Dan Savage on the Virtues of Infidelity

Sex-Advice columnist Dan Savage, best known for his It Gets Better project, has spent 20 years telling us that monogamy is harder than we admit and promoting a sexual ethic that he thinks honors the reality – rather than the romantic ideal – of marriage. In Savage Love, his weekly column, he argues against the American obsession with strict fidelity to one partner. In its place he proposes something the article calls American Gay Male, after the gay community’s tolerance for pornography, fetishes and a variety of partnered arrangements, from strict monogamy to wide openness.

Savage believes that it is a mistake to treat monogamy (rather than honesty or joy or humor) as the main indicator of a successful marriage.

“The mistake that straight people made,” Savage says, “was imposing the monogamous expectation on men. Men were never expected to be monogamous. Men had concubines, mistresses and access to prostitutes, until everybody decided marriage had to be egalitar­ian and fairsey. And it’s been a disaster for marriage.”

Personally, I think Savage is right, but that most people rule with their heart instead of their head. There’s a huge difference between my wife telling me that she got drunk and hooked up on a business trip to Portugal than her telling me she’s in love with another man and leaving me. Honoring the greater entity known as the relationship is more important, more honest, and more realistic than 100% fidelity.

I’m not advocating for cheating, but a rethinking of what’s “effective”, given human desires, the value of a stable relationship, and the length of a lifetime commitment.

Explore the article here and share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Gem

    Interesting article.

    We can’t help our urges, and we should not lie to our partners about them. In some marriages, talking honestly about our needs will forestall or obviate affairs; in other marriages, the conversation may lead to an affair, but with permission. In both cases, honesty is the best policy.

    I agree with this statement. I think to marry and ignore the realism that one or both partners will continue to have desires for other people, at some point, is dangerous. Even if they don’t want to act on it, the desires are there. I think the more we require our partners to say, “No, honey, I can’t even imagine having sex with someone else.” The more invite the lie, the secrets of their private mind, and the dark fantasy for those desires.

    Being open about our desires, fantasies, kinks does strengthen a marriage. Often talking openly about these things brings the couple closer and strenthens their bond especially if they can bring those things into the marriage. And being allowed to voice them can make the desire to actually act outside of the marriage less necessary.
    “If you are expected to be monogamous and have one person be all things sexually for you, then you have to be whores for each other,” Savage says. “You have to be up for anything.”


    Agreed. People in long term relationships should be having the best sex of their lives because they know their partner so intimatly and well. They should KNOW all thier partner’s little dirty desires and be fulfilling them. While I don’t think someone should do a sexual act they find abhorrent or causes them pain that they’re not into, or emotional turmoil, I do think they should be doing everything else their partner wants whether it cranks their chain or not.


    It’s probably not a popular opinion but I also think partners should be available sexually to each other whenever the other wants them whether they are in the mood or not.  And do so enthusiastically because you love your partner and your relationship and want to foster a strong, connected one. Of course, not if there is sickness or some emotional distress.

    Ultimately, if a person KNOWS they cannot be happy in a monogamous relationship, they shouldn’t get into one. There are poly goups, swinger groups and just about everything other group in every state. It shouldn’t be that hard to find a like minded partner if it’s that important. Cheating behind your partner’s back when they trust and believe they have fidelity is unacceptable at all times.

  2. 2
    Judy

    I have reread this article, and maybe I’m missing something here. However the messages from Evan in previuos articles have been (as I understand) that when choosing a boyfriend there are certain behaviors when we should walk away, and that infidelity was one reason not to stick around. Now I can be wrong, and maybe you didn’t say this, but that’s the assumption I was making. A once a week texting boyfriend is not a keeper, but one that has sex with others is ok? Yeah we all have urges, and I’m into talking about fantasies, but now we should relook at not expecting monogamy because males aren’t built that way? I’m uncomfortable with this. Yes I have heard jokes like monogamy was introduced to marriage at a time when people only lived to twenty, but really you would be ok with your wife having sex in Greece, than being emotionally bonded with another and leaving you? I guess I’m not cool, and wouldn’t be if my boyfriend cheats. Evan, I have always respected your opinions, this one I’m just not sure. Please explain.
    Thanks (fyi I told my bf I’m heading to Greece lol).

