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Get All Worked Up About Monogamy

with J.T. Benjamin


J.T. Benjamin

My Lovely Wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary last month.  Nineteen happy years of marriage to each other.  (At this point, if I were a comedian, I’d add that we’ve been married twenty-four years, but that little joke would earn me a sock on the arm and a night on the couch.  Since, as my Lovely Wife reminds me, I’m really NOT a comedian, I’ll just emphasize that yes, we’ve been married for only nineteen years, and all of them have been happy).

If you were to ask me the secret of our success, I’d have to honestly shrug my shoulders and say, “I dunno.”  We’ve been a fairly typical couple, with a fairly typical history together.  We met, fell in love, got married, and had four terrific kids together, in that order.  Fairly typical, right?


Just for kicks, my Lovely Wife and I made a list of twenty of our closest relatives and mutual friends.  We counted the number of divorces, co-habitation arrangements, children, step-children and children out of wedlock, and came up with some interesting numbers.  Of our list of twenty, sixteen of our friends and relatives have gone through at least one divorce, with an average among them of 1.75 divorces per.  Of that group of sixteen, twenty-seven of their forty-eight children were born outside the relationship, or 56.2%.  This includes children of a previous relationship, step-children, or children otherwise born out of wedlock. 

Of the other four couples on the list, one couple admits the marriage is over for all intents and purposes, and that they’re staying together for the kids.  A second couple is still together, but they had a rocky patch where the husband couldn’t keep his dick in his own pants.  That leaves two of twenty whose relationship fits the same category as that of my Lovely Wife and myself, where they’ve stayed married to each other, had children with each other after the marriage, and no ending of the relationship is in sight.

“Fairly typical,” indeed.  Now that we think about it, My Lovely Wife’s and my relationship seems extremely atypical.  I won’t pretend that our little survey is in any way scientific, but we’re in the ten percent range.  I’m sure anyone out there who performed a similar little survey would find similar results.

From a more scientific perspective, as of 2008, 40% of all marriages in the U.S. are expected to end in divorce.  Similarly, 40% of all U.S. births since 2000 have been out of wedlock. 

So…if a large portion my circle of friends doesn’t comply with the societal norm, does that mean my circle of friends is abnormal…or is the norm?

A new book, Sex at Dawn written by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, (available, among other places, at Amazon, please buy through ERWA’s link, Sex at Dawn, thanks) brings up again the age-old debate about what is (or should be) man-and-womankind’s “natural” state when it comes to personal and sexual relationships.  Are we as human beings meant to be, like my wife and myself, plus a minority of our friends and relatives, monogamous, strictly devoted to one spouse until death us do part?  Or are we supposed to engage in the mating dance like most other creatures in nature, having multiple partners over the course of our lives?

On the one hand, pro-monogamy advocates argue that long-term, stable relationships provide the best opportunity for emotional and mental health, not just for the mating couple but for the children of that couple as well.  Monogamy also curbs the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, so physical health is also affected in a positive way.  In addition, most religious and moral belief systems are pro-monogamy and hey, if God says it must be so, it must be so, right?  (Never mind the fact that Abraham, Jacob, Muhammad, David, Solomon, Brigham Young, and many other religious leaders and patriarchs had multiple wives).

On the other hand, anti-monogamy advocates point to several pieces of biological and social data which indicate that a wide variety of sexual partners over the course of one’s life is good for  humankind because variation in sexual partners is critical to diversity of species, which is also critical to evolution.  Most living species on the planet, including virtually all of our primate cousins, for example, have many sexual partners.  Restricting ourselves to one mate for life is bad for the species, and it goes against nature.

Pro-monogamy advocates usually then claim that anti-monogamy advocates are really looking for rationalizations to commit adultery.  Anti-monogamy advocates then usually tell pro-monogamy advocates they’re living in a fantasyland if they think monogamy is the norm since virtually nobody practices it.  Pro-monogamy advocates then call the anti-monogamy advocates hippie degenerates, and the anti-monogamy advocates then call their opponents fascist assholes.  The debate usually collapses at that point.

The full implications of the nature of this debate are profound.  If polygamy (or at the very least, polyamory—multiple lovers), is wired into our DNA, maybe homosexuality is biological as well, and it’s pointless to try to legislate or moralize it out of existence.  One might as well try to restrict personal freedoms on the basis of skin or eye color, right?

