With each new sex scandal splashed across headlines, it’s become impossible to hide from the realities of marriage, i.e., monogamy is hard. And with so many high-profile persons seemingly shirking fidelity, it’s easier for couples unsatisfied in their relationship to start wondering if these cheating politicians just may have the right idea. It’s these concerns and questions that The New York Times Magazine took on when reaching out to leading sex-advice columnist, Dan Savage for their recent exploration of monogamy and marriage.
Savage tells the Times that many of us have a hard time admitting that being monogamous is difficult. He believes that when people treat monogamy as the sole indicator of a successul marriage, it casts unrealistic expectations for not only themselves but for their partners. In other words, monogamy just may be more of a romantic ideal than a reality.
All couples, according to Savage, should be honest about their sexual urges, even if they include having sex with other people, and openly discuss the drawbacks of monogamy. This includes, but isn’t limited to, non-monogamy. By being G.G.G—good, giving and game, i.e., skilled, generous and up for anything—couples can create a more realistic sexual ethic for themselves.
In fact, Savage and his husband Terry Miller have admitted to being “monogamish,” in which they allow for one another to look for sexual satisfaction outside their marriage so long as they’re honest about it. To Savage, this is about setting smarter boundaries rather than rules for their marriage. If couples are open to being flexible in their marriage, than it could lessen their partner’s chance of having an affair. However, if couples are willing to be non-monogamous, it’s important to discuss what is or isn’t appropriate. If there are some sex acts or emotional attachments that just won’t fly, make sure your partner knows.
“Folks on the verge of making those monogamous commitments need to look at the wreckage around them—all those failed monogamous relationships out there (Schwarzenegger, Clinton, Vitter, whoever’s on the cover of US magazine this week)—and have a conversation about what it’ll mean if one or the other partner should cheat. And agree, at the very least, to getting through it, to place a higher value on the relationship itself than on one component of it, sexual exclusivity,” Savage says.
The Times reports that in 2010, “NORC, a research center at the University of Chicago, found that, among those who had ever been married, 14 percent of women and 20 percent of men admitted to having an affair.” How many of these affairs stemmed from women and men feeling too ashamed to tell their partner what they really wanted sexually? Savage believes that if a person’s sexual desires aren’t being met, there’s no shame in simply asking your partner to experiment with you. If couples are expected to be monogamous, “then you have to be whores for each other. You have to be up for anything.”
Of course, non-monogamy tends to appeal more to men than women, who generally have a harder time separating physical and emotional intimacy. For many women, there is no such thing as “just sex.” Savage thinks its better for women to know what men are really like, so that they don’t go on “marrying and pretending that their boyfriends and husbands are Mr. Darcy or some RomCom dream man.”
What’s important to remember is that marriage is not the same for everyone. One size never fits all, according to Judith Stacey, a New York University sociologist interviewed for the article, and “variation is what’s natural.” In this case, Stacey says couples should decide on the vows they want to make. This way, when they work out the terms of their commitments together, they can be on the same page.
Infidelity, after all, is what Savage sees as another trial that “marriages can be expected to survive.” And the best advice he can offer other married couples is to get a sense for one another and plan accordingly.
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