    1. 2.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be uncomfortable with this, Judy. Dan Savage simply makes the point that it may be more realistic and effective to not let the occasional sexual infidelity ruin the entire relationship. I have never been unfaithful, but I am inclined to agree with him in principle. Would I give up everything I’ve built with my wife and family because she committed an indiscretion and told me about it? I sure hope not. Savage suggests taking that principle to the next level, like gay men do – realizing that men aren’t wired for monogamy and instead of neutering them and putting them in a cage, understanding this and building a meaningful, lifetime relationship in spite of this. If you can’t do that, that’s your prerogative. But a big reason that there’s so much marital dissatisfaction is because men are being asked to do something that doesn’t come naturally. And if he lacks integrity or is too selfish or doesn’t see his relationship as a larger entity worth nourishing, that marriage will end in some form of infidelity or falling out of love. If you can’t understand the nuanced difference between what I just said and your interpretation “Evan says I should put up with a man who cheats on me and refuses to commit to me after six months”, I’m not going to explain any further. Reasonable people can disagree, but please interpret Savage’s point clearly. The real question isn’t whether this makes logical sense – it does – but whether it works as well in practice, given most people’s level of insecurity, mistrust and jealousy around this topic. With people who can handle it, it sounds like an elegant solution. With people who can’t, obviously, it’s not going to work.

  3. 3
    AQ

    I agree with Judy – I think an indiscretion is not something that should be condoned because gay men are doing it – what about HIV and other diseases? The reason I would enter into a monogamous marriage is because I want unbelievable safe sex with a partner who wants to put as much effort into as me. I would hope that it is so good that neither of us wants to stray. I can see – don’t blow up the whole relationship if it happens and the relationship is otherwise good – but it would take a lot more effort to fix it and get back to where you were. I cannot see – that is okay because gay men said so. Sorry

  4. 4
    Gina

    I know of people who have mutually agreed to have sex with others while in a committed relationship. These types of individuals are able to separate sex from the emotional attachment that (men morseso than women) usually develops afterwards. I am not able to do this. I have to have an emotional connection with a man before I can have sex with him. As a result, my primary relationship would be in danger if I engaged in a sexual relationship with someone else.

  5. 5
    Ames

    I am open to considering this as very real for some men. But I would just as soon be single and have various lovers of my own than a serious relationship with a mate who cheats. What’s the point? Who knows what diseases they might being home? A female player is at least in control of how much protection she uses in her liasons.

  6. 6
    Judy

    Thanks Evan for the response, and clarifying this point of view.  My interpretation may have come across as black and white(putting up with cheating,noncommital men). That is not what I meant, it just seemed to differ from what I thought you were originally saying what non negotionable behaviors were. This “new” way may aid the male species biological make up, but for the female species it would be very difficult to manouvere. No I would not end a healthy relationship due to a mistake made by a partner, however studies have shown that after extra marital affairs have been discovered, even with counselling a good percentage(not sure of accurate percentage) do not stay together. This may be due to the woman’s biological make up? But also taking note, women are now more involved in extra marital affairs so there goes the biological make up theory of mine :))I also agree with AQ’s concern of disease etc. Thanks Evan for the clarification, on paper your interpretation makes sense. I’m just wondering in actuality how many couples would agree with this. That’s what makes this blog go round, everyones opinion is respected. Keep the articles coming!!

  7. 7
    Sayanta

    This is the part of the article that really spoke to me:

    Judith Stacey, a New York University sociologist who researched gay men’s romantic arrangements for her book “Unhitched,” argues that gay men, in general, will continue to require less monogamy. “They are men,” she said, and she believes it is easier for them — right down to the physiology of orgasm — to separate physical and emotional intimacy. Lesbians and straight women tend to be far less comfortable with nonmonogamy than gay men. But what matters is that neither monogamy nor polygamy is humankind’s sole natural state. “One size never fits all, and it isn’t just dividing between men and women and gay and straight,” she said. “Monoga­my is not natural, nonmonogamy is not natural. Variation is what’s natural.”

