Friday, February 24, 2006

Monogamania


Look man, I'm telling you right off the bat I'm high maintenance. So I'm not gonna tip-toe around your marriage or whatever it is ya got goin' on there. If you wanna be with me, you're with me.
--Clementine Kruczynski
, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I've got monogamy on the brain.

Seems like so many bloggers I'm reading lately are dealing with marriage issues or are pondering infidelity, either actually or theoretically. In a way, it makes coupledom seem pretty hopeless and kind of makes me glad I'm single. It seems so much easier to deal with in some ways (and of course harder in others).

In any case, I've been thinking a lot about monogamy, and if it has a place in the world anymore, and if a girl who's wired for it has any hope of finding a guy who is as well. What are the chances?

My first question is: Is monogamy as rare as it seems? Are humans as a species inherently hardwired to seek out other partners, regardless of their feelings for the person they're with?

The American media is certainly rife with dramas, comedies, books, and news items about people cheating on people. But does a staggeringly higher percentage of print and electronic stimuli focused on infidelity really prove what's going on in the actual world? Probably not. Seems to me the only thing it proves is we have a obsessive fascination with the topic, and the media wants to feed and profit off of it.

Then there's the stat out there that says only about five percent of mammals are monogamous, which is often held up as proof that human monogamy is unnatural. But hey, in the animal kingdom, most males also abandon their kids before or just after they're born, and though we humans have got a few deadbeats out there, I'd hardly say that most human males have the "natural instinct" to abandon their kids. So again, I don't think comparing ourselves to our mammal cousins necessarily proves anything.

And of course humans themselves will verify the stereotypes for you: males and females alike will say things like "men are dogs," etc. But history is filled with examples of terrible, false stereotypes that have hijacked the human imagination and held it for ransom for years before the truth can be rescued. Just because people believe it doesn't make it true.

No, for real evidence, you'd need some good statistical studies. Well, apparently there's very little of that. In doing some looking around the internet for such studies, you can find hardly anything. However, there seems to be one that is CONSISTENTLY quoted over and over again. Here's a representative excerpt from an article on Discovery Health online
One often-cited expert, Peggy Vaughan, author of 'The Monogamy Myth," estimates that 60 percent of husbands and 40 percent of wives will have an affair at some point in their marriage...
"Oft-cited." Yeah. Well at least that part is verifiable. Ms. Vaughan's stat is everywhere. And yet strangely, no one seems to bother to have looked up where she got her statistics from. No worries, I'll do it for you.

On her own website, Ms. Vaughan has very graciously put up the introduction to her book (scroll way down, past all the miles of promotional stuff). The 60/40 statistical reference appears there, as does her extended analysis of it (any emphasis is the author's).
The reality is that monogamy is not the norm, not by today's standards, anyway. Conservative estimates are that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will have an extramarital affair. These figures are even more significant when we consider the total number of marriages involved, since it's unlikely that all the men and women having affairs happen to be married to each other. If even half of the women having affairs (or 20 percent) are married to men not included in the 60 percent having affairs, then at least one partner will have an affair in approximately 80 percent of all marriages.
So according to this, 80 percent of marriages (we presume she means in the US) end up with at least one act of infidelity. Pretty grim, right? But wait, Miss Syl, you ask, did you leave out the part where she says WHERE she got these "conservative" statistics from? Nope. She never says.

So why are so many people--including legitimate news sources--quoting this woman, anyway? Not one of them bothers to verify the claim of this WOMAN WHO IS TRYING TO SELL A BOOK ABOUT HOW INFIDELITY CAN BE STOPPED. Um, HELLO...wouldn't it be in her best interest to build paranoia? If the stats weren't that dire, why would anyone need her book?

Of course, it doesn't mean the statistic ISN'T true, either. But unless Peggykins can cough up some well-researched, unbiased representative sample study that she got this data from, I'm going to assume there's no reliability to her facts. Smacks strongly of the "a woman over 30 (or whatever it was) has a better chance of getting killed by a terrorist than getting married" misinformation/paranoia campaign.

Show me the evidence, Peggy, you oft-cited media ho! Oops, apologies, she isn't a ho. She doesn't like people to sleep around. I forgot.

Shockingly, besides Peggy Vaughan's ubiquitous citation, there is hardly anything out there from a reliable source that I could find in two days of internet searches--and I am the queen of internet research, I'll have you know. All I could find was this site, which lists some research stats they attribute to the Associated Press (which I find unlikely--is AP running a research branch now?). More likely AP was citing someone else, but I can't find the actual AP article this site refers to. Anyway, the site quotes AP as saying:
Twenty-two percent of men and 14 percent of women admitted to having sexual relations outside their marriage sometime in their past.
Twenty-two/fourteen is a far cry from 60/40.

Ironically, the only other numbers I can find are actually from a USA Today article cited on...wait for it...Peggy Vaughan's site! Apparently it was titled "Affairs Rare Despite Rumored Popularity." The article is from 1998 and talks about an as-of-yet incomplete study that so far has found:

In spite of confessed sexual peccadilloes in Congress and the White House, not everybody is doing it.

The latest, still-unpublished research shows that about 24% of men and 14% of women have had sex outside their marriages. A national study of 5,000 men and women who have been married is under way at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, San Francisco.

The findings closely match those of a prestigious 1994 study from the University of Chicago.

So again 24/14. Not that high, really. By the way, I'm guessing Vaughn has this contradictory article on her site because farther down in the text, her "oft-cited" unsubstantiated numbers are used to contradict the study by the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, San Francisco. Uh, yeah.

Anyway, so what does it all mean? Could a study ever really measure the truth of infidelity? After all, one person might think simply kissing a person outside the relationship is cheating, whereas another person might define "infidelity" solely as coitus outside of the relationship.

Ugh. Too much to think about.

So, what do you think? Which statistics are correct? Are any of them? Is infidelity the natural state of things? Is monogamy obsolete? Or are we allowing the widespread SUGGESTION that humans--especially men--can't be monogamous to create a world in where it's actually becoming a reality?

Tell me. I really need to know.

