Is everything we believe about monogamy wrong?
Last night I attended Open Love NY’s panel / discussion event with Wednesday Martin (author of Untrue and Primates of Park Avenue) and Christopher Ryan (Sex At Dawn) discussing their respective books and the data that suggests humans are hardwired for non-monogamy.
TL;DR – Looking at the history of human evolution both authors emphasize that monogamy is no more ‘natural’ than non-monogamy and draw links referencing systems like agriculture, capitalism and patriarchy as likely sources of the rise of monogamy as the state of ‘normal’. If ‘systems’ can control people’s sexuality and access to sex and pleasure, you can control them.
Naturally, the event drew a large crowd and also unsurprisingly, both speakers were thorough, articulate and excellent in their interpretations of the data, their deductions based on the research while also recognizing the short comings of sex research in the current political and social climate and the emphasis on heteronormativity and cis-normativity.
Given that the event was hosted by Open Love NY a pro-polyamory and non-monogamy meetup group, it was no surprise that many people there were in favor of the assessments being made about non-monogamy. And yet despite this interesting and progressive crowd, once the conversation was opened up to the audience, the statements that dominated the discussion were not about the merits of monogamy or otherwise, but rather the dissection of who suffered most under a patriarchal monogamous system.
Throughout the event, Martin smashed out fact after fact about the impact of monogamy on women. She declared the data shows that women who have greater access to resources like wealth, community and health are more likely to reject monogamy. Of course, #notallwomen, but she was referring to what the research data reveals as a snapshot of the time we live in. She went on to claim that the data suggests monogamy is actually harder for women than men.
“When a girl marries she exchanges the attention of many men for the inattention of one.”
Many people in the audience were aghast at such information. Despite the data backing her point, a chorus of (mainly older) men in the room rose up to claim this was in fact untrue (the irony being this is the name of Martin’s book about female sexuality and lies). What this raised for me was the enthusiasm with which people needed to
a) prove her wrong
b) argue about who was more oppressed by a regime that clearly doesn’t work for everyone regardless of gender and
c) what if what she was saying were actually true, what would that mean for all of us?
For years we have believed that drivers of desire and lust is the hormone testosterone, but new research is now claiming that perhaps the whole hormone thing is simply not the problem and we've had it wrong the whole time. What if the loss of libido and desire had more to do with the way we structure our relationships, our bank statements, our erotic values and our domestic labor than an ointment or injection in the butt can change?
Granted, we are living longer than ever before so being expected to stick with 'one for life' is a lot longer now than when the concept was invented, but I know one of the biggest issues I see in my sex therapy and coaching practice is the issue of desire in relationships and managing the boredom and decline of sexual interest that is accompanied by having only one lover (at a time). If in fact women are more negatively impacted sexually by monogamy than men, it implies the whole 'men / testosterone / boys will be boys' thing is simply a lie. It also would explain why women overwhelmingly report dramatic drops in desire in monogamous relationships while men describe slower, gradual drops over a sustained period of time. It also means we have a much larger issue on our hands than a pretty pink pill could address for countless women across the planet for whom monogamy is psychologically desirable but physiologically complicated.
What I wanted to chime in, but didn't due to time restrictions was how we might also address the question of the quality of sex in our relationships, not just the amount we are having. Much of last night's discussion focussed on 'sex' as penis-in-vagina which we now have confirmed is not the act that produces orgasm for most women. I wonder if lusty men would be so inclined to chasing sex if
a) they knew the sex they were going to get was not how they liked it or what produced pleasure
b) it involved having to fight/ argue/ workshop to be understood/validated
c) it hurt
d) and didn't produce orgasms most /all of the time.
At this stage I do not have any definitive answers about any of the questions this process raised for me, but I did go out and buy a copy of Untrue this morning. You should too!