Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

February 13, 2012

The Monogamy Gap, by Eric Anderson

Another book is out riding the wave that Sex At Dawn began a year and a half ago — arguing that monogamy comes unnaturally, and not very often, to the human species. The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating, by sociologist Eric Anderson, was published February 7th by Oxford University Press.

I don't have the book, but judging by the author's public statements, gaak. [Update: but see the comments for opinions that I misjudged it.]

First, from the publisher's promo:

Whether straight or gay, most men start their relationships desiring monogamy.... Yet despite this deeply held cultural ideal, cheating remains rampant. In this accessible book, Eric Anderson investigates why 78% of men he interviewed have cheated despite their desire not to.

Combining 120 interviews with research from the fields of sociology, biology, and psychology, Anderson identifies cheating as a product of wanting emotional passion for one's partner, along with a steadily growing desire for emotionally-detached recreational sex with others. Anderson coins the term "the monogamy gap" to describe this phenomenon.

Anderson suggests that monogamy is an irrational ideal because it fails to fulfill a lifetime of sexual desires. Cheating therefore becomes the rational response to an irrational situation.

In a Huffington Post interview Anderson says,

Honesty is good sometimes, and horrible other times. There are good reasons to lie; it is an essential skill for keeping community and relationship peace. The reason men lie about cheating is mostly because they know that if they ask for permission to have recreational sex: 1) they will be denied 2) after they are denied, they will be subject to scrutiny and increased relationship policing; 3) they will be stigmatized as immoral, and most likely broken up with.

Gender-rigid poly-ignorant oldthink, say I. Reviews of the book make it look like the best alternative to cheating that Anderson can think of is an open marriage with "emotionally distant" outside partners who should be used and tossed like kleenexes. Love with them would be dangerous, he says. Later in his Huff Post interview he says, approvingly:

...Rather than marrying 20 times or more in one's life via serial monogamy, we can keep one emotional lover and just have casual, meaningless -- and hot -- sex with strangers.

He seems clueless about the people who do live in encompassing circles of love, or at least family-like companionship, trust, and affection, among three or four intimates or a larger poly network.

An early (and skeptical) review at Forbes again paints him as oblivious to non-monogamy that's not mired in old-culture ways of thought. Or maybe it's the dumb Forbes reviewer. Or Anderson's sorry research subjects. Or all three:

What's So Wrong With Monogamy?

By Jenna Goudreau, Forbes Staff

...Increasingly, people are asking the question: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a lifetime of fulfilling fidelity?

...Last summer, the New York Times magazine devoted nearly 6,000 words to sex-advice columnist Dan Savage’s belief that monogamy is harder than we admit and may not work for many couples. And this year the news of Newt Gingrich’s alleged request for an open marriage with his second wife Marianne brought the concept of sexual openness back to the forefront, so much so that the Times style section questioned whether open marriage is showing signs of a second life.

Meanwhile, researchers are increasingly investigating the institution of love, and many may be unsettled by their conclusions. In his new book The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating, sociologist Eric Anderson argues that “monogamy fails both men and women” and believes we need to have more honest conversations about love and sex....

...“The real question is,” Anderson poses, “Is our desire for monogamy serving our culture as best as it can?” He says no, and suggests we remove the stigma from open relationships in order to save partnerships. Then, he believes men and women would be more comfortable asking for what they “need,” they’d be more likely to use protection with others, and relationships would be less likely to end over a “slip up.”

...Many men in Anderson’s study expressed a desire to openly have sex with others, but they refused to consider allowing their partners the same freedom, saying they would be too jealous....

Sex with others is also certain to create emotional attachments that undermine the primary relationship — and the dignity of others. Logically, it would increase the likelihood of infatuation, and thus increase the chance of leaving the primary relationship. Anderson says the (cheating) men he interviewed said, “I wanted her and then I had her and now I’m over her” — that it’s just a “matter of business.” While exceedingly unromantic, these sentiments don’t even consider the “her” that’s been “had.” The potential for hurt feelings and unkindness seems astronomic....

Read the whole article (Feb. 13, 2012). And please leave a comment?

Here Anderson speaks in the Washington Post, presenting some interesting material:

Five myths about cheating

By Eric Anderson

...1. Cheating and affairs are more common among the rich, and less common in conservative cultures.

...Studies find that the more money and celebrity men have, the more likely they are to cheat... [but] according to Boston College economist Donald Cox, poorer women are more likely to cheat than wealthy women.

Nor do more socially conservative times erase infidelity. America today may seem more sexually relaxed than the button-down years immediately following World War II, yet pioneering research by Alfred Kinsey found that married men cheated at rates of around 50 percent. In 1953, Kinsey showed that 26 percent of married women had also been unfaithful. Estimates today find married men cheating at rates anywhere between 25 percent to 72 percent. Given that many people are loathe to admit that they cheat, research on cheating may underestimate its prevalence. But it appears that cheating is as common as fidelity.

2. If you really love your partner, you’ll remain faithful.

Perhaps one of the most tragic misconceptions about cheating is that people stray because they have fallen out of love with their partners.... Rather, they cheat simply because they desire sex with someone else, even if they want to preserve their relationship.

3. We generally agree on what counts as cheating.

....Unsure of what form of cybersex might upset a partner, the strategy of almost all of the men I interviewed, gay or straight, was don’t ask, don’t tell.