37 Comments:

Blogger Karl Elvis said...

I for one think humans are not wired for monogamy. I think it's intuitively obvious and that stats, as usual with stats, don't paint a true story. Any stats on human behavior vis-a-vis fidelity are skewed; we depend on honesty of answers, interpretation of the questions, populations where the question is asked (small towns vs. big cities), age groups.

And in fact even accurate stats on behavior would give you not human nature, but human nature skewed by an artificial overlay of cultural restriction. 'thou shalt not' is wired deep into western culture, but it's there because 'thou shalt' is our default.

We're wired to mate. We're wired to spread genes as far and wide as possible. The strict couple dynamic is a creation; we're a tribal, communal organism, sexually as well as socially.

Monogamy isn't in the blood. And I think our culture needs to get over the idea that it's a natural state.

2/24/2006 3:00 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Karl. So do you think this extends also to love, and the concept of "soulmates?" You hear a lot of people say, "I love my spouse; I just want to have sex with other people. But that sex is meaningless to me, it's just sex--my spouse is the only one who I truly love."

Can we love only one person and have sex with many? Or, if we are wired to mate, are we also hardwired to love multiple people?

I do think we're wired to mate, though whether to spread genes far and wide is up for debate. But humans are singular in our extreme ability to attach emotion to mating. It's when that occurs that it causes all kinds of complexity. And despite what some people say, it does seem difficult for many people to avoid feeling emotion for someone they're mating with, even when they say they can control it.

2/24/2006 11:00 PM  
Blogger Anastasia said...

I think the validation of infidelity in sexual society plays into the flimsy (because there is no proof) excuse that men are supposed to be 'polygamous'. There is no sociological proof of this, prehistoric cave paintings don't really depict orgies, they depict essentials of everyday life.

So I largely disagree with Karl above because the view is something that reflects the largely pseudoscientific view of 'man'.

Infidelity, or what essentially becomes/results in infidelity, is the result of a person's inability to deal with disappointment in a relationship or a dysfunctional relationship, vanity (in many cases where a person needs sexual validation for their 'self esteem'), as well as the inability to face the 'music' (how their immediate circle will react to the news of a relationship's end). All infidelity is, is a 'lie', that's all it is as well as an excuse to validate one's ego. I can appreciate how many look to outside relationships, but essentially I believe that meeting a significant other through that 'affair' is the worst foundation for a relationship, because a pattern (to deal with one's behaviour, by lying and fucking another person) has developed and it doesn't really bode well for the relationship that follows.

Polygamy is seen in history, in societies that feature elite set ups: in other words, people who are wealthy enough to act out, whereas the ordinary human being or 'peasant' had more important things to think about, such as survival and this survival depended on a monogamous relationship, or rather, a relationship where one could depend on another person. A bond, in other words. The polygamy, polyamory, infidelity etc, of earlier times is the function of the bourgoisie, people who had little else to do with their time.

I'd say that humans are 'wired' to survive. The notion of 'sex' as a romantic escapade, as a validation of 'love' and affection (by means of orgies, affairs, and whatever else outside one primary relationship via the avenue of deceit, which is what infidelity is: deceit), is a recent phenomenon, an artificial construct in a way.

In a story I wrote, which was inspired by a Greek myth, 'The Art of War', I've taken a female character who discovers her husband's online infidelity, and turns the tables on him.

I've always thought infidelity is the cop out, the excuse, that doesn't really show any 'guts'. People who claim they're 'wired' to fuck and spread genes, claim these things because they've read them somewhere when the truth is that there is no scientific proof of this (in the neurological sense).

2/25/2006 12:48 AM  
Blogger Anastasia said...

ps: I do realise that my comment may offend, but it's how I feel on the subject of infidelity. One time I was washing clothes, and emptied out jean pockets (to get rid of any tissues, coins before putting them into the washing machine) only to find a paper with the numbers of escorts and brothels.

The excuse? 'Men are polygamous'.

What utter bullshit.

Lying, as a pastime, excuse, or whatever, is a destructive pastime and it doesn't really offer an individual anything other but stress. Yes, they'll tell themselves they're 'in love' and all that jazz, but they are blind to the destruction they cause around themselves (their spouses, their children). Although preventing the need to be unfaithful does cause angst, at least it doesn't escalate to the point of lying and then being 'found out'. And by 'prevention' I mean, dealing with the relationship (ending the relationship etc). At least that way a partner knows, they lick their wounds and move on, rather than having to find out at a later date their spouse was involved with another person.

2/25/2006 12:59 AM  
Blogger Karl Elvis said...

Syl, I think we're wired to love many; I think the one-true-love is an invention of Victorian literature.

English is horrifically poor in words for love; the same word is applied to a sports team, a sandwich, a teevee show, a parent, a child, a best pal, a spouse, a crush, or the object of passion. We have an incredible spectrum of 'love', and I do not feel the exact same love for even those few for who I feel true romantic love. Each love is a different thing.

Love isn't something we have a limited supply of. We may run short on time, or energy, or attention, and these things make the logistics of loving more than one person terribly difficult in a society that expects 'couples'; but it's easy to love more than one person.

And yeah, it's entirely too easy, sometimes, to fall in love with people because you've mated with them. I know this entirely too well.

2/25/2006 3:31 AM  
Blogger Aine said...

So why - if we're not monogomous - does it hurt so goddamn much to find out your partner is a cheat? And why, despite few showing me the same respect, would I never lower myself to cheating on anyone?

2/25/2006 6:21 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Anastasia: Thanks for your very thoughtful posts. I doubt anyone will be offended by what you say. Karl's a tough guy, he can take a difference of opinion on his theory, and so can I. Open debate is what makes us evolve.

Though, looked at from the outside, I think you two are talking about different things, and perhaps it's my fault. I think I may have accidentally used the terms polygamy (where everyone is in the know and in agreement with the "rules") and infidelitly, where someone is NOT in the know, and the other person decides they are "wired" to be polygamous and goes and acts on it without announcing it to the other person--interchangably.

