This week in Newsweek, writer Jessica Bennett explores polyamory: the practice of having more than one lover (as opposed to monogamy, which refers to the practice of two people only having each other as lovers/sexual partners). I’m often asked if I believe that humans are, by nature, monogamous – a question that I find interesting in and of itself. After all, most people have more than one lover or sexual partner in their lifetime. So, lifetime monogamy – now that humans live as long as they do – is quite rare indeed in the United States. More often, we have serial monogamy, which is the practice of having one lover or sexual partner at a time, but several (or many) relationships or sexual partners in one’s lifetime.
Even among heterosexual monogamous couples, somewhere around 25% to 40% (roughly) of women and men report having had sex with someone else besides their spouse or relationship partner. In other words, even a good chunk of so-called monogamous couples aren’t actually monogamous. The number who have kissed or otherwise had “lighter” sexual contact with someone else – but not whatever they define as “sex” – is known. And the number who have had crushes on someone else? Probably most (that is, if they stay together long enough).
Whatever humans are “by nature” (and whatever that means, given the enormous variety of sexual behavior found in humans as well as other animal species), we are what we are. And people are speaking out more about the diverse ways in which they structure their sexual as well as romantic partnerships.
If you are now, or ever have been, in a monogamous relationship, how often have you ever wished you could hold someone else’s hand, kiss someone else, lie naked with them, or make love to them? What would it take for you to have a conversation with your partner in which you expressed these desires? And which of those desires would you want to act on and which would you decide were better left un-explored? Then again, it’s not all about you. How would you feel if your partner expressed these desires to you? What types of freedoms are you willing to give a partner, and what would you want in exchange?
The point is made in the accompanying Newsweek video that at least some people experience sexual jealousy (meaning, jealousy about their partner being sexual with another person) because they fear that if their partner has sex with someone else, then they will leave them for the other person. But what if your partner didn’t leave you for the other person? What if they stayed and you stayed and you somehow decided to make it work?
I’m not advocating polyamory or monogamy or cheating or anything else. After all, I firmly believe that given the enormous variety in human sexual feelings and behaviors that there is no right path for everyone to follow. Also, sometimes the path that feels right at one time in your life is not the one that feels right at another time. These questions of relationship structures aren’t going away, though, and they may come up in your life one day, if they haven’t already come up in your heart.
Check out the Newsweek video here: