What if we thought of monogamy as a spectrum?
During my exploratory college years, I was often confused about my sexuality. I knew I had loved women, but found myself, drunkenly, in the arms of various men. I wasn’t sure why I was doing it. Was I in denial of being gay? Was I simply an open-minded straight guy? Or was I just a drunk and horny hot mess?
These questions kept me up at night. Finally, my senior year of college, I entertained the idea that I might be bisexual, but I didn’t embrace the label until a year after graduating. That’s when I learned that I didn’t have to like men and women equally to be bisexual. I learned that sexuality was a spectrum, and my point on the spectrum wasn’t fixed. My attractions to various genders could evolve. In fact, it’s completely normal, and even somewhat expected that my attractions to all genders change over my lifetime.
In my queer theory class in college, I also learned that gender, too, is on a spectrum. Some of us don’t view ourselves as strictly male or female. We can be both, neither, or somewhere in between, aka bigender, agender or genderqueer.
This led me to ask the question: Since sexuality and gender aren’t living in a binary anymore, does monogamy have to be?
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with this thought. YouGov recently conducted a study testing the idea of a monogamy spectrum. YouGov asked respondents questions using a seven-point spectrum (0-6), like the Kinsey scale. A zero on the YouGov scale indicated completely monogamous, whereas a six on the scale indicated completely non-monogamous. The researchers asked participants about their ideal relationship style and their current relationship style.
Interestingly, only 51 percent of people under 30 reported that their ideal relationship would be completely monogamous, compared with 58 percent ages 30 to 44, 63 percent of individuals 45 to 64, and 70 percent of individuals 65 and older.
The study revealed two important findings. First, millennials like myself are less interested in monogamy than our elders are. Second, millennials don’t view monogamy as all or nothing. We realize that, like sexuality and gender, relationships can exist on a spectrum. And even though we were brought up in a society that aggressively pushed a monogamous agenda - teaching us that our goal in life is to find our One True Love - we’ve begun to reject this notion.
For many millennials, monogamy doesn’t hold the appeal it once had. We’re a generation that grew up with divorced parents. In December of 2015, data from Pew Research revealed that only 62 percent of children live with two married parents, an all-time low. We live in a generation of options. No longer are we confined to date the boy next door. With Tinder and all the other dating apps, we can find boys (and girls!) all over the world. This has led to what’s been called the millennial sexual revolution.
Many millennials also have embraced the true meaning of feminism, and neither men nor women want to be limited by traditional gender roles. Monogamy often perpetuates traditional gender roles, whereas a non-monogamous relationship more often doesn’t have the same prescribed script as monogamy. This allows for individuals in non-monogamous relationships to create the roles for themselves as they see fit.
We’re a generation that understands our own identity as liminal. As fluid, rather than stagnant. A life solely dedicated to one person doesn’t allow for exploration.
So it doesn’t come as surprise that 36 percent of millennials chose between 1 and 5 for their ideal relationship style, meaning that their ideal relationship isn’t completely monogamous or completely non-monogamous. They want to be able to explore their options, not rely solely on one partner, and not be limited by what a relationship is supposed to look like.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t tell you exactly what a ‘‘3’’ on this scale entails. Does that mean you’re monogamous with some people but not with others? Does it mean you sleep with multiple people but do not date them seriously? Or is it what Dan Savage coined as ‘‘monogamish,’’ where you sleep with others periodically when you or your significant other might be out of town?
Each person might have a different idea of what their non-monogamous relationship will look like. In anything but a completely monogamous relationship, partners will have to discuss and decide together how their non-monogamous relationship is going to function.
Frankly, I think millennials are up for the challenge.