I heartily agree with you that deceit in a relationship where there was a monogamous understanding is a weakness and the person ought to have the courage to present their wants and needs up front, and leave the relationship if those wants and needs can not be fufilled (or, more maturely, if an acceptable compromise can't be reached). But what if all parties are aware?

Seems to me what Karl is saying is that we should ALL realize we are nonmonogamous and get rid of the stigma attached to that reality and just feel comfortable with more widespread sexual activity. If this the case, it would imply he believes there SHOULD be no deceit--that all people should be aware of this "wiring," accept it, and absorb it as the more general "way to exist."

Now, is it realistic/possible for the world to evolve in this way? I'm not sure. Even Karl himself, below, says he has fallen in love in some sexual relationships. Once emotion gets involved, I see the prospect as becoming more difficult. I know for myself that once I love a person romantically, I simply no longer have the urge to be with anyone else. Why this happens, whether it's emotional weakness, naivete, a biological survival response, the release of drug-like chemicals in my brain that make me crave that person like heroin, whatever, I don't know. The one thing I DON'T think it is, however, is societal pressure. I've never stayed with someone because I thought I should, but I've certainly stayed with someone out of love when all my needs weren't getting met. But then eventually I didn't.

I'm not sure that society is the only thing that encourages monogamy. In fact, I think there may be some other biological and emotional instincts at work that encourage it. I have been doing more reading about chemical release during sex and mammals that mate for life, and I have a few interesting links to post, but I have a pretty busy day in front of me today so I will have to put them up later.

And as to your personal experience, I'm sorry you had to go through that. I've been there. Not under the *exact* same circumstance, but I think the emotions are always the same when you find out someone you've trusted to act with integrity to his/her word lets you down. No worse feeling in the world.

2/25/2006 8:10 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Karl: Yes, I agree there are all kinds of love. I suppose I was talking about romantic love in particular.

I've been thinking about my own patterns. I have generally believed myself to be monogamous, because while I'm with the person I've chosen to love, I feel very little need to be with anyone else. And I suppose my ideal is a John and Yoko kind of thing (the creative exchange of minds and sex and devotion, not the 24/7 need to be together thing).

And yet, though I believe myself to be monogamous because of this, ultimately all my relationships, even the more lengthy ones, have ended and I have moved on to choose another person, or have sex with another person.

So, is this "serial monogamy,": in its way, a verification of my tendency to want to have a variety of sexual partners? I'm not sure. Some relationshps were ended by the other person--I can't say for sure if I would have stayed with that person forever if they hadn't been (though I suspect not).

The falling in love romantically thing is where it gets messy. Even with a clear agreement to be polygamous, that aspect can't be controlled. I've known a few people who were in "open marriages"--none of them are together any more. Maybe marriage is the construct that's problematic, but I don't know. I see other reasons for that to exist, even though I've never subscribed to it myself.

p.s. And yes, I do realize even John and Yoko took a break where they went and had relationships with other people in the midst of their marriage and then came back together.

2/25/2006 8:19 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Woman: I feel your pain, darlin'.

Again, I think it's an issue of both partners agreeing to whatever their arrangement is. Sex, not sex, if someone lies to you who you've put all your trust in, it can be devastating.

I think we all have a right to be monogamous if we want to be. I don't think monogamy--or polygamy--is "wrong," if it works for the person. It's when you get two people together with conflicting drives--or when one person doesn't realize he/she has a conflicting drive, and makes a promise he/she can't keep, that it becomes problematic.

Not that this helps me solve my quandry.

Lol...maybe just hardcore, meaningless, anonymous sex is the answer. You can't get attached then (or can you?) Universal decree: glory holes will now replace marriage. "Do you, Miss Syl, take you, Glory Hole, to live a life of utter depravity and noncommital sex?"...

2/25/2006 8:26 AM  
Blogger Ellie said...

Hi. Interesting post and even more interesting thread of comments. People are different. Men and women are different. There are generalisations that can be made -- and each generalisation will have its exception.

I always thought that I was quite conventional. And yet somehow I have ended up in a most unconventional life. I love my husband more than anyone in the world. He is my number 1 priority. But after nine years of marriage, he joked about 'hating monogamy' ... I didn't take it personally. I know he loves women ... it was nothing against him. Slowly, baby step by baby step we have entered into a non-monogamous world. At first it was frightening, but I have found that I am more liberated. Anyway, it's the subject of my blog so I won't go into the details here. If you are curious you can read more at www.sexinthesmoke.com.

I'm glad Ms SYL made the distinction between infidelity and 'multiple' partners with the agreement of all -- it is signficant from a 'moral' standpoint. I would hasten to say, though, that even when everyone is "in the know" or an agreement exists, there can still be moments of jealousy. Discretion and sensitivity is requisite.

2/25/2006 9:21 AM  
Blogger Ellie said...

ps. Wish I had 'previewed' couple of grammar mistakes embarrass me.

2/25/2006 9:22 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Ellie, I am about to run out the door for a long day, so can't respond as I'd like to right now, but thanks for your post. I will definitely check out your blog. I often wonder if I could ever make the transition you have and keep my emotional balance intact. I will be interested to see how you are doing it.

And don't worry about grammar mistakes, silly. The thoughts are what matter, and yours are good. I never pay attention to minor glitches in text when I know people are typing fast. It's the content that reveals intelligence or not--not the typing. (But they really ought to have a spell checker for the comments window, too. I make mistakes all the time.)

2/25/2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger chelsea girl said...

Playboy, which oddly is known for verifiable fact checking and the general quality of their articles, published findings of several studies of infidelity last year and observed that most researchers agree that around 40% of all men and around 33-35% of all women cheat.

I have to agree with Karl Elvis that humans are not biologically monogamous. Monogamy is a choice we must make again and again, should we choose to be monogamous, and I'm not saying we should.

We feel pain when a partner cheats because we are deceived by a person we love and trust. The problem and the pain come from the deception, not the sex act.

I'm not sold on monogamy. I don't believe that it works for everyone. I think that if we didn't have other biological/emotiona/personal imperatives, if monogamy were so easy, we as a culture wouldn't need all those Julia Roberts movies to tell us that monogamy is the way to go.

