Most of us have watched, read, and absorbed countless examples of happily-ever-after monogamous relationships from birth. Or at least, it seemed like these couples practiced monogamy on the surface. Between Disney movies and beloved Huxtable-like family shows, the media has fed Americans the same message: monogamy is attainable and something we all should strive for. But with startling divorce rates and monogamy-attempting couples struggling with infidelity, reality tells a different story. It reaffirms that indeed human beings are not biologically constructed to be monogamous. And perhaps, we ought not be so quick to shun our natural tendencies.
InThe Ethical Slut, authors Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy make the case that often we, as humans, believe that Mr. or Ms. Right will fulfill us and make our lives complete. If we’re really in love, we will automatically lose interest in sex or romantic feelings toward anyone else. And if we are experiencing those emotions, we’ve managed to fall from grace. Easton and Hardy point out the obvious, “This…is untrue to the point of absurdity: a ring around the finger does not cause a nerve block to the genitals.”
New York Times bestselling authors Christopher Ryan, PhD and Cacilda Jethá, MD echo these sentiments providing a historical perspective in Sex at Dawn. “A great deal of research from primatology, anthropology, anatomy, and psychology points to the same fundamental conclusion: human beings and our hominid ancestors have spent almost all of the past few million years in small, intimate bands in which most adults and several sexual relationships at any given time,” writes Ryan and Jethá.
The core of Sex at Dawn argues that monogamy truly did not become a human aspiration until the rise of agriculture and private property, as the concept of “ownership” was foreign to our hunter and gatherer ancestors. Ryan and Jethá cite the impact of this shift as unfortunate and against everything we’re biologically wired to feel as sexual beings.
The total number of monogamous primate species that live in large groups like humans? Zero. Human beings are the only examples, if you ignore our tendency, as a whole, to often fail miserably at long-term monogamous relationships. The only monogamous primates that exist out of hundreds of species live in the treetops. Apart from primates, 3% of mammals and 1 in 10,000 invertebrate species can be considered sexually monogamous. Ryan and Jethá explain these statistics in depth in Sex at Dawn, and many other anthropologists and researchers back these very statements.
History aside, Ryan and Jethá state the reality, “What isn’t debatable is that conventional marriage is a full-blown disaster for millions of men, women, and children right now. Conventional till-death- (or infidelity, or boredom) – do-us-part marriage is a failure. Emotionally, economically, psychologically, and sexually, it just doesn’t work over the long term for too many couples.”
So what’s our fixation with monogamy? Why are we constantly searching for the one instead of pursuing an ongoing journey to find many?
In particular, Black America has a fierce attachment to monogamy as our religions and cultural roots shun the idea of polyamory, which is the practice of having more than one open relationship at a time.
Kenya K. Stevens, CEO of JujuMama LLC, author, and love coach, provides an alternative perspective. “Open marriages are relationships that encourage fearless, authentic, living, and the ability to show up in a relationship as a real person. Open relating moves us beyond guilt, shame, insecurity and jealousy, the same things that plague and often end monogamous marriages,” she explains.
If you talk to polyamorous couples and singles, you’ll find that sexual variety is just one of the many attributes of an open relationship. The core of the practice is built on forming loving, supportive bonds between individuals that deeply care about one another’s happiness.
Sounds beautiful, right? But can it really work?
Stevens and her husband, Carl, have been married 17 years, 6 of which they’ve practiced an open marriage. She continues, “We enjoy our open marriage because the openness entails being able to show up authentically with one another. We do not feel the need to keep even our most private thoughts to ourselves as other couples might. We have decided that nothing matters more than being real with one another, telling the truth, being fearlessly honest. We are committed for life, yet we enjoy friendships, and partnerships, both sexual and non-sexual with other human beings beyond just the two of us.”
Apart from the outside partnerships, it sounds like the same type of happiness that most monogamous couples are striving to experience. The Stevens’ have three children, and have built a life teaching couples how to achieve both authentic monogamous and polyamorous relationships.
Monogamy is one type of relationship approach that few people have actually found long-term success maintaining. Serial monogamy is far more popular. And polyamory or open relating is another approach to consider.
Committing to one person for a lifetime without forming any outside romantic bonds is hard work. It’s not impossible, but it’s certainly a tough aspiration, placing an abundance of pressure on the two human beings involved. Perhaps, it wouldn’t hurt if we were open to another way. There’s more to love than monogamy.
Arielle Loren is a writer and filmmaker that offers real-life commentary on women’s issues, sexuality, health, and travel. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Corset Magazine, the “go-to magazine for all things sexuality.” Check her out on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @ArielleLoren, and visit her personal site.