A controversial new book written by a University of Winchester professor claims that most men are not designed for monogamy – and that we would be a lot happier if we enjoyed open sexual relationships. SARAH JONES reports.
WE all know how it’s supposed to happen.
You find the man or woman of your dreams, you settle down and live happily ever after.
But what if you discover that your one-and-only has cheated?
For many couples it would be too much to bear, but one Hampshire-based university professor argues in a new book that open relationships are in fact the way forward.
In a society where many marriages end in divorce – around one-third do in the UK – American sociologist believes that monogamy is failing, and miserably so.
In fact he says cheating is now the norm rather than the exception.
“It doesn’t matter who you interview or what research you read, it’s all saying the same thing – that monogamy doesn’t come easy or natural to human beings, and when you look at the repercussions for that, in a culture that expects monogamy, there are problems,” he says.
Based at the University of Winchester, Anderson says he was inspired to write his latest book The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and the Reality of Cheating after seeing a number of strong couples break up over cheating.
“It began with the question is the punishment worth the crime?” he says. “Is our belief in monogamy and the belief that if a partner cheats we’re supposed to be so violated, serving us well?”
Underpinning Anderson’s book is his explanation as to why men cheat.
He says that after the excitement of a new partnership subsides, the physical side of the relationship inevitably dwindles and, while a man may have started with a genuine intention of being monogamous, he will start to experience sexual desire for others after around two years.
“Those sexual desires, even if not subconsciously, put men into positions where they end up cheating,” he says.
However, at the same time Anderson adds that the longer we’re in a relationship, the greater the emotional bond and love between the two people involved.
Anderson says if there wasn’t such a huge stigma attached to cheating, people wouldn’t feel so compelled to see it as spelling the end for their relationship.
“Monogamy is forced upon us by our culture and anything other than monogamy is stigmatised.
So when people make claims about ‘the beautiful thing about monogamy is that you’re sacrificing for your lover’, it’s not a sacrifice.
A sacrifice is something you willingly do and choose.”
Along with other research, Anderson bases his theory on a study in which he interviewed 120 undergraduate men and discovered that 78 per cent of those with partners had cheated, even though they said they loved their partner and still wanted to be with them.
For them, Anderson says monogamy is a form of ‘sexual incarceration’.
The sociologist claims that it’s only when open sexual relationships are accepted on an equal level with monogamous partnerships that cheating rates will decline as they will be free have honest discussions with their partners.
Until that happens, he says “cheating remains the only rational choice for men to get the extra sex that they want.”
Currently, Anderson says the feelings of betrayal that partners inevitably feel after a man cheats is the result of a ‘socialised victimhood’.
But there are boundaries even for Anderson, who says that while regular casual sex with a variety of people can be good for a relationship, additional affairs involving romance constitute ‘emotional betrayal’.
Unless that is, they have agreed to be in a ‘polyamorous’ relationship involving more than two people.
And while his study may focus on men – the sociologist says women are prone to cheating too.
“Monogamy is not just a problem of men, it’s a problem for both sexes. Both men and women should be able to have multiple recreational sex partners.”
But it must be noted that the male interviewees didn’t extend the same privilege to their girlfriends, saying that they wouldn’t want them to cheat even if they were. So would this really be possible?
Isn’t it all just a handy excuse for weak men who cheat?
Shouldn’t they simply be able to control their urges?
“Human nature just isn’t that easy to control,” answers the professor.
And to people who say he only wrote the book to give people permission to cheat, Anderson is quick to respond.
“I’m not pushing for a culture where people do cheat. I’m pushing for a culture in which people are free to have open sexual relationships so they don’t have to cheat.”
Chief executive of Marriage Care – a charity which supports people in their marriages and relationships – Terry Prendergast said: “We wouldn’t support promiscuousness because it’s very clear from our practice and research that people do want to be with another special intimate partner.
“A major issue for those entering any intimate partnership is that this can be a very difficult thing to do.
“People are ill-prepared for it more often than not and genuine errors are made, which can lead relationship breakdown and divorce. Relationships will and do break down, and I think we need to try to understand why. In our experience, it is not possible to reduce the terrible pain and betrayal felt when you are on the receiving end of infidelity to a sociological term, such as socialised victimhood.
“Stable adult couple relationships are good for people and for society. I would stress that it it is the quality of those relationships, not the relationships per se, that is important.
“However, open relationships cause a lot of confusion and make life difficult, both for children and adults alike."