A Response To Dan Savage: Non-Monogamy & Marriage

Many of you (those who share my obsession with The New York Times) may have read with great interest Mark Oppenheimer’s cover story in The New York Times Magazine this weekend, “Infidelity Keeps Us Together.” The piece was largely a conversation with APW favorite Dan Savage, discussing the ways that we perhaps over-value monogamy in our cultural conversation about marriage.

While you should go read the piece in full, and I’ll quote my favorite excerpts for you here, I was mostly hit by why I love Dan Savage’s work so much. Savage and I are peas in a pod (which makes sense, since I’ve been reading him since college) when it comes to philosophy. We share an ostensibly non-traditional outlook on cultural institutions, but we’re both fundamentally pretty conservative in our core values. I don’t believe in made-up wedding traditions, but I also don’t believe that it’s your wedding and you can do whatever you want. And just as I don’t really think that anything goes at a wedding (because we shouldn’t hurt people), I don’t believe that anything goes in a marriage. Why? Because I believe in social obligations and the ties that bind. Mutual respect, dedication, and working through the hard parts are part of what makes good marriages tick (though I fundamentally believe that there are times when we can and should leave a marriage). So, like Savage, I think that making a marriage work is usually more important than an occasional intentional, or unintentional, non-monogamous incident. But let’s read a bit from the article, shall we?


But Savage says a more flexible attitude within marriage may be just what the straight community needs. Treating monogamy, rather than honesty or joy or humor, as the main indicator of a successful marriage gives people unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partners. And that, Savage says, destroys more families than it saves.


“Folks on the verge of making those monogamous commitments,” Savage told me in one of our many e-mail exchanges, “need to look at the wreckage around them — all those failed monogamous relationships out there (Schwarzenegger, Clinton, Vitter, whoever’s on the cover of US magazine this week) — and have a conversation about what it’ll mean if one or the other partner should cheat. And agree, at the very least, to getting through it, to place a higher value on the relationship itself than on one component of it, sexual exclusivity.”


Stacey and Savage each say that monogamy is the right choice for many couples; they are exalting options, not any particular option. As a straight, monogamous, married male, I happen to think this is a good thing: if there are people whose marriages work best with more flexibility, they should find the courage to choose an arrangement that works for them, society be damned. I also recognize, however, that we may choose marriage in part to escape the terror of choice. There are so many reasons to marry; we could call them all “love,” but let’s be more specific: admiring how she looks in a sundress, trusting her to improve your first drafts, knowing that when the time comes she will make the best mother ever. But another reason might be that life before her was so confusing. In all those other relationships, it was never clear when there was an exclusive commitment or who would use the L-word first or when a Saturday-night date could be assumed. Marrying has the virtue of clearing all that up: exclusive, you both use the L-word, Saturday night assumed. Simple, right?


“Given the rates of infidelity, people who get married should have to swear a blood oath that if it’s violated, as traumatic as that would be, the greater good is the relationship,” Savage told me. “The greater good is the home created for children. If there are children present, they’ll get past it. The cultural expectation should be if there’s infidelity, the marriage is more important than fidelity.”

It gets better? It does. But it also gets very complicated.


Where I fundamentally diverge from Dan Savage’s logic, is the idea that consensual non-monogamy works for a significant number of couples. I think that for most of us, monogamy works most of the time. But I agree with Savage that the cultural conversation about monogamy is not helpful. Building a life with someone is about a lot of things. It’s about shared trust, finances, jokes, children, decisions, and history. And biology is decidedly not always on our side. Biology would like us to reproduce with that attractive person at a conference, thank you very much. And most of the time, we’ll win over biology. But the times when we lose? Well. I’d hope that all the shared joy, the family we’ve built together, and the history we’ve shared, outweigh one decision.

And I’d like if those people in our communities who are in consensually non-monogamous relationships felt more comfortable in speaking up. I’d like it if our reaction to them wasn’t, “WELL I’D NEVER DO THAT” and was instead, “Huh. That’s interesting that it works for you.” Because maybe that would mean we felt less threatened by the specter of our spouse sleeping with someone else over the course of a very very long lifetime together. Or maybe we’d already talked to them about it and decided that joy and family were a lot more important. Then we reminded them that we’d really prefer if they talked to us about it first if they ever had the urge to make things more complicated.

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  • Kate

    I initiated a conversation about this after I read that article, and turns out, my fiance is of the opinion that cheating’s an unforgivable offense. Good to know, I guess? To him, “If you cheated, I would be broken hearted but I’d probably forgive you so we could stay together” is equivalent to “Go ahead and cheat.”

    Anybody else?

    • lou

      yeah, i get this. my initial gut reaction to that is a feeling like you are giving the go-ahead, like there wouldn’t be consequences. i know that is pretty reductive, but that’s my reaction to this approach. to me, sexual fidelity is just as important as all those other aspects of a marriage. i don’t expect that my husband will never be attracted to anyone else, but i do expect him to keep it in his pants. and he expects the same of me. maybe that makes me naive and in a few decades i will feel differently, but for now it’s a deal breaker for me. if it works for other people though, that’s cool, none of my business – but the thought of my husband being intimate with anyone else is just too heartbreaking.

      • liz

        i think allowing yourself to recognize that people make mistakes isn’t really the same as giving the green light.

        saying, “if he cheated, we’d get a divorce” is the equivalent to me of saying, “if my son were to die, i would kill myself.”

        i honestly tried to think of the most heartbreaking thing that could happen to me right now. and my son’s death would be it. in this moment, i can’t fathom what i would do. i can’t imagine the extent of heartache that would cause.

        but would i kill myself?

        i hope not. my hope is that i would find a way to mend what was broken and get by- damaged and mourning, though i would be.

        that’s how i see marriage and infidelity. there is no doubt in my mind that i would be devastated by my husband’s cheating. but kill our marriage over it? i’d hope not.

        • meg


          • Lynn

            Double yes.

            I have never understood why we put that one vow above all the others. Why screwing someone else is worse than treating your partner like shit or spending *our* money when you haven’t asked me about a major purchase or not honoring your other commitments?

            Intellectually I get it, but for me, when it comes right down to it, breaking your vows is breaking your vows. we get hysterical about one but never pay a lot of attention to the ones that matter day in and day out.

        • My husband has said that cheating is an unforgivable offense as well, but I understand his point of view. Because of a variety of factors, I’m quite reserved and uninterested when it comes to sexual intimacy in our marriage (it’s something I’m working on), if I were to be able to feel comfortable being intimate with another man who isn’t my husband, my guy would view that as unforgivable. And I see his point.

          For me, if my husband cheated, I would try my best to work through our issues, but at the same time, I wouldn’t hold myself to a marriage that needed to end.

          What I loved about this article was the moment that I realized that not all marriages can follow the same rules. That was an aha moment for me.

        • lou

          those two things don’t really seem comparable to me. in any case i think that even though these discussions are good to have to see what a couples views on fidelity are, in the end they are ultimately pointless. you can’t know how you are going to react to a situation unless you are in it. how i feel now may not be how i would feel in the face of actual infidelity. conversely someone who thinks they would try and move past it may not be able to do so. insisting one way or the other is kind of meaningless unless you are in it.

          • liz

            not meaningless OR pointless. dan savage’s argument is that an open dialogue of what infidelity means and how it will be handled is major. then when the “unthinkable” happens, you’re not so gobsmacked by the fact that it even happened to process it clearly.

            meanwhile, i set “we’ll work through” not as some stubborn, meaningless decision- but a goal based on a commitment. i see it as a piece of the vow i made on my wedding day. we didn’t just vow to be monogamous- we also vowed to work through the tough crap together and not pick up and leave.

            i can’t know what the future holds. but i can know what i hope and work towards. one of those things is monogamy. another is overcoming fidelity if it happens. whether or not that’s how it’ll play out, those are the choices i’ve committed myself to.

          • liz

            overcoming INfidelity is clearly what i meant there.

            though it is pretty funny the other way.

    • Anon

      My husband is the same way, which has always been a little bit discouraging to me. I think he also views it as license to cheat.

      It’s discouraging because in his family, infidelity brought about his parent’s divorce. But in my family, my parents were able to get past infidelity and stay together. And having seen both up close, I would take my parent’s route any day of the week. (That is not to say I think it is always the best route for everyone, just the one I would take.) Either way, there was pain. But by staying together and getting past infidelity, my parents are in much better shape than my husband’s–economically, emotionally, etc.

    • Edelweiss

      I struggled with how to raise this conversation because I wanted to be clear I’m not giving a license to cheat. For me the clarification is- if my partner cheated on me I would be devastated. Therefore it is not a license to cheat because my partner should (and does) value me enough to not ever want to hurt me that deeply.

      That being said, it may happen. And, of utmost importance is how it happens. If it is a one-time indiscretion, I will be devastated, but I will promise to work to keep the marriage intact, and it will be hard, hard work and he needs to work all the harder. But we will do it. That is not permission, just as he doesn’t have “permission” to die before me. But it may happen, and we are agreeing on a course of action, just as we’ve acknowledged that we want the other to live life to the fullest if one of us does pass.

      If we’re talking years of cheating and lying….that’s another story.

    • liz

      “i’d probably forgive you so we could stay together” minimizes things for me. it almost sounds… clingy? in a destructive way.

      when i talk about infidelity with my husband, we both have an understanding that it is Not Allowed. not okay. on any level. it would be a really serious, really heartbreaking matter.

      but when i got married, i didn’t get married so that i’d have one person to have sex with. i also didn’t get married so that i would have someone to be with. i got married because i love josh and want to make him a batter person while making myself a better person as we both face whatever obstacles life brings.

      the sordid mess of infidelity may be one of those obstacles.

      i wouldn’t forgive him just so we could get over it and la-la-la pretend nothing ever happened. i’d work to forgive him (because, holy crap, it would take some WORK) so that i could continue in my original plan- to help him, become a better person myself, and so we could help each other through the shit of life.

      • Kate

        Well, I wrote that pre-coffee. What I meant was that, while not the only option, keeping the relationship would be one important option to consider for me in that situation. Especially if kids were involved.

        • liz

          sorry, my semantic hang-up.

      • Tara

        This one makes sense to me. Marriage is hard, any relationship is hard. Add children, it gets harder…you think everything is great, you think you are doing everything right or hope you are making all the right choices for you, your spouse and your family…and then one day…it happens, its like a blow to your stomach you have never felt before, you don’t know what to do, all these feelings come at you at once..its very overwhelming…it takes days, months and at this point even over a year…we are still working on it. So, you can say right now, this is how you will react, but until you are in the mix of it, it happens to you, at what scale it has happened to you, you will not know how to react or how you will react. And believe me the advice comes from everyone around you and you will lose friends and family over your decision. But remember it’s your choice, not anyone elses. Someone once said, if you feel like leaving him today but you have some doubt because you are so mad at him right now, wait it out, until you have no emotion over leaving, then you will know it was the right time to go. It does’t just go away, there are times when everything is wonderful, but then there maybe that business trip that comes along where you think the ‘dog’ will be and doubt comes. I could go on, but I won’t

    • SeptBride

      My feelings on infidelity have changed a lot since I got married. I used to be in the “cheat and we’re done/cheat and I will castrate you” camp, but not so much anymore. My marriage is so much more important to me than any black-and-white, do-or-die statement. Marriage is complicated. Infidelity is complicated. I hope to move forward with that mindset should (god forbid!) this ever be an issue in our relationship.

      However, my husband has no problem making the type of definitive statement so many other spouses seem to be making… and for exactly that reason I have not told him my stance on this issue. I do not believe it would be giving him a license to cheat, and I am certainly not holding back because I don’t want him to think I disagree… it’s more that these things are complicated and I reserve the right to respond in my own way, at the time, to any circumstance that may present itself (and, because, in my mind, a drunken one night stand when your marriage is going through a rough patch is world’s apart from a long-term affair where love and intimacy are involved and heaps of lies are told).

      Another thing I have not told my husband – if he ever cheats, I DO NOT NEED TO KNOW ABOUT IT. An unpopular opinion to be sure, but I don’t need to be devastatingly in pain to assauge his guilt.

      • liz

        i still threaten castration.

      • A-L

        I’m sort of in this camp, except I let my husband know it. Before we married (maybe even before we got engaged) we were going through the book Intellectual Foreplay and the issue of infidelity arose. As others have said, one night of drunken debauchery is entirely different than a long-term love affair. But I told him I would be devastated but try to forgive (far easier with one night than an affair). I also told him if it was a one-night deal that I probably wouldn’t want to know about it either. Since he’s more in the no adultery/no exceptions/done deal camp, I really don’t think he took it as a license to cheat though.

      • bec

        “if he ever cheats, I DO NOT NEED TO KNOW ABOUT IT.”

        Yes!! Thank you!! I tried talking about this to my cousins one night and they all looked at me like I was crazy. I’m so glad to hear someone else voice this opinion, I thought I was alone out there.

    • Naomi

      I’m in a happy non-monogamous marriage, and for me personally the idea of going back to monogamy is way too stressful and too much pressure. My partner has a girlfriend (who has a “primary” partner of her own) who has coincidentally become my best friend, and I have a boyfriend (who is also non-exclusive).
      In ethical non-monogamy (polyamory), cheating is when everyone is not fully informed.
      For me non-monogamy is actually simple and a piece of cake and so much less drama than compared to monogamy. To me marriage wasn’t about staying technically physically faithful, but about committing to being there for someone for the rest of your lives for better or worse. I didn’t feel particularly loved because my partner kept it in his pants, I felt loved when by the way he treated me (talked to me, touched me, stood up for me, was there for me).
      I could write an entire essay on it, but one of the ideas of non-monogamy is that your partner isn’t meant to complete you. (This is what I mean by less stressful – I can do my best without every feeling obligated, and my partners and I never have to settle for either trying to subconsicously pressure/manipulate the other person to get our needs met or to live our lives denying and suppressing that need that our partners aren’t okay with meeting.)
      Another idea in non-monogamy for me (and the reason we dared to try it in the first place) is the concept of control. I was never comfortable with the idea of asking someone to restrict themselves for the rest of their lives. So in response to people who ask about if I’m afraid if letting my partner date others, that he’ll want to leave me … well firstly monogamy doesn’t seem to protect against people not wanting to leave their spouses, and secondly I don’t own him so if that was what he truly wanted then I can’t hold a gun to his head so I have no choice but to wish him well. Thirdly, I did actually have a girl try to steal my partner (she wanted a lifetime of monogamy with him) and I was unworried because essentially she was offering him the choice between her for all eternity, or me for all eternity plus anyone else he was interested in that consented (this is essentially what my boyfriend has said also, is that if a girl wanted him to give me up, he’s pretty sure there are enough people on the planet that he could find someone just as interesting who didn’t need him to give me up let alone all other future potential relationships).

  • Well, let me speak up then. I’m in a consensually nonmonogamous relationship-soon-to-be-marriage.

    I must admit, the nonmonogamy is largely theorethical – but not entirely. Once, we ended up in a foursome with a couple (friends of mine) who have been together for cloes to ten years. Another time, we had a threesome with a friend of mine (who is in a relationship) whom we are still very close to. On other occasions we have made out with people, cuddled, snuggled (separately and together) with people with whom we didn’t progress as far. My beloved has çarte blanche’ for casual sex with others, as do I.

    However, we hardly ever use that carte. Why? Because we’re not that big on casual sex.. Because the chances of it bringing emotional complications (not so much between us but with the chosen third) are rather large and someone has to be _really_ amazing to be worth even a moderate amount of emotional complications (we’re both introverts, emotional complications exhausts us fast!).

