Christopher Ryan PhD, author or “Sex At Dawn” says in this podcast “Monogamy is like vegetarianism, it doesn’t come naturally to our species. It’s an uphill path. That doesn’t mean it’s not a healthy or legitimate path, but just because you decided to be a vegetarian doesn’t mean bacon stops smelling good.” This says to me that monogamy is something that requires conscious effort, which means we should be making monogamy a conscious informed decision agreed upon by BOTH parties involved in the partnership, and if one of those partners discovers at some point they want something different, there needs to be room for that person to change their minds.
He goes on to explain “If you are with a partner for many years you aren’t actually having one relationship, you are having a series of relationships with the same person over those many years.” Who, truth be told, isn’t even actually the same person you began the relationship with. Biologically our entire body rejuvenates down to cellular level every seven years, how does that change who we are in personality and psychology? We have no idea. Not to mention the illnesses and injuries we could have sustained in that time, many of which can fundamentally and permanently change our physiology, let alone affect our psychology. We intellectually already “know” that our psychology and personality changes and evolves just by time and experience. We are NOT the same person we were at the start of any relationship, so the key to longevity has to be 100% open honesty between partners about who they are and where they are in their own heads, alongside the flexibility and willingness to change the relationship as the people within it change.
So to sex and pair bonding, Christopher Ryan explains that both are part of the reptilian brain biological imperative (survival, territorialism, competition, reproduction, quality of life seeking, and group forming) of human, just like the need for food, shelter, pair-bonding and tribe/clan structure. An evolutionary imperative of human is adaptability, so out of group forming- survival – reproduction we create language & morality, etc. In modern societies where both the biological & evolutionary imperatives are already satisfied, what we do then is begin to refine what’s already in place, focusing then on obtaining the most pleasure and not just the necessity. Want versus need. Thus communication has evolved far past just “Danger here.” Food has become more than a way to satisfy hunger and keep the body fueled and healthy. Shelter is no longer just a means to keep us safe, warm and dry. And sex is almost NEVER about “making babies.” “The commonality regarding the way we are refining all of these primal drives is variety” All primates seek novelty in sex partners, humans included. So to me to assume that one partner would be what we would desire solely and permanently is folly.
Yes we crave pair bonds, and “family” group bonding. These bonds satisfy primary needs like security, longevity, child rearing and quality of life, but these are all needs that are separate from sex. We tend to look at our all of interpersonal connection with others through the lens of our own psychological impression of intimacy & the emotion of love. Well love is already an issue, because we compartmentalize this complex emotion, giving it different value depending on the target of the emotion and the means of expression. The Greek words commonly cited are Agape, Filia, Storge, and Eros, which really don’t even explain all the complexities of the emotion of love, but at least give us four classifications to use to see how we feel and express this ONE emotion (which BTW affects the brain hormonally and chemically pretty much the same way in all cases) for many different people/entities ALL AT THE SAME TIME, to the detriment of none. Yet of the four, its Eros we have decided is a finite commodity we have to hoard. We can’t possible have “romantic love” for more than one person at a time. REALLY?
Then there is intimacy. Intimacy is basically the glue we have in all relationships, which is why it is usually the determining factor with regard to the DEPTH of a relationship, whether someone is a stranger, acquaintance, friend, best friend, family member, CLOSE family member etc. It is something that is much harder to find with another person than sex is, therefore is something that can maintain relationships even in the absence of the emotion of love. We confuse the emotional and psychological intimacy we have with others with physical intimacy, and that’s the problem. Sexual attraction is based on novelty, so dissipates when the newness wears off, and being physically intimate with a person doesn’t automatically translate into an emotional or psychological intimacy, it’s a separate thing. This is often why after the novelty wears off, relationships end, regardless of the level of physical intimacy. There’s no glue.
So if we don’t have to feel intimacy to have sex, and we don’t have to have sex to feel intimacy, I honestly don’t see what threat non-monogamy poses to monogamy that causes society to vehemently oppose it. We pair bond, and build lives with, the people we create intimacy with. THAT is the glue that keeps my partner and I together after 30yrs, the intimacy we created from shared experiences, time, and inner truths. Sure, sex sometimes was the shared experience/time or revelation of inner truth, but most often NOT. The sexual experiences we have had outside, or alongside, our relationship have very little to no impact upon the intimacy/glue that’s already between us, even if those other partnerships become intimate in their own right. As a matter of fact, sharing those inner truths about other sexual experiences deepens our intimacy because it deepens our trust and confidence in each other, and in the solidity of our partnership.
So while I understand and respect that not everyone has the ability or want to separate sexual experience from emotional intimacy, therefore believes the only course for them is monogamy, I believe that monogamy has to be a decision we each make purposely for ourselves, and not just as the automatic default. Otherwise every sexual thought or urge outside of that relationship becomes a burden upon it that will eventually drag the entire partnership down. Make informed choices people.