“Nonmonogamy” is a gentle mouthful of a word, a polite replacement of sorts for “promiscuity” and “infidelity” in the lexicons of cosmopolitans. The same kind of transformation has happened to “virginity loss,” “cheating,” and “prostitute,” terms no longer considered appropriate for the more sex-positive among us. In their place we now have sexual debut, extradyadic sex, and sex worker, respectively. As a student of young Americans’ sexual behavior, I’ve found that the lingo alone requires effort to master. But neither my word processor nor even most of my hipster neighbors recognize the legitimacy of nonmonogamy—the practice of supplementing a primary sexual partner with one or more others.
Serial monogamy, however, is another story. In fact, it’s the primary sexual script among young adults today. And it’s into this pattern that most Americans of any age put their energy. You’re only allowed one sexual partner at a time, and to overlap is to cheat, and cheating remains a serious norm violation that gives the victimized party not just the uncontested right but often a perceived moral obligation to end the relationship. And that, argues the authors of Sex at Dawn, is a problem.
Apparently we didn’t just evolve from apes. We are apes. When it comes to matters of sex, authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá charge, we haven’t really even evolved. Although we more closely mimic chimpanzees, who fight and feud over sex, we would do well—the authors assert—to mimic the Bonobo, that amiable chimp cousin who appears both gracious and generous in its sexual expressions. Bonobos resolve their power issues with sex. And their anxiety issues. And pretty much any issue. Make love, not war, is their mantra.
Monogamy, Ryan and Jethá claim, is not natural. [Read more...]