4. Your partner won’t stray as long as you keep your sex life exciting....

5. Most married people don’t cheat.

...For most couples, the expectation of exclusive sexual activity is unsustainable. We may need to investigate other relationship models: open arrangements, or what sex columnist Dan Savage calls “monogamish” relationships in which couples have flings, affairs or threesomes. These ways of loving, along with polyamorous relationships and even singlehood, should be as equally culturally valued as monogamy. Only when men and women are able to make sexual choices free of stigma will people be honest with their partners about their desires.

Well finally, one mention of the polyamory alternative. It's nice that he says we should be culturally valued, but coming in this context it loses some punch.

Read the whole article (Feb. 13, 2012) and leave a comment.

Discussions of the book are appearing many other places.

I'm not saying he's wrong, just short-sighted. Recognizing that for many people monogamy doesn't work (although for many others it does!) ought to be a first step toward good alternatives, not just poor ones.

We've got a long way to go in telling the world about them.



Blogger J Davila said...

It's too bad that the false dichotomy of "Monogamy or bust!" (in regards to being in an loving/intimate relationship) is so prevalent in our culture. I've really wanted to avoid getting into political topics with my tshirts this early on, but I might branch out for this. I think "polyamory" and its definition needs greater exposure in our culture.

February 15, 2012 4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I happen to be quite familiar with Eric's work... I seriously suggest you read the book before commenting this harshly. There will be things in it you will not agree with of course, but Eric is a good guy and his motivations are in the right place. Poly and open relationships come in many forms... isn't the point that we can and should have the freedom to consciously and sincerely create what-ever works in our lives?

February 20, 2012 8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I know you to be quite open-minded about most things regarding non-monogamy, I found this entry to be genuinely surprising. I think you deeply misunderstand what Eric's book is about. It seems like you are under the impression that Eric is advocating cheating, which is not the case at all.

The book was based on a massive study he did. The study was meant to explain a behavior, not "justify" it. Furthermore, I think you are being a little idealistic when it comes to "poly oldthink". The harsh truth of the matter is, most people DO lie about their non-monogamous tendencies, and the reasons they lie are often rooted in their fear of losing relationships or being negatively judged by their community. Let's face it, as awesome as non-monogamy can be when done honestly and openly, it is not easy to be "out" as non-monogamous, and most people respond with confusion or harsh judgement.

Additionally, this is not a book about polyamor; it is a book about a specific subgroup (or subculture) of men (college age male athletes), the ones who were interviewed in the original study. College age men often have a very different emotional response to non-monogamy than the type of people that are advocates of polyamory. This is something that should be kept in mind when making comparisons and reading quotes by the aforementioned men (and they weren't Eric's quotes, they were the young mens' quotes).

Yes, college athletes seek non-monogamy; yes, lots of people seek non-monogamy. Perhaps they do it for the same reasons, perhaps not, but one can be sure they will have different reactions and methods of dealing with the dissonance they are faced with. Many people who are openly non-monogamous have gone through the process of dealing with that dissonance and have come out of it with a stronger sense of who they are and what they want, some even facing support from their friends and family; that's a different environment altogether than the environment that surrounds college age men and athletes.

I get the sense that you were expecting a book about polyamory, and are disappointed when the excerpts don't mention it specifically. It is indeed a book about non-monogamy, but that is a much greater-encompassing term than just one facet of non-monogamy: polyamory. I feel that this discussion was one borne of an emotional reaction, not the objective information that is usually presented on this site. Eric's attempts were to conduct research and report his findings, they were not to advocate cheating, or irrational behavior, or anything else.

February 20, 2012 10:21 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

I think your criticisms of the authors work are a little unfounded. His critique is of monogamy and the destructive power it can have of otherwise healthy relationships. He talks about multiple forms of relationships and that each of these should be equally accepted in society. To say that the author is prescribing only open relationships shows a little carelessness on your part to engage with the actual book.

February 21, 2012 7:07 AM  
Anonymous Terry said...

The column here comes across as a review of the book, it really isn't; what you discuss is a combination of a publicity blurb (which are notoriously sensationalistic)and comments the author makes on other forums. It appears that, while the Huff Post article is prompted by the book, many of the author's comments are not directly discussing the findings presented in the book, but rather draw on his background in the field.

I totally agree about your 'near last' paragraph about recognition of this issue with monogamy. Part of this issue relative to this study may be that polyamory was not one of the solutions the study participants explored.

February 21, 2012 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got half way through the book before my laughter made my partner promise not to read it in bed.

For starters, actual scientists seeking to draw universal truth from a survey, are bound by basic tenets of research such as using a survey group representative of the greater population.

Who is Eric Anderson trying to fool? The justification of using 120 college athletes was based on the assertion that they possess sufficient "sexual capital" to ensure statistically significant numbers of relationships. Please.

Why not use alcoholics to prove the futility of consuming less than one beer? Has anybody known a college student not obsessed with sex?

Talk about old fashioned and out of touch. College ceased being a hunting ground for husbands in the 60's. Today there is an implicit agreement that college is a time for exploration and experimentation akin to searching for the perfect fitting jeans.

Add to that the combination of increased testosterone, heightened public visibility, better than average looks and a sense of entitlement of college athletes and I dare say you could not find a group of men less likely to remain faithful if you tried.

What had me howling was the assertion that the only men who did not cheat were either ugly or under such extreme surveillance that made any tryst impossible.

That made me wonder:
1. What Mr. Anderson looked like
2.How one might make assertions about unreasonable surveillance after being constantly watched as he was as an openly gay coach of a boys high school track team.
3. If this book was not an attempt to justify a preconceived notion from the start.

Sorry, would not make it past the first round of a peer reviewed journal for scientific validity.

February 24, 2012 4:25 AM  

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