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Question: Does society need to rethink its view on love and monogamy?

Dan Savage:  Yeah, absolutely we need to rethink love and commitment.  You know 60 years ago was when we decided that men had to be monogamous too.  Men were not monogamous.  For all of recorded human history men had concubines and whores, and 60 years ago straight relationships began to become more egalitarian and it was less of a property transaction—a marriage had been a property transaction for most of recorded human history—and it became a union of two equals. And at that moment instead of deciding to allow women to have the same sort of freedom and leeway that men did we decided to let men have the same limitations, impose the same limitations what women had and we put monogamous sexual commitment at the heart of all relationships, all long-term commitments, all marriages and we have watched. 

We should now be able to recognize the consequences of that, which are a lot of short-term relationships, a lot of divorce. Because monogamy is ridiculous and people aren’t any good at it.  We’re not wired for it.  We didn’t evolve to be.  It’s unnatural and it places a tremendous strain on our marriages and our long-term commitments to expect them to be effortlessly monogamous. Because what we said is "If you’re in love you shouldn’t... you won’t want to have sex with anybody else and what we need to tell people is that if you’re in love you can make a monogamous commitment and you will refrain from having sex with other people, but you will still desperately want to fuck the shit out of other people." But people understand love means I don’t want to fuck other people because of these misconceptions pumped into people’s heads about romance, love and what it means. And so they meet somebody else that they’re attracted to and they’re attracted to this other person.  They go "Well, I must not be in love with my partner anymore otherwise I wouldn’t be attracted to this person." Or they feel threatened when their partners are attracted to other people because it makes them feel insecure and we just need to get passed that and we talk about monogamy the way we talk about virginity, that you’re monogamous until you fuck somebody else and they’re you’re not.  You’ve ruined it.  You popped your monogamy hymen and destroyed your monogamous relationship. 

We need to talk about monogamy the way we talk about sobriety, which you can be monogamous and fall off the wagon and then sober back up.  You can monogamous back up and get back on the wagon. And the truth of the matter is that if you’re with somebody for 40, 50 years and they only cheated on you a few times they were good at being monogamous, not bad at being monogamous.  They were good at it.  So I do think there needs to be some leeway. And a lot of really good loving relationships are destroyed because somebody wants a little variety or isn’t getting a need met and feels they have to step out and it explodes the relationship.  I'm conservative.  I think that we should do what we can to preserve marriages and long-term relationships, and one way to do that is to encourage people to have more realistic attitudes about sexual exclusivity. 

Recorded on October 18, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

More from the Big Idea for Saturday, May 19 2012

Today's Big Idea: Marriage 3.0

Why do so many people struggle with monogamous relationships? It's just not in our nature to have one partner for life argues Christopher Ryan, author of Sex at Dawn.  And yet we continue to de... Read More…

 

Why Monogamy Is Ridiculous

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