The Monogamy Myth

by Steve Mason

We make some of our greatest gains
When we see old things in new ways

The other day, a reader of my syndicated newspaper column sent me the following email:

"I'm 28 and my husband and I have been married for ten years. I love him very much. About five years ago, we began discussing swinging with other people. I kept an open mind and listened to my husband's desires and fantasies. After about two years of talking about it, we finally enlisted another man for a threesome. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it very much. My husband loved it.

"Eventually, although my husband never pushed me to allow another woman into our bedroom, I began fantasizing about this, and we invited a female friend of mine to join in our lovemaking. My husband had intercourse with her at my request. Initially, it didn't bother me. But the last couple of times we've invited women, I am overcome with sadness when I see them with him. Right in the middle of things, I begin to cry and I must leave the room. Needless to say, we wind up going home, and I get angry with myself.

"I don't understand why I initially liked it - or why I'm fine at the beginning of a session - but then find it intolerable. I'm not really sure, either, why my husband enjoys seeing me with other men. I have never experienced an orgasm with anyone except my husband - maybe that's why I can't stand seeing him have one with another woman."

The woman writing this letter brings up a number of interesting issues. Very briefly, she says she loves her husband very much, and that five years after marrying (at age 18), the two of them agreed to try a threesome with another male. This worked well, though she wonders why her husband enjoys seeing her with other men, while she is upset watching him enjoy an orgasm with another woman.

The "love" business comes up frequently in our culture because it is assumed (despite all the evidence to the contrary), that Love/Sex/Forever all go together. Actually, Mother Nature arranged things so that males and females come together and stay together for about three years - just long enough to produce and nurture a baby. After that, the male is free to again contribute his seed to the gene pool, and the female (no longer a full-time nursing/providing mother), is free to seek a new and potentially superior mate for a new child. Indeed, recent anthropological research has found that more than 70% of cultures studied saw the monogamy we consider both normal and ideal as a perversion!

What our culture practices is, in fact, a very unhealthy form of "serial monogamy." More than half the women and more than three quarters of the men questioned in a recent survey admitted to having cheated on their spouse one or more times. Combine this with the more than 50% of marriages that end in emotional and economic ruin, and you'll see why I referred to our One-Penis-One-Vagina-Fifty-Years notion of mating as "unhealthy."

As for why her husband enjoys seeing her with other men, this is because we are a penis competitive species. Male ejaculate contains not only sperm designed to fertilize the female, but also a kind of sperm made specifically to kill other sperm. Mother Nature, it would seem, intended for each woman to copulate with several men, with only the "best" sperm making it to the ovum. Men who know, or think, another male has serviced the female will have harder, longer, more copious orgasms that they report as being especially satisfying. For human males then, a three or more some serves as an especially powerful aphrodisiac.

That the woman writing suffers ambivalence at seeing her husband with another woman isn't surprising. Indeed, it would be surprising if she didn't! Females in our culture are bombarded almost from birth with mixed messages. They are encouraged to present themselves in as sexually provocative a fashion as possible and yet, at the same time, are told to not be eager for sexual contact. The male who enjoys sex is a stud, the female is a slut.

The emotion we call jealousy is discouraged as selfish and immature in all situations except one - mates are expected to be jealous of their spouse's sexual pleasure if it involves another person. So here is a woman, naturally excited by the prospect of new partners, suddenly torn by the old, erroneous notion of sex being the same as love. If he's having sex with another woman, he's going to love her more than me and I'll be abandoned as though by a mother with a younger sibling. The truth is, acknowledging and satisfying a mate's natural desire for sexual variety is probably the best way to maintain a loving relationship.

Look At It This Way

As the old commercial says: It's never wise to try and fool Mother Nature. When we try to pretend that human behavior is something we can tune and tweak to fit the current notion of right and wrong, we do so at our peril.

Since 1998, the US Census Department has reported that more than half of 'till death do us part marriages end in divorce. This is the perfect setup for feelings of guilt, failure, victimization and reprisal. Furthermore, surveys show that of the couples who stay together, more that half would part if they thought they could, while three-quarters admit to cheating on their spouses.

The bottom line is that monogamy doesn't work because it's not supposed to work. Reaching any other conclusion requires incredibly high doses of both deception and hypocrisy.

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