  8. 8
    helene

    I think there is a lot of hysteria around monogamy – we are so conditioned by society to see sexual infidelity as a tragedy that when it happens, we automatically kick into tragic mode. This is all unnecessary and unhelpful. That said, I think that the ASPIRATION to be monogamous is extremely important for most couples starting out together: it is what enables us to bond. It is absurd to imagine our beloved whispering words of love and desire in our ear one night, knowing that each of us has carte blanche to whisper the same things to someone else the next night!
    When we commit to being someone’s partner, we aspire to a lot of things – to be loving, supportive, generous, a good listener, do our share of the housework, to inspire them to meet their goals and to share their dreams. In all of these things, at some point, we inevitably fail, or at least fall short of what we hoped we would do. Our partners are not perfecr either. DOes this mean we should not aspire to these things? NO – but it does mean that we need to accept that we and our partners are not going to be perfect every minute of every day throughout our married life. As I see it, monogamy is just the same. We may aspire to it, but that doesn’t mean we will achieve it… and when we don’t, we should treat the disappointment the same was we do when our partners fail us in other respects. I suppose what I’m saying is there shouldn’t be a seperate category for sexual behaviour than for other behaviour. If your marriage vow was “I promise to be perfect at all times” how many of us would sign up to such a vow? It would seem absurd. We’d be setting ourselves up to fail. This is what we do when we automatically assume lifelong sexual fidelity from our partner. We might desire it, we botyh might aspire to it, but if our partner is not 100% perfect we’re going to go all tragic and walk out and say we’ve been irreprably betrayed? And if our partner did the same when we didn’t do our share of taking out the trash ??
    Clearly, someone who shows repeated lapses in this area, like someone who repeatedly doesn’t listen to us or repeatedly fails to do their share of the housework may end up being someone we decide we don’t want to stay with , but the occasional lapse should surely be something we can get over? I don’t think it is necessary to specify that its “OK” to seex sex outside the marriage – although that might work for some couples – all that’s necessary is to accept that in this area, like anything else, its a bit crazy to expect lifelong perfection.

  9. 9
    starthrower68

    Fascinating question.  While I am obviously aware that this is a blog for dating and relationships, this seems to be one of those issues that make me think being married is not better than being single and unattached.  It just has a different set of issues.

  10. 10
    Sherell

    No offense but using gay men as an example is a mistake.  Yes I agree that men are wired different then women and so in a hetero relationship you have to deal with the two different dynamics.  Men may not have historically been monogomist, but it was not so open and somewhat hidden and discrete.  Wth many gay men relationships as you say the sex with others is very open.

  11. 11
    Annie

    Monogamny is not natural for males or females.

    However, monogamy is the best relationship model to follow. All other relationship models have been followed historically and society alway’s ends up reverting back to monogamy because pretty much anything else is disasterious.

    Problem is, people don’t know or nor care why it is important. We live in a society today, where people are questioning every single rule we’ve followed in Western society and rather than doing their research about cause and effect of their choices, they pretty much now make up the rules as they go along, and have NO understand of what is going to happen.

    For example, did you know that all sexually-free (civilized)societies end up matriachal. Do you know why? Is this what you want? What is the effect of a matriachal society do you think in comparison to what we have had?

    Comparing gay relationships to straight ones, is absolutely ridiculous. Gay sex does not result in a baby.(typical example of not thinking things through)

    Yes we all have urges, we can also control them. It’s why most of us don’t steal, even if we have the urge to take something that doesn’t belong to us.

    Can anyone say, WHY monogamy is important? Have any of you really thought about it? It’s much harder to control our urges, when we cannot come up with one rational reason as to why we should.

  12. 12
    Gina

    I have lived in Eastern Europe and the middle east, as well as traveled all over the world. My personal observation has been that (generally speaking) many men who feel that  it is not a man’s nature to be monogamous, and who expect that their wives/girlfriends  should be more accepting in the event that they might want to have a sexual relationship with someone outside of their primary relationship, would NOT be as open or accepting if their wives/girlfriends wanted to pursue an outside sexual relationship with someone else. There’s definitely a double standard when it comes to men being monogamous versus women being monogamous.

    Although it may be unrealistic to expect lifelong monogamy in a relationship, there are consequences that can occur as a result of people who choose to engage in non-monogamous behavior. Arnold Swartzenegger and Marie Shriver are just one example.  I personally know women who have contracted STD’s as a result of the husband/boyfriend having more than one sexual partner. Some of these women knew that their partners were cheating, but since “boys will be boys”, they chose to turn the other cheek.

    Gay men can have sex with multiple partners and not develop an emotional attachment. However, women, by nature, often bond with a man after having sex. So although many may go into it thinking that it’s just for fun, they often end up becoming emotionally attached. Whereas, the man, who was simply interested in having a different sexual experience was simply having fun and had no intention of getting serious about the other woman.

  13. 13
    JerseyGirl

    Actually, this is a huge cultural fallacy, about what men are *wired* for. It’s been the popular pop-science argument for those who think they are being so “evolved” and “edgy” to claim that men just aren’t *wired* to be in a monogomous relationship. When it’s actually the same old tired argument that’s been used since the beginning of time when as Dan Savage points out, men could more opennly degrade their monogmous relationships to step out with other women. So it’s funny to me that today we get jazzed up versions of “why it’s okay that men treat women like toilet paper” and people act like this is a brand new “evolved” concept like men haven’t been cheating since the dawn of time on their female partners. 

