A non-monogamous relationship can be one of many things. It can be the fabled ménage à trois, swinging, polyamory, group marriage, etc. So why are non-monogamous relationships being wrapped into one group and monogamy another? If you read over the list of non-monogamous relationship you’ll realize that they all involve multiple sexual partners. This is the one link that ties them all together. It’s this link that will be put under the microscope and compared to the standard monogamous relationship.
The benefits of transcending the confines of a traditional relationship are plentiful. To understand the benefits offered by straying from a conventional relationship, let’s first look inward to gain an appreciation of how we’re designed to have a natural propensity for non-monogamous relationships.
The Modern Human
While our human ancestors started prancing around earth over 2.5 million years ago, the first modern humans, homo sapiens, came about 200,000 years ago. However during the reign of the homo sapien, anthropologists posit that monogamy would have been a ridiculous practice to most of our ancestors. These roaming tribes were practitioners of fierce egalitarianism. This meant that everything must be shared: food, shelter, and sexual partners. Everything was up for grabs. Sharing everything was done so as to decrease risk.
The Greatest Cockblock Of All, Agriculture
Fierce egalitarianism remained the status quo up until the advent of agriculture circa 8,000 b.c. At this juncture in our sexual evolution we slowly moved away from the wild all night orgies and instead decided to shack up with one mate for the rest of our lives.
Before agriculture, everything was shared. Tribes moved around as groups, hunted in numbers, and shared whatever meager possessions they had. But with the coming of agriculture, men and women decided to settle down and claim property as their own. Finally, humans could invest enough time into building a shelter and gathering food that they no longer needed to share all of their living possessions with the tribe. Naturally as humans began to settle down and claim lands as their own, they also gave birth to the nuclear family. Christopher Ryan, author of Sex At Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, says that with agriculture, and in turn the possession of land, males in particular became concerned about who would receive their land when they died.
Ryan and co-author/psychiatrist/wife Cacilda Jetha would have us believe that monogamy is a consequence of greed. Culture, not our biology has dictated that we sleep with one person for the entirety of our married lives (marriage by the way only began around 2350 b.c. and wasn’t popularized until much later).
There is no consensus that agriculture is the reason monogamy exists. Kit Opie, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University College London thinks that modern monogamy has only been around for about 1,000 years. Instead of a few crops getting in the way of polyamory behavior it was STDs that put an end to free-loving societies.
The rate of STDs climbs as communities grow. 1,000 years ago, contracting an STD would have made you as good as dead. For self-preservation purposes humans decided to shack up so as to decrease the odds of contracting an STD.
How The Animal Kingdom Gets Down
Let’s look outside of our species for a moment. Being that we consider ourselves to be largely monogamous, by extension we consider most other animals to be as well. It turns out that of the more or less 5,000 mammals, a mere 3-5% form lifelong pair bonds. Some of these loyal lovers include beavers, wolves, some bats, foxes, and otters. Although even “lifelong” in this sense might be a misnomer. If a partner dies or becomes sexually inactive it’s common to see the aforementioned animals seek out other mates.
It might seem asinine to compare our sexuality to the mating practices of 5,000 mammals. So let’s examine a relative of ours, the ape. Just 29% of primates are monogamous. To get an even more intimate look at what our relatives are up to, let’s have a look at the bonobo. Bonobos are our closest relatives –sharing 99.6% of DNA- but when it comes to mating we have our differences. Bonobos are constantly mating with each other. They don’t just choose one suitor to live out their days with, but instead will mate with the entire community. In this way they mimic our ancestors’ style of fierce egalitarianism.
If we were monogamous by nature, why are we able to have sex at literally any moment? Any time of the year should a female hit you up for a late night booty call you’re good to go. Not all animals can so quickly awaken their nether regions when called upon. Animals such as bears, horses, sheep, and chipmunks are seasonal breeders. If we were monogamous by nature what evolutionary benefit is there in being able to have sex year-round?
Unlike many other species the human male has external genitalia. Many species deem it too risky to have an external scrotum. Having an external scrotum allows for the cooling of seamen thus making it more likely to fertilize an egg than if they were located internally. Not only this but male humans are also able to produce sperm just minutes after having ejaculated. If we were designed to be monogamous, why are we such sexual weapons?