    Perhaps, in the future, we may morph into something closer to polyamory, where we find others not just for sex but also for other kinds of intimacy where we now solidly prefer to share this only with each other. Maybe the relationship will develop in such a way that we become even less interested in any outside interactions. Maybe our individual preferences will change in such a way that I become monogamous, but he is not (been there, done that, it wasn’t the reason that relationship ended).

    For me, nonmonogamy is a choice, not a need. I could be monogamous and be happy, but I don’t need monogamy to be happy. I choose to keep the relationship open, because it challenges me and my partner, stops us from being complacent and makes us choose each other every single day.

    Those are my first thoughts. Feel free to ask questions :)

    • Jess K

      Thanks for sharing this. I am all about doing what works best for you. What it comes down to, I think, is honesty – and here I speak solely from my personal experience. Such a huge issue about infidelity is the loss of trust. My father had an affair and my mother decided she had to leave him. She stuck it out for years after she found out, but what it came down to was that she didn’t feel she could trust him any more – or ever again. If you can’t trust your partner, you don’t have much of a foundation left to continue a relationship.

      I also disagree when Savage says – “The greater good is the home created for children. If there are children present, they’ll get past it.” The dishonesty that came along with my father’s infidelity affected my sisters and me too. My father wasn’t just dishonest with my mother, he lied and misled his entire family. When that trust is broken, it’s hard to repair.

      That being said, if you can get past the distrust and re-build it, then by all means I think it’s worth salvaging what you had in the past. But I disagree that all past happiness should outweigh your future happiness.

      • You’re right. I could not be nonmonogamous with someone who I didn’t trust all the way. Cheating is a hard thing to overcome. It’s just that in our relationship having sex with someone is not cheating. There are other things that are, though (like, if he bought jewelery for someone he slept with, or allowed himself to be introduced to that person’s parents).

        We have agreements about what to tell in situations in which one of us has sex with another person (everything, within reason), when to tell it (when possible give notice beforehand, and an actual talk soon as possible afterwards) and what to do afterwards (make space and time for us to reconnect and be intimate).

        We make up those rules as we go along, change them as we change and grow and make our own definition of what ‘cheating’ is.

        • Jess K

          I really admire that the two of you have the courage to defy what society tells us should define a marriage and can come up with your own definition.

          I definitely agree with Rachel below, who said “a lot of my feelings and many’s probably come from societal expectations and cultural teachings,” as I think I probably fit into the same box.

          Pluis – I really appreciate that you came forward to tell us about your relationship and are so open about it!!!!

          • It is my pleasure. I am very happy to have such an open conversation with you and Rachel, so thank you as well!

        • Dan Savage’s big thing (and what I’m hearing from you) is that you set the boundaries together, in a way that works for you two. That is different for every couple- and like you said the things that are out of bounds are out of bounds. But “cheating” doesn’t and shouldn’t mean the same thing for everyone.

          • meg

            Indeed. Reading the article will clarify that. I don’t think Savage is saying, “Lying isn’t a big deal.” He’s saying that lying IS a big deal, so it’s worth it to have some honest and upfront conversations about the fact that someone MIGHT cheat, because it happens (and destroys families) with alarming frequency. Talking about it NOW reduces devastation later. Because, yes, failed monogamous relationships have a sh*t-ton of collateral damage.

          • This is so great. Thanks for sharing with us. I am definitely a proponent of doing what is best for you as a person and for you as a couple, and if that’s non monogamy, that’s wonderful.

    • Rachel T.

      I think what you describe is great. But I’ll agree with Jess. I think the difference is that your relationship is open and about trust; you are both honest with one another about the situation and your choices, together and separately. I think what’s described above, in the article, sounds more like cheating, the idea that something happens behind another’s back first and then it’s to be resolved (or not) within the relationship. That I disagree with. Personally, I’m monogamous and like many others would feel betrayed by my partner being with another person intimately. I know that I’m a jealous person which comes from my own personal insecurities. So if my partner were to go sleep with someone else, it would be soul-crushing for me because I know myself – I would take it as a “there’s something wrong with me” issue, something many people do. More often than not, it’s not true, but that’s how my brain works for now. I have zero problem with open and honest relationships. There was a post on here before, perhaps it was you or perhaps someone else, who discussed their polyamorous relationship. It sounds great – open and honest, full of concern and care for the other person as well as their own personal needs. That’s definitely different from what Savage is saying, at least to me.

      However, I will say that a lot of my feelings and many’s probably come from societal expectations and cultural teachings. We are taught to believe that one person is it, no multiples in a relationship, etc. So I would guess stepping outside of the box causes anxiety for many of us resulting from what we have been taught is right versus wrong. It doesn’t have to be so, as seen obviously from your post, but it is definitely a difficult path. Well done you both for being able to work through it, talk about it, and come up with a solution that works for you. I think in that sentiment is where I agree with Savage. We have to find what works for both people in the relationship, whether society be damned or not. You both have obviously done that, so hats off to you for that!

      • You’re right, Dan Savage advocates cheating as well as consensual nonmonogamy in this article. Cheating is not something I personally endorse. The reason I still decided to share, is that the term cheating can have so many different meanings, and that it can be possible to do what is the ‘common’ definition of ‘cheating’ while still being deeply committed and in no way ‘unfaithful’.

        I definitely understand how monogamy works very well for so many people. The comforting and soothing power of having someone who is unquestionable yours is tremendous, especially when you (and I) tend to be a little insecure.

        Also, I must state that I feel that consensual nonmonogamy is in no way better or worse that monogamy. It’s just something that brings a different set of (dis)advantages. The only thing that I think is too bad, is that consensual nonmonogamy is not as widely known as a viable relationship format is monogamy is.

        Thank you for engaging with me. Your openness is extremely appreciated.

        • meg

          Dan Savage actually DOES NOT AT ALL advocate cheating in this article. He’s in fact talking about how open communication has a chance of reducing the incidence of cheating in a way that is non-consensual and violates your partners trust. You should go read it in full.

          • You’re right. I did read the article in full, but on the day it came out, so after a week my recollection of it had become mixed up in other messages I’ve read from him in his columns (where I have seen him recommend it, on a few occasions when a consensual solution was not to be found).

            I re-read the article now, and I’m sorry for misrepresenting the content.

        • NH

          Dan Savage has a ton of written and podcast material, and in general he doesn’t advocate cheating. He’ll occasionally advocate that people cheat when there’s no sex in the marriage, they’ve made a sincere effort over the course of multiple years to reestablish sexual intimacy and make things work, and there’s some other compelling reason to stay together (kids, one partner’s serious illness, etc). It’s a pragmatic view of cheating, that sometimes it’s the lesser of two evils.

          I read him here to be advocating non-monogamy consensually, but also saying that people should try to get over infidelity. More to say about that below.

    • Erin

      Thanks for sharing this. My husband and I have been discussing nonmonogamy and polyamory, but it’s still theoretical for us, as neither of us has wanted to have sex or a relationship with someone else yet. It’s good to know that it’s working for you.

  • Cass

    My husband has been following Dan Savage for years. And he truly thinks that non-monogamy can be a plausible model – if both partners agree.
    I have had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around this. I’ve seen long-term monogamy work. And like in a previous post – monogamous sex is Awesome!
    I now understand both sides. But I prefer the monogamy model.

  • Amy March

    I found Savage’s article fascinating- one of those fabulous moments where you read something and just feel compelled to talk about it with everyone, you know? My lingering concern is the way I read the article, there’s a feeling that if you aren’t good, giving, and game for something sexually, you should be open to your partner straying. But there wasn’t an accompanying idea that if your partner isn’t GGG for something- then maybe you just don’t do it! And I know Savage is promoting this as a pre-committment discussion, I’d just like him to focus a bit more on a concept of marriage that means that in return for total intimacy with one person, you give up some aspects of pure sexual fulfillment. But mainly I just want to read lots more that Savage has to say, and discuss it with my partner, because wow is he interesting.

    • I agree with you. When I read this article a little while ago, I wondered if it is reasonable to expect that every single sexual desire we have should always be fulfilled by the partner with whom you choose to be intimate.

      My answer to that would be ‘no'(perhaps this seems a little incongruous with my other replies in this thread, but it is true).

      In terms of sexuality, there are needs (plenty of intimacy, feeling desired and wanted, feeling free to express and ask yourself sexually without shame or fear), but also plenty of wants (mooing while bathing in chocolate pudding, having sex while wearing rubber gloves and stipey socks) and things that are somewhat in between (things that are considered so ‘standard’ that it would be highly unusual te refuse them, unless for instance due to personal trauma, like oral sex or different positions, light erotic powerplay, etc.).

      Personally, I think that not meeting items from the first category would definitely justify conversations about opening up the relationship. Not meeting items from the ‘in-between category’ would (imho) warrant a serious discussion about ‘why not’ and ‘what can we do tomake you want to do this’. Items from the third category should ideally be met (again, imho) with a ‘let’s try it once, unless you have a reason not to).

      The question regarding nonmongamy is: which category does it fit in? For some people, maybe it’s a need. For others, only a want. For some others it may be an ‘over my dead body-hard limit’. If they find themselves a relationship with a person for whom nonmonogamy is a need, something is bound to break – probably two hearts.

      • liz

        you said eloquently and astutely what i’ve been trying to write and rewrite.

        i feel savage equates sexual wants with sexual needs, and completely disagree with his approach there.

    • I think Savage didn’t discuss how an exclusive sexual relationship can be more fulfilling than pure sexual fulfillment because he doesn’t really buy it–in fact, his argument is that it can be better for the other aspects of your marriage to seek that sexual fulfillment as long as it is in an honest and open way.

      But for me, Oppenheimer’s narration about talking about the dissatisfactions was the best. For me THIS was the part that made absolute sense. I have no desire to be in a non-monogamous relationship (I’m pretty sure that would be devastating to me) but when it comes to working out the mechanics of how to navigate the waters of long-term relationship sex talking about what you need is absolutely required.

      **Straight talk about why we might cheat helps couples figure out ways to keep each other satisfied at home. If I promise my wife that I would never, ever, ever sleep with another woman, the conversation might end there, the two of us gazing into each other’s eyes (even if our minds might be wandering). But if I say, “I’ve been feeling sexually unfulfilled lately because I have a secret fantasy about trading dirty pictures with a woman” — well, then maybe my wife will e-mail me some of her. And so monogamy is preserved.**

      Rather than saying “No, I won’t do that.” maybe talking can lead to “How about this? [Insert less intense variation here.]” Might that stop someone from straying? It certainly might.

      The conflicts could be over kinky sex, sex frequency, how often to be adventurous in sex, or whatever else I’m not thinking of right now. Talking won’t solve all problems for all people but those who want the types of sexual intimacy Amy talks about (and I know that I want) will probably benefit. And THAT’s pretty GGG.

      • meg

        Rather than saying “No, I won’t do that.” maybe talking can lead to “How about this? [Insert less intense variation here.]” Might that stop someone from straying? It certainly might.

        Indeed. And well said. While I think there is a difference between sexual wants and sexual needs, I think one partner having long term sexual wants that they feel they can’t articulate in the safe space of the relationship, may well be a disaster.

    • Yes. When I read this, the thing that kept niggling in the back of my mind was that I always assumed that once I got married, that would be it; that no, you can’t expect to get everything from one person, but by committing to one person, you were – by default – saying that you were going to do without those things. so by looking outside my marriage for something else that I wanted (not needed, necessarily, but wanted), it would be almost selfish to seek other people just to gratify yourself.

      I know it’s a personal assumption, and obviously if two people were to consent to being in a nonmonogamous marriage, then this wouldn’t apply to them. But it’s definitely something that I was grappling with . . . and still am, after finishing the article.

      • Jen W

        I agree and disagree with you here, Kimberly. Particularly, your statement “by looking outside my marriage for something else that I wanted (not needed, necessarily, but wanted), it would be almost selfish to seek other people just to gratify yourself” gave me pause.

        While non-monogamy isn’t something that I’m into or plan on exploring in the future, I will say that, were there something that the J-man wanted (not needed, but wanted) for a long while that I for whatever reason objected to participating in, but we had tried (as Meg suggests in an earlier comment) other, like-but-not-exactly solutions, if we had had long discussions and had explored our feelings on it, then I think it might very well be selfish of me not to let him try it with someone willing, as you say it would be selfish of him to indulge the want.

        Of course, in my head, I’m extrapolating this blanket statement to include other wants that are non sexual in nature. For me, at least, the biggest reason I am with him is because he makes my dreams (and my wants and my needs) feel more possible. And he is with me because I help him achieve his goals. Yes, relationships involve sacrifice but aren’t they also (we hope?) about supporting the needs and wants of your partner, so long as they are supporting yours?

        No, you can’t get everything from one person, but does that mean you should really stop expecting or trying for the things you do want that your one person can’t provide? Again, I tend to see these discussions as having a wider context than just our sexual lives, which you most likely weren’t talking about at all, Kimberly. But your comment got me thinking– in a sexual context, if I look at it as I’m expected to sacrifice and pursuing my own wants that the J-man doesn’t find kosher are “selfish”, I worry that I’d be more likely to look at my other, non-sexual desires that way.

    • Sarabeth

      To give Dan Savage credit, in his larger body of writing I think he’s pretty clear that being ‘GGG’ doesn’t mean being up for whatever your partner wants. It means making a good faith effort to satisfy your partner’s sexual desires, even if it involves stuff you wouldn’t otherwise be interested in. But he’s pretty clear that the specifics of that are going to vary from couple to couple. And he’s not saying you don’t get to have any boundaries or limits. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him lay down the law on the partner of someone who had been raped, basically saying that for a rape survivor, being game for super-vanilla sex might well represent that kind of good faith effort, and she shouldn’t be pushed into anything more. And he’s VERY into the concept of the “price of admission” as well – the idea that, in choosing to be with any partner for the long term, you are going to be giving up stuff, probably sexually as well as in other aspects. He just doesn’t want people to give up more than they need to.

      So, lots of words to say that it’s an attitude not a set of specific sexual acts he’s trying to get people to sign up to. And I’m a believer – the specifics are more than anyone wants to hear, but I’m not kidding when I say that Dan Savage is the best thing to happen to my marriage.

  • Kee

    I love the quote that people should “place a higher value on the relationship itself than on one component of it, sexual exclusivity”.

    I think dealing with infidelity could be a good topic for a future reclaiming wife post. My husband and I went through a very rough time when one of us made a mistake quite early in our relationship and it was a long process on how to handle it as a couple, if we should stay or leave, and how to regain trust and honesty between ourselves and then of course, how we would deal with it in the future.

    (just want to highlight that of course infidelity is absolutely not the same as non-monogamous relations, but this post made me reflect on what importance sexual exclusivity has for a relationship compared to other aspects of it)

    • I think that’s a great idea. A lot of couples stay together after infidelity, and it’s hard. It’s hard within the relationship because the trust is gone, but it’s also hard socially because so many people outside the marriage/relationship judge you for staying (or going…).

      • My fiance and I actually had the opposite problem early in our relationship. We had left college and were living hours away from each other working our first jobs. He developed feelings for one of the girls he was working and living with and broke up with me.
        Several months later when we were talking and attempting to repair the relationship he told me he broke up with me because he was afraid he would cheat and he knew if he cheated I would forgive him. As I am an avid Savage Love reader since middle school, he was probably right. I feel like an open conversation about our feelings regarding cheating, and an ability to discuss the fear that he would cheat in the moment may have saved us a ton of heartbreak.

