Let’s be clear, sex is an innate animal drive that ensures survival of the species. It can also feel really, really good. Unlike eating, hydrating, or sleeping, it is, however, not necessary for an individual to survive. There are no recorded deaths from lack of sex.
This is why I, and I believe most men, should be offended by the premise of Eric Anderson’s new book, The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating. He states that monogamy is failing men. He also claims that it “can lead to a life of anger and contempt”.
His book is based on a study of 120 undergraduate men. Taking the age range of undergraduates in the U.S. as a comparison, this means men ranging in age from 18 to about 22. Recent studies of the brain place this sample squarely in line with incompletely formed brains. The last parts of the brain to develop are those in charge of impulse control and the ability to predict consequences of actions. Mix this with the high levels of testosterone common at this age and, of course, monogamy may be challenging to this group.
Temptation and Integrity
Finding members of the opposite sex attractive is indeed a lifelong somatic response. It does not mean it is an uncontrollable one. Anger is a somatic response as well but we expect people to control themselves. Violence does occur but few people would suggest we change our laws because a murderer claims “humans are lousy at controlling our bodies’ desires” and he was just doing what comes naturally.
Growing up means recognizing that life requires making choices. You might want to stay in your pjs all day reading or playing video games. If you want to keep a roof over your head and food in your stomach, you most likely realize that going to a job is a much better use of your time. You can choose not to do that because you don’t want to follow some arbitrary rules of society, but you will surely decrease your lifestyle options.
Dr. Anderson’s premise is that lying about sex outside of a primary relationship is okay because “honesty doesn’t meet their desires of having both a long-term partner and recreational sex with others.” The better option is to be upfront about your beliefs in the first place. There is no requirement to be in a monogamous relationshp. If that’s not what you’re about, don’t do it.
Marriage and Monogamy
It isn’t marriage per se that restricts sex; it is the boundaries of the individuals in that relationship that do. Open marriage is an option. The challenge is that both people have to be in agreement. If you want to be in a relationship with someone who expects monogamy, you have a choice to make. Willingly agree to the terms presented or break up. If you agree, then have the integrity to honor your commitment.
Human beings are not just creatures propelled by their desires and instincts. We don’t just rut in season or kill our competitors at will. We have highly developed brains that can reason, plan, and learn. We have the ability to control our desires and actions to achieve a desired outcome. It is what sets us apart from animals lower down the food chain. It is also what makes us, and Dr. Anderson’s viewpoint, dangerous.
The 78% of the men with partners in his study who cheated believed sex on the side was okay for them but not their girlfriends. If monogamy was really only a societal construct or a woman’s issue, why the double standard? In reality, it’s a case of wanting one’s cake and eating it too. It’s a product of immaturity and the arrested development seemingly ubiquitous in today’s world.
If you don’t like the idea that marriage involves choices, don’t get married. If you want to have multiple sex partners, fine. If you can find a partner with like beliefs, go for it. If, however, you want the intimacy and “long-standing sense of security and comfort” love provides, you first have to grow up and recognize that if you choose Path A, you don’t also get to choose Path B.
Do you think monogamy is necessary for a happy marriage? Is it a personal boundary or a societal construct? What would you do if your partner cheated?
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