But I do believe in honesty, so my boyfriend and I pledge honesty, not monogamy, and so far it has worked out pretty well.

2/25/2006 10:19 AM  
Blogger Karl Elvis said...

(I should make this an entry in my own blog, this is getting too long, but what the hell)

It's interesting, we seem to be having a couple of different conversations here. One is about infidelity, cheating and deceit.

Another is about human nature and monogamy. These are not the same conversation at all. They are related topics, but the thing that defines infidelity isn't sex. It's deceit. And that can be had without any sex.

I've been in the position where someone was cheating on me, which is silly because I don't expect monogamy and am very clear about that. I expect honesty. My partner was fooling around with a friend, and I'd have been 100% supportive of that if she's simply said "...I'm messin' around with xxx, so I won't be home tonight." What I got was "Oh, we got to drunk, I won't be home until later." It wasn't the sex that was an issue, it was the lie.

Syl, I think it's clear we have a cycle; call it a mating cycle, a romantic cycle, whatever. But it's a cycle with phases. We pair off, (and yeah, it's biologically obvious we're geared for solo mating, the ability to mate in groups is just a bonus), and we court and mate and form a couple, and one of those couple phases is the tunnel vision. You want no one else, think of no one else, see no one else. I've heard the feeling described as 'New Relationship Energy' (NRE). And god knows we all get it when things are right. A halo forms around one's partner, almost a gravitational field that draws one in.

This phase doesn't last forever. You settle into other phases, sometimes winding down to an end, sometimes just to a place of comfort and security. You know your partner will be there, you don't have to check over and over. This is when I start thinking things like 'it would be fun to have a three way with this person' or 'I'd like to watch you with someone else'. My thoughts are of some sort of lark or fling, secure in the idea that my partner is my partner, at least for now.

So you're talking about that early phase, where the world goes away. I simply don't believe that, for most people, this lasts forever (those weird old couples who seem to still be in love aside). For most of us it last for a time, and then the eye returns to wandering, always seeking the possibility of a better mate, because that's how we are. Instinct takes over. "I have a good one, but what if there's a better one" is our state as humans.

Now, that's not the same thing as actually going out and pursuing outside activity; some of us have that urge more than others, some of us are more likely to act and some are not, some are more naturally content in a monogamous structure. We span a huge range. But for sexual or romantic people, you can't tell me you don't look. You know you do.

2/25/2006 3:08 PM  
Blogger Anastasia said...

I know people do look, people do need variation, but there's no proof to say that humans are intrinsically non monogamous. Some are, some aren't and unfortunately the one's that aren't, are the one's that really screw up other people's lives because they can't admit it to themselves. But to say that humans are non monogamous, isn't valid. There are people who are asexual out there as well, as absurd or freaky as that sounds.

That's the variation there is out there, it's what makes life interesting. If all people were non monogamous then it would be rather boring, we'd be living in the land of Soylent Green where people can also be a part of the 'furniture' as it were.

But we know or have an indication that it's not like this. The millions (and millions) of sales of romance novels point to the fact that women (because they're the largest buyer of this genre) seek that something else, the 'relationship'. Now that may be an impossible undertaking for some, but this is what they seek to read, to be aroused by. Men are aroused by porn, the idea of 'fucking' without being nagged or whatever, but ultimately this forms a small part of their lives, because at the end of the day they seek a stable partner who is a sexual partner (in the western world), in other parts of the world it varies, but by and large, a partner is 'just that'. Sex doesn't dominate so much in the East, let's say, as it does in the west: probably because the west has so much time on its hands? I don't know.


Infidelity, differs from polygamy/polyamory (polygamous relationships in general). I don't have a problem with the others, but infidelity is an issue that isn't just a sexual issue, it's a psychological issue within the person because polygamous/polyamorous people are up front, they don't hide their preference and seek like minded people whereas an adulterer is more like the picture that is posted on this post: running around like a secret squirrel because they 'feel' they can't deal with their relationship issues and they think lying fixes it.

The other thing? They propagate a cycle. They think that they fall in 'love' with their lovers when the reality is they're in love with the taboo aspect. The worst foundation for any type of relationship based on trust is to meet a person via deception. If he/she has an affair to be with you, don't you think they'll do the same if they haven't dealt with their problem?

I've seen it occur many times, where people leave their partners, because they've already found their new partners (by fucking them behind their partners back) and then, at a later point in time, they'll screw around on them as well.

I don't see that as a healthy sexual setup, it's pathological. The 'moral' majority who protest against 'perversions' view polygamy as being abnormal, I think meeting people through having affairs is abnormal when it's a serial thing.

2/25/2006 7:26 PM  
Blogger Anastasia said...

btw Syl,
Great topic, it's a juicy topic and yeah there may be differences of opinion in some cases, although I reckon Karl was more detailed in his last response with the 'some are, some arent', which I get. (I'm sorry Karl, but yeah I'm a mad Greek and I've heard 'we are born to mate only' it from males and think, 'omg, if only I were given a dollar each time I wouldn't be pushing paper at the Corporation by day!')

Karl I did react the way I did, link it to infidelity, because each time a male is 'busted' let's say, they'll almost always use the 'we are not meant to be this way' excuse as the 'validation' of their behaviour: to their partner or even to themselves. If that's the case then 'why bother going through the rigmarole and wasting a person's time when you know they seek something else?' type of thing. That's all.


Anyway, it's a refreshing change to see an in depth discussion. I didn't expect htat.

More please!

2/25/2006 7:36 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Good god, you lot, all this commentary is fabulous, but how on earth am I going to address it all? Begin at the beginning...

Well, overall I should say that it seems we're all on the same page with one thing: deception is out. In fact, I think we can clearly say everyone is saying they're anti-infidelity, assuming that "fidelity" means you stay faithful to the agreement you have with your partner, no matter what that agreement is. Now, on to the individual posts...

Since your answers are long and all deserve comment, rather than make this one post massive, I guess I'll post responses one by one, in order of who posted. Read on...