    That “wired” word is a tricky little word. What are we really “wired” for? The true scientific approach is to admit that humans, men and women, are infact “wired” for both approaches to a relationship. We actually have genes and hormones that either support the benefits of having many different partners but we also have genes and hormones that support the desire to be close to just one person. So when people say things like people just aren’t wired to behave one way over another, it’s stereotyping and limiting and pretty surprising coming from a a gay male in american that have had more then their fair share of labels thrown at them. Why is it okay to stereotype and degenerate the desire to be monogamous but if you put such limitations on people’s sexuality, you’d be called a “hater” of some kind?

    If you are a person that does not see the benefit or is incapable of being monogmous, then simply don’t get married or committ to one person. Or have a relationship where you set these rules before hand. However, it bugs me when people use this argument to point to others that do value monogomy and tell them they are being unrealistic. It all comes down to free will and choice. You ultimately choose what person you want to be. Is it harder to forgo your own self pleasure with temptation then not indulge?Absolutely. But what people seem to forget that that is the backbone of all things in life. Somehow we expect to work hard in our careers but we expect relationships to be easy. Wrong. Relationships take hard work if you value them enough.Men an women are “wired” for both approaches to a relationship. So trying to argue that one is “unnatural” over the other is scientifically (and thus naturally) wrong. 

    And if you think about it, is insulting to all the men out there that are happy in their committed monogomous relationships. Basically these men  are being told that they must not be normal men because *real* men are just not *wired* for monogomy. And women must put on their happyy faces and pretend this is going to lead them to better relationships while they are once again being fed sado masochistic “advice”. The message: You too can have a GREAT relationships, as long as you understand that your man NEEDS more women then just YOU”. Once again women are being asked to accept less then what they might deserve. So inbetween the whole, women should pick ulgy men articles, now women shouldn’t even expect monogomy because “men aren’t wired for it”. Also add in the fact that men want their partners prettier, in better shape and younger then themselves, and don’t even want to pay for dates anymore; you got to wonder how evolved we really are in 2011 vs 50 years ago when women were probably sold the same messages (except the paying part).

    As far as using men’s uses of mistresses and prostitues and the likes of that, that isn’t so much an argument for “nature” as it is for old cultural standards. Men were allowed and encouraged to indulge themselves. Women were not. Women’s sexuality was to be locked up and thrown away where mother and wives served one purpose and prostitutes served another. That set up has nothing to do with what is natural and everything to do with a social working system that was all about men being able to indulge themselves while limiting women. If JFK lived today, he would never have gotten away with the stuff he did only a few short decades ago.

    So when someone says that men weren’t meant to be monogmous, they aren’t talking about nature so much as old cultural standards and ideals because men and women have chemicals and benefits from both monogamous relationships and diversity in sexual partners. It comes down to what *you* choose. And that is really the whole point. It’s a choice.

  14. 14
    Zann

    In my book, there’s a reason men and women are hard-wired differently, and that reason is because they bring a balance when they join forces. I realize that’s a very broad statement, and I honestly can’t say how it translates over into same-sex couples.  But I do know that I am weary of the men-must-stray mantra, and I wonder why more men aren’t offended by the simplistic, although supposedly “scientific,” conclusion that the male species just cannot keep its wild oats at home. It’s a cave man thing.

    Really?  

    I’m also weary of the glaring double-standard that says women can/should adapt to and accept that their men-will-be-men and that means they will pursue extra-marital sex. As if it’s a foregone conclusion, founded on rational analysis, conjuring up an image of the evolutionary chart, with the hunched-over Early Man, club in hand, shrugging and throwing up his hands and declaring, “I can’t help it, I’m a guy!”

    Well, humans used to eat their food with sticks, too, but we eventually found better tools, didn’t we?

    Marriages in this country are in a lot of trouble for so many different reasons, not just fidelity problems…financial stress, employment insecurity, addictions, the need for both parents to work full-time while trying to raise kids, unemployed family members moving in  – to name just a few. I do think we’ve outgrown the institution of marriage as it existed in the post-WWII era.

    But whether married or simply in a committed, non-married relationship, fidelity and commitment are why we consciously choose to couple, isn’t it? If you think you can’t handle one sex partner for the rest of your days, then don’t get into a monogamous relationship. As others have said here, there are other options. 