    • Jen W

      Sounds like a post you could write, Kee! :)

  • Emily

    I largely agree with the Meg’s comments here, but the profile left me more unsettled, because of this:


    “The mistake that straight people made,” Savage told me, “was imposing the monogamous expectation on men. Men were never expected to be monogamous. Men had concubines, mistresses and access to prostitutes, until everybody decided marriage had to be egalitar­ian and fairsey.” In the feminist revolution, rather than extending to women “the same latitude and license and pressure-release valve that men had always enjoyed,” we extended to men the confines women had always endured. “And it’s been a disaster for marriage.”


    There’s actually a lot going on in that statement. On the one hand, he’s arguing that we should allow women the same latitude as men when it comes to sexual behavior and desires. I can’t argue with that — the idea that women are the angels of society does us all a disservice, regardless of your sexual mores. But when he refers to historical times when monogamy was not expected of men, when he references concubines and mistresses, he’s glossing over some major issues. The societal attitude was not merely that men were expected to express sexual desires in a variety of ways. It was also that women were property and, in the case of those concubines for instance, slaves. It was a society in which men were people and women the lesser beings that served them.

    Which is why, when feminism advanced to the point where we started actually empowering women to make their own choices about sex and marriage, we created this ideal of an “egalitarian, fairsey” marriage. Savage portrays this development as an effort to oppress men in the same way women had been oppressed, but this is an incredible stretch. There are now more societal expectations on men regarding monogamy, yes. But I argue that those expectations are not about oppressing men; they are a continuation of trying to give women agency. When society asks men not to cheat, it’s not because we don’t want them to cuckold their spouses. It’s because we now view women as people. And when you make a promise to a person (as opposed to a piece of your property), we think you should keep it.

    Which is not to say I disagree with Savage’s other points — I think there’s a lot to be said for a marriage in which the only “dealbreaker” is that both members remain committed to the marriage. But I think his selective use of history undermines his point. It’s easy to impugn the current egalitarian marriage ideal (anyone in a relationship knows that the truth is always messier than that), but it’s still, in my opinion, a vast improvement over our previous conceptions of marriage. And it grew out of an important movement to free women to choose their own lives.

    • Alethea

      Which is why, when feminism advanced to the point where we started actually empowering women to make their own choices about sex and marriage, we created this ideal of an “egalitarian, fairsey” marriage.

      I think this is what we wanted and were aiming for, I don’t think this is what we got. Mostly by holding to the idea of women being, as you put it, ‘the angels of society’ without looking at the underlying human sexualilty/biology and instead holding to an abstractly reasoned morality model. Study reality then draw conclusions! NOT the other way AROUND!

      • Emily

        Right, which is why I say we created the ideal of egalitarian marriage. The truth of marriage today is a lot more complicated than that. But I feel like I live in a society where the goal of marriage is a partnership where both people support and respect each other, and neither person his unfairly burdened with the sole management of the relationship or the family. In reality, we still see women struggling with the second shift, and many women I know still feel the pressure to be the perfect spouse (though I’d like to point out that women aren’t alone in that — many men are struggling to figure out where they fit into all of this as well). But I still call it progress that at least we have the ideal of a more partnership-based marriage.

    • SeptBride

      I have nothing to add – just wanted to say that I agree with you wholeheartedly and find it really frustrating when men want to use history and/or biology as an “excuse” for infidelity. Respect and caring about another person so much that you want to protect them from emotional harm are not new concepts.

      • RachelLyn

        I would like to add that, now that women have largely left the sphere of the home and entered into the public sphere, women have slightly higher rates of infidelity than men. This suggests that men have no greater biological urge to cheat than women do; they merely have historically had more of a social pass than women. Infidelity is an issue for both men and women.

    • Suzanna

      WORD. Dude, the entitlement leftover from the days when men owned women is the quickest thing to get my blood boiling. Like we’re somehow now oppressing them just because we’re asking them to be held accountable? BOILING BLOOD, I tell you!

    • Mejane

      Seriously. While I think that Savage says some interesting stuff here (albeit nothing he hasn’t said before in one form or another), the “feminism ruined all the fun” perspective is really gross.

  • C

    (I’ve commented here before, but wanted to go anon for this one.)

    Both my husband and I read Dan Savage and listen to his podcast, so we talked about monogamy and non-monogamy when he first started to bring it up.

    Both of us seem to be fundamentally monogamy-oriented. Sex and love are so intertwined for us, that one of us having sex with someone else would necessarily mean that person had lost love for the other. Not necessarily lost all love; infidelity wouldn’t necessarily mean instant divorce. But it would be a symptom that something was deeply wrong between us.

    And if for some reason there was no sex in our relationship, it would mean the relationship itself was in trouble. Agreeing to go elsewhere for sex would not allow us to keep our relationship. I know — we’ve been through a time when one of us lost interest in sex. It was a symptom of bigger problems for that person, and was part of a larger loss of communication, connection, and intimacy in the relationship. It wasn’t really about sex as sex.

    On the other hand, we’re both completely comfortable with each other being sexually attracted to other people. We figure that’s part of having a sex drive. As long as it stays in the realm of looking and fantasizing, and as long as we’re still interested in having sex with each other, then awesome — enjoy. (We tacitly agree to keep our thoughts to ourselves if it’s someone we know in real life, though. Like, the idea that he might have a fantasy about a co-worker doesn’t upset me — but hearing about it at length would upset me.)

    But — and this is important — this is what works for us, and our marriage. All I have to do is look around to see lots of happy, functional marriages with very different boundaries and agreements than ours, because they are made up of people different from us.

    So if agreeing to be non-monogamous works for you*– why would I judge? You love each other, you’re happy, and the world needs more loving, happy relationships and marriages. It is neat that it works for you, and if you happen to want to talk about how and why it works, I am really interested in listening.

    (*general you)

    • Marina

      “And if for some reason there was no sex in our relationship, it would mean the relationship itself was in trouble. Agreeing to go elsewhere for sex would not allow us to keep our relationship.”

      THIS. I can see how infidelity could theoretically be a solution, but in my particular relationship it’s far, far more likely it’d be a symptom. If I cheated on my husband or he cheated on me (or, hopefully more likely, either of us admitted to the other that we wanted to cheat) I believe my reaction would not be “You had all my trust before and now you have none” but “What has been going wrong in our marriage that this seemed like the solution?”

  • liz

    i think this is the first time in apw history that i’ve skipped the comments in my haste to post. (haha. in my post haste. ha!)

    this is huge, huge, huge in my marriage philosophy. because, in my marriage, monogamy is a very central, very key idea. but my husband and i both agree that if someone were to make a misstep, we would find a way to work it out.

    infidelity (in the sense of the behind-your-back non-monogamy) represents a deeper issue to me- one that i hope that we can continue to try to prevent in my marriage. it represents that someone maybe has a void that is not being filled within the marriage, that honesty and transparency have been lost, and that there is a lack of emotional vulnerability or appreciation of one another within the marriage, pushing someone to seek these things outside. THOSE are major issues. the sex stuff- that’s merely a barometer for those. and even still, i think each of those things can be fixed- if both parties are willing.

    i also find it interesting that our culture presents a strange dichotomy concerning fidelity. cheating on your wife is one of the worst crimes a man can portray (and there is an extent to which i agree that a lot can be said for a man’s character in how he treats his wife… but come on. an inexcusable, life-altering crime? a plague to torment the rest of his life? whatever) we rarely- if ever- forgive an adulterer. in the court of public opinion, he is guilty of one of the worst sins.

    and yet, i can’t count on both hands the number of movies i’ve seen where the lead “follows his heart” in the end by cheating on his wife, and sleeping with his “true love” (often the woman he has known only briefly and shallowly)

    but both extremes end up presenting the same false ideal- setting sex as the end-all, be-all means of self-expression. which is ludicrous.

    also my most rambly comment on apw ever. in life.

    • “…the sex stuff- that’s merely a barometer…”
      This article definitely made me ponder, and while most of the pondering was positive, something bothered me, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I think this is it. All the points about couples actively deliberating their choice to be monogamous or non were spot on. But Savage seemed to gloss over the fact that an unfulfilled sexual desire could be a co-symptom of other emotional, physical, intellectual needs that might need to be addressed within the relationship to maintain its ultimate health, before a member of the partnership looks to others to fulfill a sexual need. Perhaps this goes without saying. I guess I like to parse the nuances out loud :)

    • meg

      Agreed, on all points, I think.

    • Ris

      Haha. Posthaste. I smile a lot while reading APW, but rarely laugh. I just laughed :D

  • Stephasaurus

    I very much agree that biology insists, at the very core of our beings, that humans aren’t supposed to be monogamous, just like the almost all of the rest of the animal kingdom. But I also think that the reason monogamy has worked and continues to work for so many people is because humans of this modern age are such a messed up anomaly within the animal kingdom. We defy so many basic instincts and laws of nature and biology, and this is a huge example of that. Just from a scientific perspective, I’d be really interested to know when, where and how monogamy came to be the most widely-accepted form of relationship among humans.

    • A

      Well, from a biological point of view, in nature, generally speaking, it has been observed that in species that are monogamous (certain types of parrots among a few others) both “parents” help in raising offspring, because it implies long term, big efforts. So as much as we can all be attracted to others, from an evolutionary point of view, it does make sense at least in that way that humans (at least in some cultures) tend to be monogamous. Where this is not the case, for example tribes in the amazon, the whole group takes care of children.

      • Stephasaurus

        Makes sense! In that case, I’d hope that any non-monogomous couples would become monogamous if kids ever entered the picture. I feel like a non-monogomous marriage or relationship wouldn’t allow for enough attention to be placed on parenting, for both people involved. (Unless, like you said, it was among tribal people.)

        • There are a whole lot of ways to do non-monogamy, although Dan tends to mostly talk about the couple+buddies type. My kids have three, in-house, parents, and have since birth. And even in couples using the model Dan is referencing, and outside partner may not take up as much time/attention as, say, a hobby. It varies a lot. Non-monogamy is *definitely* not necessarily equal to “less attention on parenting.”
          I don’t mean to jump on you, just want to point out some assumptions you probably don’t realize you are making.

          • Stephasaurus

            I’m not assuming anything — just expressing what I feel/think. I honestly don’t care how people parent (as long as it doesn’t affect the rest of us) or manage their relationships, so relax. :)

        • Seraph

          If it comes down to that…then parents shouldn’t be allowed to have friends, hobbies, or work full-time outside the home.

          I recall reading an article some years ago (hence, fuzzy memory) probably in NatGeo, about a culture on a south pacific island in which most married women were expected to have at least one lover outside marriage. The kids with one or two “extra fathers” in that culture tended to be healthier and more successful than kids with only one dad.

          I think the biggest obstacle to being a non-monogamous parent in the modern West would be the perspective of the outside world. A guy I was friends with in college told me, with some measure of self-righteous pride, that he had dumped his last girlfriend because he found out her parents were non monogamous, and he was afraid “she might think that was -normal- or -okay-.” Granted this dude was a dick, but it would be rough to watch your kids deal with that sort of….persecution.

      • ANDREA

        Also, in all those birds and other monogamous species, they’re not actually “perfectly monogamous”, in the sense that humans try to use it. In a nest with a monogamous pair, usually about 5-10% of their offspring have extra-pair paternity. So both males and females are getting a little action on the side but raising offspring as pairs, year after year. They tend to have a very low “divorce rate” — literally the word biologists use — so they fit into the model Savage is talking about kinda nicely.

    • meg

      I’m not sure I was saying that monogamy isn’t natural. I think building a life together is biologically driven for most of us. I just think that biology doesn’t demand PERFECT monogamy, and culturally we are requiring it, which may bring us into a rather basic conflict.

      • Stephasaurus

        You didn’t say it wasn’t natural (and I didn’t either, but I guess I may have hinted at it). I meant that it wasn’t biological, since most animals aren’t monogamous, and really, we are just another species of animal. I’m more interested in an objective standpoint of how monogamy in humans came to be…what other people do within their marriages and relationships is none of my concern. I trust that people will do whatever works best for them and leave it at that.

        • jnet

          I read a book about this (I love biology..) but I forget the title. Anyway I do remember what they talked about in regards to monogamy. The way most places worked where one man had many wives was that only the richest of men had the most wives. Leaving the poorest of men with no wives at all.. supply and demand of course. More women did not have to marry poor men who did not have great resources for her and her children, they were able to find and share the wealthier men who could provide more for them. So it was considered an advantage for women because they could more easily be taken care of in life. But this left most men without wives at all, since only few would be wealthy enough so I guess they wanted to make things more fair for more men. I feel fuzzy on the details but that was the general gist of it. And they implied that this was less advantageous to women because instead of most women being able to be supported and married to the wealthy men they are mostly stuck with the poor men since each man can only have one wife. I don’t know.. something like that.

    • Marina

      Historically, monogamy took hold when the concept of property came into play. So we’re talking probably several thousand years ago. Monogamy has frequently been primarily about women–it was always clear who the mother of a child was, but to be able to inherit property from the father, the only way to know the paternity was to ensure there was only one possible father. Monogamy was also largely a concern regarding upper-class women, because lower-class men didn’t have property to worry about. I think monogamy for men is rooted in the idea of property as well–the more partners and children a man has, the more his property is divided. Male monogamy means his partner is assured of a larger inheritance for her children.

      • Stephasaurus

        I knew there’d be someone on here who’d chime in with an interesting explanation!

        • Suzanna

          The biology argument never works for me. And I love science. You can find animals to support *whatever* human behavior you want. We are “naturally” monogamous, nonmonogamous, killers, altruistic, destructive, creative blah blah blah.

          Sorry, but we are none of those animals.

  • I should preface this by saying I know all couples are different, and monogamy does not have to be the be-all, end-all (for all). BUT, one thing in the article that made me feel a bit — disheartened, maybe? — was Dan’s husband’s initial apprehensiveness about nonmonogamy. Some of Terry’s quotes made me think he was agreeing to nonmonogamy just to appease Dan: “Dan has taught me…”, “Dan always said…” It sounds like Terry has come to accept it, but I was really struck by how the author asked Dan how many extramarital affairs he had, while Terry’s “number” never even came up.

    • From reading/listening to Dan Savage, I gather that while their relationship is theoretically “non-monogamous” in practice is it basically monogamous. Their outside pursuits are very limited on both sides.

      In fact that’s part of Dan’s message – by having the option of non-monogamy, even if just theoretically, your partner no longer ‘represents the death of sexual possibility’ like they might if your relationship was strictly monogamous. That can actually help you keep your marital sex alive and thriving.

      • I agree with you — and I also gathered from the article that neither one of them is constantly pursuing extramarital relationships — but I do think nonmonogamy seems like a pretty tough sell when both partners aren’t completely open to it or taking advantage of it in similar amounts. But again, everyone is different. And although it sounds like their relationship is stronger for its flexibility, I still just felt a bit sad for Terry (though I’ll admit that to some extent, it’s probably a matter of being conditioned to feel that way).

    • Kate

      My impression from the article was that Dan gave the writer the total number of extramarital adventures, not his number. For example, he’s said publicly before that they’ve had threesomes.

