Monogamy: Is it merely a Societal Construct?

This is not normally a topic on which I would dwell even though it is so beloved of the pulp fiction & popular weekly magazines but it raises my awareness from time to time. This time it was an article about a Jewish Rabbi who decries the loss of lust in marriage. That concept certainly caught my attention, if nothing else, before I was forced to read the article.

But let us step back for a moment. Monogamy as a societal construct is not as fanciful as it sounds. Why you may well ask querulously? It could merely be a societal construct for the simple reason that social & moral mores are transient & always in a process of evolution. Whether it is progressive or retrogressive movement is a function of one’s belief system but in general, excluding Muslim countries, there has been a progressive shift to more liberal & individually determined morally.

In many societies polygamy is not disparaged in any way. Jacob Zuma is very fortunate that his culture condones the taking of multiple wives & the numerous wives appear to be accepting of this behaviour. So here we have a society that is tolerant of such behaviour. One could be cavalier & state that this is not a modern society with 21st century norms but what about the Mormons in the USA? Are they also backward or have they just broken societal bonds to find a niche that suits them?


What do we now have in Western Society? First it was marriage for life & now, de facto, it has become serial monogamy as divorce rates have sky rocketed.

But is really just serial monogamy? I assert that it is not. If the websites offering extra marital affairs such as are correct, more than 25% of all married people are involved in infidelity according to surveys conducted by them.

What does that tell us about the state of marriages if such a large percentage of married people are involved in extramarital affairs?

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach exposes all in his book entitled Kosher Sex.

This is what he said about lust:

You believe lust leads to sex and sex leads to love and love leads to further commitment. All that can happen from mere lust?

The first stage in any relationship is attraction. You can call it love, attraction, desire to possess someone. And it’s mutual. Stage number two is what I call verbal exploration. It’s where couples start talking. Who are you? Where do you come from? Number three is emotional intimacy. Couples start talking in a way they don’t talk to anyone else. And finally number four is a culmination of that entire journey. And that’s physical intimacy. That’s where the relationship comes alive.

In fact what he advocates is plenty of intimacy & lust. It is when lust wanes that troubles ensue. What an interesting concept. As he states further on: “Initially sex is spontaneous about three times a week. After six months, it is less spontaneous & finally after 10 years of marriage it is once a month if that.”

So his solution is for the couple to retain the level of lust by only allowing sex for two weeks a month & then to abstain for two weeks a months. Another writer has suggested reserving one night a week where it is verboten not to have sex unless a partner is sick of course. Under no circumstances may this rule be violated. It becomes a game & afterwards both parties cannot blame one another for forcing the issue, it was just a family rule that they were conforming to.

The major earthquake in beliefs in sex occurred in the 1960s with the free love movement. Prior to that sex outside of marriage was considered an abomination, a blot on one’s morality, never to be erased. Men were absolved relatively lightly but women were cast as harlots, as wanton women never to be touched by honest men.

It was in the USA where in the hippie communes that the boundaries of free love were pushed. Nobody was entitled to decline an offer to make love if somebody so desired it. After a glorious start where the occupants believed that they were creating the new Jerusalem, what they found instead was discord. This dissention arose due to jealousy. As soon as loving feelings for another party arose, that person wanted exclusive rights to that other party. Instead that other party was forced to have sex with other parties at the same time. When the feelings were mutual, that couple inevitably moved out leaving the less desirable people behind. Interestingly the level of sexual activity amongst such disparate & incompatible couples declined. That indicated that sex is more than the physical act itself, but requires intimacy & reciprocity in the form of a loving partner.

Will Cameron Diaz who recently stated that one man was not sufficient for her, get her wish? Maybe but when the shoe is on the other foot will she still be so enamoured with the concept?

I sincerely doubt it.

Coming back to the initial proposition, will non-monogamous relationships either become acceptable & the norm. Being definitive with a society construct is partly a fool’s errand. One cannot visualise outside one’s current norms & values & so it is with me now.

Undoubtedly there will always be some people who can share their love & affection with others, but judging by the anecdotal evidence of the difficulties in maintaining one’s monogamous relationship on an even keel, juggling two or more partners would be intolerable.

Instead what I believe will occur over time is that polygamous relationships will be accorded legal status together with all the convoluted rules that will need to apply to estates, tax, child custody et cetera.

But given human nature, primarily in the form of jealously, it will never gain ascendancy & will continue to be a fringe method of co-habitation.




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