WITH theories on why it can be better to cheat than be monogamous, the benefits of seeing sex workers without your partner’s knowledge, and the advantages to couples of swinging, Nick Harding is clearly not afraid of controversy.

The academic is currently researching the topic ‘what’s wrong with sexual monogamy’, and the short answer, as far as he’s concerned, seems to be ‘a lot’.

Nick, 27, who lives in Portswood, Southampton, is looking at the science, research and ethics of sexual monogamy, consensual sexual non-monogamy and infidelity as part of his PhD research at the University of Southampton, where he also teaches.

And he is challenging some of our most deeply held beliefs about sex and long term relationships, arguing against the romantic ideal of being in a long term monogamous relationship, instead suggesting that a range of other, non-monogamous options, including open relationships and swinging, may be the answer to true happiness - or at least, closer to the answer than the love, marriage and fidelity goal that so many aim for in our culture.

“It’s not to say that sexual monogamy is wrong for everyone, but it is highly problematic for a significant number of people,” he asserts.

“But most people don’t recognise that there’s anything wrong with it.”

He continues: “The main question about sexual monogamy would be ‘are you not worried about not being able to have a sufficiently active and satisfying sex life in a long term sexually monogamous relationship?’.

“In most, if not all, long-term sexually monogamous relationships, the frequency and quality of sex will decline - there is overwhelming evidence to support this. As far as I’m aware, there is no research that suggests the opposite - that couples have more and better sex as relationships go on.”

One could be forgiven for thinking that Nick is a little preoccupied with sex - what about companionship, love, trust and so on?

But he argues that the desire for sex outside relationships puts a huge strain on them.

He says that the decline of sex and lack of sexual variety in relationships can result in unhappy relationships, cheating and divorce.

He adds: “If we didn’t equate romantic love with sexual exclusivity, we’d have much better, more sustainable and happier relationships.”

Although he puts forward what he describes as an ‘ethical’ case for cheating, he is more interested in encouraging people to consider consensual non-monogamy, with both parties agreeing to one or both of them having sex with other people, such as swinging, or open relationships.

“I think there are a wide range of different ways to be sexually non-monogamous,” he says.

“I don’t proscribe one way for all.”

Nick says that one of the first arguments people tend to give against non-monogamy is jealousy.

He argues that sexual jealousy and emotional jealousy are different - and that men tend to be more prone to the former, and women to the latter.

“Women tell me that their worry about non-monogamy is that their male partner will fall in love with the person they’re having sex with,” he says.

“They’re not that concerned about the sex.”

Clearly Nick and I move in very different circles.

However, he argues that, for this reason, if a man in a relationship feels the need for multiple partners, he could visit a variety of sex workers, thus satisfying their sexual urges while having little risk of developing an emotional attachment to the women in question.

Personally, I find it hard to imagine this sort of set up leading anywhere except a lot of shouting and divorce, but Nick argues that greater openness to non monogamy could save relationships.

And he does think romantic relationships are important and could do with saving, especially when couples have children.

“There is something highly valuable about having a long term commitment and having a special someone there for sickness and in health, to travel with, do nothing with, and so on,” he says.

But for Nick, the best way to maintain this commitment is often to accept one or both partners having casual sex outside of the relationship.

“Growing up, I noticed that it was hard to identify a happy long term marriage where there was no cheating,” says Nick, who is tight-lipped about his own relationships and personal background.

“Cheating also seemed to be quite ubiquitous, even among decent people who love their partners.

“I noticed many men, especially, ending relationships because the don’t think they can continue being sexually monogamous. They end a good relationship purely because they want to have a sexual relationship with others.

“They think that the problem is themselves, or their partner. They don’t recognise that the problem is monogamy itself.”

It sounds a bit like Nick wants to have his cake, eat it and not gain a pound. Many would feel that if you love, value and respect your partner and your relationship, this should overcome any urges you may have to hop into bed for a casual liaison every now and then.

But for Nick, those of us who feel this way have swallowed ‘stupid’ messages from our culture, for example, that if you truly love someone you won’t want to have sex with others and that long term relationships can remain sexually satisfying by ‘spicing it up’.

It is, according to Nick, time to stop holding long term sexual monogamy up as the ideal, and to consider other possibilities.

“For most people, there is no easy option,” he says.

“All different ways of conducting sex, love and relationships have advantages and disadvantages for most people.

“Some people can be very content in these areas of life, but many others will suffer on one way or another.

“We need to allow people to consider all the options available.

“We need a society that is not dominated by the norm of monogamy.

“Most people don’t recognise the significant problems with long term sexual monogamy for most people,

“In our society, sexual monogamy is the dominant style and other styles are stigmatised.

“We need to accept a plurality of sex, love, and relationships lifestyles.

“When people are informed about all these options, they can find a way that’s authentic to them, makes them happy, not hurt others, cheat, and avoid other problems.”