      • Beth C

        Here is the quote about the number:

        When I asked Savage how many extramarital encounters there have been, he laughed shyly. “Double digits?” I asked. He said he wasn’t sure; later he and Miller counted, and he reported back that the number was nine. “And far from it being a destabilizing force in our relationship, it’s been a stabilizing force. It may be why we’re still together.”

        It sounds to me like he is talking about a combined number.

  • Abby C.

    The most important part of the article I think is this:

    *Straight talk about why we might cheat helps couples figure out ways to keep each other satisfied at home. If I promise my wife that I would never, ever, ever sleep with another woman, the conversation might end there, the two of us gazing into each other’s eyes (even if our minds might be wandering). But if I say, “I’ve been feeling sexually unfulfilled lately because I have a secret fantasy about trading dirty pictures with a woman” — well, then maybe my wife will e-mail me some of her. And so monogamy is preserved.*

    For too many couples, I think any mention of non-monogamy is met by an immediate knee-jerk reaction to reject it. “Well, that’s wrong!” “I’d NEVER do that!” “If I ever got cheated on, the relationship would be over, period!”

    Now, absolute monogamy is absolutely fine as a choice. It’s what I and my partner choose, and it can be a healthy choice for many couples. The problem with the knee-jerk reaction in rejection is that it absolutely stops any kind of productive dialogue. It shuts down the conversation.

    If you want to choose monogamy, if it’s right for you, go for it. But CHOOSE it deliberately. Don’t just reject all other options. I think making conscious, examined choices about our lifestyles in marriage is bound to be a good thing, and will make our marriages stronger overall.

    • Abby C.

      And btw, I love APW. I found that article yesterday afternoon, and thought to myself, “I wish this would be a topic for discussion on APW…..”

      Yay, Meg and crew!!

    • liz

      interesting as that was one point with which i entirely disagreed. the whole, “this particular sexual desire must be met or else i’ll seek to fulfill it elsewhere” line of thinking seems self-centered and overly sex-emphasizing.

      • TNM

        Agree. I can’t think of a less open and fun way to talk about sex. “Do X or I have to think about cheating?” What’s wrong with just “I’d love to do X with you.” My likely response to the former, would be “Eff you,” and my response to the latter, provided that X sound like fun, would be “Yes please!” And that has nothing to do with openminded-ness, and everything to do with the fact that no one likes discussing an ultimatum.

      • I don’t know. Let’s say you’ve developed a particular fetish, and you’re super curious about it and you’re just dying to try it. But your spouse refuses to do it? How sad would it be to go through life having that desire go totally unfulfilled? I think one of the letters in Savage Love this week is about this. A husband wants to get spanked but the wife is totally not into it, so he goes to see a dominatrix to fulfill that particular want (at the wife’s request no less.) I think it’s pretty awesome if we get to do all the things we want to do in life. We only have one, you know?

        • Stephasaurus

          There are alot of things I’m curious about. For example, how awesome it might be to reach over and slap someone who’s being rude to a cashier in a grocery store. When I worked retail, I was super curious to know how it would feel to mouth off to a customer being snotty to me for no clear reason. I’m curious about what an acid trip feels like. But I never have and never will try anything of those things, and I won’t spend my life feeling unfufilled because of it.

          If you let desires of any kind consume your thought processes, then of course you’ll feel unfufilled, and I think that applies to many things in life. But if you instead concentrate on other good things, you’ll forget about what you’re supposedly missing out on. :)

          (Then again, it all just depends on how much importance people place on certain things [like sex], and that’s something that varies from person to person.)

          • I hear what you’re saying, we can’t do everything we want to do. But still, how can you deny that it would be great to fulfill a desire with your spouse’s approval? I personally come from a place where I want to add as much into my life as possible, rather than trying not to think about the things I want to do and hope those desires will go away.

            I think Dan Savage doesn’t necessarily want my standpoint to prevail here, he’s just arguing the freedom to have it.

          • I don’t think your examples are good comparisons.

            Slapping someone harms another person. Taking acid violates your moral code (I’m assuming). A couple deciding together that his seeing a dominatrix is good and beneficial does neither of those things.

            A sexual fetish IS something a lot of people feel very put out by if they don’t have it explored, where as I think most good and sane people don’t obsess the same way over mouthing off to a customer.

          • Stephasaurus

            Slapping someone wouldn’t harm them. There are just a lot of people who need one! Taking acid doesn’t violate any moral code that I’m aware of – I just know of the health risks. My comparisons aren’t meant to be taken so seriously…what I was getting at is that just because you aren’t able to do something doesn’t mean you should feel unfufilled. I firmly believe that a feeling like that is something you have mental control over. Now if you aren’t having sex at ALL, yes, that is a problem.

          • Stephasaurus

            And, before people start jumping down my throat, I should note that ** I have nothing against people doing whatever works for them, whether it’s non-monogomy or monogomy. ** Because, as I said in an above comment, what people do in their marriages and relationships is none of my concern. Honestly. I could not care less. People ultimately end up deciding on whatever is best for them, and it’s not up to anyone else to decide for them.

          • Beb

            I liked your examples, for the record.

            Another important distinction here between slapping someone in a supermarket and having your every sexual wish fulfilled is that the latter takes place in the context of an intimate relationship, which requires a great deal of sacrifice and commitment to make work. It’s sort of like the social contract that holds us back from slapping strangers, except more powerful, and more fulfilling, and more difficult, in a lot of ways. You can’t necessarily have your every wish fulfilled within the context of a relationship because there is another person involved, and that person’s feelings and desires matter as much as yours. So I think it’s a question of sacrificing – giving up some of those unfulfilled wishes and desires – in return for greater emotional support and intimacy.

          • Stephasaurus

            @BEB – I agree with this so much. Even if I ever had any kind of desire outside of my relationship, I am a thousand times more willing to make sacrifices like that in favor of a more intimate and supportive relationship. Compared to the big picture (i.e. my soon-to-be marriage), they are small sacrifices.

          • Sacrificing for the good of the relationship is paramount. Both in squelching desires that the other spouse can’t deal with, and ALSO maybe letting your spouse go out and fulfill his/her desires. It can go both ways.

      • It’s all self-centered, really — either asking for it from your partner or getting it outside of your relationship, it’s still asking for what you want.

        Which can be really freeing, especially if your partner is like, “Oh wow, I had no idea, of course!” The problem is if they respond with someting along the linds of “I’m not so much into that,” and the asker replies with, “Well you’d better get into that, otherwise I can find someone else who can take care of me.”


        • Aine

          Yeah. It reminds me of that SATC episode where Charlotte explains to her boyfriend that she hates giving blowjobs and won’t, and he’s like “well, I’m going to get them, so its up to you if they’re from you.”

        • Myrna

          Except I think that breaking up with someone because they won’t meet your sexual desires/needs is totally acceptabl. Here on APW we’re used to talking about lifetime commitment relationships–but ideally one would have vetted sexual desires and needs well before the lifetime commitment stage. It may seem absurd and selfish for a husband and wife to divorce over such sexual ultimatums because responsibly thereshouldnt be any huge surprises at that stage. (like: surprise, I’m sexually unfulfilled without X) But a bf/gf of three months? That seems really fair to me.

          In other words: talk about your sexual desires, needs, etc early and often.

          • Myrna

            Except I think that breaking up with someone because they won’t meet your sexual desires/needs is totally acceptabl. Here on APW we’re used to talking about lifetime commitment relationships–but ideally one would have vetted sexual desires and needs well before the lifetime commitment stage. It may seem absurd and selfish for husband(s) and/or wife/wives to divorce over such sexual ultimatums because responsibly thereshouldnt be any huge surprises at that stage. (like: surprise, I’m sexually unfulfilled without X) But semiserious to not particularly serious bf(s)/gf(s)? That seems a really fair to me reason to end a relationship.

            In other words: talk about your sexual desires, needs, etc early and often.

          • wasabi

            “ideally one would have vetted sexual desires and needs well before the lifetime commitment stage” THIS. Dan also says after six months (or something like that) all your kink cards should be on the table. That’s an important nuance to his argument that wasn’t in this particular article, but something he stresses a lot.

      • That is what has been screaming in my head while reading the article and comments. Thanks for putting it out there, Liz!

    • Remy

      “If you want to choose monogamy, if it’s right for you, go for it. But CHOOSE it deliberately.”

      Yes, this is exactly what I agree with (and a major reason I enjoy APW!). Relationships should be considered and discussed and chosen, not just fallen into and followed blindly. They (like weddings) can look traditional (in whatever way) on the outside, and that’s fine — as long as it’s mutually agreed upon and not just what’s expected by society.

  • Ianthe

    First time commenter! I’m coming out of the woodwork to say that I’m another in a nonmonogamous LTR on the way to marriage. When I was first exposed to the idea of nonmonogamy/poly, I got all bent out of shape. I could NEVER do that, I said. Relationships are about *commitment* and *sacrifice*. Surprise, younger self. Surprise. It turns out that nonmonogamy can be about those things too. A couple of years after first encountering the idea of nonmonogamy, I started learning about it from a poly angle, and not through the ironic hipster lense I had first encountered it. It looked more and more like a viable option–we met when we were very young (and are still pretty young), and didn’t want to feel like we were missing out on what were supposed to be our wild days. We decided to give it a go. My partner and I transitioned to nonmonogamy slowly–it started with carte blanche during travel and over the course of a year and a half transitioned to us doing some full blown poly this winter. I am incredibly grateful that we found a setup that works for us, all of its challenges included.

    That said, despite my pro-nonmonogamy stance, I could do without Dan Savage’s opinion of it. I find his approach to nonmonogamy steeped in evo-psych BS and misogyny. I don’t do nonmonogamy because I’m evoluntionarily programmed to do it and “cheating is inevitable”. Just because something is “natural” doesn’t make it good or right. I made a conscious choice. I do it because it works for me and my partner, and allows for trust, personal growth and varied sexual experience within a loving relationship. I don’t think everyone should be nonmonogamous–but I *do* think everyone should decide consciously what kind of relationship they want to be in.

    • Your last paragraph is spot on! I agree with it completely. The naturalistic fallacy is tricky indeed. I think that we should take our responsibilities as humans and follow neither biological inclinations nor society’s expectations blindly, but instead pick our own way.

    • Emily

      “Just because something is ‘natural’ doesn’t make it good or right.”

      I would take this a step further and say that people need to quit it with these arguments about which human behaviors are “natural” and which are not. If people do it, it must be de facto “natural”, right? Humans invented the idea of monogamous pair bonding, so it’s a natural extension of our psychology. Humans cheat, so that’s natural too. The argument that something is wrong because it is “unnatural” is just a really lazy way of trying to characterize the incredibly broad range of human behavior. It is harder, but more valuable, to try to refine our sense of ethics and morality and to explain why we find some behaviors unethical or immoral.

      • Not to mention that regardless of what is natural or not, humans adapt. It’s what we do! Is it natural to be stuck in a chair in front of a screen in an enclosed space for eight hours per day? Uh, no. But guess what? We do it. It’s become the norm for many people. We adjust.

  • liz

    “But people in monogamous relationships have to be willing to meet me a quarter of the way and acknowledge the drawbacks of monogamy around boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted.”

    i don’t like that savage seems to imply these are the definite fates of the monogamous couple.

    • Beb

      Agreed! That bugged me, too. I guess SOME degree of boredom is inevitable, although that can be fixed pretty easily with variety, but sexual death? Sheesh!

    • meg

      I don’t think he’s implying that they are definite fates… more that they sometimes happen and we should mount a robust defense against them, whether that’s indulging in the occasional kink, or discussion, or for some sleeping with a third party. I think it’s pretty on message with what we talk about at APW… don’t settle for or expect bed death as a part of marriage.

  • TNM

    I’m sorry, but Savage just seems to be substituting a new rule for the old one.

    Instead of (1) “cheating is dealbreaker,” we have (2) “Given the rates of infidelity, people who get married should have to swear a blood oath that if it’s violated, as traumatic as that would be, the greater good is the relationship,” i.e. occasional cheating should *not* be a deal-breaker.

    Frankly, I don’t want either rule. Or any rule. (Although personally I tend to agree with Savage.) But this is the stuff that couples have to determine, negotiate, discuss for themselves. I don’t feel like a couple (or a threesome, etc.!) should have to feel guilty for deciding that monogamy is a dealbreaker OR not a dealbreaker. Yes I’m all for an open mind on these questions, but clearly Savage, as is his prerogative, is arguing for a particular point of view here, i.e. for tolerance of one-off non-monogamous incidents, not just an open mind on matters of monogamy.

  • I actually don’t have much to add, but last week I sent this article to just about everyone I know. As a person in a non-monogamous relationship, it brings me so much joy to see this topic in the NYT, even if it’s in the magazine section. I’m largely “out” with my friends, but I’m certainly not out to my family. Maybe someday this topic, this idea of being non-monogamous, will cease to be so taboo. Non-monogamy is definitely NOT for everyone. But for those of us who want it or need it in order to be capable of a marriage, legitimizing it will help. Actually, legitimizing it would help those who want monogamy as much as those who don’t because we all could be a little more honest about what our needs are and if we’re going to be capable of monogamy.

    • z

      Do you ever think about how you would handle it if your family found out? It seems pretty hard to control the information completely.

      • Well my family isn’t close to me emotionally or geographically. But. There might come a time where a lover in my life becomes part of a family with me and my husband. At that point I would have to tell them in order to honor my family. I plan on telling them eventually but honestly I haven’t mustered up the courage yet.

        If they found out now? I’d send them the non-monogamy post I wrote for APW and hope they could calm themselves :)

  • Beb

    My main concern with Savage’s logic was the whole bit about G-G-G, particularly the final G, the importance of being “game.” I agree with the general principle of gameness, but Savage takes it to an extreme that I’m uncomfortable with: if your partner wants to do [x] and you don’t want to do [x], your partner should be allowed to seek [x] elsewhere. I agreed with some of the experts in the NYT piece who noted that this dynamic often disfavors women, and can create a dynamic where the less keen partner (often the woman in a heterosexual relationship) does things she is uncomfortable with to avoid the specter of infidelity. Shouldn’t this stuff be more of a two-way conversation/decision, rather than a tyranny of the more horny/kinky? Meh. I discussed it with my fiance this morning and we’re pretty much on the same page, although I think he places greater value on gameness than I do – although not to the extent that if I said no to something, he’d suggest that he seek it elsewhere…

    • Jovi

      I agree with this and the previous commenter who said that Savage doesn’t seem to distinguish between sexual needs and wants. Not everything is a need that must be fulfilled one way or another. A two-way conversation about this might not have to go like “If you don’t want to do X, I should be able to go do X elsewhere,” (which strikes me as a bit of an ultimatum) but could instead be something like, “I really want to do X but you seem uncomfortable with it. Maybe we can find a compromise or a close substitute for X.”

      I get his point that if you’re in a monogamous relationship, it’s on you to fulfill all your partner’s needs and wants, and therefore a bit of “gameness” and an open mind can go a long way. But I don’t think it has to be taken to the extreme that you have to either agree to everything, or ditch monogamy.

      • myrna

        I think Savage’s writing style and humor is hyperbolic, and has therefore lead to a lot of people to misinterpret him. I’ve been reading his column for years, and I actually do think his philosophy is more in line with what you said about being game to reach a compromise.

        Almost always when I’ve heard him suggest non-monogamy as a solution to the problem, it’s a situation where one partner is unwilling to be intimate more than a few times a year and is heaping a whole lot of shame on the person with a higher sex drive. I’ve never heard him suggest this as a solution when there is open and honest dialog about sexual needs and wants in a relationship.

