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.” Continue reading