Polyamory. Polygamy. Polygyny. Partner swapping. Swinging. One-night stands. Friends with benefits. Sex-buddies. Throuples. Quads. Group sex. Orgies. Paid sex.
Did I miss anything? Probably.
We live in a time where sexual exploration is perfectly acceptable with consenting adults. We utilize our free will and curiosity to push boundaries. We rewrite the definition of what is taboo and experience ourselves at our outermost limits. We say hello and goodbye to sexual partner after sexual partner, leaving a trail of discarded unions in search of the next sexual high, the next hit of dopamine and oxytocin, the next massive orgasm with the next f*ck boy or f*ck girl.
With so many titillating options to experience sex, why would anyone willingly choose monogamy?
There was a time in my late-20s, when my serial monogamy episodes lasted two days and then, like a curious butterfly, I’d flutter toward the next enticing flower. I considered myself a modern woman. I made it my prerogative to test and experiment, to try, accept, reject, stay, or go.
Some of the men I had sex with I knew next to nothing about. Some men turned out to be a longer commitment and two I even married. I’ve lived a non-monogamous lifestyle. I’ve cheated and been cheated on. In my more mature years, I experimented with swinging because my then-partner was into it. We went to nude swims and naked dance parties. I convinced myself there was no harm in the name of fun. It’s just sex, I told myself. We’re all adults. I’ll never see these people again. There is no emotional exchange. It’s just bodies pleasuring other bodies. Innocent play.
Except we are much more than flesh and blood. We are emotional and spiritual beings. When we have sex with multiple partners, we energetically pick up their guilt, shame, anger, or trauma. I’ve heard it said that it’s like going around and plugging our phone into random people’s computers and downloading their files. If there are corrupt files in their system, those get downloaded as well. Intercourse unites mind with mind, spirit with spirit, body with body. Energies entwine. Our bodies collect memories that surpass those of our mind. Too many body memories create confusion and a certain level of suffering.
How did being with multiple partners affect me? I experienced debilitating anxiety, poor sleep, increased consumption of alcohol, and antianxiety meds. I was frequently operating out of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. My self-esteem plummeted and my insecurity skyrocketed. I spent endless hours ruminating about the past and future. And jealousy? She became my daily companion.
Scientists estimate that less than five percent of the 4,000+ mammal species in the world practice any form of monogamy. If monogamy then is not naturally occurring or inherent, why has it survived?
Although we are mammals, our primary focus reaches beyond survival. We are beings in possession of higher consciousness. What makes us unique, as a human species, is our ability to do things that are un-natural to us, like flying airplanes, diving to the depths of oceans, discovering deep corners of the Universe. Unlike animals, we are not limited to making choices from our limbic brain. We possess free will. We use our higher consciousness in pursuit of a deeper human experience.
After experimenting with both, non-monogamy and monogamy, I came to the conclusion that it is the latter that gives me the opportunity to show up completely, intimately, and vulnerably with another. My energy is focused on one person, and it is in relation to them that I see myself as a complete being.
And you may quip: what about variety? The easing of boredom? What of satiating the need for adventure and exploration? And to that I say: really? Is life not more than satisfying our every desire that happens to blip on our radar?
And you may say: but monogamy is not natural. Less than five percent of all mammal species are monogamous. And to that I say: just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it’s good for us. Tornados, tsunamis, hurricanes, and volcanos are natural and have the capacity to destroy. The plague was natural and definitely not good for us. Comparing ourselves to the rest of the mammalian kingdom is simply a convenient way to do whatever the hell we want and then turning to science to justify our actions. We are complex beings with a frontal cortex. We possess the ability to learn from our experiences and resultant consequences.
But there is love in polyamory, you insist. It is because I love these other people that I want to include sex as part of our relationship.
In polyamorous relationships, much time is taken up by discourse and conversation to make sure that everyone feels safe and equally loved. All involved have to be open-minded, immensely trusting, practice exceptional communication skills and boundary setting abilities, possess a great deal of respect, and excise jealousy from their emotional roster. There is constant checking in and debriefing to ensure everyone is feeling equally loved. Multiply this by however many partners there are in the polyamorous relationship and you are looking at a full-time job. Eventually, preferences develop and sh*t hits the fan.
It has been my experience that non-monogamous relationships, unless they are of the one-night-stand variety, require much more time and energy to navigate. The equation is simple: time spent with one partner = concentrated intimacy. Time spent with multiple people = diluted intimacy.
Let me be clear. I do not regret my non-monogamous lifestyle. I met different parts of myself in every one of those relationships. I learned my preferences and then made a decision based on those.
The problem with monogamy arises when we decide to commit to it prematurely, before understanding who we are and coming to terms with our preferences in life, love, and sex. When we agree to monogamy too soon, it is likely that one morning, after being with our partner for a few years, we wake up and wonder how in hell we got to be with the person next to us in bed and why it is that we feel nothing for them. We may begin to raise our antennas. We start noticing other people and see them as more interesting sexual partners.
By this point in our relationship, we may be beyond wanting to be vulnerable with our partner. Instead, we choose to relieve our unhappiness by having sex with someone new. Eureka! We feel amazing! We look up and the world is a kaleidoscope of color. We are bursting with curiosity. We believe that this new person is the key to our feeling alive again. We discard monogamy for instant gratification.
Agreeing to monogamy is a mammoth decision. It begins way before we meet our beloved. It begins with recognizing the acorn within us and gently nurturing it into a great oak. We must practice monogamy with our soul first. We must learn everything there is to know about ourselves, be solid in our values and principles. We must work diligently to heal ourselves from childhood trauma, addictions, and codependency. Then and only then, can we fully commit to monogamy with another soul.
I hold no delusion in thinking that just because my partner and I agree on monogamy, there’ll be no challenges. Relationships are wired for challenges. It’s the arena for growth and expansion. There may be times when it will feel especially hard—we are working against the mammalian odds after all. Boredom may set in. Dissatisfaction may come. Disillusionment may come. It is then, that the foundational work we had done on ourselves prior to committing to monogamy will support us.
Monogamy is a slow burn. It has the potential to root us into unprecedented depths of love and human experience.
We could turn science on its head and say it is possible because four percent of mammals choose a mate for life.
I’d much rather beat the odds and grow my soul, than travel the road of many.
For a slightly different take on this topic: Monogamy isn’t “Natural.”