2/25/2006 8:14 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Chelsea Girl: thanks for stopping by and for the Playboy stats. Do you have any idea how they were defining "cheating?" I often wonder about these surveys, since, as I said earlier, people define cheating differently (an image of the famous Bill Clinton quote comes instantly to mind here).

I wonder if all the Julia Roberts movies really exist as ploy built to convince us monogamy is the way to go, or if they tap into a some basic, common yearning humans have to find the perfect soulmate. I'm not sure which it might be--or maybe both--but I will say I don't think hollywood has much of a moral conscience. They cater to what the believe people will pay for, not to convince them of what they want. And if people are paying for Julia Roberts crap, it must mean they WANT to believe there is a perfect match out there.

Or, perhaps they are yearning to get back that first rush of love that Karl is talking about. Most movies don't focus on love that's 20 years into a marriage. As likely as not, if you're seeing a movie about an established couple, it's about them working through problems. Instead, it's always about that first rush, and maybe people want to see those movies because they miss that or want that again. Hm.

Your arrangement with your boyfriend sounds like the ideal. But when I think about it looking solely at myself, I simply don't know if I could say I'd be able to deal with my boyfriend telling me he wants to (or is going to) sleep with someone we know in common. Or even someone I don't know, really. I'm not sure I could handle it, even if I told myself I wanted to.

Of course, it's never been presented to me in an honest way, so who knows. You know, I almost feel like I might be okay with my bf going to a high-class cathouse or something (or taking me with him). There you know there's no danger of the other party getting attached and throwing a wrench into your relationship. But of course there's STD issues to consider (not that some regular, non-pro person couldn't as easily have an STD, I guess).

And even then I'm not sure. This next statement is in no way meant to refer to your relationship, Chelsea, but only to, well...my own insecurities, I guess. I can never quite get over the feeling that if my partner is looking for someone else, he thinks our relationship is lacking and really is looking to find someone else better to be with while he still has a safety net. And I wouldn't want to end up feeling like a fool for providing him with that safety net, only to get screwed over later...

I wonder how you managed to get past those insecurities, or if you're just simply built differently than I am. Let me know what you think.

One thing I do know: I'm certain it would be easier for me if I didn't care about who else my partner slept with. But I don't know how on earth I could get to that point. And from what Ellie says, sometimes you still *do* care when your partner sleeps with someone else--though she also says it's possible to get over it. Hm...hard questions.

2/25/2006 8:45 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Karl: But I want to be one of those weird old couples who are still in love, dammit!

I'm with you on the deceit issue, as everyone else seems to be.

Yeah, NRE. It's great. I guess what we're talking about here is what happens during that settling-down phase. Certainly sounds like from the discussion going on here, some feel comforable with the slightly less passionate, comfort and security angle. Others don't sound like that will work for them. I'm probably completely out of luck, because I want both. Or, I'll take the NRE until I die, but I'd like it with one fabulous person. The question is, though, is that EVER possible? Or are the odds so great that it's better to decide you'll settle for one or the other and just go with that one? Sounds like you're more of that mind. Maybe both deciding to have comfort and security AND deciding to be polyamorous are "settling" in a way--but maybe it's inevitable that we have to settle. Which I hate, but...

And as for your last comment, I know you won't believe me, but I'm both extremely sexual and extremly romantic (under my "dark, crass Nick Cave exterior"), and I'm being dead honest when I say in my serious relationships, I didn't ever look once, even when they were in trouble, even when I wasn't getting enough sex, until I knew it was over. Somehow the instinct to do this shuts down in me until I know I'm on the open market again. Maybe it's that I've been cheated on and I would never want to do that to someone else, so I create some kind of wall to prevent it from happening, I don't know.

Of course, some of those problems made me decide to free myself from those relationships. And then I looked.

But anyway, people like me *do* exist.

I'm also wondering about long-term relationships and sexuality, which I may post about later. Sex seems to drop off in long-term couplings. I wonder if sex was still as regular and explosively hot years into your marriage or LTR if people would feel the urge to look elsewhere. Is it the slow decline in sex that causes the end of euphoria and the "something might be better out there" feeling, or is it vice-versa?

2/25/2006 9:01 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Anastasia: Glad you came back.

Hm, I'm far more aroused by porn (or good, explicit erotica) than I am by romance novels. But then again, I'm probably just a mutant. I'm sure the general populace skews the way you describe.

I think what you are saying I was trying to get at in my orginal post. You hear a lot that "women are instinctually designed to bond, and dont care much about sex." and "Men are constantly horny, don't care about relationships, and are instinctually designed to sleep with everything that moves." Clearly, both assertions are stupid. Men want to bond, women get horny and like sex.

That is at the core of what I'm wondering. Have we been sold a "theory" we're buying into? But then again, both theories are out there. As Chelsea Girl and you pointed out, there are just as many messages in the media about monogamy as there are that men are designed to stick their penis in any convenient, warm place. It almost seems like we struggle in equal amounts to fulfill both urges--to bond and to have the thrill of the chase (or of the early excitement of a relationship).

In any case, biological imperative is a crap excuse for screwing around behind someone's back, as every person who's commented here has pointed out, I think. Every choice to partner with or have sex with someone is just that--a choice. We do differ from our fellow mammals in our ability to reason and to predict potential consequences of actions. Saying you can't help your behavior in ANY circumstance, sexual or not, is just a load of crap, unless you're certifiably mentally ill, or being held at gunpoint.

I absolutely agree that someone who has cheated before is more likely to do so again. And I think there are definitely some people out there who are compulsively addicted to the illicit nature of an affair. But based on this discussion, you've got to wonder if that pattern of cheating is for most people primarily an addiction to secret sex, or an inability to own up to their own polyamorous nature, in which case they fail at being monogamous over and over again.

I really don't know. I feel an equal disgust to yours for dishonesty in a relationship. And part of me believes that all people who cheat are just assholes. But what if they're just trying to live by a standard they think is more socially acceptable and failing miserably? Not that I'm saying we should feel sorry for people who are deceptive, or let them off the hook for being so. Saying you cheated becasue you couldn't own up to needing to be polyamorous is just as lame as saying you're hardwired to cheat. It would be like being gay and marrying someone of the opposite sex for societal acceptance while having a same-sex lover on the down-low. People have a responsibility to be up front with who they are and what they want, so the people who are interested in them can make choices as to whether they want to be involved with them. To not do this is just sheer cowardice.

