Preface: I have nothing against monogamy. I often have wished I could be monogamous. My life would have been far simpler, for sure, and possibly happier. I believe there are many people for whom monogamy works, for whom it is right and good. Nothing I write herein is in any way intended to belie that. If you’re in a monogamous relationship, more power to you. Now, on to my thoughts….
Dumb Domme, whose blog I love, and with whom I’ve been having a spirited and fun discussion in the comments to my recent posts on my safer sex practices, raised an interesting question, and got me thinking, about the question of monogamy.
She was lumping monogamous sex and abstinence together as the two least risky forms of sexual behavior. I replied, channeling Owen Meany, “MONOGAMY IS A TERRIBLE STRATEGY, BECAUSE IT IS SHOCKINGLY UNRELIABLE. IT’S THE RHYTHM METHOD OF RELATIONSHIPS.”
Dumb Domme took issue, pointing out that she was referring to the dictionary definition of monogamy – an exclusive sexual relationship between two people – and not to cheating, lying, dishonest monogamy. And that as such, monogamous sex IS a very safe form of sex.
We’re both right, of course. She’s being argumentative (amusingly, entertainingly, skillfully so, but still….), so instead of having the interesting discussion about whether/how to understand – accurately – the risks associated with believing oneself to be practicing monogamy, we end up in a side (and not very interesting) discussion about the definition of the word. But I think that other discussion is really interesting….
Something we humans do really badly is assess risks. We systematically undervalue certain types of risks, and systematically overvalue others. The question of how, why, we under- or over-value which risks is interesting (to me). But I suspect DD will agree with me that, in the aggregate, people who believe themselves to be monogamous systematically undervalue the risk that their partners are not monogamous. (I’d even go a step further and guess that people who who believe themselves to be monogamous systematically undervalue the risk that they themselves are not monogamous – as I’ve written, I’ve encountered more than a few people, inside and out of twelve-step land, who rationalize all sorts of behavior and still believe themselves to be “faithful,” or monogamous.)
So what do we do with that fact? The key question for me is, given the risks and benefits of various activities, how shall I behave? (As opposed to, what’s “safe”? And what’s “not safe.”)
And, if you’re a happily monogamous woman, or man, what do you do with the knowledge that YOUR ability to assess accurately the likelihood of YOUR being exposed to risks by a deceiving, non-monogamous partner is structurally, definitively, compromised? Well, now, that’s an interesting question.
I don’t mean to throw cold water on the idea of monogamy, or to say that I don’t believe it’s possible. It’s only to acknowledge that infidelity is shockingly common, and that much of the discussion DD and I have been having about safer sex practices includes in it a deceptive – and dangerous – use of the concept of monogamy as in some way a reassuring safer sex practice without recognizing the risks of that particular strategy.
On a related note, I recently read Dan Savage’s mention of a study concerning “pulling out” as a method of contraception. Turns out, Rachel K. Jones of the Guttmacher Institute conducted a study that suggests that, practiced correctly, withdrawal is extremely effective – on a par with other, more pharmaceutical or physical methods of prophylaxis (like condoms). But that’s irrelevant. Because it’s rarely practiced correctly…. How comfortable would you be relying on withdrawal to ensure you not get get impregnated, not impregnate?
Might monogamy’s effectiveness in combating sexually transmitted infections have some of the same limitations?
That’s all I’m saying….