For most Americans, marriage and commitment mean monogamy:* agreeing to never have sexual contact with anyone other than their partner, ever again. This principal of sexual exclusivity is held as the end all and be-all of what it means to be “serious” with someone; breaking that vow is generally understood to be a valid reason to end a marriage.
And end marriage it does. While divorce rates seem to be dropping in recent years, the number of marriages ending in divorce still generally hovers around 50%. The third most common reason couples give for splitting?
It seems, then, that this monogamy thing isn’t working out so well for a good portion of America’s married couples – I’d even go as far as to say we’re collectively really bad at it. Despite making vows of eternal sexual fidelity, a lot of people step outside those bounds at one time or another over the course of a decades-long marriage.
Dan Savage believes that there’s something we can do to save those marriages, something that can be done to keep America’s families intact. In fact, he has gone so far as to coin a whole new term for the type of agreement he thinks couples should consider as an alternative to the traditional monogamous expectation: Monogamishamy.
Who’s this Savage guy, anyway?
Before we dive into the ins and outs of monogamishamy, let me explain who Dan Savage is and why you should be paying attention to what he’s saying. To put it as succinctly as possible, Dan is a sex and relationship columnist famous for giving honest, sometimes brutal advice to both gay and straight people alike.
What started as a semi-joking advice column in the early 1990s eventually evolved into a full time career in both advice-giving and political activism. One of Dan’s most famous undertakings is the It’s Get Better Project, which he launched in 2010 with then-boyfriend, now-husband Terry Miller.
The Project started with a video of Dan and Terry speaking directly to gay youth about the fact that life does, in fact, get better after high school. A response to a series of high profile bullying cases and suicides, the It Gets Better Project quickly went viral, with thousands of videos created and posted by both gay and straight adults.
Dan’s other most famous move as an activist was creating a serious Google problem for Rick Santorum when he promoted a re-definition of the anti-gay marriage senator’s name that included a fairly graphic reference to anal sex.
When he’s not encouraging gay teenagers to push through the hard times or harassing bigoted senators, Dan spends a good amount of time promoting the idea of monogamishamy, a term he came up with to describe his relationship with his partner of more than 20 years.
Monogamishamy is the unwieldy word describing an agreement between partners in which a certain amount of outside sexual contact is allowed. While monogamy is often understood to be the same system for every couple that participates in it, monogamish couples hash out the agreements of their arrangements based on their particular needs. That means that one monogamish couple may look completely different from the next: one may agree to occasional threesomes, another may agree to only out of town hookups, while another may be okay with only oral sex.
It’s completely up to the couple to decide what monogamish is and how it works for them.
Most people’s initial reaction to the idea of having sex with other people in order to save your marriage is probably along the lines of “You must be smoking something,” but if the statistics about infidelity and divorce are to be believed, a good majority of Americans are already stepping outside the marriage bed for sexual fulfillment. Monogamishamy, then, is simply a more honest way of doing what a lot of people have been doing anyway.
Despite criticisms accusing him of being anti-marriage and anti-monogamy, Dan insists that his promotion of monogamishamy is intended to be simply another option for couples to consider. If monogamy is what works for you and your spouse, great! But if it’s not working so well, the least you can do is be honest about it and consider all of your options, monogamishamy among them.
The jury is still out on whether or not Dan’s deceptively not-radical solution to lowering the divorce rate will catch on or even if it will have the desired effect. In the meantime, it’s one more option to consider for people who feel they might not quite fit in the monogamy hole.
*There are, of course, people who practice polyamory – or loving multiple people – as well.
Photo by Josh Rodriguez via CC License on Flickr.