    I think the most compelling reason that men having extra-marital relationships is because they can, and they will continue to, as long as the safety net/excuse of biological predisposition is still touted as inevitable. When actually, it’s a matter of evolving.

  15. 15
    pd

    You only have to log into an adult dating site like a friend of mine did about 3 years ago for a laugh and to see what was going on. She was surprised at the amount of married/partnered men who were only looking to spice up their life and nothing more. She received hundreds of emails that I must admit made us roll on the floor laughing at times along with the accompanying photo’s of a certain part of the male anatomy, also extremely funny from a womans point of view. Most of the emails sounded like a fantasy of what these men wanted and weren’t getting at home for one reason or another and there were lots of reasons!
    There were also women on the site but a lot of them turned out to be men in disguise, something to do with not having to pay the membership fee if you receive x amount of emails per month. I guess it’s hard to bury a credit card entry on your statement when there are other eyes who also check.
    Most of the men were very upfront about not wanting to leave their wives/partners, some of them were downright weird and into some heavy stuff.
    At first it was easy to call them dirty dogs and they should be kicked to the curb. But a very wise man once told me you never know what moves people in their minds.
    Is it right or wrong? I don’t know. Having been married for over 20 years I can only say that I was tempted on several occasions when I met someone that gave me that “wow” feeling. It happens, but the question is whether you do anything about it or not and that is between you and your conscience and your core beliefs. I’d like to say that I didn’t and kept to the high moral ground but I did cheat on my then husband with one man. The electricity was unbelievable and where is he now? Read some of Evans posts in regards to chemistry for the answer.
    My husband and I split up for other reasons that didn’t have anything to do with infidelity on either side.

  16. 16
    Margo

    This article reeks of immorality. So does this post and the responses to it. If a man says to his wife that he would forgive her for hooking up with a man on a business trip, most would assume he would expect her to forgive him for the same transgression.

    Therefore, if my husband/bf said this to me, I would think he was setting the stage for cheating…

  17. 17
    Francesca

    The thing is, for me, love and sex are intertwined. Sex introduces feelings, longings, desires for someone who may be a complete ass. The type of longings that make me stare at the ceiling desperately trying to go to sleep. Not to mention I love sex, I usually easily have a larger sex drive then my partners. 

    So having sex with someone who wasn’t my partner? I imagine I would fall in love with them. Dating for me = emotional rollercoaster. I would be obsessed with longing and that might be enough for me to forget that my rock, my stability, my life isn’t as good as a fling.

    I have no doubt that that’s one massive risk for me to take. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable letting my partner take that either. Not seeing my boyfriend for days because he’s currently in lust with a new flavour of the month. No, no that’s not okay.  

    I have also tended to date conservative guys as well. For them to cheat would be a violation of a lot of their own morals, so I’d think something was wrong, big time.

  18. 18
    Selena

    There is an assumption in this article that a solid, emotional relationship won’t be damaged by the occasional (sanctioned) sexual fling. Most cases of people seeking sex outside their relationship aren’t the result of drunken one-nighters while out of town – they involve acting on an attraction with someone they get to know. The grass starts to look greener over there. In many, many cases the person in a commited relationship leaves it for the “other woman” or “other man”.

    Both monogamy and infidelity are choices. If one chooses to be “flexible” when it comes to monogamy, then they better also be aware that a “little fling” could result in the demise of their relationship anyway, now matter how “cool” they were about such things.

  19. 19
    Steve

    I’m not a scientist of any kind, but I found the book Sex At Dawn to be very easy to understand, funny, warm and provocative.   In the book two researchers review the science behind the argument for and against human being being naturally monogamous.    This book was fascinating and it will make you think.
     
    I’ve been reading Dan Savages column for years and I can’t recommend it enough.   Savage can often be offensive, but MORE often he is *funny*, warm, informative and he doesn’t give pat advice that you can predict.
     
    In a nutshell his philosophy about relationships is that not all people are cut out for monogamy,   people can be happier by working to accept that and speaking honestly with their partners about that.
     

  20. 20
    JerseyGirl

    PD, it seems to me that a lot of people today want to live in “fantasy” lalala land over establishing and growing their real life relationships. Hence so many men on websites trying to live pornstar sex lives. Which would also account for the wacky stuff they might be into. Seems to me no one told these men that porn was fantasy, It use to be that porn was a “once in awhile thing”. Now guys look at it 24.7 and then wonder why real women don’t want to have sex with them. A combination of their unrealistic ideals and the fact that they stopped putting the work into treating their own partner a certain way that might get her to engage with him more instead of just using women to masterbate to. 

