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Friday, January 6, 2012

Huffington Post on the Male "Need" to Cheat

By Anna Dorminey, Staff

The Huffington Post’s Vicki Larson writes:

Monogamy is failing men.

Not only is it failing them, but it's a “socially compelled sexual incarceration” that can lead to a life of anger and contempt, or so says Eric Anderson, an American sociologist at England’s University of Winchester and author of the provocative new book, The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating (Oxford University Press, $49.99).

Cheating, however, serves men pretty well. An undiscovered affair allows them to keep their relationship and emotional intimacy, and even if they’re busted it’s a lot easier than admitting that they wanted to screw someone else in the first place, he writes.

In his study of 120 undergraduate men, 78 percent of those who had a partner cheated, “even though they said that they loved and intended to stay with their partner.” Contrary to what we may think, most men aren't cheating because they don't love their partner, he says; they cheat because they just want to have sex with others. And society shouldn't pooh-pooh that.

Monogamy's stronghold on our beliefs—what he calls monogamism—brings ostracism and judgment to anyone who questions or strays from its boundaries. That doesn’t make sense to Anderson, who wonders why we stigmatize someone who has a fling more than couples who divorce—throwing away a marriage rich in history and love, upsetting their kids’ lives—over something like sex.

Monogamy isn’t the only “proper” way to be in a relationship, and he says it’s time that society finds “multiple forms of acceptable sexual relationship types—including sexually open relationships—that coexist without hierarchy or hegemony.” It’s especially important for today’s young men, for whom monogamous sex seems more boring than in generations past because of easy premarital sex and pornography.

I’m dubious, to say the least, about Anderson’s research. His study consisted of interviews with 120 undergraduate males, a rather bizarre sample for a study of monogamy and commitment. The article itself is too long to address point by point, so I’ll say just two things:

1. Anderson writes, “Humans are largely lousy at controlling our bodies’ desires. We say we don’t want to eat that Snickers bar, but we also really do want to eat it. We eat it, we feel guilty about it, and afterwards we promise ourselves not to eat one again; but we nonetheless do.” His analogy is positively ludicrous. Marriage is not a diet. Marriage is a covenant. And whereas the occasional candy bar will not destroy the human body, the violation of the necessary marital commitment to fidelity will absolutely destroy a marriage. Furthermore, the difficulty that self-denial poses is no reason to completely eschew the discipline of fidelity. And though Anderson rationalizes that the sex is “just sex” and not an emotional relationship, the reality is that the divorce of sexual relationship from emotion and intimacy is deadening, when it is not impossible.

2. “Premarital sex” is, as the author says, “easy” to get. Pornography damages not only individuals’ perceptions of monogamous, married sexual relationships, it damages actual people. (For more on the harms of pornography, see the MARRI synthesis paper “The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriage, Family, and Community”). The fact remains, though, that married persons enjoy the most sexual fulfillment. Don’t believe me? Check the following resources: Robert T. Michael, et al., Sex in America: A Definitive Survey (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1994), 124-129; Edward O. Laumann, et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 364, table 10.5; Andrew Greeley, Faithful Attraction: Discovering Intimacy, Love and Fidelity in American Marriage (New York: Tom Doherty Association, 1991), see chapter 6 (as cited in Glenn T. Stanton, “Why Marriage Matters”).

What do you think? Do men need to cheat? Is monogamy an unrealistic and unnatural demand to apply to a partner?

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