        I know Dan Savage isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (and I don’t always agree with him) but I just wanted to add my two cents.

    • This is where I start to get really torn on the subject. There are things that my partner and I each like, that the other does not. And we’ve both made ourselves Game for a try, but of course if you KNOW the person you’re with isn’t enjoying the thing that you’re doing, it’s going to be approximately one bajillion times less fun. So, really, making yourself Game isn’t enough, in my opinion.

      Then there’s the one-sided desire for nonmonogamy. Which neither of us has ever tried, but interests 1.25 of us. And that opposing .75 is really troublesome, because what if that three-quarters can’t handle the aftermath? That would be devastating. What we’ve tried so far is talking about what that WOULD be like in great detail, with the understanding that the idea was very much “want” and not “need” and not expected at any point in the future. It was super hawt. Is all I’m gonna say about that. But for everyone whose tastes differ from his/her partner: hypothetical conversation can be AWESOME. Just a heads up.

      • But you gave it a try, right? You were game, and it turns out it’s not your thing, but you listened to your partner’s wants and gave it a try. Game doesn’t have to mean you regularly do something you hate – it just means you should probably be willing to try it once or twice.

        At least, that’s always been my reading of it.

        • And who knows, sometimes you end up really enjoying something that you “KNEW” you would hate. It’s hard to know until you try, and again, that’s where game comes in.

          • We’ve tried each other’s stuff. It’s not that either of us HATES the other’s “trial times.” It’s just not something that really works for us. And going off of the other person’s enthusiasm can only take you so far.

        • I see it more as welcoming the practice in question semi-regularly. It depends on the amount or how badly my/your/one’s partner wants the thing to happen, I guess. I just can’t imagine wanting to do something, having my partner try it, and then saying, “OK, well that’s done,” afterwards. I’d want to do it again. And again and again. Maybe it’s the difference between “attempting” and “embracing” that doesn’t jibe for me.

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  • myrna

    In my relationship, we are monogamous. We’ve been that way for the duration, almost 8 years. But monogamy is something we regularly have conversations about, and we consistently agree on the following:

    Please do not do anything stupid. A degree of openness is not off the table. If one of us thinks s/he would really, really like to sleep with someone else, we have agreed to talk to our partner first. Something can be negotiated.

    It is more important in our relationship to be honest with each other than to be monogamous. If my partner really wanted to sleep with someone else, but personally, it would be infinitely easier for me to handle than if he lied to me. Desiring an emotional and physical connection to another person, does not, in my opinion, diminish our emotional and physical connection, but dishonesty would be really hard for me to overcome.

    (This is what works for us. YMMV.)

    • Erin

      This is exactly our policy. Don’t go behind my back and cheat, but if there’s someone you really want to have sex with, and you’re having a really hard time resisting that urge, talk to me about it. We might be able to work it out. I don’t think this would take away from the relationship my husband and I have, and I want to see him happy. If this particular thing would make him happy and isn’t just a passing fancy, I don’t see a lot of reason to refuse it. Of course, we’ve talked about how neither of us really knows how we’ll feel in that moment, but we’re at least willing to discuss it.

    • Contessa

      I love this policy. I love that you embrace monogamy but don’t choke yourselves with the rigidity of it. Sometimes, just being able to discuss the option and knowing that “technically” you have an option to sleep with someone else is enough and you will never feel the need to use it.

      • myrna

        Exactly! There have been times for each of us when, just knowing that it is an option, is enough to let off some of the steam.


    My brother and his wife have been together about 7 years (dating two, married five), and in that time they’ve both been unfaithful. There’s no question that the societal pressure to “not stand for that kind of thing!” made everything much, much harder on them. Both cases of infidelity were things they probably could have forgiven each other for more easily if they hadn’t had to deal with the outrage & righteousness of their friends and family. It was almost like they felt like they HAD to threaten to leave to save face — that if they had approached each others’ transgressions with more compassion and forgiveness, their friends would have judged them negatively for it. I think they delayed forgiveness to “save face,” and that’s too bad.

    I do think it’s a shame that our culture tends to view monogamy as a something that validates a “real” marriage — that if people REALLY love each other and REALLY care about each other and are REALLY COMMITTED then they’ll *never* cheat. My brother and his wife love each other just as much and are just as committed to each other as any other loving couple — but I know some of my family will always see the marriage as “less than” or subpar somehow because there was infidelity.

    • Harriet

      I was just commenting on this issue below! I agree that shame/social expectations about infidelity really could lead to more pain than infidelity itself.

    • I think this is SUCH a great point. Like, maybe the most important point.

    • meg

      Yes. Exactly. This.

    • And to add – people gets accused in this situation of hating themselves. As in, “if you had any respect for yourself you’d leave this relationship.” Not fair. And not always accurate.

    • Excellent point. It’s that whole “Well, you can’t possibly forgive him of that, can you?” kind of righteousness which makes me want to (very childishly respond) respond, “Why not? You forgive your partner for being a jerk all the time.”

      Seriously, though. I cringe when I hear, “We’ve had a good marriage. Never cheated once!” Huh? That’s not what makes a marriage. I know plenty of people who never cheated and have had not so happy marriages. I don’t know that cheating would’ve made it better, but NOT cheating is NOT the magic ingredient to a healthy, happy marriage.

  • Ooh, early & long work day so I wish I had more time to comment because I juuuust finished “The Commitment” a couple days ago and would be super excited for Dan Savage discussion. But, a quick thought:

    Is it possible to decide at the beginning of a relationship how you’ll handle monogamy? I love that Savage advocates open communication about the subject, but something rubs me the wrong way when I read/hear things like “I would forgive him/her if he/she cheated,” or “Infidelity would definitely be a dealbreaker.” I’ve seen a lot of infidelity in my family that might have colored my perspective a bit, but at a very basic level it seems that every situation is SO different that deciding how you’ll react to non-monogamy before it’s ever occurred is a tad… naive?

    Monogamy is a huge foundation of my marriage, and I would still like to say that we would work through infidelity to stay together if something ever happened. But honestly, I have no idea what that would feel like or what the circumstances would be. I’m on the same page as Savage with criticizing the assumption that non-monogamy=divorce, but I wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable declaring the opposite, either.

    • myrna

      I made a comment above, regarding how things work in my relationship, but I think the key is checking in with each other regularly. Monogamy is not easy! And I think it’s a really good idea to just talk about how you’re both holding up with it every once in a while. Like you said, you can’t really lay ground rules in the beginning for forever, because things change a lot over the course of a lifetime.

    • Erin

      I agree. My husband and I have talked about this, and have decided that we think we would be ok with a degree of non-monogamy, but we’ve also said that we won’t really know how we feel about it until we’re in that situation, and we reserve the right to change our minds.

  • Harriet

    I think Savage’s way of thinking about monogamy really ties in nicely with shame blasting. I think the thing that would trouble me most about nonmonogamy, or occasional honest infidelity, would be fear of judgment from other people. If I had an open relationship, I don’t think I could handle other people knowing about it: I’d worry they’d think my partner didn’t really care about me, or I didn’t really care about him. My pain would come from shame, rather than from the infidelity itself.

    • SeptBride

      We, as a society, really need to delete shame from our emotional lexicon. There is nothing, in my opinion, more self-destructive than shame.

    • This is why I am not “out” to my family or some of my friends. It’s sad because I’m very confident and proud of my non-mono relationship in my heart. But there are some people in my life that would absolutely put me in a pity category, assuming my relationship was a sham. And I’m not strong enough to fight it. Shame is a big part of it. I think that’s why this kind of conversation is so important. Legitimizing it is so crucial.

  • NH

    Agreeing to (so far theoretical) non-monogamy played a really important role in my/my partner’s decision to get married. We’ve always been emotionally non-monogamous: we have some separate friends and hobbies, we agree that it’s really important to be able to have serious emotional conversations (including about each other) with other people, and we prioritize maintaining those external friendships pretty heavily. Part of my desire to do that comes from seeing my parents prioritize the nuclear family over everything else, and be unhappy and isolated for years because of it. That made the idea of sexual non-monogamy easier to deal with in some ways, because we weren’t expecting to be each other’s one and only. Also we’re both women, and until we moved two years ago were part of a community where non-monogamy was much more common than monogamy.

    Choosing non-monogamy has had two big benefits so far.

    1. We decided to be non-monogamous partly because we got together pretty young, and we want to be able to encourage and support each other in having sexual adventures with other people. It feels really awesome to know that my partner wants me to go have exciting adventures, with or without her. It feels equally awesome to want that for her. For us, being non-monogamous comes from a place of love, and of wanting each other to get to have cool experiences. (We’re generally pretty sexually compatible, so it’s not really about getting particular kinks met.)

    2. I don’t want to break up because one of us flirts or sleeps with someone else. Allowing non-monogamy makes me feel like the relationship is safer.

    I don’t know what the reality of non-monogamy will look like. If it doesn’t work we’ll reevaluate. But that’s how all relationships work, regardless of the rules about sex.

  • J

    Savage’s article has been giving me a lot of thought. So much so that I’m thinking of printing off the article and asking my partner to read it. I do feel that the article is flawed, but I also feel that it brings up good points. Mostly its made me think about my own sexual desire and whether or not its being reached.

    I’ve always felt that between my partner and I, I am the one more likely to cheat. Its less about sex than it is about flirtation. I love to flirt. Love love love it. I love taking flirtation to the next level, where the sexual electricity is present and it wants to be acted on. But I don’t really enjoy taking the flirtation to the level after that. Its the thrill of the hunt that excites me, not the act of sex.

    Which leads to the second part of my thoughts. A lot of the blog posts I’ve read have framed the discussed as monogamy vs non monogamy. But I really haven’t read more depth about what Savage calls the G.G.G (good, giving, and game) for monogamous minded couples.

    I think the concept of GGG is REALLY important. All individuals have sexual fantasies they’d like to participate in. Its important for couples to talk and discuss what they are. Ask how they can be reached. To use my earlier example, my partner needs to know that my foreplay should happen before we even move to the bedroom. That’s its important for him to build a sexual tension.

  • I think that a big part of what scares us monogomous and married people about those who choose to be non-monogomous is that we’ve always assumed it was us married/committed people versus the single people out there trying to sabotage our marriages/relationships. I think we believe that if someone says they are non-monogomous, it means they are out to make all couples that way. And that someeone who is one half of a non-monogomous relationship wouldn’t hesitate to seduce and sleep with someone who is in a monogomous relationship. But when you let your guard down, and stop worrying about how this person’s lifestyle might affect you, I believe it becomes pretty clear just how crazy that theory is.
    Everything I have read on APW from people in non-monogomous relationships speaks to a foundation of respect and honesty with their partner. And if they have come to understand that monogomy doesn’t work for them, it seems to be with a respect for how difficult monogomy can be– not some childish theory of “monogomy is stupid because it didn’t work for me.” If these couples have worked through failing at monogomy and are willing to work through navigating non-monogomy, then I seriously doubt they would covertly try to sabotage what another couple is working on.

    • meg


      • Yay! I got a THIS from Meg.
        Highlight of my day.

    • Emily

      And, to bring your very astute point full circle, that means that we don’t live in a world where married/monogamous people are pitted against single people who are trying to sabotage our relationships. In other words, no one is out to get our relationships. The responsibility for their safety and security belongs to us.

      The boogeymen of single folks, or people in non-monogamous relationships, as enemy saboteurs are just that. The reason for cheating is never, solely, the existence of another person trying to tempt a monogamous person into a sexual dalliance.

      I think the reason I felt the need to add this is because I think this kind of thinking is endemic among women in general — that we are being pitted against one another for access to love and commitment. One reason Savage’s ideas are important is that they move conversations about infidelity (or more specifically, the feelings that might lead to infidelity) away from tropes about “the other woman” and back where they should be: focused on our own actions and commitments.

      • Yes! Abso-frickin-lutely! I love that. I think that we need to remember, all married people were single at one time. And yes, getting married/being married is a growing process, but a lot of us had the “respect a marriage and those people in it so as not to be a homewrecker” concept down before we said I do.
        I know that when I was a single girl it would have broken my heart to think that young married women were suspicious that I could be trying to cause problems in their marriage.
        And yes, I do think this defensive stance toward others is a problem more common for women. And we need to start figuring out why that is.

        • Emily

          Word. And once again extending the comparison back towards people in non-monogamous relationships:

          I think sometimes we have a tendency to look at people who have made different lifestyle choices than ours, and assume that the only way they could have made that different choice was by lacking the same fundamental morals or principles. So us monogamous folks will look at someone who is non-monogamous, and we want to assume that such a person doesn’t value loyalty and trust the way we do. And that makes them the enemy, because if someone doesn’t value loyalty and trust for themselves, then they might not value it for you either, which would mean they could hurt you.

          But just as your single self was perfectly capable of respecting and understanding the monogamous relationships around you (I used to joke privately that my friends’ boyfriends and husbands fell into the same category as gay men or 15 year old boys or elderly men — contemplating romantic/sexual relationships with them was weird, icky, or otherwise bizarre), people in open relationships have likely spent just as much time as the rest of us thinking about trust, loyalty and commitment. Actually, odds are, they’ve spent more time thinking about it and talking about it with their partners, out of necessity.

          Which is why this is the part of Savage’s message I can fully endorse: rather than freaking out about non-monogamy, we can use it as a springboard to talk more about this stuff, be more open with our partners, make more conscious choices about what it means to be faithful and committed.

          • liz

            or that by making a different choice, they’re criticizing our choice.

      • meg

        AMEN to this as well.

    • For the non-monogamous people I know, sleeping with someone without the permission of all of your partners and all of *their* partners… is still participating in cheating, and a Very Big Problem. Because if you can ask for permission and probably get it, why on earth are you skipping that step and lying?

      • Aine

        exactly. Plus, I feel like the article links “nonmonogamy” with “infidelity” which, um, not really the same thing?

        • meg

          I almost made that point, but I was trying to stay on topic. And I’ve made that point before on APW. Fidelity is faithfulness, whatever that means to the couple. And even if sexual exclusivity is included in that, Fidelity has so many other layers as well (one hopes). We cheat ourselves when we focus on just one layer (sex).

  • Erin

    Thank you times a thousand for this. My husband and I have talked about just this, and we’ve agreed that there will be times when each of us will want to have sex with someone else. We’ll attempt to resist that urge, but who knows if we’ll always be successful? We’ve already agreed that we will work through it if it happens. We’ve even talked about the possibility of a sort of open marriage in the future, if we’re both interested in that at the time.

    This is the sort of thing that we can’t talk about openly, though, because people automatically assume that we don’t love each other or that we have a bad marriage. That’s simply not true. I actually feel that our marriage is stronger because we’ve considered the future and our own personalities, made plans to get through any rough times, and have worked out what marriage will mean for us. It’s good to hear you (and Dan Savage, whom I often find myself agreeing with but haven’t really paid enough attention to), saying some of the same things I’ve come up with.

  • When I read the article at the Times, my heart broke a little. It made me think about how I would feel if my fiance decided to carry on a sexual relationship with someone else. I’ve been cheated on by a previous boyfriend because I wouldn’t do what they wanted me to do, and it broke my heart, and our relationship. I will agree that in that relationship what ended things (or drove me to) was the dishonesty–the asking my best friend on a date, the sleeping with other girls and trying to hide it. If it was just cheating, and if he had been honest, then we probably would have worked it out. That said, though, the cheating still would have broken my heart.

