Salon has begun an ongoing interview series about monogamy and alternatives to it. The series kicked off with an interview with historian Stephanie Coontz about cultural definitions of love and the ideal of sexual fidelity.
And now, there's an interview with Judith Stacey, a sociologist who has literally traveled the globe studying relationship arrangements of every flavor. She's found a range of configurations, from near-monogamy in California to polygamy in South Africa and matriarchal non-monogamy in southwest China.
Stacey believes that sexual exclusivity should be viewed as a preference, not a universal ideal. Like Dan Savage, she stresses truthfulness in relationships.
The idea is to make the vows that you really want to keep, and to know that over the life course you might have to renegotiate them. The idea of cheating is when you break the promise and there's only one promise you're supposed to make -- so we're going to get a lot of promise breakers. But if you allow people to promise what they really mean to promise and are able to do, you'll have fewer cheaters because you would have different definitions of what cheating means. Cheating would mean breaking the terms of whatever agreement is made.
The magazine section of the New York Times recently featured a lengthy cover story called "Infidelity Keeps Us Together." The story -- which has sparked much discussion online, due to its subject matter and front-and-center placement in the magazine -- focuses on gay advice columnist Dan Savage and his views on non-monogamy within relationships.
There is some discussion of Savage's marriage, which he describes as "monogamish." As long as each partner is honest and forthright, the couple may have flings with others. Savage explains that opening up his marriage has helped stabilize it.
Savage believes that truthfulness is the key to a happy partnership; if one partner is desiring someone or something else, they should be honest about it.
Some people need more than one partner, he writes, just as some people need flirting, others need to be whipped, others need lovers of both sexes. We can't help our urges, and we should not lie to our partners about them. In some marriages, talking honestly about our needs will forestall or obviate affairs; in other marriages, the conversation may lead to an affair, but with permission. In both cases, honesty is the best policy . . . Treating monogamy, rather than honesty or joy or humor, as the main indicator of a successful marriage gives people unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partners.
Besides delving into Savage's ideas and upbringing, the story also highlights quotes from others regarding Savage's viewpoint.