should have open, honest conversations with prospective partners about their needs, their expectations, what they're capable of, and what happens if they fall short, before they make what may be, for them, an unrealistic promise that they are not just likely to break, but hard-wired to break.