But on the other hand, the one-partner single family unit has itself evolved over thousands of years of human development, hasn’t it?  Wouldn’t that indicate that man-and-womankind has benefitted from that arrangement?  That it works?  If, hypothetically, it was announced tomorrow that people could form sexual partnerships with whomever they want, whenever they want, wouldn’t that invite anarchy?  Are we prepared to take the risk that a complete restructuring of the family unit would have only beneficial consequences?  And what of love?  Wouldn’t a world which approves of multiple partners cheapen the idea that one person is devoted to one other person forever?

I have no answers to these questions other than those which are strictly anecdotal.  From a personal standpoint, I’m very much pro-monogamy in my own life.  I’ve got one wife, whom I love very much, and without whom I can’t imagine having a happy existence.  Likewise, I can’t imagine caring about another wife anywhere near as much as I care for Lovely Wife Number One.  That is, Number One-And-Only.

However, as my long list of non-monogamous friends and relatives indicates, I know many many people for whom monogamy hasn’t worked out; some are happier with their new life partners, (or without the burden of same), some are more unhappy. 

Then, there are Fred and Wilma. (Not their real names).  They’re one of the two-couples-in-twenty I mentioned at the beginning of this column; one of those rare couples who met, got married, had kids, and have stayed together ever since; monogamy personified, right?  Well within the so-called norm of which society expects and approves.

Except Fred and Wilma happen to be swingers.  Every so often, they meet up with other like-minded couples, have a few drinks and some sparkling conversation, then they get naked and have casual, consensual sex with these other couples.  Are they being monogamous?

According to Fred and Wilma, absolutely!  They entered into the swinging “lifestyle” freely and without reservation.  They’re not interested in forming relationships with these other couples that go beyond a playful romp in the hay.  They have set up a strict set of rules about with whom they may hook up and what may be done, they never do anything without discussing it and coming to an agreement, and they’d never dream of going behind each other’s back with someone else.  They’re having sex with other people, they say, but they’re not cheating.  They’re not betraying the trust that exists between them in their marriage.

When I talked with Fred and Wilma about their relationship, they’re adamant that they consider themselves monogamous and faithful.  Wilma says, “There’s a difference between sex and a loving commitment to each other.  If we’re not considered monogamous because we’re having casual sex with other people, then that means that monogamy’s only about sex, and it doesn’t matter whether we love each other or not.”

Fred, the blunt one, says, “Piss on societal norms.  I don’t care what other people think a monogamous relationship should be, or even if it’s a good thing or not.  Wilma and I are happy with each other now, and that’s all I care about.  It’s nobody’s business but ours.”

Spoken like a true reader of this column.

Ultimately, the issue of whether we’re supposed to have a single partner for the rest of our lives, or whether we’re supposed to hop from bed to bed cannot be answered from a societal standpoint.  Monogamy appears to be one of those things that, like virtually every other aspect of human sexuality, must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  Some people are meant to be intimate with only one other person.  Some are meant not to be.  Different strokes for different folks.

As for my Lovely Wife and myself, you may be wondering if, despite all appearances, we ourselves comply with the societal norm.  We may appear to behave within the spectrum of appropriate behavior, but is there something that maybe I’m not disclosing about my relationship with my Lovely Wife?  Is there something in our marriage that indicates we’re not so much the (apparent) rule when it comes to monogamy, but in fact are part of the (apparent) exception?

Well, to quote my good friend Fred, that’s nobody’s business but ours, isn’t it?

J.T. Benjamin
August 2010

If you have comments or questions about this column, please drop by J.T. Benjamin's blog or send an email to J.T. Benjamin

Get All Worked Up with J.T. Benjamin in ERWA 2010 Archive.

"All Worked Up" © 2010 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

About the Author:  J.T.Benjamin says, "I'm a generalist. I write about what interests me, which is just about everything." His resume reflects the diversity of his interests. He's been a disk jockey, insurance salesman, private investigator, journalist, college professor, child advocate, political activist, truckdriver, thief,, lawyer, Indian Chief. He's currently trying to start a hippie commune in the Denver/Boulder area.
Email:  J.T. Benjamin

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