Monday, October 18, 2004

Monogamy vs. infidelity  

A link in Saturday's post (to the excellent Marriages Restored site) prompted one commenter to ask, "All this infidelity talk (your first link), doesn't it suggest that monogamy is not in man's nature?" It's a good question, and also leads one to ask, "Does marriage as an institution have any value at all?" Nearly all men, even men committed to a single spouse, have experienced sexual desire for more than one person. (I use the word "nearly" in a perfunctory manner. It's theoretically possible that a man at some point in human history had sexual desire for one and only one woman, but I'm not personally aware of any such man's existence.) Nearly all men are adulterers at heart. I think that's one point on which everyone can agree.

But does it follow, then, that monogamy is not in man's nature? It depends on what you mean, I suppose. A literalist would say that anything that occurs in nature is by definition natural. I'm not a zoologist, but I think there are monogamous species in nature (especially among birds, but also among mammals), and I know for a fact that there have been plenty of men who have remained faithful to one woman for an entire lifetime. But I don't think that's what the question is getting at. In fact, the question "Is monogamy in man's nature" is for the most part rhetorical, with its real point being the implication that men in general desire multiple sexual partners and ought to be able to fulfill that desire without all the judgment and moralizing they would get from religious types.

So why do I celebrate monogamy? Because monogamy is about more than sex, and it is the only condition in which a man can be truly sexually satisfied. I think a man must have an emotional, psychological, and (most importantly) spiritual bond with a woman in order for the physical bond to have its full impact. Without those in place, the benefit of sex is nothing more than physical pleasure, which is over as soon as the act is finished. But with those bonds in place, sex is the tactile, bodily expression of love, and the benefits of that go well beyond the physical pleasure. However, the physical pleasure of sex is so intense that it can overwhelm a relationship that doesn't have the other bonds in place, and it can seriously distract a man (or woman, for that matter) from whatever else is going on in his life. Physical pleasure based on nothing more substantial than itself only leads to longing for more pleasure, and there's nothing satisfying about that. Promiscuity, a lifestyle based on pleasure, hinders creation of the other more fundamental bonds and actually prevents sexual satisfaction.

That's part of why I believe every man should devote himself to only one woman, and do so for a lifetime. My other reasons are spiritual and basically boil down to "Monogamy is what God always intended for us." But that's for another post.