Opinion Brief

Is monogamy unrealistic?

The New York Times examines whether the expectation of fidelity is poisoning marriages — and if honesty about cheating may be the cure

Monogamy isn't for everyone. At least that's what Dan Savage says. The sex and relationships columnist is perhaps best known for launching the "It Gets Better" campaign, which helped gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered teens deal with bullying and depression. But Savage has been promoting another initiative for years: Convincing couples that monogamy is a largely unrealistic expectation. A New York Times Magazine story by Mark Oppenheimer gives a national spotlight to Savage's views, examining the issues of infidelity and honesty through the lens of Savage's own "monogamish" relationship with his husband. Savage says couples need to "have a conversation about what it’ll mean if one or the other partner should cheat," and should understand that their relationship is more important than "sexual exclusivity." Does he have a point?

Yes. But it's not all about sex: While Savage's views on monogamy may be "fairly sensible," says Jessica Grose at Slate, he fails to realize that the ramifications of infidelity to a relationship extend further — and deeper — than sex. Especially with high-profile cases like Arnold Schwarzenegger's, it's the humiliation and betrayal that is "more destabilizing than just sex."
"Humiliation, not necessarily infidelity ruins political marriages"

And couples do need to talk about this: Honesty and transparency are key, says Anna North at Jezebel. Whatever a person's attitudes are about fidelity, everybody has scars from past experiences with cheating, or from being told what kinds of sexual views are "perverted." Overcoming those relationship "wounds" requires everyone to treat each other with respect, "whether monogamous, polyamorous, or somewhere in between."
"How to talk about non-monogamy without losing your mind"

Hold on. Let's not pressure everyone out of monogamy: It's not always easy to be honest, says feminist blogger Sady Doyle, as quoted by the New York Times Magazine. Savage's attempts to tell us all to be more open-minded about sexuality can actually "shame women into things" they don't want to do. The conversation then ends up "putting all the onus on the person who doesn't have that fetish or desire," something that, in essence, recalls "the oppression of women."
"Married, with infidelities"

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