Shining a light on monogamy

Why do people live with just one sexual partner, and are there problems that can arise with these relationships?

Many women, in the UK and around the world, live in monogamous relationships, where they are restricted to just one partner. Not only that, but the expectation is that they – and their one male partner – will remain absolutely sexually and emotionally faithful to each other for ever. Proponents of these type of relationships argue that this is a stable and fulfilling environment in which to bring up children, but failure to live up to this ideal can lead to the break up of the family home, costly legal battles – and worse.

Refuge, a charity devoted to preventing domestic violence and helping women and children escape it, states that:
– One in four women is abused during her lifetime
– One in nine is severely physically abused each year
– Two are killed each week.

Although it is hard to provide statistics on the number of monogamous relationships – the very nature of these relationships is intensely private – we can assume that the majority of these statistics are from nominally monogamous arrangements.

While there is little research specifically on monogamy as a lifestyle choice, some experts believe it is deeply problematic.

Dr Uninformed Expert, professor in social sciences at the University of Unreading, believes the main problem is that the isolation of monogamous relationships reinforces damaging gender roles and cuts both partners off from a wider support network.

“People in monogamous relationships expect that the relationship will be kept deeply private,” said Dr Expert, “and that the fact of their emotional and sexual fidelity means this relationship should be seen as separate and alone and more important than all others. Troublingly, this can lead to high levels of isolation in both partners, an inability to talk about relationship issues in order to avoid damaging the privacy of the relationship, and a lack of understanding of healthy relationships due to having no information or other models to learn from.”

“In addition,” commented Dr Expert, “these predominantly heterosexual couples find it hard to access models of healthy relationships – they have no other romantic or cohabiting relationships of their own, so the only other relationships they can see up close are those of their parents or those portrayed in the mass media. We are all aware of the problems of mass media portrayals of private relationships and the alarming gender stereotypes used for humorous purposes, and it’s an absolute lottery as to whether one’s parents had a healthy relationship.”

“It’s very common,” concluded Dr Expert, “to find levels of isolation, lack of communication, violence and abuse in monogamous relationships that would be clearly impossible in a non-monogamous relationship.”

We spoke to one couple who claimed to be in a happy monogamous marriage, but refused to be named.

“We don’t really understand what all the fuss is about,” said the woman. “We’re very happy, we like being committed to each other and we like keeping that emotional connection for just us, but we don’t really care what other people do.” Her husband also claims to be perfectly content with their arrangement. Both admit, though, that they rarely talk to family members or close friends about exactly why they chose monogamy or about exactly how their relationship works on a day-to-day basis. It can be difficult for monogamous couples to overcome this sense of shame or secrecy around their relationship.

We have encountered anecdotal evidence of monogamous couples in which:
– one partner is murdered by the other – often claimed to be in response to feared or actual infidelity
– domestic violence is a regular feature
– one partner is not permitted to work outside the home or keep control of their own finances
– one partner is kept perpetually pregnant as a form of control
– lying about infidelity has led to the unchecked spread of sexually transmitted infections
– one partner is lacking in employment skills due to staying home to raise children
– one or both partners have mental health issues
– both partners sometimes report dissatisfaction or unhappiness with their life
– both partners fear talking about difficult subjects like money or the in-laws
– both partners secretly read each other’s private communications (email, text, social media)

All this evidence suggests that, despite the claims of those who practice it, monogamy is deeply problematic.

We have even discovered that all of these have been known to happen in various other kinds of relationships – same-sex relationships, relationships with a substantial age gap, relationships with no age gap, same-race relationships, mixed-race relationships, cross-cultural relationships, relationships with two people who grew up on the same street. Clearly, this is cause for serious concern over the practice of monogamy.

“Despite listening to people who claim their monogamous relationship is perfectly happy, I am unconvinced, and have chosen to ignore their highly personal opinions.” said Dr Expert. “The evidence is not on their side; I fear they are deluding themselves.”

“Those of us concerned about the reproduction of inequalities will have some difficulty supporting monogamy.”


In response to this BBC article.

Disclaimer: Yes, this is very silly; no, I don’t actually have anything against monogamy (keep reading the rest of the blog; I think it’s a marvellous life choice for many happy people). Others have written far more reasoned takedowns of this daft article, so I thought I’d write something equally daft in response. The only facts in here are those from Refuge.


8 responses to “Shining a light on monogamy

  1. This is fantastic! I’m going to go on a share-a-thon with the link now 🙂

  2. So good. All of your points on monogamy are spot on! (Clearly I don’t have an issue with monogamy either as a very monogamous person, but this piece as a response was great)

    • Thank you! Really glad it’s also funny from a monogamous perspective 🙂

      In all seriousness: I get very frustrated when people ascribe particular problems to ‘polyamory’ or open relationships; like *any* relationship structure, there are a handful of people doing it brilliantly, loads of people doing it pretty well but fucking up on a few key things, and a small minority of total twats doing it incredibly harmfully. So that BBC article made me want to tear my hair out… having gently and carefully introduced the idea of polyamory to key family members, and slowly but surely made it clear that it’s not fundamentally damaging or cult-y and not something they need to be worried about, articles like this have a very real personal impact.

  3. Thank you for this – gently poking fun at the article might be more effective than actually pointing out the flaws to the BBC, which I did. I was told “I believe our article is fair and balanced. We present a range of views, many of them positive, and attribute them clearly to their owners which include someone with first-hand experience of polyamory and a respected academic who has carried out detailed research on the issue”. I pointed out that their respected academic has only mentioned polyamory in a single paragraph of one of his papers and as a law professor possibly isn’t best qualified to discuss the topic. I didn’t hear back further.

    • Yes, someone else also received the reply ‘Nowhere do we suggest that all polyamorous relationships are abusive and misogynistic and I am puzzled as to how you come to this conclusion.’

      Really? Puzzled? *Really*?

  4. Devil's avocado

    Shining a Light on Monogamy: A brilliant piece! Brilliant.

  5. Brilliant! Just Brilliant! Spreading the word!

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