    And that’s where I think Savage still has some thinking to do. It’s not that I think non-monogamy can never work; quite the contrary. If a couple mutually decides non-monogamy is best for them, then I’m all for it. But I think in my relationship (and in a lot of others), it would cause a lot of pain.

    Giving up some of your desires is part of a working relationship. These desires might be sexual or otherwise, but relationships are about compromise. So when I refuse to have oral sex (as I have told my fiance I will probably never be okay with), that’s not a reason necessarily for my to-be-husband to go find another partner to have oral sex with, even if he dreams of it night and day. It’s a respect issue. He respects me enough to put aside his desire for oral sex, and I put aside other desires for him (such as my desire to be a career woman for a number of years before having kids, which I have decided to put aside because he wants kids ASAP). Relationships in general, and especially marriages, are about a give and take.

    • Jess

      First off, I unfortunately haven’t yet made it through all of the comments in this fascinating thread.
      Secondly, THANK YOU MEG, for making a space where we can talk about this…

      In response to Lindsie:

      Well, fair enough if those are things you are willing to compromise on. You’ve just listed two things that I have no interest in compromising on, but it’s entirely a matter of what your own personal priorities/preferences are. The challenge is, I think, the cultural narrative that says “if you aren’t willing to compromise on X, you’re just being selfish”. And a lot of people believe that being in a long-term committed relationship means that you have to shut yourself off from all kinds of new experiences for the sake of maintaining the relationship (and the security it provides). Now, I’m not saying that my partner and I don’t have boundaries. We most certainly do. But I will also say that we’ve found a relationship that doesn’t require us to compromise on the things that are most important for us (yet… we’re still figuring all this out). There are many people out there with sexual or other personal-fulfillment needs (Eg. an active career, desire to have friendships with members of the opposite sex) that they have been conditioned to believe will NEVER be met within ANY long-term committed relationship… and I think many feel that they are excluded from that kind of relationship because they also place a value on those other experiences (sexual, career related or otherwise).
      I’m not saying this is true in your case, because you are communicating with your partner, and you’ve found what works for both of you.
      I agree that some compromise is necessary, but in the end, the world is a very big place. There are so many wonderful people out there, and different kinds of relationships to be had… sometimes I wonder if the whole “relationships are about compromise” standpoint, which I agree with in essence, can be taken too far, to the point where we come to believe that what we are looking for does not exist in a realistic world, and so we’d better just settle and be thankful for what we have.
      I think (and a number of other people on this forum have spoken to this more eloquently than I will) that we have to be careful with the line of thinking that says “If ‘bob’ wants x, and is willing to disrupt your marriage for it, then he/she is a selfish bastard”. What if ‘x’ was to fulfill a dream of writing a novel, instead of something sexual. Would we still think of it the same way?
      Why is one need more valid/less selfish than the other?

      • “I think (and a number of other people on this forum have spoken to this more eloquently than I will) that we have to be careful with the line of thinking that says “If ‘bob’ wants x, and is willing to disrupt your marriage for it, then he/she is a selfish bastard”. What if ‘x’ was to fulfill a dream of writing a novel, instead of something sexual. Would we still think of it the same way?”

        Thank you, Jess, for saying what I have been trying to figure out how to say since this morning. I was unsure how to respond to the idea that the concepts in this article meant that there was way too much emphasis on sex in these people’s marriages, thereby making them less… what? Less loving? Less compromising? Less solid? And why? Because one or both partners valued sex very highly in their marriage?

        For many of us, we wouldn’t be married to our partners if we weren’t having sex at least periodically. Without a sexual attraction, we’d be friends, but not be married. This obviously does not apply to everyone (I’m thinking specifically about one of the chapters in The Bitch In The House about the woman who felt only platonic love for her husband) but most relationships that end in marriage start because two people were attracted to each other, and sex is part of maintaining that attraction. Which, for many, makes it paramount in the relationship. Which means it needs to be respected and discussed just like anything else that keeps a marriage strong.

        This idea that needing something sexually should be dismissed because it is superfluous or should be classified as a “want” and therefore should be less important to the marriage than other things just strikes me as really strange. Obviously, ideally couples would communicate their sexual hopes and needs before making a lifetime commitment, but as with everything in life, things change, and to me, this article was saying that we should be willing to roll with challenges and changes in a marriage, including sexual ones.

        Why should a spouse be understood for wanting to leave a marriage to write a novel, but shunned for wanting to leave a marriage because they were no longer sexually satisfied? Every person has different things that are important to them, and we can’t judge what is more or less acceptable to pursue.

        • liz

          there’s a difference between those aspirations and longings, though.

          i don’t expect my life, career, personal, creative, etc goals to be fulfilled by my spouse. but by marrying him, i do sign on to be only fulfilled sexually by him.

          • Jess

            First off, I don’t often comment here, but I always think you have really smart things to say, Liz.

            Secondly, I think that just like career/personal/creative needs change as a person grows, I think part of a growing sex-positive movement is recognizing that sexual needs can also change as we grow and as our relationships evolve. I’m not saying that means we should all ‘evolve’ from monogamous to non-monogamous because we’ve just outgrown our previous tastes, its just that maybe some broken marriages could have been saved by a more open dialogue about the possible challenges/complexities of marriage over the long-haul… and that includes questions like ‘what happens if something unforeseen leads one of us to make a mistake?’ and ‘If something unforeseen happens, what will it take for us to call it quits?’

          • meg

            But I think maybe that’s *the point.* If we can’t fully meet our partners at their sexual point of need, do we allow them a little wiggle room (even if it’s just masturbation?) If my partner needs to write a novel, I give them space. If they need to sleep with someone who is not me, maybe I suggest porn or role play. But I want them to talk to me about it, regardless.

      • Marina

        I’ve had friends where their marriage has dissolved because one person chose to do something like write a novel or quit their job or move to another country or “find themselves” and the other person wasn’t willing to support them. And honestly I think in those cases the novel-writer has gotten almost as much social shaming as if they’d had sex with someone outside the marriage. (In one case I think sex outside the marriage would have been easier to deal with–the wife and both kids had serious health issues for several years, and the husband chose to move across the country because he couldn’t deal with the stress. If he’d had an affair but stuck around emotionally, I think our social group would have been much more understanding and seen it as “letting off some steam” rather than “deserting people who need you”.)

        I think both situations are cases of placing your personal desires above the good of the family. Which I think is very threatening–a lot of the concept of family is about dependence. People make choices based on assuming the other person will be there to lean on, and if the other person has the option to leave, you fall flat on your face.

        • But the other person ALWAYS has the option to leave. Every single day, no matter what the circumstances. I made the decision this week to quit my job for a while, and I did that after my husband agreed to support us as the only income during that time. I am incredibly grateful to him, and I trust him, but the fact is that he’s a human being and he, at any moment, could make the choice to leave, and I’d be screwed with no income and no health insurance.

          I think the point of the article was that people are going to have their own personal desires, and we should be encouraging couples to have honest conversations about those desires, and to come up with individual solutions for them that they can be confident about and not face shame from society in general. The article wanted married people to be open to figuring out what will help both parties a) stay married and b) stay true to themselves, and we can’t do that without communication.

          • Jess

            @ Lauren: Really nicely put. I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s good to know that my comment didn’t all come off as rambling incoherence ;-)

            @ Marina: I guess, with regard to your examples, I wonder just as much why it is that when a person leaves a marriage to write a novel, we tend to jump into shaming them for not being there for their spouse, when they were the ones who had to leave their marriage because their spouse was unwilling to support them? Shouldn’t we be asking, why did he/she have to leave the marriage in order to write the novel??

            My dad left his career as a lawyer to be a film producer, and it made things really hard for my parents for a while… and I even wondered when I was a kid if my Dad was just being selfish. But now that I’ve seen what a wonderful person he’s become, I’m so grateful that my Mom stuck by him and allowed him to grow in their marriage, without saying he had to pick his family or his career. That’s not to say that in some cases, picking your family/partner over your career is not the right and prudent thing to do. I think Marina and Lindsie are both saying really wise things about making choices that are good for your family. I just think that compromise doesn’t always mean sacrifice… it can also mean wait a bit or adapt.

          • meg

            LAUREN! Yes. Jess. Also yes.

    • meg

      Huh, so two things: I don’t think Savage is advocating dishonesty… quite the opposite, actually. He’s saying that dishonestly destroys things, so we should stop treating our desires as the boogyman and talk about them already.

      Second: I tend to disagree on the desire issue (actually, David and I have disagreed on this issue, re: Savage since long before we were together). I think that if your partner is into oral sex, you do what you have to to to meet them there. I don’t think it is always easy work, I think maybe it involves serious therapy to root out the issues and deal with them. I don’t think oral sex becomes something you do all the time. But, if your partner is really into it, I think part of the foundation of respect in a relationship is healing yourself enough that you can meet them at their point of need. And isn’t that what a relationship is? Healing ourselves to meet our partners?

      David disagrees somewhat. He doesn’t think he should have to be into Golden Showers no matter what. I tell him, BUT MAYBE THAT’S LOVE.

      • Aine

        And now my laptop is covered in ice tea.

        • That’s funny because now my laptop is covered in pee. #goldenshowersforthewin

      • I agree, to an extent. I think as a couple we need to discuss what we are willing to do and what we are willing to give up. Neither of us can have our way every time (obviously). But why in the world, just because it is what my fiance wants, would I engage in oral sex when it’s exactly what I don’t want? And why should my fiance have to wait to have kids when that’s what I want when that’s exactly what he doesn’t want?
        For me, I’m okay with having kids earlier because I know that I can have both a career and kids. Sure, it will be harder, and it won’t be exactly what I want, but it will be fine, and it will make my fiance happy. It will be beautiful because we will do it together.
        He has told me that, though he does want oral, he’s okay with not engaging in oral sex because we can sexually fulfill each other in other ways. Sure, he wants it, not having it doesn’t diminish his desire, and it’s not exactly what I want, but it will be okay, and will make me happy. It will be beautiful because we will do it together.
        I talked to him about this whole thing when I got home from work the other day, and he agreed with me. Holding hands is an amazingly important thing to us, because it symbolizes what we love in our relationship: togetherness. We hold hands through sexual uncertainty, through emotional uncertainty, through life.
        PS: Just because I am not okay with oral sex does not necessarily mean that I need therapy or that there is anything mentally wrong with me. It is a choice, just like every other choice. I in no way think that non-monogamy is a sign of mental illness, just of a choice. I should be allowed my sexual decisions without judgment just as the next.

  • Contessa

    What I took away from this article was the need to be able to talk about everything. Dan says that if Anthony Weiner had just told (or been able to tell) his wife that he wanted to tweet pictures of his crotch to women, she’d have had a chance to fill a need and their lives wouldn’t have been torn apart.

    His article made me think more about why people cheat and how I could insulate my marriage from those forces than what I would do if it happened.

    I’m not for “giving permission” for an affair, but making certain conversations off limits or being rigid in anything within your marriage creates a situation rife for secretiveness.

    • liz

      totaaaally. i think meg said something above about there needing to be a safe space for any kind of sex-related conversation. that’s a big piece of how i perceive the “GAME” part of GGG. anything is on the table if we want to talk about it/try it.

      if i’m going to shoot you a weird look because you asked if you could send me crotch texts, well. your EMOTIONAL needs are not being met. how could your sexual needs be met at all in that scenario? very unlikely.

      • meg

        YES. Exactly. If I really want a cake smashed in my face, I want to be able to tell my partner that. Then hopefully he’s like, “well, that’s odd to me honey, but let’s get a cake.” Or maybe once I say it I think, “Geeze, he accepts me. Now I really don’t need the cake.” But if I can’t TELL him about it? Yeah. Far more likely that I’m going to be obsessed with getting a cake smashed in my face, and go find someone to do it on the sly.

        Or crotch pictures. Depending on my theoretical mood, I suppose ;)

  • A.

    I actually want to take issue with the notion of “unintentional” cheating — you might not walk out of the house with the intent of cheating that evening, but you can’t accidentally cheat. It’s a decision. It’s a series of decisions, in fact, because it doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. Every second the action occurs is another second you could say, “Wait, no.”

    Similarly, I think conflating consensual non-monogamy with cheating is problematic. The idea that you should prize honesty in a relationship above fidelity — as if cheating is not a fundamentally dishonest thing to do — puzzles me. Yes, we should be more open to the idea that meeting some of our sexual needs outside our relationship can work, and we should hope to have a foundation that a partner could come to us and say, “I’m not getting my needs met, can we talk about ways to make that work?” That is something I wholeheartedly agree with. But that is different from saying, “You ought to be more forgiving if your partner violates your trust.”

    I also have a problem with the idea that “the good of the relationship” means you have to forgive any specific thing (Savage’s blood oath). The whole power of a relationship comes from the fact that it is a choice, a choice you keep making — even after you’re married, you could still walk out any day, for any reason or no reason at all. You choose to stay together, and that is what makes it great. Saying that you HAVE to stay together, or that you ought to be required to stay together in certain situations is frankly a terrible way to approach being in a relationship. Even if he’s not really serious (and I think he isn’t), it’s still stupid.

    (I’m also a longtime Savage reader… which is not the same thing as saying I generally agree with him.)

    • Emily

      Such good insights. You put words to several things that had been bothering me, but I couldn’t quite pin down. Thanks for this.

    • liz

      well, yes. you didn’t fall on a girls open lap.

      but an “accident” isn’t the same as a “mistake.” it’s something we split hairs about in my house very often. you don’t “accidentally” have an affair. you may not intend to, but, like you said- there’s a series of steps that leads to a person’s bedroom.

      at the same time, i can conceive of my husband making a series of mistakes that lead to a big problem, and then regretting that problem.

      doesn’t invalidate the wrongness of each and every one of those mistakes. but it’s very different than a lifestyle of deception and mistresses. and would be handled differently.

      • A.

        Well, I agree, there’s a difference between a series of mistakes (where mistakes here means a decision you do not believe to be the correct one, not where a mistake means you didn’t intend to do it), and your partner going, “Today I think I will have an AFFAIR.” But I don’t think that means one is necessarily more worthy of forgiving, or that you have to feel those as different kinds/levels of betrayal. I don’t know if I’d forgive a one-time incident: it would depend on a lot of things. I don’t know if I would forgive an extended affair: again, it would depend on a lot of things. (One of the things it would depend on, for me, is whether or not he told me immediately. I have seen many commenters say they wouldn’t want to know about a one-time incident, but hiding it, would for me, be a problem of probably equal magnitude. It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup.)

        • Remy

          “Today I think I will have an AFFAIR.”

          I heard this in a bad French accent. Maybe a nap is called for.

          • A.

            I pictured more like hands on hips, triumphant like. Maybe right before you burst into song.

            I could always use a nap.

    • meg

      Oh, I think we all screw up, and over the course of a life time can cheat on accident. Let’s call it, “un-pre-meditated cheating” if that makes more sense to you. And on those lines, I think people can screw up, and do something dishonest. Within the bounds of the relationship, maybe you tell your spouse, maybe you don’t (I would not want to know, thank you VERY much). But being dishonest once doesn’t mean that your foundation is screwed up.

      • A.

        I think calling it “un-pre-meditated” only gets you so much slack, at least as far as I’m concerned. There comes a point where it can’t escape your notice what you’re doing. It takes a lot of decisions to get there.

