The Case for Non-Monogamous Relationships

The monopoly of monogamy

Consider the following arrangement: a provider proposes to deliver a service that is of huge value to you. Once you enter into the deal, you are never to source it from anywhere else. In fact, you are forbidden even from sampling a competitor’s offering; if you do, the contract will be terminated at a potentially great cost.

Would you be willing to enter into such an arrangement with a hairdresser? A utility company? A medical provider? The exclusivity clause would likely raise a red flag to most people: if the provider is so certain of the superiority of their services, why prevent you from shopping around?

For something that they would be unwilling to tolerate in any other area of life, most people are surprisingly ready to accept in romantic relationships. Why?

Having government out of your bedroom is historically recent

Throughout history, the repression of adultery has been vicious. Abrahamic religions considered extra-marital sex to be morally reprehensible to the degree that it necessitated a violent punishment, with penalties ranging from imprisonment, genital mutilation, flogging and torture to death. The latter included stoning, strangulation or, in the case of the Aaronic priestly caste in Judaism, pouring molten lead down the throat. In Scandinavia, the death penalty for adultery was upheld until the 17th century.

In Europe, the legal repression of adultery was on the books until 1969 (Italy), France (1975), Belgium (1987) and Austria only until (1997). This is still fairly progressive in comparison to the United States, where adultery was only made legal in West Virginia in 2010, Colorado in 2013 and New Hampshire in 2014.

The reasons for monogamy are obsolete

Why the fuss? Historically, the role of monogamy was to ensure parentage and lay foundation to property and heritage rights, codified in a legal arrangement known as marriage. With the advent of contraceptives and women’s legal status now equal to men, the original reasons for advocating monogamy have been obsolete for more than half a century.

A view that prevails and continues to prop monogamy’s elevated status among all other relationship arrangements is that it is somehow “better”. A 2012 paper found statistically significant stigma attached to non-monogamous relationships, with participants rating them as having a lower relationship quality across all metrics, while monogamous relationships enjoyed a “halo effect” on the study’s participants.

As libertarians, we know this view is nothing but personal preference and recognize that any arrangement entered into by consenting adults is of equal ethical status. We should therefore also reject the view that only monogamous relationships are respectable.

The alternatives to monogamy

In fact, demanding monogamy might be doing more harm than good by placing a strain on relationship and setting expectations that run contrary to our nature. Monogamy is strikingly uncommon in the animal world, and – it seems – in the human world, too. With divorce rates around 50 percent and the vast majority of people having multiple sexual partners in their lifetime, serial monogamy is closer to describing the currently prevalent relationship arrangement in the Western society.

Taking it a step further, polyamory, polyfidelity, or open marriages are just some of the alternative approaches to romantic relationships, giving expression to people’s non-monogamous tendencies by allowing them to have more than one romantic partner at the same time.

Research of these partnership is young, though they do appear to be more common than expected; census data recently shows that more than 1 in 5 US adults have engaged in consensual non-monogamous relationships in their lifetime. In her book “The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families“, a leading polyamory researcher Elisabeth Sheff found that consensual non-monogamous relationships had a higher trust and lower jealousy issues.

Monogamy is Monopolistic

If we believe that competition is the lifeblood of a free market economy, the same logic should extend to the realm of relationships. After all, a healthy relationship means the parties involved are traders, giving and taking in a manner that benefits them both. In this context, imposing a monopolistic claim on the other person’s love or lust is an unnecessary limitation.

So… should we cheat?

The limitation is felt to the extreme in our culture’s obsession with cheating: we dedicate apps, websites, TV shows, and juicy tabloid headlines to it. Tracking a partner’s phone or even putting their fidelity to a test via a hired temptress has become a profitable enterprise, with relationships getting torn apart simply for the suspicion of cheating, nourishing the hunger of bystanders ready to devour the drama dripping from the story – all in the name of a glorified view of monogamy.

Consensual non-monogamy, on the other hand, promotes an open dialogue about the romantic preferences of each individual, and the respect for the wishes and limits of each side. It doesn’t advocate having your cake and eating it in every instance, and certainly doesn’t promote promiscuity just for the sake of it.

No one size fits all approach

There is hardly a one-size-fits-all approach to relationships, and each arrangement comes with a unique set of challenges. The least we can do for ourselves is recognize that there is no reason for us to uphold an ancient standard “just because”, and open our mind to alternatives.


This article was first published by Freedom Today.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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