And yet, the misanthrope side of me feels that most people are cowardly. It's much harder to stand up and tout an unpopular lifestyle or viewpoint. Believe me, I know. Some people are not up for the fight. I don't have much respect for those people, but, there it is.

And thanks for your kind words. If this discussion has been at all interesting, it's because interesting people like you are participating it. I hope more people comment, too.

2/25/2006 9:30 PM  
Blogger Anastasia said...

I’m quite with you on the idea of monogamy as a theory, in addition to it possibly being a form of operant conditioning where people have it drummed into their head from a young age; the idea of matrimony, loyalty, two point five kids, house, is pretty much a global dream because it arises from imagery, religion and mainstream culture.

After many years, I question it each day. There are days I yearn for that exclusive intimate relationship and then I wonder if I can handle it (not because I need sexual variation with different people, rather I’m not that great at multi-tasking when it concerns to sex with different partners), if I can handle my partner giving into temptation (let’s say), whether I’d give into temptation (it’s a case of never say never sometimes, the ‘odd’ moment but I couldn’t be arsed living a ‘double life’, it’s not worth the stress).

I do experience disgust over the idea of sexual dishonesty, but disappointment features the most for me more than anything else. For me (only because it occurred on a minor scale) I’ll completely shut down and back off sexually, it disturbs my sexual momentum with a partner and drastically reduces my level of trust and I feel that once trust is jeopardized, then a relationship skates on very thin ice or sometimes, it’s like a cracked glass (that is irreparable).

I do fundamentally believe that there are people who don’t desire an exclusive relationship (for whatever reason, but I don’t think it’s purely genetic as humans are more complex) but what gets me is that they sometimes don’t make the intention clear, they’re not honest because they fear they’ll miss out on a conquest if they reveal the truth about their transient intentions, which is logical but at the same time it’s very childish because there are other like minded people they can play with.


This is a rip roaring discussion.

:)

2/27/2006 5:14 AM  
Blogger figleaf said...

"But history is filled with examples of terrible, false stereotypes that have hijacked the human imagination and held it for ransom for years before the truth can be rescued. Just because people believe it doesn't make it true."

I think that was the kernel of your post, and of the follow-up discussion.

A couple of points:

1) I have read direct study results that contradict, or at least confuse Vaughn's 60/40 assertion. I was under the impression that a) overall the real numbers were closer to 30/20 (based on, among other things, a professionaly conducted Redbook magazine study) and b) that rates of infidelity vary widely based on class and, especially, income and education. Those with higher incomes and education tend to have more partners outside of marriage than those without. I believe as income rises the numbers may approach 60/40 but that's no basis for a "conservative" estimate.

2) Oh yeah, the numbers vary by age as well so while it's perhaps possible to say "lots of people have had partners outside of marriage" I believe these tend to be clustered in relatively small age groups for the vast, vast majority.

3) In other words, "once a cheater, always a cheater" may be semantically correct but isn't necessarily predictive of future behavior.

4) Getting to stereotypes, if we say "once a cheater, always a cheater" we're probably creating an enabling situation.

5) Question: If "men are promiscuous dogs" is a questionable stereotype why isn't "women are naturally monogamous" also a questionable stereotype? There really aren't enough prostitutes, escorts, and "easy lays" among women to make up for the disparity between men's *reported* behavior and women's *reported* behavior, therefore...

6) Recently on my blog I reported the best definition of cheating I'd ever heard: Cheating is when you change the rules without telling the other player(s.) So far everyone agrees with that, no matter what their particular position in the monogamy/polyamory debate. That's a very good thing, Mawtha.

7) My personal feeling is that humans aren't naturally wired for *any* set domestic relationships. Genetic evidence suggests that in Western Civilization, as in quite a few others, historically between one in ten to one in four children are conceived by a partner outside of marriage. On the other hand, *all the rest* are conceived within the marriage. That suggests only tendancies towards either side. Everything else -- we really are or we really aren't monogamous -- is pounding round pegs into square holes.

8) Far better, if you ask me, to create traditions that normalize the authentic status quo than try to pound away at one assumed-to-be-true story or another.

9) Along the lines of the men-are-dogs/women-are-housecats stereotypes, a) what are men trying to reassure themselves is true by looking at porn and b) what are women trying to reassure themselves is true by reading romance novels? All but the most feeble among us believe neither genre is realistic. So what are we trying to reinforce when we look at those things and, especially, when we claim that "only" men enjoy porn and "only" women enjoy romance novels?

10) And all but the most stereotype-bound among us recognize that as many women enjoy porn as men enjoy romance novels (sales figures suggest a 60/40 split both ways.) Yet we hold on to our stereotypical beliefs that each genre's "only" for one gender.

Wonderful discussion, everybody, keep it up! Good moderation on your part too, Syl. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

figleaf

2/27/2006 3:40 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Figleaf,

And what conversation about heterosexual relationships and fidelity would be complete without a reference to "Who's Afraid of Virigina Woolf?" That alone would have been enough! But thanks for all your great commentary.

I'm a little confused by the wording at the end of #5, but if I'm not misreading, I think it's entirely possible that "women are all monogamous" is a stereotype. In fact, I think it is. Because, to take it outside of heterosexual relationships for a moment, I have plenty of lesbian friends who have been cheated on by their girlfriends. Which would imply inside heterosexual relationships, the same thing is possible.