    Margo, I agree with people say things like “well if my partner did this, I would forgive them..” that they are a little bit setting it up for putting themselves in that same position and wanting to be forgiving. It’s like sometimes how someone in a relationship will accuse someone else of cheating and sometimes the one accusing the other person is actually the one cheating.

  21. 21
    ckay

    I think articles like this set up, again, that whole BS about the untameable, unblameable male libido.  

    HARDLY EVER, in articles like this, do the writers speak to how there are SOME women who struggle into monogamy.  Their struggle may be for different reasons, but men aren’t alone in the ‘struggle.’ We have eyes ,too. We lust, also.  I get really tired of guys complaining that it’s hard to do.  Solution:  get with a partner who doesn’t require it, live with integrity.  <–Now, that solution doesn’t work if the woman wants to have outside relations, though. O_o 

    Any type of relationship can work if there is honesty and integrity about who we are individually and what we want our relationship to be.  The problemo is that most people are dishonest about their urges and intentions and when you mix in jealousy, things just go crazy. 

    Articles like this totally negate patriarchy and socialization.  Savage is sitting up here telling us women that’ because it’s always done, it should continue being done.” Nope. Isn’t that one of those dumb arguments people sometimes use to keep others oppressed and unthinking?

    Patriarchy tells women men are entitled to outside partners, because “that’s how it’s always been.”  It’s the same system that neuters female sexuality that places supreme primacy on virginity.   It also tells us women that our sexuality is tame, by nature. Socialization makes it very hard to assert to the male ego that his woman may desire someone, besides himself. 

    Gosh, I’m coming off sounding like a feminist, lol…and I don’t think I am. But in articles like these, I always want more balance.  More balance!!

  22. 22
    BeenThereDoneThat

    Zann at 15 said:
    If you think you can’t handle one sex partner for the rest of your days, then don’t get into a monogamous relationship.
    I read Dan Savage and this is exactly what he says as well.  You need to be honest with your partner about who you are, what you like, what turns you on; if the other person isn’t accepting of what you want, then they aren’t the one for you.  this goes for sexual kinks as well as monogamy.
    There are people (not just men) are are not monogamous.  I do believe its a choice they make.  We are responsible for our actions.
    I was cheated on – and I mean that we did not have any expectation of an open relationship that we had agreed upon.  Having experienced that I will say: EVAN: in the abstract it’s a LOT easier to say you would be ok with a drunken one night stand.  It is much more difficult to do so in reality.   Also, my philandering spouse would not have been accepting of me having sex with other men.  I did have opportunities but I had made a commitment and knowing I would cause him pain were just some of the things that made it easy to pass.   Sadly, those things did not mean as much to him.  Interestingly, he left for the “other” woman; she does believe in open relationships and when he balked at her sleeping with others (something he knew was going to happen), she told him to get on board or get lost.  And now, after 4 years of his open relationship, he really wants another chance with monogamous me.  I am going to pass.
    And, yes, I believe in being GGG; have no issue with being available for sex at almost any time and being open to trying new things. But I’m looking for monogamy – if you don’t think you can do, then we aren’t suited for each other and need to keep looking.
     

  23. 23
    Happy

    Annie #12 very insightful post, I agree with just about everything you’ve said.  (I’m not quite so sure that patriarchy is better than matriarchy, if that’s what you meant, but I’m not gonna go there right now…..)
    along with yours, some of my thoughts on the subject at hand….
    To my mind, much of the journey of human evolution involves growing into a seasoned, well-rounded maturity, while retaining a sense of awe, wonder and innocence.  Like coming full circle, but ending up so much more self-actualized, conscious, aware, and with greater wisdom.
    To a large extent, this includes being able to manage one’s likes and dislikes and urges, and to sublimate them into something larger and more profound than the perpetual quest to indulge our individual preferences.
    No, this is not some religious puritanical hoo-ha.
    It’s about really exploring and discovering more about ourselves and evolution, rather than just living simply to indulge our human animalistic primate tendencies in order to achieve repeated episodes of gratification. Even if they are rationalized by such tired notions as “humans are not meant to be monogamous.”
    Apparently, and correct me if I’m mistaken, Oppenheimer attributes Savage offering non-monogamy as a panacea to boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted.
    Looking outside of a committed relationship for these things is only a quick fix, at best.  It’s not getting to the root cause of these conditions, which is, one, taking these conditions way too seriously, and not acknowledging that all emotions, thoughts, states, and everything, comes and goes and changes constantly.  The best we can strive for is equanimity in dealing with whatever life throws our way, not new and improved belief systems and more snake oil.
    That being said, I do have a belief system that engaging in sexual intimacy outside of a committed primary relationship agreement is just plain greedy.  And really, greed is not so good. So you don’t get to have anal sex because your partner doesn’t want to. So what? Get over it.  Many times a sexual fantasy can better than than the real thing turns out to be anyway.
    I will be with my life partner because of many factors. Having all of my sexual fantasies played out is not at the top of my list, and I would hope it’s not at the top of my partner’s,either.  I certainly aim, however, (to quote Savage’s acronym “G.G.G.”),  to be “good, giving and game”. But…consider.  Do you really need to eat all the candy in the candy store, too? Really ?
    In closing, I’d like to say that this, from the NYTimes article, really speaks to me:
    “Throughout your lives, you share so many things with other people; your time, your friendship, your charity.  Your sex life is the one thing that belongs only to you and your partner. This intimacy, this special trust, is what separates your married (or committed) relationship from all others in your lives.  It is the one thing you share only with each other.”