        And as to what being dishonest once says about a relationship’s foundation… I think that depends. Sometimes once is all it takes. Everybody’s line is different, and having a more rigid line isn’t wrong, or not big enough or loving enough.

        • meg

          Sure, of course you know what you’re doing when you cheat. I just don’t think that one time un-premeditated cheating is the end of the world. Nor do I have any particular interest in knowing about it. If it does say something about the state of our relationship, then you bet I have an interest in knowing about *that,* but the one time mistake? Not so much.

          IE, you’re saying that one time I-made-a-mistake cheating is always a really huge deal. I’m saying that doesn’t have to be true for everyone all the time. I’m also saying that I would *hope* that once is not all it takes to destroy a shared lifetime and a shared family. I’m challenging us to question if that assumption always needs to be true.

          • A.

            I’m not saying that at all — I don’t agree that cheating has to be a dealbreaker. But it’s OK if it is. I don’t agree that that represents a failure, or an unwillingness to try hard enough.

            I think a conversation about gendered expectations about cheating and forgiveness would be illuminating. I think the cultural ideas about what we should expect from our partners isn’t the same for men and women.

          • TNM

            “I think a conversation about gendered expectations about cheating and forgiveness would be illuminating.”

            Ha. No joke. Raise your hand if you think current cultural expectations regarding forgiveness for cheating are gender-neutral. If anything, women are already pressured to “stand by their man,” so Savage is not really adding anything new there. (Although his reasoning of course appears to be almost 180 degrees different than the conventional wisdom at least.)

  • I haven’t had a chance to read the article yet so perhaps it is discussed there, but I think one of Dan’s key messages is so far getting left out of the discussion. He often says that the mere OPTION of non-monogamy can be incredibly helpful to a marriage and we do ourselves (and the institution of marriage) a disservice by making monogamy such a defining pillar. Because by doing so, we are making our partner in essence represent the death of sexual possibility and this can feel suffocating.

    This isn’t a problem for many people – it isn’t for me, at least at this point – but I understand his point that for many, renegotiating marriage to allow for the possibility of non-monogamy allows them to actually love each other more freely. It removes the forbidden, thus taking away some of its allure and makes your significant other feel more like your PARTNER in the quest for sexual happiness than a block to it.

    As an example, Dan often refers to his own relationship as theoretically non-monogamous, but in practice nearly monogamous. Having the option can help you keep sane when otherwise you might feel suffocated.

    • meg

      CORRECT. Or for me, I need the option of emotional non-monogamy. I have zero interest in doing anything with anyone else… but. If I knew it was not ok for me to be attracted to anyone else, I think I’d shut down as a sexual being, and well, our marriage would suffer. So fundamentally, I agree with Savage, though I’m a step away from where his relationship is.

  • Remy

    Wow. While I’ve read much of the APW archives, I believe I overlooked that one post you linked to. Thank you for addressing consensual nonmonogamy.

    I’ve been struggling a bit over that aspect of marriage since just before my girlfriend proposed. While we have had many, many discussions about polyamory and our own open relationship over the last two years, and we mutually agree that our marriage — our partnership, our primary relationship — will not be monogamous, the law is not quite so flexible. I looked up California Family Code (first for the terms of domestic partnership, and then to see what rights and responsibilities were afforded married couples and how those differed) and was actually surprised to see that marriage is legally defined by the state as a relationship where spouses “contract mutual obligations of respect, fidelity, and support”. I couldn’t find any of the language about an “intimate and committed relationship” or cohabitation that’s addressed in the sections on domestic partnership. (And domestic partnership does not confer the obligation of fidelity, legally.)

    That “fidelity” — which has a legal definition that does not allow for my relationship — has been bothering me. I really, really can’t stand promise-breaking. I consider it permissible in the face of a life-or-death situation, but it offends me horribly to consider making a vow or a statement or signing a document in which I essentially lie. That’s one major reason I’ve been neurotic about writing our own ceremony. I refuse to start our marriage with hypocrisy or with making vows I can’t or won’t uphold.

    I’m a proud supporter of equal rights, including same-sex marriage, and I think that people who are ready to commit to building a life together should have the right to marry. I love my fiancee, and she loves me, and we value our relationship highly, and we WILL celebrate our love and commitment publicly — but I’m starting to reconsider whether legal marriage is the right thing for me.

    • i wonder if the law has defined the word fidelity. while the cultural definition tends to be that of never having sex with anyone else, linguistically it is about being “faithful” which is about honor and honesty, which, to my reading, could not preclude consensual non-monogamy. or consensual anything. don’t know how that would hold up in court.

      • Remy

        My spastic Googling on the subject kept running me up against the definition of “adultery”, which was basically “having sex(ual relations) with someone who is not your spouse” — with no allowance for consent on behalf of the spouse.

        Fidelity: “loyalty to one’s spouse in refraining from adultery and sometimes in submitting to a spouse’s reasonable sexual desires”
        Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law, © 1996 Merriam-Webster, Inc.

        I wasn’t all THAT surprised by the definition, as it’s what our society’s norms dictate. But I am concerned about perjury — in a moral sense more than a legal one, honestly, because if my spouse doesn’t sue me for infidelity, who’s going to prosecute us? No one (other than my spouse) can take me to court because I didn’t fulfill my legal obligations of marriage, right?

  • Caroline

    Wow, how refreshing to read these comments! I was extremely disheartened after reading some of the NYT comments– so much vitriol for non-monogamy! So much missing the point!

    I don’t have much to offer that hasn’t already been said, but bravo to the readers of APW….and though I may be single now, I will definitely be discussing nonmonogamy in my next serious relationship!

    • Meredith


      There was so much backlash and knee jerk reactions in the comments in NYTimes article. I was astonished. SO many people completely missed the point or simply misconstrued words and phrases. The discussion here has been far more insightful.

    • meg

      Perhaps we should re-direct Mr. Savage to these delightful and articulate comments instead…. ;)

  • i think it’s important to remember that “it’s only cheating if it’s against the rules” (a phrase i got from my ex) – and everyone’s rules are different.

    in the interest of getting people to think about that a little more, me and my wife make a point of being really vague about our rules. we are, in fact, monogamous – though we have talked about it a lot, and are open to the idea that that could change someday. all other folks need to know is that i trust her. (and saying “i trust her” in response to questions on the matter seems to make everyone think we have an open relationship of some sort or another!)

    the trust is the crux of it to me, though. in my relationship i would view cheating as an epic communication failure, and, yes, possibly irreparable. also possibly recoverable, but…i guess the thing is – the idea of her having sex with someone else makes me *jealous.* the idea of her lying, hiding issues, or not wanting/being able to talk to me about something hard? makes me *sick.*

    i can’t really go down the “what would you do if she cheated?” road, because the things that would have to happen make it possible would signify such a sickening change in our relationship that i can’t entirely fathom it.

    mind, that is very particularly true of our relationship; i do not think it likely to be true of others’. it certainly wasn’t true of my previous relationship, in which being cheated on sucked, but didn’t really signify any change outside of itself (that is, i kind of knew what i was getting into, and, while it was a problem and created problems, we broke up for generally unrelated reasons and are still great friends. and now, as a bonus, i don’t care who she sleeps with =).

    • Kristin

      “It’s only cheating if it’s against the rules” Exactly.

      I have a very conservative friend who considers going to a strip club to be cheating. She’s found a partner who can respect that, and it works for them.

  • R.

    My fiance and I were nonmonogamous in an earlier, long-distance phase of our relationship. I was initially uncomfortable with the idea, but then embraced it wholeheartedly. I was surprised by how much I could enjoy having sex with someone else even though I was head-over-heels in love with my then-boyfriend, and how casual sex had no impact on my commitment and excitement about my relationship. I also found that the idea of my boyfriend having sex with someone else (still not sure whether he ever did, as we never talked about it) didn’t really trouble me, because I felt so secure in his love and commitment. In fact, it was a bit of a turn-on. When we moved to the same town, we became monogamous, which was what we needed at that point in our relationship.

    A few commenters have expressed discomfort with the idea that the partner who is more interested in nonmonogamy can pressure the other partner into it. I have observed relationships where that has happened, and it is definitely a problem to insist on non-monogamy when it wounds your partner. I never felt pressure to be non-monogamous — we agreed that if either of us felt uncomfortable with it at any point, we would stop — but I think a lot of my initial reluctance was due to internalizing societal norms, that if my partner really loved me he wouldn’t want anyone else. I now feel like our love and desire for each other is totally independent of our attraction to anyone else, whether we act on that attraction or not. So sometimes, when one partner wants non-monogamy more than the other, exploring it can end up being great for both partners and for the relationship.

    We are monogamous now but have an agreement similar to what others have mentioned — we would consider giving each other permission to have sex outside the relationship and much prefer that to cheating. I have a friend with a lot of experience with non-monogamy and polyamory who feels that opening up a relationship because one partner wants to sleep with a specific person can be destructive. Does anyone in non-monogamous relationships have a view on this?

    The part that intrigues me most is the idea of non-monogamy as an incentive to remember to be Good, Giving and Game. A lot of comments have focused on the “game” part, and I think we can agree that people should not feel pressured to perform sexual acts they’re uncomfortable with due to the threat of non-monogamy. But I have noticed my partner becoming less sexually giving as our relationship continues, from sheer laziness, although our sexual relationship is still very good. I’m not sure that i’m interested in non-monogamy right now (or would have much opportunity to practice it if I were) but I like the idea of having the theoretical possibility as a way to keep us focused on pleasing and exciting each other.

  • z

    The problem I have with the whole Dan Savage theory is that while monogamy may be an unrealistic aspiration, the same could be said about the level of honesty, trust and commitment necessary to make an open relationship work as well. They’re both totally, totally unrealistic!! So I think it kind of boils down to a prioritization of sexual wants or perceived needs over the emotional rewards and benefits of monogamy. It doesn’t strike me as especially persuasive.

    The thing I consider really problematic about open relationships is that I believe sex has a uniquely intense ability to draw people closer together. The same power that makes it so special for a married couple can draw someone towards their outside-the-marriage partner, even if it’s totally consensual when it starts. And once it goes too far emotionally, it’s really hard to reel it back in. I’ve certainly had relationships surprise me by moving from the “casual fling” category to the “serious emotional connection” category, and I think that’s how it really threatens the marriage. I can see, I guess, how it could also provide a safety valve, but it seems like playing with fire.

    • meg

      Ok, it’s just not true that the level of honesty, trust, and commitment necessary to make an open relationship work will is unrealistic. It may not be realistic for you or for me, but there are members of THIS community that do just that, and we should honor that.

      • z

        I mean it’s unrealistic as a generalized social expectation, in the same way that monogamy is a generalized expectation. And unrealistic for many of the people who attempt it, even in good faith.

    • Jessica

      Hi Z-
      I’m having some difficulty with your comments (this and those below), and I think it’s because I feel like you’re expanding your experiences and, perhaps, morals, to apply universally. I hear that you’re not comfortable with non-monogamy, for various reasons, and that’s totally fine. What makes me uncomfortable is the judgement I perceive in statements such as “I have to ask myself if the participants have really thought through what they’re doing,” which to me implies that no one who has thought through what they’re doing would make such choices.

      You receive “emotional rewards and benefits” from monogamy. That’s a wonderful thing. Others, however, may very well receive such rewards from non-monogamous relationships. Just because the risks associated with non-monogamy outweigh the benefits for you doesn’t mean that other people aren’t capable of formulating their own (equally valid!) risk/benefit analyses.

      • z

        Yes, I am aware that some people find non-monogamy incredibly fulfilling and worth whatever risks it entails. I don’t know what I ever said that suggested I don’t see that.

        If I thought that none of the people doing “travel doesn’t count” or “I don’t want to know” systems had thought it through, I would have just said so, but that’s probably not the case. I would have to assume that some people have thought it through, and have good reason to see it as acceptable or non-existent risk. What I mean to suggest, though, is that the thinking-it-through rate may fall short of 100%, because people seem so blase about the potential for an unlikely, but really really extremely difficult situation. It’s not the fact that they’re making these choices, per se, but the fact that the risk isn’t even being discussed. 160 comments with no mention of pregnancy does give the impression that it isn’t foremost in people’s minds. And has anyone stepped up to say “yes, I have considered how incredibly difficult it could be if my partner’s one-night-stand with an unknown person in a distant land resulted in a child and I’m completely fine with the risk?” Maybe there’s someone out there, but none of the people who talk about being ok with that sort of thing have said so thus far. So I think it’s a reasonable thing to question. Some people have poorly-thought-out sex sometimes, generally speaking, right?

        • L

          I guess what it seems like it comes down to is that you’re concerned with the potential (social?) disbenefits of people in non-monogamous relationships not thinking through their decisions fully enough. Now there’s a whole host of choices in life that I wish people thought over more carefully, including but not limited to:
          1. what car to drive
          2. what to do to earn money, and how to spend it
          3. who to marry (or whether to marry)
          4. when to buy a home
          5. what Christmas decorations to put on that home.
          I am terribly judgmental about all of these things in private, and I’m occasionally rather outspoken about some of them publicly (22-year-old me used to carry around a letter my friend had written about why SUVs suck and how the choice to drive one impacts the rest of society and I would leave a copy on the windshield of any Hummer that I walked by). But worrying about other people’s bad choices doesn’t get you very far. Efforts to reason with them (perhaps more subtly than my own on the SUV issue) might.
          You make a valid point that partner-sanctioned, heterosexual, vaginally-penetrative, extra-marital sex can result in unplanned-for pregnancies with complicated and perhaps painful outcomes. Counterpoint: Yup. As can extra-marital affairs that your partner doesn’t know about, or sex between a married couple who gets divorced a year later, or between a couple where one of them is terminally ill, or any number of other real-life situations. The answer is that all the normal rules about being a decent human being still apply. If the remainder of your argument is simply “But haven’t non-monogamous people THOUGHT about this??!!?”, then I assure you that – whether or not they’ve shared their personal conclusions on the matter here – they absolutely have. Having thought through what every other aspect of their relationship means and how to be true to it and to themselves, why wouldn’t they have considered this too?

          • z

            I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I find it preposterous to assert that all non-monogamous people have thought about unplanned pregnancy. You don’t know them all, so how could you know what they’ve thought about? Humanity’s track record on thinking things through isn’t exactly stellar, and I don’t know why non-monogamous people would be some kind of exception. Not all non-monogamous people are living up to, or even aware of, the set of “best practices” that have developed within the poly community, and it’s not fair or reasonable to pretend otherwise. Just like monogamous people, it’s possible to fall short of the ideal.

            I thought the pregnancy issue was a valid point to raise, especially because it really saddened me that all the proponents of non-monogamy on this thread hadn’t yet acknowledged it. Accusations of inappropriate “worrying” are often just a way of dismissing the issue or belittling the person bringing it up, and while maybe that’s not what you intended, that’s how it feels to me. I see my comments as an attempt to reason with people, as you suggest, and I think a lot of the responses were quite sensible, including yours. Why that’s “worrying” I don’t know.

            I’m going to work now, so it’s unlikely that I’ll comment further. Best wishes to you.

          • I am in an open relationship and I have thought about (and dealt with and made plans for and took precautions for….) the pregnancy issue. Just saying. We have to do a lot of thinking in open relationships because there aren’t a lot of scripts out there for us to follow.

    • i think the degree to which emotions and sex are tied together is highly personal. i’ve had plenty of sex that didn’t result in any further attachment. (though i do find it highly related within my relationship)

      • z

        That’s why I said it “can”, not it “always does.” But my point was more that it’s not necessarily possible to predict when and how that will happen, so… risk.