#9 is filled with important questions, in my opinion. And I really wonder what we have to gain by encouraging those myths. Porn may be "dirty" all around to some people, but it's somehow "acceptable" for men to enjoy it, if only on the sly, while it's just "filthy," "slutty," or at best "shocking" for a woman to like porn, either publicly or secretly. I mean, I have people act shocked when I tell them I listen to Howard Stern. Imagine how they feel when I tell them I like porn just fine. It was particularly difficult until recently to be a feminist and not have a "problem" with porn. I got a lot of crap for that. Fortunately, I do feel this is changing over time. A lot of neo-feminist magazines and writings are embracing porn and finally recognizing the variety of women's sexual preferences and public and private roles can be far more diverse than perhaps the first wave of feminsm had the ability or foresight to embrace. Thank god for genius women like Susie Bright who stood strong and led the way, bravely brandishing their vibrators for all to see.

In any case, I keep promising to post some more links I've found that relate to this discussion about chemical reactions to sex, coupling, lust, etc. But I find the past two days I've just been too overwhelmed with other stuff. Tomorrow will be the day!

Finally: #10. I think, as I said, porn is increasingly losing its stigma for women. However, if women's curiosity and desire for it is growing, the product that is available for them is really not quality. It's not to say they can't watch current porn, but the industry could do a lot better at giving their female clients what they need for a fully erotic experience. For over a week, I've been formulating a post in my head that's an open letter to the porn industry about what they should be doing if they REALLY want to capture female viewers. But I'm getting waylaid by all the stuff I'm thinking about the monogamy debate, and I'm not sure when I'll get to it...

2/28/2006 12:53 AM  
Blogger Blue Gal said...

I like sex blogs where everybody knows how to think and spell. Quite refreshing. (Figleaf is another good one.)

Can't wait to see the recommendations for the porn industry. Can I make one comment? I think triple penetration is cruel and unusual punishment. If two things are going on down there it's hard enough for the poor girl to catch her breath (if the boys are doing it right) to have to go down on a third. Just my humble opinion.

2/28/2006 12:43 PM  
Blogger scribe called steff said...

Whew.

I think monogamy's hard. I think lifelong monogamy is harder. I think it's a noble thing to strive for. I think it's very likely to fall apart on you at some point.

We're built to connect with others. It's just the way it goes. We're too easily enamoured of others.

Man, I'm at the point where I'm beginning to look at polyamory with greater interest. I've never been interested in the traditionally defined relationship (meaning marriage with kid -- a commitment to one man is certainly appealing, tho), and at this point in my life I'm kind of thinking more experience is better than less.

I guess the more men I've been with the more I realize how much I'm not sure what I want. The more I experience, the more I know... Yet we tell ourselves that going from one longterm relationship to another is a good way of finding that connection for ourselves. Seems like we're shooting ourselves in the foot sometimes. Some people get lucky, most just settle.

I'm sort of skeptical at the moment, I guess.

2/28/2006 1:36 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

blue gal: Thanks! I am extremely flattered to have my blog in any remote way compared to Figleaf's, as he's one of my favorite daily reads.

I will certainly keep your views on triple penetration in mind (though what a mental image you're asking me to carry around all day)! I think some things I want to say relate to your comment...and hopefully when I write it, you'll be back to tell us more about what you, as a woman, DO want to see in porn.

2/28/2006 9:13 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Steff: Thanks for your comments.

I know what you mean. I'm sort of skeptical at the moment, too, when it comes to relationships. Your quote, "I guess the more men I've been with the more I realize how much I'm not sure what I want," definitely touches a cord. When I was younger, I thought I had a clear view of what I wanted. Now that I'm older and have experienced more options, the idea somtimes feels a lot less clear cut. And yet, in other ways, I feel I've learned a lot more about what I DO want, but I don't know if it's possible to hold out for it, as the chances are slim. And sometimes I know how I would *like* to be in a relationship, but am not sure I could ever really be that person.

"Some people get lucky, most just settle," you said. Settling is my greatest fear. I've done it once. It wasn't good. I'm determined to not do that again. But all or nothing could also end up meaning...well, nothing. Hard call.

Hopefully, the world will give us both reason to stop being skeptical. :)

2/28/2006 9:22 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Anastasia: Somehow I lost your last comment in the flow. My apolgies.

You said, "After many years, I question it each day. There are days I yearn for that exclusive intimate relationship and then I wonder if I can handle it."

Boy, do I know what that's like. I have quite a strong pull to be solo, probably equal to the pull I have to bond. I'm cognizant of the stressors and benefits of both, and I'm no longer quite sure which outweighs the other. I mean, in an IDEAL world, the relationship would not be one where the kinds of choices you're talking about have to come under consideration. But how realistic is that? I just don't know anymore...

2/28/2006 10:02 PM  
Blogger Anastasia said...

You summed it up perfectly, that's what I meant.

The other strange aspect that I find, well it's not strange becasue I'm living it, have lived it, is the pre and post tech age of the Internet and how that influences people too. I think it's opened up more opportunity for 'non monogamy'/infidelity and if it's not actual infidelity, it's the 'virtual' secret tryst that remains virtual or something similar.

Life in the pre Internet world, for me wasn't so complicated relationship wise. Life after the Internet entered the everyday world (en masse) became more confusing as well as it angering me more often because there have been moments (in relationships, or even those that are just in the early stages) where I've felt like I've had to 'contend' with virtual pussy.

So sometimes I really question the validity of non monogamy (as in a person being this way a la naturel) in these times, or whether it also (or) results from the idea/notion of opportunity. The 'make hay while the sun shines' mentality. It's not a subject people find appealing, but I've experienced it (as have many others that are rarely featured in periodicals illustrating the darker side of the virtual and it adds another element.

3/01/2006 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Darkhawk said...

Every so often I come across the biological/statistical things used as an argument that people should behave a certain way, and I get cranky. Even if there are biological predispositions, there has to be variation, or there's nothing for selection pressure to exist on in the first place.

I know there are people whose attractions shut down when they have one healthy relationship, because they tell me so (and it would be rude to disagree). (And given that I operate much the same way, only I appear to shut down at two, it would be the height of hypocrisy to insist that sort of thing isn't possible.) I know there are people who can't be happy in closed relationships, some of whom are functionally monogamous because they know they could pursue other things if they wanted. I know there are people who can go either way depending on their circumstances. I know there are people who aren't really happy in a monogamous relationship but pledge to it for the sake of their partner. I know bunches of different ways of approaching relationships.

