Does monogamy belong in a bygone era?

Navigating dating and relationships in 2022 can the majority of the time feel like you are stabbing in the dark. Dating apps like Hinge, Tinder and Raya can appear to be more of a hook-up epicentre rather than serious singles looking for a shot at love and why the hell not for those us too caught up in career goals and the general rat race of life to be able to commit to anything more than casual sex. But for those that find themselves in a committed, monogamous-intended relationship may find that particular temptation of single life hard to resist. 

One too many bad experiences can have us wondering if monogamy is an archaic tradition ceasing to exist or if we as a society are simply evolving into a new generation way of living. Whilst the hopeless romantics are screaming at the horror of this modern living, the real facts are that couples are struggling to stay faithful in traditional monogamous relationships, with both men and women engaging at similar rates. According to Global Investigations, a 2017 survey showed that 57% of males and 54% of females admitted to cheating on a partner in one or more of their relationships.

couples, sex, photo
Image courtesy of via Instagram

So this raises the ultimate question; why are people struggling to stay sexually committed to one person? A study was done by Dylan Selterman, Justin R Garcia and Irene Tsapelas from their book The Journey of Sex Research, where they interviewed 495 individuals who admitted to cheating in their relationship. They concluded that there were eight key motivations to becoming unfaithful, with the majority not involving a lack of sex life or close sexual intimacy with their primary partner.

A lack of self-esteem, neglect and sexual desire were among the highest reasons why people cheat, with anger, lack of love and low commitment falling just behind. Particularly partners cheating due to a lack of self-esteem were more likely to cheat in obvious circumstances such as nightclubs, parties, bars and environments with alcohol and recreational drugs. Not the most stealthy of secretive behaviour. But not all non-monogamous relationships involve a lack of honesty with their partners.

There has been a rise in recent years of people choosing honesty over sexual monogamy at the forefront of their relationship, opting for an open dialogue around sexual freedom; the open relationship. _shift sat down with Danny Peterson*, a software engineer from Berlin to find out the drive and pull behind his choice to be in an open relationship. “I couldn’t be in a closed relationship. For me, it’s normal human behaviour to want to touch or have sex with someone else. Usually, after 1-2 years in a traditional relationship, I want to explore sex with another partner and for me, there is nothing wrong in that.”

The stereotype of an open relationship is one that can appear in many forms, whether to discuss their sexual partners, rules to follow and how to navigate that alongside a traditional element of the relationship; love. Peterson continues: “We follow rules, we work on them and we reflect on them. If we need to change something we can. It’s a really intense feeling if you know your partner is somewhere else, but the feeling afterwards is also very intense in a different way. You really feel how much you love each other. It’s a lot of work and you need to have really good communication otherwise it can hurt.” It is possible that having a deeper connection that isn’t just associated with the act of sex can give you a stronger intimacy with your partner, resulting in more emotional trust. 

While many millennials and gen-zoomers are increasingly exploring the options outside of a monogamous relationship, there are some singles who see the prospect of an open relationship or a relationship with many sexual partners, as a phase of life designed for those in their twenties to thirties. Justin Masson* and Samuel Thomas* are two twenty-something fashion industry professionals navigating their way through dating life in London. “For a long time, we believed only a polygamous relationship would work for us, but now our views have changed. We know we just haven’t found the right partners. Sex should be 50% of any relationship, but it always drops, becomes inexistent, boring, unwanted, requires too much energy, is not sexy anymore etc. We believe people are like us, they want a ton of sex but within a meaningful relationship.”

couples, black and white, photography
Image courtesy of via Instagram

“Monogamy is common, it just comes much later in life. Not because you’ve exhausted all your options, but because it’s tiring to change partners every hour, day, week/month of the year. Eventually, you stop seeing the added benefits of continuously dating or continuously looking for extra partners who would fulfil any gaps in your life. Selfishly, when you’re much older, you look for different traits in a partner. Loyalty and companionship might be prevailing factors. You adapt.” 

There can often be a generalisation and stigma relating to men wanting more sexual freedom with a relationship yet in this new-gen world, women are also demanding more sexual variety. They continue: “Men have always been described as polygamous by nature. It’s as if it was coded in their DNA and we are often told that women are typically monogamous, this has not been our experience in London. We found that women mostly just don’t disclose information, even to their closest friends, while you find guys would brag about everything they do and everything they wish they did.” 

sunset, couple, love
Image courtesy of via Instagram

While modern dating life may be flowing in the direction of multiple sexual partners, a recent YouGov survey showed that as of July 2021, 75% of people asked would still not consider an open relationship and 17% have been, are currently or are willing to explore an open arrangement. This feels like a surprising statistic since over half of us cannot remain faithful to our chosen partners. We as humans in the modern-day and age struggle with the issue of over-consumption and short attention spans to no end, that possibly this has transferred over into consuming people and by that more and more sexual partners. Enough is never enough and sex is everywhere we look, on the television, in adverts, on Instagram; it’s impossible to avoid. One scroll through social media and it’s a sure thing to find your hook-up for the night. Maybe it gives us peace of mind to think that the hopeless romantics among us are still holding on to the societal fairytale of ‘the one’ or maybe we just aren’t ready to let go of the traditional pathway of marriage, kids and the white picket fence that supposedly comes with it. 

*Names and occupations have been changed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of our sources.

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