  • z

    My question for those who have tried (het) open relationships, and I’m a little sad in 160 comments nobody has bothered to bring this up, is the possibility of pregnancy outside the marriage. Is that something you have taken time to consider? How would the child be raised? Would you have to “come out” to your parents so that the child can know his or her grandparents? Or would you continue to keep it a secret, with all the lies that that would entail? How would it work financially? What kind of overall arrangement would be fair to the child, to your spouse(s), to your other children who would have a new half-sibling, etc.? It doesn’t seem like as much fun when you think about 18 years of child support.

    Of course, if you’ve found a 100% foolproof method of birth control, I’d love to hear about that too.

    • L

      Okay – good question. I’m the “improbably non-monogamous” poster below, so I might not be all that well qualified to answer this, but I’ll take a shot at it:
      It’s a risk. From one perspective, it’s not that different from the risk that I was taking when I wasn’t engaged and I had sex with people that I wasn’t planning to marry. The part that throws me for a loop is the idea that someone ELSE could get pregnant and then it’s not my decision to make about what happens next (thinking about this also gives me a lot more sympathy for male dilemmas that my younger self would have laughed off). It would be complicated, and messy, and very situationally-dependent. But coming from a pretty complicated family structure in the first place, it feels like something that I would be equipped to deal with, so it’s a risk that I could accept.

    • meg

      I think most people do consider this. You might well have an agreement that you wouldn’t carry that pregnancy to term. Or maybe you would, and you’d raise them with a more extended family. Because here is the thing: families look a whole hell of a lot of different ways, and kids with more parents to love them are lucky kids.

      And lots of non-monogamous couples are already out to their families, for the record.

      • z

        Obviously some people are out. But bringing a child into that kind of complexity is a lot more problematic than just saying yay, more people to love them. It’s not something that the child has a choice about, and I don’t think it should be taken lightly, especially if you are planning to make the choice to deceive people about it in any way. Even if they grow up to be okay with it, and there’s no guarantee that they will, it’s difficult for a child and especially an adolescent to grow up being so outside the norm. If the whole ethical rationale turns on the consent of all who are significantly affected, I think it breaks down when it’s imposed on a child. How can one evaluate what will be a good enough quality of life for the potential child to justify whatever benefits an open marriage is thought to provide?

        • L

          Having and raising children should never be taken lightly, and the consent that is needed here is between the adults in the relationship. And careful – the same arguments you are making could be used to justify why gay and lesbian couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt…

        • Jessica

          Is it possible that growing up in a family that doesn’t fit the “perfect” mother/father-2.5-children-and-a-dog mold might cause occasional difficulty for a child? Perhaps. Meg’s point above is exactly right, though; families come in all sorts of configurations, and no children get to “consent” to the family they’re born into. You could replace your argument with any perceived variation from the “ideal,” and say that no children should have to be born into such a family. The implications of this line of logic are frightening.

          • z

            I’m thinking about things like not knowing who your real father is, or being lied to all your life about your family, or having your grandparents not acknowledge you. Or finding out as a teenager that the people you trusted have been lying to you. Or feeling like you have to keep your family situation a secret. Or being raised apart from your (half)siblings. Or feeling like your existence is tying together people who would much prefer to be apart. Or the exponential complexity of all the feelings and relationships of however-many parental figures being a huge pain for your whole life. It’s easy to say “we’ll be able to handle it, we’ll all get along nicely for the rest of the kid’s life” but I don’t think anyone can guarantee that it will work out that way. Sure, I acknowledge it does end up being manageable for some people. But I still think one of the real down-sides to an open marriage, or to greater tolerance for cheating, is that this kind of complicated situation is more likely to develop.

            I think some difficult situations for children are justified. I think gay and lesbian parenting is fine, and was always fine even when it’s unusual, because it’s very important that gay people be able to have families. I don’t place the same level of importance on open relationships. Aren’t there any situations you would say aren’t fair to a child? How do you know where to draw the line?

          • L

            I think it bears repeating here that a key aspect to most non-monogamous relationships – or at least most of the ones that people have discussed here today – is a pretty high standard of honesty.

          • z

            Well, sort of. Isn’t the discussion also premised on the idea that people often fall short of ideals of honesty or monogamy? And honesty doesn’t magic away all interpersonal and financial difficulties. What about the folks on this thread who are not out to their families. Is it ethical to risk a pregnancy knowing that the child would not be allowed to know its extended family? Or are folks planning to fully come out if necessary?

            I also really don’t get it when it comes to “I don’t want to know” or “only while traveling” open relationships. Blanket consent to a potential co-parenting relationship with someone you don’t even get to meet or have any voice in selecting? Or with someone neither partner knows well at all? Oy. I realize that pregnancy is pretty unlikely with proper precautions, but I still feel like it’s a serious enough consequence that it’s important to talk about. When I see that sort of thing, I have to ask myself if the participants have really thought through what they’re doing. Because ethics aside, it really doesn’t sound like fun.

          • “it’s very important that gay people be able to have families. I don’t place the same level of importance on open relationships.” Whoa, Z. That’s totally not fair. There are a lot of people in open relationship who want to have kids and I don’t see why it would be a problem. Some kids are going to raised outside the norm and THAT’S OK. They WILL be fine. As long as kids have a happy, positive, loving home, the situation shouldn’t matter.

          • meg

            Lets just say you and I have very different definitions of family. I define family as people who love each other. For you, families clearly need to pass a test of something you find acceptable. Let’s just say we differ on this a lot.

            Also, I’ve known plenty of kids of open relationships. They were just as fine/ and or screwed up as the rest of us. They were normal, and possibly a little more tolerant, and able to honor love wherever it occurs.


          • Z- Sorry, just checking. So does the fact that my father left when I was 3 years old and I don’t know him at all make me a huge hot mess? Because I was raised by my amazing mother and her incredible parents, and I feel lucky because of that, but now I get the impression that I should be disturbed for life. He might or might now have several other children my age who are my half-siblings (because he was cheating on my mother, who he was married to at the time) but I don’t feel particularly messed up by that. But maybe I should?

        • myrna

          You said:
          I’m thinking about things like not knowing who your real father is, or being lied to all your life about your family…Or finding out as a teenager that the people you trusted have been lying to you. Or feeling like you have to keep your family situation a secret.

          Every single one of these things could be said to apply to me. I would not change a single thing about my life or childhood or birth-circumstances. You might not want to cast judgement on something you have not experienced.

          And please, please do not talk about “real” parents (which carries the implication that others are “fake” parents). It’s incredibly hurtful.

          • meg

            Correct. The “real” parents language is hateful and hurtful, and can’t happen on APW forums.

    • Dealing with the possibility of pregnancy, just like the possibility of an STD, is something you (hopefully) talk about beforehand (the Poly Mantra is “Communicate, Communicate, Communicate”); back when this was a possibility for us, we had plans A-C for dealing with it, which varied a lot depending on who the potential other parent(s) were and their issues/preferences.

      And while no birth control is 100% fool-proof, vasectomies and tubal ligation plus condoms is a pretty comfortable place to be. (Obviously, only an option once you know you don’t want to have any/any more children.) Before that, in cases where it would be a huge problem (instead of merely a challenge) taking intercourse off the sexual menu was an option that came up. But mostly, with reasonable safer sex agreements in place and stuck to, it was a contingency we had plans for, but wasn’t more worrying than other possible problems like STDs or emotional issues, especially as it was less likely.

    • i don’t exactly see how its being an open relationship changes things. that is, heterosexual sex pretty much always (with some medical exceptions) admits the possibility of pregnancy, and people have sex all the time, in all sorts of stupid and/or wonderful circumstances.

      of course, sleeping with girls is awesome birth control. quite honestly, though, it is one of the reasons i don’t have sex with men. not a risk i’m willing to take no matter what my relationship status is. and that is something everyone can evaluate for themselves.

    • calumnia

      Hi Z, don’t forget that some of us non-monogamous folks are having non-heterosexual sex. Which has a zero risk of pregnancy.

      • Anon

        And some of us are having heterosexual sex that carries a risk of pregnancy only with our primary partners, and heterosexual sex that doesn’t with our other partners.

  • L

    I’m in a monogamous relationship and we’re getting married in a couple months. I’ve never cheated on him sexually, but I sure spent six months or more being wholly, and mutually, infatuated with someone else. This other relationship was thrilling in the way that being newly in love always is, but I was also sorta miserable the whole time – it felt like holding my hand right over a flame and just seeing how long I could take it. I didn’t trust myself to make any decisions that made any sense at the time, so I just kinda held tight and didn’t do anything. Or – from another perspective – I guess I used every ounce of will I had to not have an “accidental” affair, because that’s what choice-making humans do. And then the whole thing fizzled out, and after a little while I realized that I was still in love with my boyfriend, who had known some-but-not-all of what was going on in my head that whole time and had stuck with me through it. He was sad about it, but he didn’t blame me for it. But if I had been less honest when he asked me the things that he did ask me about it, I don’t think we would have worked things out. And if I’d had to answer that I’d slept with someone else, I don’t know what would have happened, because we’d never gamed that one out ahead of time.
    We got engaged pretty soon after we figured out that we were still a couple and still in love. And then I was terrified because it hit me that – as happy as I am in a monogamous relationship right now and as little as I feel like looking for sex anywhere but at home – I really didn’t know if this other thing would ever happen to me again. Or even worse from my perspective, if it would happen to him. And I realized that if it did happen to him, I would be sad, but I wouldn’t be any more sad if he slept with the other person than if he had feelings and thoughts about that person coursing through his head and heart and blood and what-have-you. And, most likely the latter would only be more intense for resisting the former. And I also realized that I wouldn’t have felt any more guilty or any more confused if I had consummated my own affair, but I certainly would have enjoyed myself more. And more importantly, if I’d had a category other than “affair” to put this in, maybe it wouldn’t have created as much distance between me and my boyfriend.
    So now we have talked about it all, and I guess maybe I’m in the theoretically non-monogamous camp (is there a category to suggest even more distance from the likelihood of extra-relationship sex actually happening – maybe “improbably non-monogamous”?) because I can’t stand the idea of having that much of my thoughts and feelings to hide from him ever again. And I think this really only works in my head because I really trust the promise that we are going to make to each other to stay together our whole lives.

  • You know, I thought about this all day today, and I think I figured out what bothers me about any sort of generalized, “Cheating is/isn’t the end of the world” statement: combining two people of ANY experience level results in completely unique sensitivities and boundaries. It’s not fair to say you should always consider working it out/leaving/whatever because the slightest change in experience results in a different phenotype.

    I met my husband very young and ended up (totally accidentally by the way) marrying the first person I slept with. Same for him.

    So if one of us were to cheat, it would completely and totally change our playing field. Physically change our relationship. If we were both more experienced, one slip up wouldn’t make as much of a difference, perhaps. Sometimes I wish we had met each other a little later so maybe we didn’t do the whole accidentally pure for marriage thing and we both wouldn’t have such strict views about non-resident hanky panky, but you know what? Sometimes good shit happens and you get a partner when you’re mainly interested in skanking it up at tech school since the rubes in Oklahoma didn’t give you the time of– I’m getting sidetracked.

    On the other hand we ogle other men and women openly, whereas I could be a former crotch hound with a change of heart and hearing my spouse talk about some lady’s chest pillows at the mall might not illicit my current response (“Let’s go home and take our pants off!”) but rather a wave of stale emotions (ew).

  • Arya

    You know, this one is difficult for me, but if my soon-to-be husband cheated on me, I would not forgive him. It would be the end of our marriage and our relationship. Why? Because I already forgave him once. It took a couple of years and a lot of hard work for me to trust him again, and I think I was only able to because we were in a rough patch at the time and he did not sleep with the girl. Part of my ability to forgive him came from his promise that it would never happen again. If it did, it would shatter all of the healed layers of trust it’s taken us the last four years to build, and our relationship would be over.

    It’s ugly to admit, but that’s how it is. Cheat on me once? Shame on you. Cheat on me twice? Shame on me.

    • meg

      Well, I think that’s more than fair. Also, it’s pretty clearly communicated, so there is that.

  • Leigh Ann

    This is a conversation O and I have had many times, and something about which my views are evolving. I used to be in the “If you cheat, I leave” camp. But I’m not even married to O yet and already I know I wouldn’t give up everything we have together for THAT. Thanks for this.

  • We’ve had this conversation, my new husband and I, long ago. And we disagree. If he physically cheated on me, I am rather certain I would forgive him and stay together. He is rather certain that he could forgive me, but not stay together.

    But if he emotionally cheated on me, I think I’d have a harder time of keeping together. The full disclosure here is that I emotionally cheated on my last husband with this one: It was my signal to myself that my marriage was over. When I found myself in love with another man, I also found my eyes opened to the abusive marriage I’d been living in, and finally had the strength to leave.

    And I think it’s ok for us to not feel the same way about it: we have our expectations and understandings. I doubt the situation will ever come up because we respect each other’s positions. If either of us ever DID break those boundaries, I think it would be less the “cheating” that was the problem, but the fact that respect would have been lost between us. That would be much more damning to our marriage than a fling.

  • Dear

    *Tiptoeing on eggshells*
    I’m clearly in the minority here(from what I’ve read), but the thought of “casual sex” is just alien to me. When you’re intimate with someone, that’s the closest you can ever be physically to someone, and I feel that opens up a connection, especially during afterglow. I can’t imagine sharing that with someone else, or shutting off my feelings just for physical pleasure.That isn’t to say I’m against non-monogamy, as my best friend has two partners. I’m more than fine with someone loving more than one person.
    But just giving permission to your spouse to have sex with other people, and him giving you permission to do the same signals(for me) something is wrong in the relationship. Why are you getting your physical needs from someone else? What makes them so easily replaceable(sex-wise)? I spoke to my partner about this and we agreed that we couldn’t continue a relationship if either of us wanted these things from someone else. There’s a feeling or not being wanted(or dare I say, special?) if someone else can fill that space.
    If that’s fine for you and your relationship and you’re both happy, then it’s all good. :) It just will never be okay in mine and I’m so glad we talked about it and we’re on the same page. Communication and trust is the foundation to any relationship, afterall.

  • Tessa

    My partner and I are a monogamous couple, and I talked with him a while ago about what we would do if the other cheated. At first he said it was a deal-breaker, and I was a little worried he would take my view the wrong way. If my partner were to cheat, it would not necessarily be a deal breaker for me. It would depend on how he cheated (one-night stand vs. full-blown affair), if he came clean, how he came clean, all those issues. At first he thought it was weird that I viewed cheating in that way, but (after years of being together) he recently told me that he agrees with me now. He said that he would rather consider the options than automatically lose me altogether without another thought, which is exactly how I feel.
    I would want to know if he had a one-night stand, though. We both agreed to be monogamous, and I feel like if he breaks that commitment, while I wouldn’t necessarily break everything off, I have a right to know about it. I wouldn’t want to be kept in the dark and purposefully deceived about something that’s important to both of us. It’s a trust thing; I need to know that I can trust him to keep commitments and, if he does break them, discuss it with me so we can work through it together, because we are ultimately a team.
    As far as non-monogamy goes, I am all for it if it is consensual and right for the people involved. My partner and I play around with the idea sometimes. Right now we are not in a place where we feel comfortable with it in our relationship and have chosen to be monogamous, but we are open to it. After all, who knows how we will feel 20 years from now?

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