Imagine this scenario: a friend (we’ll call her Rene) says to you that she plans on spending the rest of her life having sex with the same person (we’ll call him Tom). Rene claims that for the next fifty or so years she will flirt only with Tom, fantasize only about sex with Tom, stay with Tom even when he gets fat and sick and old. This will make her happy, she thinks. It will make her so deliriously happy that Rene must celebrate by inviting all their friends to an expensive, drunken party where she declares these intentions while her friends and family cry, not out of sadness for her misplaced ideas about happiness, but with joy, with the hope that unlike the majority of married couples, she will continue to have a great sex life with Tom. But in all probability this will not happen. There’s about a 50% chance that there will be cheating in the relationship and a 15% chance that they will stop having sex altogether. And most likely even if Rene and Tom are still having sex, it will be of the routine, robotic variety. Yet our society continues to perpetuate the myth that lifetime monogamy is a normal state for most human beings and that it leads to happiness.
It’s such an ingrained societal belief that deigning to question it is seen as heresy, which has created a situation where people who question monogamy are too scared to openly discuss it because they fear social reprisal. They then assume that most people are happy practicing monogamy, since few people are saying otherwise. Communication theorist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann called this phenomena the Spiral of Silence, which is succinctly described by Wikipedia as “the process by which one opinion becomes dominant as those who perceive their opinion to be in the minority do not speak up because they fear isolation from society.”
Side note: The Spiral of Silence is controversial among some because of Noelle-Neumann’s connection to Nazism. Having tea with Hitler and writing for Das Reich, a newspaper founded by Joseph Goebbels, isn’t the best way to endear yourself to the academic community. Some scholars believe that her theory is “riddled with totalitarian ideology gleaned from working as “Germany’s leading pollster.”
By classifying monogamy as a paraphilia right there in the DSM-IV next to frotteurism and gender identity disorder, we reduce the pressure to live up to this unrealistic norm and recognize how bizarre monogamy really is. Here’s how monogamy is like a paraphilia:
1. “A paraphilia is distinguished by a preoccupation with the object or behavior to the point of being dependent on that object or behavior for sexual gratification.” Fantasizing only about your husband, having an urge to fuck only him, and only fucking him falls into this category.
2.The fantasies, urges, or behaviors “occur for a significant period of time” A lifetime is the most significant period of time ever.
Psychologists define paraphilias as “non-normative” sexual behaviors, meaning their classification as disorders is a judgement call. They’re defined in opposition to “normal” sexual behavior. In others words, lifetime monogamy is only considered normal because we as a society say it’s so. If we collectively admit that it is not a natural urge and that only a small percentage of people experience happiness from lifetime monogamy, we can be more honest with ourselves about the human sexual condition. What distinguishes us from animals isn’t lifetime monogamy, which we don’t really practice anyway. It’s our self-awareness that differentiates us. And we seem in short supply of it when it comes to our attitudes about sexuality. —Hallie Lieberman