Deep Dive: Does Exclusivity Even Matter Anymore?
Monogamy used to be the gold standard for relationships. Now, it seems rarer than a $2 bill. Marriage is at its lowest rate in 150 years and a 2016 study found that 21 percent of people have been in an open relationship. Have we all swapped one partner for several? Are we seeing a new take on the “free love” movement of the 1960s and 1970s? Does sleeping around make us any happier or more sexually satisfied? Well, it all depends. In this deep dive, we address the question: Does exclusivity even matter anymore?
Cover Photo: Maksym Azovtsev (Getty Images)
Deep Dive: Do More Partners Make You a Better Lover?
Biologically, we’re wired to roam.
Sociobiologists argue that mammals were never meant to be monogamous; indeed, only 3 percent of animals are. If reduced to our most primal drive – procreation – sleeping around makes sense. We should want to produce as many children as possible. For men, this means having sex (and impregnating) a variety of partners simultaneously. But since women can only gestate one baby at a time, and pregnancy lasts nine months, there’s less incentive for the ladies to sleep around.
We’re not animals.
And we’re not trying to make as many babies as possible. Humans have evolved beyond mere survival. Let’s face it: energy is a limited resource. If you’re constantly pursuing, seducing, and sleeping with multiple people, you’re going to be exhausted. It’s much easier to pour your attention and affection into just one partner.
We can’t live without love.
Or at least, we shouldn’t try to. But does love only exist in a dyad? Polyamorists would argue no and claim that you can have deep, meaningful, loving relationships with multiple people at once. It’s also true that being one-half of a couple doesn’t guarantee enduring love. When it comes to the warm fuzzies, neither exclusivity or the absence thereof seems to indicate which arrangement will be more loving.
Sex is better in a relationship.
One study found that both men and women overwhelmingly reported that they preferred sex in the context of a (presumably monogamous) relationship. Over 45 percent of men and over 58 percent of women preferred coupled-up sex to sex while single (28.4 percent of men and 20.1 percent of women). Other studies have found that women are more likely to orgasm in committed, monogamous relationships.
Cheaters never prosper.
Some would argue that one of the problems with monogamy is that it lends itself to cheating. As many as 40 percent of married people admit to having had an affair. If you have declared your allegiance to one partner, and you succumb to temptation, you might be more likely to keep your indiscretion a secret, which is an awful thing to do to your partner and a ticking time bomb for your relationship. If you were never exclusive in the first place, though, taking on other sex partners doesn’t have to be a big deal, nor signify the end of your relationship.
Exclusivity doesn’t make (dollars and) sense anymore.
Some claim that marriage is a social construct, a contract created so that people could pass down inheritances and property from one generation to another. In our modern society, where some women can and do out-earn men in the workplace, as well as own their own property and other assets, they no longer need marriage (and therefore, monogamy) for financial stability. Is “not needing” something we should aspire to? It’s certainly part of the United States’ individualism ethos. But what’s wrong with needing one another – for financial, emotional, or other reasons?
What’s the endgame?
For goal-oriented people, exclusivity might be seen as the prize at the end of the long, arduous process that is dating. Like a video game, the exclusivity model allows daters to move through different stages until they reach the final, coveted one of exclusivity. For others, the pleasure is in the journey, not the destination, so whether they reach exclusivity or not is irrelevant.
How deep do you want to go?
One could argue that dating gives you two options: you can either get to know a large number of people on a shallow level, or you can go deep with just a few. The latter lends itself to exclusivity. To know and be known is one of the strongest desires humans have, and as you age, you may notice yourself craving that more than casual sex. If you never commit to anyone for an extended period of time, there will be depths of intimacy you’ll never know and parts of yourself you’ll never discover.
Does exclusivity matter? Absolutely – to some people. Rather than try to put all humans in one box, it might be better to see the proclivity towards monogamy or non-monogamy as a personality trait. Some people cherish the security, stability, and specialness they feel in an exclusive relationship. For others, coupledom makes them feel smothered. Get to know your own preferences regarding exclusivity, and seek out partners who share them.
No matter what kind of arrangement you have, there will always be challenges – and maybe even cheating. (Yes, polyamorous people can cheat, too.) Keep the lines of communication open and judgement-free so you and your lovers or partners can continue to tweak the arrangement so it satisfies everyone involved. Whatever you do, don’t pretend you’re down with monogamy or polyamory if you really aren’t. Being stuck in a set-up that doesn’t satisfy you will make you miserable and resentful, and no one wants to be in a relationship with someone like that.