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This is the 21st century. Supposedly, the color of your skin isn’t an issue, the set of “bits” between your legs won’t shut you out of voting booths, and as of 2015, all forms of love are finally legal. Yet, with all these strides in social equality, traditional values still undercut attitudes surrounding morally acceptable behavior.
The introductory activity in my class on sexuality this week involved an open discussion on sex. Two themes contrasted one another: hookup culture and monogamous relationships. While there is an air of freedom when it comes to sex on college campuses, a draft of shame also passes through. As is the case with most social progress, outdated attitudes about the number of bedmates one can have often conflict with modern, liberated sexual practices. So while in one ear I hear someone expressing pride in having sexual experiences with multiple partners, in my other ear I hear disdain.
Monogamy isn’t natural…but given what values we’ve created in society, it serves as a stabilizing practice.
Here, human creation and human nature come into contention. The nuclear family in society functions as a foundational and supportive base for all of its members. It’s a place of commonality and (usually) loyalty to one’s bloodline, and committed relationships are a social construction meant to serve your offspring. Yet, evolutionarily speaking, your gene pool will be a bathtub if you stick to one mate; that concept in itself goes against the basic evolutionary instinct to “spread one’s seed.”
Monogamy is unnecessary, but it can be useful. Given that it’s a commonly accepted and untouched relationship practice, it makes sense that we find more comfort in monogamy, especially when it comes to one’s parents or significant others. Rarely can society find fault in a committed, monogamous and vanilla relationship. Because monogamy is expected, no one anticipates that maybe they’ll log into the wrong Facebook, only to discover that they’ve been living under the same roof as both their father and their mother’s other lover, but hey, we don’t get to choose our families. It takes perspective to come to terms with this “Mrs. Robinson” scenario because monogamy is so drilled into our conception of relationships that it is taken for granted.
It’s worth remembering, however, that monogamy is an explicit agreement made when entering into a partnership with someone, not an assumption. I would wager that because we are socialized to see monogamy as correct and dignified, it often goes unquestioned. So, let’s question it.
Ambiguity might be my biggest gripe about the concept of monogamy. Monogamy doesn’t necessarily have a sexual connotation. Social monogamy refers to loyalty to a single person, but not in the sexual sense, whereas sexual monogamy is probably what one first pictures when they think about the term. Humans are among the minority of mammal populations that actually mate for life. Even so, the alarming divorce rate seems to indicate that we aren’t really feeling this whole life-long, soul-mate commitment. Many couples end up needing family law services because of extra-marital affairs and betrayals. The extent of the agreement to monogamy is also up in the air because, as a result of our social assumptions of certain relationships being “monogamous,” rarely are the boundaries defined.
Even more questions arise: Without a relationship, is a person still expected to be with only one person or can they take multiple partners? Do standards of monogamy change across gender? Sexual orientation? How about age? Why do we hold this value oh, so dear when it is oh, so vague?
All that being said, monogamy (as we know it) isn’t a bad thing either. It’s the belief that monogamy is the correct and righteous thing to do that is wrong. For many, going home to their single source of love and support is the most comforting feeling. But that’s because we are a socially conditioned people and this behavior is something unnatural — only in this complex society has monogamy been deemed normal and, most importantly, a privileged behavior.
We shut our bedroom doors for a reason: these practices are private and don’t require social approval.