Diversity happens. I know what I'm willing to offer and what I need to get to make a relationship work; I find that's a good place to start from. I don't go into 'should' beyond 'I think more people should choose to have healthy, conscious responses to their sexuality.'

3/02/2006 5:40 PM  
Blogger baby221 said...

I don't think it matters whether we're wired one way or another as a species, because there will always be variation and exceptions to the rule. By and large we're heterosexual, but that doesn't mean we ought to make the homosexual population conform to our standards. Similarly, whether we're primarily monogamous or primarily polyamorous is inconsequential; one way of life does not have the right to enforce itself upon another (where legal, consenting adults are concerned, yadda yadda, disclaimer).

The statistics might be interesting, but they're ultimately inconsequential because they only tell us what's happening, not why it's happening or whether it ought to be happening. Plus they rely on a whole bunch of subjective factors -- I noticed that the one survey specifically made mention of "people who have had sex outside of marriage," presumably without bothering to distinguish between nonconsensual adultery and consensual swinging and/or poly relationships.

In short I'm not convinced it matters so much what society does as what individuals do, and insofar as that is concerned, people really ought to just mind their own bedrooms and let other people lead their sexual lives the way they see fit.

3/03/2006 12:02 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Darkhawk: Thanks for your comments. I think your last sentence says it all--"I don't go into 'should' beyond 'I think more people should choose to have healthy, conscious responses to their sexuality.'"

I think this is the biggest problem. People aren't aware enough of who they are and what their needs are, sexually or otherwise. I think most people's consciousness of this gets warped by all the conflicting messages out there about how we're "supposed" to behave--as a species, as genders, as individual units. I can't say I've not been affected myself. It's hard not to be. Somedays I think I know; some I feel like I'm *still* trying to sort it all out after all this time.

3/03/2006 12:07 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Baby221: Hear, hear. I'm all for people doing what works for them, so long as it doesn't hurt others. My main interest is why people do what *doesn't* work for them--as in, agree to either a mongamous or non-monogamous relationship, if they know it's not what they really want and they're not going to be able to hold up their end of the bargain.

Thanks for your thoughts!

3/03/2006 12:11 AM  
Anonymous Darkhawk said...

I think it's actively hard to do -- between conflicting messages about how people are 'supposed' to be, lack of widespread good modelling for functional relationships of any structure, and the personal and social fraughtness of something as intense and occasionally taboo as sexuality, I'm sometimes amazed that anyone can manage to successfully run a relationship at all.

3/03/2006 1:46 AM  
Anonymous Buck said...

Wow. I came here following a link from AAG's blog, and found myself riveted. Excuse me while I add my nickel.

In particular, the comments about "evidence" and "statistics" interested me, because I knew it was out there; I've read bucketloads of this stuff. So I did a Very quick search - about 40 mins, give or take. There's
> this study
from Notre Dame university, there's
>this
study on mating Strategies at Utexas, There's this year's conference proceedings at the IASR - some great stuff there, including notes on fallacies in reporting sexual arousal, how arousal works, the effect of religion, and testorerone levels and risk taking behaviour in women (which includes promiscuity and infidelity).

Then there's an an interview with Dr. David Buss, evolutionary psychologist,
>Here,
a name I encourage you to google and go read at length.
>here
and Here are a couple of salient papers on deception in sexual relationships and mate retention strategies - most of which fail.

The list is ultimately unsatisfying, because I think it's out of date - and I know I've read about a half dozen papers arguing strongly that multiple partners are in fact more common in women, who simply hide it beter than men, but I wasn't prepared to do the work required to dig up those articles. But to summarise, especially for Anastasia, the biological evidence weighs in heavily: there's a strong correlation between testicle size and tendency to polygyny among males, and humans have huge balls. Size dysporphism is another strong indicator - and guys are, on average, 10% larger than gals, which indicates again a polygynous society. (this difference used to be larger - the first of those links above points out that afarensis females were thought at first to be a different species from the males because they were so much smaller - and the evidence suggests to me that persistent efforts at social engineering have bred out some of our stronger polygynous/polyamorous instincts, but far from all of them). But studies of real live humans in real live settings in over 52 countries have been remarkably consistent: the failure rate for monogamy is very high.

Statements like "we are wired for monogamy" or "we are wired for polyamory" are broad and generalising and don't apply to specific individuals. Someone (baby 221 maybe?) suggested that really what we are or are not generally hardwired to do is a moot point, and I tend to agree; what really matters is that you do what's right for you, as honestly as possible, and hopefully without hurting anyone else in the process.

But the reason I included some of those other studies up there is that most individuals lie about the attraction they feel to potential partners, even to themselves, so statements like "I just don't feel attracted to anyone other than my partner" I tend to take with a grain of salt. The science tells a different story.

I have huge respect for monogamy. And I'm in a monogamous relationship right now by choice. But I don't think monogamy is by any means the norm or even desirable for a huge majority of people.

Those same studies, by the way, suggest psychological reasons for your latest question syl - why we do the things we do. And I agree most people either lack self awareness or are in outright denial about what it is they want from relationships. Again, this seems pretty much to be human nature. Not that that's an excuse.

3/03/2006 3:54 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Darkhawk: Once again, your last line says it all. I think this all the time. There's something scary and beautiful about how people keep trying, though, isn't there?

Buck: Ohhhh, nothing like waking up to a good, juicy comment filled with lots of information! Sadly, I don't have time to really luxuriate in it and look at all the links at the moment, and probably won't until late tonight, but I plan to take it nice and slow when I get back and curl up in bed with my laptop. Thanks!

3/03/2006 9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting timing to find this site.

I think that monogamy truly depends on the relationship, and that some people can be happy with it for a long time. I've been monogamous for over 15 years, and loved my husband deeply. I still do. I never thought about changing that status- until recently.

It's also interesting to note how easily and quickly everything can change. Physical needs that aren't being met are less inportant, and could be managed. But what about when you husband wants you to engage in sexual activity with another man... So he can watch. What does that add to the debate? Is it still monogamy?

4/07/2006 2:22 AM  

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