Monogamy in the 21st Century (II)

Monogamy in the 21st Century (II)

Written by Alfonso Elizondo



‘Deviant’ sexual relations in humans are usually not spoken about in public but are tolerated in private, particularly in the case of males, and this has been part of the praxis of monogamy all along. However, the model of the monogamous couple has withstood the onslaughts of the free-love movements of the 60s and 70s and has removed them from center-stage. Isabella Cosse tries to explain this partial victory of monogamy in a number of ways: Among the sociological explanations there are many which speak of a confluence of factors, including the ‘neo-con’ restoration of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s which, having been accelerated by the Cold War, gradually put an end to the communal experiments of the ‘summer of love’. Another factor was the AIDS crisis, or rather the anti-sex campaign that the epidemic unleashed in the great powers and in particular in the United States.


Another possible side of this cultural phenomenon of ‘deviant’ sexual relations has been the explanations of evolutionary psychology, the best-known treatment of which came from husband and wife scientists: David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton, who, in 2002, published The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People, where they tried to demonstrate with evidence that monogamy was a social construct that did not exist among animals. Seven years later, this couple published another book continuing on the same theme but in the reverse: that monogamy could be a strange but good bedfellow for human evolution and the survival of the species.


Also following this line is the idea that marriage is an arrangement that despite its rigidity has been flexible, has adapted to changes over time and has been able to assimilate  ‘subversive’ sexual expressions that may attack it. Isabella Cosse,  in her book Pareja, sexualidad y familia en los años 60,[Couple relationships, Sexuality and Family in the 60s], analyzes the shifts taking place in courtship. Although the spread  of premarital sex was initially revolting, it was soon integrated into the logic behind marriage that recommended that the candidates of both sexes ‘try it out’ in order to make a ‘better choice’ when it’s time to get married.


All the research on the origin of the monogamous relationship points to the link that this model of relationships has with social and economic orders, such as patriarchal domination, the identification of women as commodities and the preservation of class relations through arranged marriages between families of the same status, and even within the same family so that the family fortune would not be lost. They also ask whether it is possible that monogamy will disappear, leaving behind its patriarchal and class elements.


Many feminists think that monogamy is not a problem from a gender perspective. Feminists Sue Scott and Stevi Jackson of the University of York believe that since the 1970s the questioning of monogamy has lost much interest within feminist and gender thinking, both academically and in militancy. Despite criticism by feminists and the support for the institution of marriage, studies that promote same-sex marriage have become the focus of this issue.


On the other hand, most couples today are far from equal, according to research on the sharing of chores within heterosexual relationships. Nathalia Gherardi, director of the Latin American Team for Justice and Gender, explains that ‘Women with caregiving responsibilities spend twice as much time as men with the same responsibilities. And women living with a partner also have more care work than women living in single-mother homes. ‘


This disparity also occurs in couples without children and without older adults. For her part, Faur says that monogamy has been useful for the family order and especially for the maintenance of male hierarchies. It is no surprise that social customs and laws criminally penalize an ‘unfaithful’ woman, while joyfully celebrating the plurality of relationships in men. Most scholars and academics agree on the diagnosis that the future will be one of plurality. Faur says that instead of looking for a ‘middle way’ one should search for liberation and relationships that are closer to people’s needs, desires and sensibilities.


Although current society may have its own new political, social, economic and sexual imperatives, real progress could lie in affirming a certain model, working on the appropriateness of diversity and the possibility of living without stigma according to one’s own desires and one’s own moral conscience.


Addendum: In today’s society, where very different views on sexuality and on the unions between people of the same or  different sexes and a number of people participating in the new phenomenon of ‘free love’, it is necessary to analyze what will happen with monogamy in this 21st century.