The Monogamy Gap

I went to a talk by one Eric Anderson, a sociologist from the US who currently works and presumably also teaches at the University of Winchester, last week. He recently published The Monogamy Gap, an overpriced but seemingly fairly thorough look at cheating in the digital age.

I’ve written briefly about monogamy once before here, and I’m really interested in non-monogamous relationships (by which I mean I’m interested in the theories and writings behind them, as well as being interested in actually having one), so when I heard that that was going to be the topic of his talk I got quite excited. The talk itself was really good, Anderson is a very engaging speaker and he made a lot of valid points that it had never occurred to me to consider before; just things that would have been good to write about last time round.

The first thing was the difficulty in defining “cheating”. I wrote about that in my last post on monogamy too, or rather I stole a quotation from Shazzie about it, and in true patter bandit style, I’m going to badly paraphrase what Anderson said here; say you’re in a monogamous relationship and you’re in bed or on the couch with a friend, and you get horny so you start to masturbate and so does your friend. You don’t touch each other or interact with each other; it’s the same as it would be if you were both alone, except you’re not. Is that cheating?

So let’s say that you’re on chatroulette or whatever other site and you see a hot person and you masturbate over webcam for each other; does that count as cheating?

What if you were on chatroulette and came across that same hot person, but instead of masturbating while they were, you recorded the feed (I don’t know if that’s the word for it or if you can even do that, whatever, you know what I mean) and watched it back later? Does that count as cheating? What’s the difference between that and porn? Is masturbating to porn cheating? The lines are so blurred these days, we’ve never had so much access to sex as we have in the last ten years, and it’s getting easier all the time.

Another of these was the reason as to why cheating in monogamous relationships is so widespread (that’s a funny way of phrasing it, “cheating in monogamous relationships” – obviously it’s a monogamous relationship you’re cheating in, it’s hard to cheat in an open one. Shut up Dexxx). What am I talking about? Oh yeah, cheating. Humans, reasons Anderson, get bored through repeated exposure to the same stimulus. You don’t watch the same episode of Friends over and over again; you might have the odd episode that you really like and will gladly watch now and again, but overall you want new episodes that you’re less familiar with. Ditto with sex – if you’re with the same partner for a while you’re going to get bored!

But why should a declining lack of sexual desire for a partner with whom you’re otherwise very much in love lead to the end of your relationship? Anderson’s argument was that it needn’t necessarily do so, and I tend to agree with him. You can have your cake and eat it, essentially; as long as you’re not hurting anyone you’re not doing anything wrong!

I’m not really sure whether there was an actual point to this blog; just a few more thoughts to consider. Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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  1. #1 by kittymama on March 11, 2012 - 10:49 pm

    i define cheating like this.
    if it feels good, and you don’t want your partner to know, it’s cheating. end of.
    everyones limits and feelings are different but if you’re in a relationship with someone, you tend to know what they are. therefore if you don’t tell them something it’s because you know they would think it was cheating. btw, i know us women are mainly blamed for having some “wacky rules” as to what is cheating and what is not, but straight men have some serious double standards in that field!

  2. #2 by Shoogle on March 12, 2012 - 7:00 pm

    I thought it was fascinating and I agreed with him on many points. However like so many things in (my) life I have different “standards” for myself than I do for others. E.g. My first and only casual sex experience made me feel guilty, despite wanting to do it and despite the fact that I’d NEVER judge someone else for doing it (in fact I’d be more inclined to be envious). Equally I think open relationships sounds great on paper and for other people, but I don’t think that I could ever do it.

  3. #3 by a linguist on March 12, 2012 - 8:03 pm

    Good thinking, Dex, both by you and Mr. Anderson. I totally agree that cheating is hard to define but what surprised me was why he (or you or both) found it hard to define it. I had never really thought about the real vs virtual problem before, but for me the issue is much more where it begins physically and/or emotionally, at least this is what I’ve reflected about and discussed with others. Is only sex cheating? What about making out? Or even what about being really attracted to someone and keeping to think about them though nothing ever happend…? Personally, I think that the latter (“emotional cheating”) is as bad as physical activity. I’m not talking about a brief flirt here, but a longer, more serious emotional relation – I think that’s actually worse than a drunken kiss with someone you don’t really care about. Also like kitty mama’s definition of guilt defining cheating (simplified, obviously), new stuff to think…
    In any case, a lot of what you wrote reminded me of the movie I saw last night, “Shame”. Bit disturbing, but brilliant and loads of Michael Fassbender’s ass, just great! Got watch it and tell me what you think!

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