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We all “know” that women aren’t good at casual sex, “only” have affairs for love, are biologically disinterested in sex, and that, more so than men, “need” and thrive in a monogamous relationship.

Maybe that’s been your experience, maybe not. Maybe you believe it, maybe you don’t. But have you ever questioned if this is just what women are told to believe is the truth, and thus internalize that message? 

I will admit that for many years I believed it even though my lived experience proved otherwise.

When I look back on my romantic/
sexual life, I realize I have been a serial monogamist, which may mean I’ve been pretty good at monogamy (minus one episode of cheating decades ago) or pretty bad at it if we’re talking lifelong monogamy (and making longevity the only way we measure a relationship’s success really disturbs me).

I’d agree with the latter if I didn’t see a familiar pattern in the majority of the women I know, which would seem to suggest that lifelong monogamy just may not be a gal’s thing (and many argue it’s not a guy’s thing, either). And I may have some research on my side.

Few benefits to monogamy

According to a recent study, “Does Monogamy Harm Women? Deconstructing Monogamy with a Feminist Lens,” there’s really nothing about monogamy that works for women sexually (although having a partner around to help raise the kids may be desirable):

  • For a large number of women diagnosed with Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, the loss of desire and sexual fantasies is often the result of mismatched sexual desire between monogamous partners, not just her problem
  • Womens desire fades faster than men’s in long-term monogamous romantic relationships
  • Women have a greater need than men for novelty in order to maintain sexual arousal; without it, their sexual arousal is likely to diminish
  • Women are more likely to suffer for their male partner’s jealousy, including domestic violence and sexual assault

Despite that, the study authors — who suggest polyamory may provide more benefits for women, including sexual satisfaction, agency and gender role flexibility — illustrate why many women still opt for monogamy:

From a sociocultural perspective, women are lead to believe that their successes are a result of their romances, and thus can only be accessed through their relations with men. … Not only are women socialized to believe that marriage is an important lifetime achievement, but we argue that women are also taught that their identity as a woman is dependent on their ability to fulfill these relational roles. Thus, by not engaging in traditional monogamous relationships, women fail to fulfill essential components of their womanly role.
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Well, crap.

I didn’t really understand the impact of monogamy on women until I divorced at midlife, when I already had fulfilled certain womanly roles, like being a wife and mom. What womanly roles are appropriate for me now? The only new role I’m looking forward to taking on one day — not too soon!! — is being a grandma, but that’s out of my control.

Women get bad messages

In an entertaining and provocatively titled TEDx talk, “Your Mother is Not a Whore” (watch it below) economics professor Marina Adshade, author of Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex, debunks the myth that women can’t have sex just for pleasure, or because they want something in exchange, and bemoans the fact that women are “shamed for behaving in a way that society believes is contrary to their nature.”

Which sounds a lot like what Daniel Bergner writes about in his book What Do Women Want? (read this book. Really!) Women are not better suited to monogamy than men are, he says. Except society has long repressed female sexuality — after all, who had to wear chastity belts? — which has twisted the way we view women’s desires and sexuality. Sadly, many women have bought into that myth as well.

In an article I wrote for the Washington Post’s Solo-ish section, I spoke to a few sexuality experts about what happens to a middle-aged woman’s sexuality once she divorces. Their answers were quite revealing, but nothing that I, and others, haven’t experienced for ourselves — quite honestly, our sexuality gets kick-started.

Sex therapist and author Tammy Nelson told me that of the “sexless marriage” couples who see her, she questions if it’s “really low desire or relationship issues.”

Married couples often stop being flirty and playful with each other, says Stella Resnick, a clinical psychologist, sex therapist and author; that is a sexual killer for women.

“In a lot of middle-aged marriages, sex has become victim to whatever the relationship’s issues are,” says sexologist and author Pepper Schwartz, AARP’s relationship expert. “They’re not necessarily tumultuous, but often they’ve lost their vitality and the sexual urge is lost.”

Long-term monogamy is good for women? Perhaps not …

Many women actually enjoy sex, so perhaps it’s time for us to question whether lifelong monogamy — or monogamy at all — is really what we want. Yes, I have chosen monogamy, serial monogamy, but now it’s with a twist. Like a growing number of couples, I live apart from my partner, which studies say gives us — especially, women — the commitment we may want and the novelty we women need.

What about you?

Want to explore an open marriage? Learn how by ordering The New I Do:Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.



4 Responses to “Is monogamy good for women?”

  1. Odysseus says:

    Drivel like this study is really harmful to women. At least two flaws leap out.

    First, this writer makes the basic, and solipsistic, mistake of confusing her own experience and a few anecdotes with a widespread study. Furthermore, any “study” which says that is is through “a feminist lens” as opposed to a study simply trying to understand, or gain knowledge, is simply a result in search of a theory. The study also completely denies female agency.

  2. blurkel says:

    Women incresingly declare that men aren’t meeting the needs of women. Since there is really only one thing a man MUST do for women (i.e., make her a mother), who would begrudge her for getting her other needs met by other people? Especially from other women? Just because the government isn’t involved in creating a domestic corporation for economic purposes doesn’t make whatever arrangement evolves from these needs evil.

    Frainly, as a man, I would welcome women taking responsibility for their own needs and stop expecting men to meet each and every one. We are never going to be your gay male girlfriend who performs PIV sex once a month! So stop expecting it from us!

  3. teter says:

    she asked:

    is monogamy good for women?

    no, so dont complain when your man is not monogamous

  4. PJay says:

    It’s always amusing to read into crappy social science surveys/pseudoscience, then see them validated as long as they fit a prevailing social narrative.

    If a survey showed men were unhappy, would anyone care? Probably not.

    And men who don’t get enough sex during marriage, or validation or happiness during marriage? Well….what’s wrong with them. They must be sex addicts or whiners or suffering from “toxic masculinity”.

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