  24. 24
    Zann

    JerseyGirl @ #14:

    “Somehow we expect to work hard in our careers but we expect relationships to be easy. Wrong. Relationships take hard work if you value them enough.Men an women are “wired” for both approaches to a relationship.”

    Well said. Men don’t own the market on urges…we all have them. But Geez Louise, must the modern adult be allowed to indulge his/her every urge in order to sustain emotional well being? Personally, I like the free will that comes with being an adult and being able to make my own choices when it comes to intimate relationships, whether monogamous or polyamorous. Different strokes. What I don’t like is when someone presents themselves as searching for The One, when really what they’re hoping for is The One Plus Others As The Urge Arises. Like they say: great work if you can get it. I mean, really, who wouldn’t want that? But that doesn’t mean I’m entitled to it or should feel I deserve it, even if that means hurting my significant other.

    Don’t want the confines of a monogamous relationship? Then don’t have one. My observation of polyamorous relationships is that they don’t work for the majority of adults, and when it does, it requires a lot of effort, honesty, and sensitivity to the feelings of others, just like quality monogamous relationships do. If you don’t want to do the work required to form lasting, quality relationships, maybe what’s best for you (and everyone involved with you) is the serial no-strings-attached life. Be clear about that and then be sure others you are pursuing are clear about it.

  25. 25
    Daphne

    Dan Savage obviously has never been cheated on. If he had been, he would know what it feels like and not think that this model of relationship brings about “stability” for the kids.
    What it brought for my kids was a depressed and overweight mother, who was habitually withdrawn, who was uninterested in having sex because it’s insulting when your husband starts doing new things that he learned from his other partners.
    Men have impulses toward non-monogamy ? And they must express those impulses ? Well, I have impulses on buying out the front window of Neiman Marcus, and I’m not going to act on that. Trotting out the old “human nature” and history of humanity argument is not impressive either- look at some of the other things humans have done historically.
    I am so glad I got divorced, and so convinced that Dan Savage just does not get it.

  26. 26
    Karl R

    I think Dan Savage has some good points that get lost in the controversy.

    Be non-judgmental:
    If my partner is afraid of me judging her, then she won’t be honest with me. The same is true in the other direction. You don’t have to understand the other person’s point of view, but you do have to be willing to see them as an equal after they’ve opened up.

    Otherwise, you’ll never hear about these things. It’s easy for your partner to keep quiet. It’s not to my advantage to have my partner keep secrets from me.

    Don’t assume monagamy is the only option:
    When I was younger, I had two men explicitly tell me that it was fine with them if I had sex with their wives. Another man bragged to me that he and his wife had an open marriage, and his wife later confirmed it.

    Each of those marriages lasted over ten years. (I lost touch with most of them, but I’m not aware that any ended in a divorce.) Non-monogamy works for some people.

    Unless I discuss the issue with my partner, I don’t know where she stands. I can’t assume that she prefers monogamy.

    Know where you stand:
    I’m too jealous to share my fiancée with another man. Therefore, I want a monogamous relationship. I know there are non-monogamous couple out there, and that works for them. But that’s not the kind of person I am.

    I’ve seen couples try non-monogamy and have things fail because one person later realized they weren’t okay with it. If you think you’re okay with it and guess incorrectly, you’re going to hurt your relationship.

