Is Monogamy Far Too Normalised?
Sayandeep observes that the debate whether Monogamy is ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ to humans is an age old one. But besides this argument over human biology, it is very evident that Monogamy is surely the ‘norm’ in most of the societies on the planet. But where does this social construction really come from? How does the expectation of having ‘the one’ in life tighten up so fast? Well, in this tight social construction, the question of the state of mental health of those involved in non-monogamous or polyamourous relationships arises. Surely, it is not easy to defy norms. Also, how does the practice of infidelity relate to the concept of Monogamy? Is infidelity a result of a far too normalised understanding of Monogamy by society?
Monogamy, in the simplest way, can be defined as ‘the practice of having a sexual or marital relationship with only one partner.’ The time frame, again varies culturally. In certain societies, one is expected to be married to only a single person for a lifetime. In other societies which expect Monogamy, one is required to be with a single partner at a time, at least. There are institutions in society which crystallize the practice of Monogamy, the primary one being Marriage. Divorce is another institution which concludes periodical monogamy. But, before we go on to the role of social institutions in this field, let’s understand what science has to say about monogamy. A report published in CNN said that monogamy has been a fairly recent norm within humans. It also suggested that ‘modern monogamous culture’ in humans is just about 1000 years old. ‘Vox’ – an American news and opinion platform says that, by studying some of the closest primates to Humans such as the Chimpanzees and the Bonobos, we shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that Humans might have evolved to be Non-Monogamous as well. This does not suggest that Monogamy is totally ‘unnatural’. Well, maybe over time, there has been a sequence of adaptations to this norm. But the sure thing is, Monogamy is far more ‘constructed’ than we expect it to be. Then, how did this practice get socially constructed? Well, let’s move back to the institution of marriage. Anthropological studies reveal that marriage as a concept was ‘invented’ for various purposes, some of them being land ownership, acquiring property rights, establishment of Kinship and to form Treaties and Alliances. And hence, a man and a woman, in a universal heteronormative culture, were expected to ‘bond over’ through this institution. Surely, the rigid construction of a ‘lifetime partner’ is something which does not appeal to everybody’s preferences.
Source: Liberal Dictionary
Fidelity and Infidelity
How does one view the practice of Fidelity and Infidelity in society? Surely, through a primary lens of ethics and morals. And how do these concepts relate to Monogamy? Let us look at the statistics of Infidelity. According to the ‘Journal of Marital and Family therapy’, 57% of men have admitted to committing infidelity at some point in their lives. Also, 54% of women admit to committing infidelity at some point in their lives. This data takes account of both marital and non marital relationships. According to an article published in the ‘Mint’, about 55% married Indians have cheated on their spouses. These are fairly high numbers. Technology contributes to infidelity a lot, in societies today. So, we get a rough idea that, in modern cultures, infidelity rates are high. But what causes this? It can be the fact that marriage is highly expected out of people in societies today. Especially for women, there is an enormous pressure to be ‘married off’ soon. Some individuals do not even have the capability to choose their own spouses. And with most marriages, comes the idea of ‘commitment’ to one’s monogamous partner. Now, these decisions are not necessarily voluntary by individuals, but rather a result of a soaring societal pressure. Also, the concept of Monogamy in today’s society has become so normalised that it is difficult to even think of something alternative to that. Now, I am not putting on the lense of ethics while explaining infidelity or trying to justify anything. Rather, I am just putting out the possible results and derivations out of a largely constructed society. It is a common notion that men are far more likely to cheat on their partners, than women. This piece of knowledge is largely normalised in society through practice as well. For example, if a man cheats on his spouse, it is often deemed that the man is just ‘being a man’. On the other hand, if a woman cheats on her spouse, it is taken as morally ‘unacceptable’. There exists severe power imbalances between the genders when viewing adultery. On 27th September, 2018, Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code which essentially dealt with adultery was taken off. This section discriminatorily normalised adultery committed by a man but criminalized adultery committed by a woman, in a marital relationship.
Source : Metro, UK
CONCLUSION : Polyamory and Mental Health
Let’s start off with the definition of polyamory first. According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘Polyamory is the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved’. In this world where marriage and monogamy is the most ‘normal’ phenomenon, how does Polyamory find a place? There are a lot of misconceptions and preconceptions about polyamory. For example, ‘Polyamory is only practiced when one is dissatisfied with their monogamous partner’, and a lot more. These conceptions provide a bad light to this practice. Since we are talking about ‘Positive Sexual Health’, let’s talk about the aspect of Mental Health among people who do not want to engage in Monogamous relationships. Society has such binding norms regarding marriage and monogamy that in a lot of individuals, it regressively affects their sexual health. A lot of individuals engaging in polyamory have to keep their relationship status discreet, or they might meet with serious adversity. This can seriously deteriorate one’s sense of existence and who they are. Their relationships also might begin to seem as ‘meaningless’. These are the concerns of a society which doesn’t respect an individual’s consensual choice. An individual’s own decision in the kind of relationships they want to be in and one’s own understanding of his/her/their sexuality is crucial for well being. There’s nothing wrong with someone willing to engage in Monogamy. But also, there’s a need to understand that consensual non-monogamous relationships are also a matter of effective choice. Till then, we need to keep trying to make this world a sexually safe, non toxic and a liberating place!