Over the weekend at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, US sex columnist Dan Savage caused more than a ripple to the Australian conservative status quo by daring to suggest that non-monogamy could be a good thing to ensure the resilience of long-term relationships.
The Age in Melbourne obviously thought Savage’s ideas were so significant that they chose to run them as the lead story on the previous Saturday’s online edition under the headline “Why monogamy is bad for you”. Well, shock horror! Savage’s perspective probably is startling in America, where a Christian-right wing agenda permeates the landscape. But one would hope that in a more secular, less ideologically polarised country like Australia such ideas would not count as especially dangerous.
Savage has made a career out of writing a sex advice column in which he brings a gay man’s perspective to the problems that arise for his (mostly heterosexual) readers. Free from the confines of traditional Christian hetero-normative definitions of love and commitment, Savage has been able to bring a rationalist, amusing and libertarian perspective to a deeply rigid US media environment. He has argued that in order to ensure the good health of long term relationships we need to treat marriage (including gay marriage) as more of a “playground” than a “prison” and embrace the notion of being “monogamish” rather than strictly monogamous.
He states the obvious truths that most people are too afraid to voice, and has done ao in cheekily articulate language. ”We tell people that humans are naturally monogamous and [it’s not] true,” he says. ”It’s saying that one blow-job on a business trip should be given more weight and consideration and more importance should be attached to it than the 25 years you’ve spent together, the kids you’re raising together, the property you own together, the history you have together, the affection you still have for each other – all of that must be discarded. All of that weighs less on the scales.”
Savage argues that given around 55% of men and 45% of women will cheat in marriage, we need to get past the idea that infidelity should spell the end of marriage. True enough, but is it really such a radical or dangerous idea?
In 2013, social media and other technology has certainly played a role in bridging the gaps between like-minded communities, particularly in urban environments – be it the gay community, the poly community, or simply the adventurous and thrill seeking. I see this as an evolution, an opening of the gates to let in oxygen, and a welcome departure from the type of stultified suburban models many of us have grown up with in Australia.
Perhaps the culturally dominant baby boomer generation still clings to outdated notions that heterosexual marriage is the ultimate bedrock institution on which our social fabric is tightly woven together, but the rest of us have surely moved on. The really dangerous ideas are the ones our churches and conservative leaders have been forcing on us for generations – ideas that are finally unraveling. The randomness with which we form human relations makes a mockery of the notion that we must just choose a single partner for life and never dare shift out of the confines of that single relationship.
I’ve been in a relationship for almost five years and can honestly say opening the relationship up and allowing others in has kept our connection alive and strong. The relationship ceases to feel stifling and takes on the dimension of deeper personal acceptance and a commitment to honesty. Other friends I have spoken to talk of the “joy” of negotiating polyamorous relationships based on love and respect. I think the deeper we pick apart the ubiquitous conservative social conditioning about how we are supposed to interact and form unions, the deeper we get to understanding and experiencing the full potential of human sexuality and interconnectedness.
When Savage first emerged in America over a decade ago, his views were a welcome intervention in a desert of religious conservatism. But I don’t think choosing to construct a relationship outside of traditional values in Australia in 2013 should be considered a dangerous idea worthy of front page headlines. It should be recognised as part of natural human evolution.