    Monogamy isn’t a yes/no issue:
    My fiancée and I are monogamous, but we regularly dance with other people (and not just polite formal dancing). Some people would find that to be a threat to the exclusivity of the relationship.

    We’re also both okay with the other one watching porn.

    Whether you decide that you want monogamy or non-monogamy, you have to reach a mutual agreement as to what that means for you as a couple.

    Monogamy requires you to fulfill all of your partners needs:
    A comedian had a routine where he talked about cheating on his ex-wife. When he married her, he had readily agreed that he was only going to have sex with her for the rest of his life.

    Then his wife decided to stop having sex.

    The comedian had agreed to monogamy, not celibacy.

    As Gem (#1) said, that may mean having sex when you’re not in the mood, or performing sex acts that really don’t do much for you, because that’s what will make your partner happy.

    I don’t understand why the young man in the article got turned on by having birthday cakes smashed in his face. But I wouldn’t find it painful or abhorent or unsafe to do that to my partner, so I would be willing to do that sort of thing to make my partner happy.

    I see it as an act of equality in a relationship. If I want my fiancée to do the things that I enjoy, I better be willing to do the same for her.

    And if I’m unwilling to do things just because my fiancée enjoys them, I’m going to have to find a partner who enjoys the exact same things that I do.

  27. 27
    nathan

    I have a few responses to the article. First off, I can think of several gay men I know who are in long term partnerships and who wouldn’t react positively to cheating. They’re in it for the long term, and some have been, for many years. So, perhaps there is research that points to gay men being less focused on a single partner, but I think a fair number would disagree with parts of Savage’s column.
    The whole men aren’t “hardwired” for monogamy argument is tired, and an easy excuse to use to justify decisions that probably have no justification.
    When it comes to monogamy or forms of polyandry, the way I see it, it’s incumbent upon those involved to be clear and honest with each other, to make decisions together about what the relationship is about, and then to honor those decisions through your behavior. It’s the lack of honoring those commitments, and a willingness to be honest about your needs and views that cause trouble. The lies, cheating, undercover porn viewing, and the rest are all about failures of intimacy, regardless of the form of relationship.
    I have had a few friends who were in long term relationships with multiple partners, and they consistently spoke of the need for everything to be “above board,” so that no one is taken by surprise. Now, honestly, I believe that polyandrous relationships are probably more difficult to sustain over the long run because more than 2 people are involved, which makes things more complicated. But at the same time, I’m not willing to outright condemn them as people simply screwing around or people who are unwilling to commit. Certainly, some folks use the idea of polyandry as an excuse for screwing around and getting off. However, I do think there are folks who can pull polyandrous relationships off well for the long run, and I support them, even if I have no interest in having multiple partners myself.
     
     
     
     

  28. 28
    Ellie

    As a late-20-something female, you just reaffirmed why I shouldn’t get married. It’s just another excuse for selfish behavior.

  29. 29
    J

    Completely agree (and I’m a woman). Brave post, Evan! Everyone should read “Sex at Dawn”.

  30. 30
    Evan Marc Katz

    Is this article indicative of a patriarchy? A master plan among men? A ridiculous, sexist, obvious ploy by me to be able to cheat on my wife (by writing about it in a public forum and discussing it with her over dinner)?

    Strangely, these are all among the things you’ve suggested, instead of the more obvious answer: Savage’s take is based in reality – a reality where both men and women live for 80+ years and continue to sexually desire other people, even if they don’t want to destroy their healthy, loving, long-term relationships.

    Does anyone dispute this fact?

    It’s not man thing, or a gay man thing, or a skeevy, conniving liar thing – it’s a people thing, driven by biological evolution as outlined in “Sex at Dawn”.

    Savage merely suggests moving the needle to acknowledging and understanding this fact so that an indiscretion doesn’t necessarily ruin the relationship.

    Millions of people would never have intimate relations outside marriage because they don’t want to risk losing their marriages. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to. Savage says that by bringing this to the surface and not making the desire for sexual variety so taboo, perhaps we can have even healthier marriages – instead of asking people to lie or commit secret infidelity.

    Once again, I’d need some stronger evidence that this is a viable option that wouldn’t ruin a marriage, but, in principle, it makes sense.

    I remember a study that said that women prefer variety within a committed relationship, where men prefer a variety of women. Sounds pretty accurate to me. The question is what, if anything, can be done about this truth?

    Because right now, 20% of men are making commitments that they don’t always keep. 14% of women are doing the same. Perhaps a shift of understanding is in order, instead of saying that the happily married Savage, happily married Katz, and all men are despicable for even broaching the subject.

     

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