Does Flexibility Stabilize Marriage? Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 7 2011 @ 9:33am

by Chris Bodenner

Dan Savage says it does:

Douthat responds to Dan's latest salvo:

Savage makes a big deal out of how “unnatural” monogamy is for human beings (complete with references to the recent book “Sex at Dawn” and other arguments in that vein), and as I’ve said before I completely agree with him. The ideal of monogamy is a fragile achievement of civilized life, not something that’s written in our glands and genes. But Savage doesn’t have the courage of his convictions: He wants to use evidence from human pre-history to argue against the plausibility and practicality of the monogamous ideal, but he would never dream of actually arguing for a return to the “natural” state of human sexual relations, with all that it entails in terms of polygamy, sexual violence and the subjugation of women.

His broader point:

By stripping away any common definition of the proper relationship between sex and marriage, and asking every couple to essentially rebuild the institution from the ground up, [Savage] would end up piling far more weight on the marital unit than any individual relationship can be reasonably expected to bear.

Eve Tushnet jumps into the debate. A Dish reader echoes one of her main points:

I cannot help but note that in the Oppenheimer article and the comments by Savage and others there is barely an acknowledgement of the procreative consequences of sexual activity. But it is precisely that element that makes "sexual flexibility" (or "infidelity") a non-starter in our society.

Typically, we assume a married man and woman will be sexually exclusive. If the woman has a child by a man not her husband, her husband is assumed as the father of the child, unless it is proved otherwise. If a man has a child by a woman not his wife, he will usually – nowadays – be called to account, in terms of child support and so forth. It is these consequences – not something as ultimately trivial as jealousy or hurt feelings – that make the broad acceptance of "sexual flexibility" insupportable.

Sexual infidelity may satisfy cravings for variety or as a pressure release. However, it can also have the consequence of creating lives that need to be cared for outside of the recognized family unit, viz. the marriage. That is precisely the reason sexual infidelity is no longer winked at. This is the point that has to be discussed.

And of course there's the far likelier risk of passing on a sexually transmitted disease to one's husband or wife, especially given that pregnancy is a non-issue for gay and lesbian extra-marital sex.