A Hypocritical Sexual Ecosystem
With the advent of religion, STDs, and of course the spread of Christianity espousing the need to stay virtuous and stick to one lover, non-monogamous relationships were kicked to the curb. Mainstream societies have by and large make monogamy the norm. But although we call ourselves monogamous out in the open, do our sexual habits support the label?
A 2015 study found that 1 in 5 Americans have entered into a non-monogamous relationship at least once in their lives. While this is the current sexual landscape of America, it isn’t the trend. YouGov, a market research firm discovered that half of millennials are open to engaging in a non-monogamous relationship. Considering America is trending liberal, it makes sense that young people will continue to welcome non-monogamous relationships with open arms, mouths, and legs.
While the older generations might be proponents of monogamy, their actions suggest that their dedication to their spouses is nominal. Admittedly, gathering data about cheating partners can be difficult. Results will always range as long as cheating is looked down upon. Here are the results from a few studies.
- 1991 study conducted by sex researcher Shere Hite found that 70% of married women have cheated on their partners. In a subsequent study of men she found that 72% of men cheated on their wives.
- A 2004 study from the University of Chicago found that 25% of married men have had at least 1 extramarital affair.
- After examining various studies, Bella DePaulo, Ph.D found that between 1991-2008 roughly 20-25% of men cheated on their wives, while only 10-15% of women did so.
While stats were hard to come across for unmarried non-monogamous partners, with less to lose one can assume that cheating is even more prevalent among unmarried monogamous partners.
The Benefits Of Non-Monogamous Relationships
The evidence is there. It turns out that three-ways, polyandry (where a woman has more than one husband), and casual open relationships aren’t in fact taboo. Humans have been acting un-humanlike for thousands of years. But with American society based around a monogamous marriage, what benefits are there in engaging in a more sexually open relationship?
Benefits of Non-Monogamous Relationships 1: More Sex
Let’s start off with the obvious shall we. When more sexual partners are added to the mix, more sex is had. Sex has oodles of benefits including: increasing intimacy with one’s partner(s), improves mental health, burns calories, relives stress, mitigates menstrual pain, etc. Last year only 29% of males ages 18-29 had sex.
People around the world are having less sex. We’re staying inside longer, our social anxieties are increasing, and we’re choosing a late night GOT binge instead of pursuing sexual mates.
Benefits of Non-Monogamous Relationships 2: Stop Being So Lonely
A monogamous relationship is closed. Whenever a friend of our enters into a relationship we tend to mourn the loss of a friend rather than the gaining of a new one. Non-monogamous relationships are less jealous in nature and thus are more receptive to new people.
This receptivity serves to enlarge one’s social circle rather than limiting it. Blame it on technology, the fast pace of life, existential crisis, or whatever social ailment plagues modern life, but the truth is that Americans are lonelier than ever.
Benefits of Non-Monogamous Relationships 3: Extending The Family
Look around. Inner cities are growing but personal space is shrinking. It’s not uncommon to have dinner at a friend’s house and greet his six roommates on your way to the dining room. Living is becoming communal again, and some communities are confronting the situation by reverting back to more fierce egalitarian times.
It makes sense that instead of living with a bunch of strangers, you and your loved ones would move into a home together. To take this relationship to the next level you could even purchase a home and raise a family together. Finances would be cut in half while at the same time putting to test the ancient African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child.
Benefits of Non-Monogamous Relationships 4: No More Guilt Or Inhibitions
How many partnerships are ruined because one half of the union decides to stray? Did you ever feel guilty while double taking a girl while out with your partner? Don’t you want to have the freedom to flirt with another girl while your primary partner isn’t around?
A chief benefit of non-monogamous relationships is that they’re sexually, emotionally, and socially liberating. Without restrictions you’re able to act without inhibitions when it comes to romantically engaging with other women.
Despite all the benefits of a non-monogamous relationship, only 5% of Americans are currently in one. Surely more than 5% want to open their relationship but don’t know how. I don’t claim to possess the tact needed to talk to your partner about such a sensitive topic, but I know someone that does.
Emyli is a SF-based dating coach that will provide you with the vocabulary needed to broach the topic to your significant other. Whether it’s a girlfriend or a woman you just started dating, discussing the desire for a non-monogamous relationship is a topic that demands tact. One wrong move could render your partner paranoid or jealous. Consult with your new relationship maven via a 1-on-1 Skype session where you two will talk about non-monogamous relationships and how you can start the conversation with your current or future partner(s).