Home > Rayne > Dan Savage is ridiculous.

Dan Savage is ridiculous.

October 17th, 2013

frustrationSo today, kinkly.com tweeted about Dan Savage’s assertion on Big Think that monogamy is ridiculous. Just imagine me sitting here screaming “Arrrrrrgh!!!!” with my head in my hands, and my face all screwed up in frustration. It looks something like this: ->

Only I needed my hands to take that picture, and I apparently forgot to look at the camera.

Okay, maybe that’s closer to my psycho face. I hope you didn’t have a baby in your lap when you clicked the link that brought you here. And if you did, I apologize. I’m not really in the habit of scaring babies.


So you have some reference for what I’m about to bitch about, watch this:

For those of you who didn’t click play, I’ll give a short summary here. Dan Savage was asked “Does society need to rethink its views on love and commitment?” And I’m totally for his overall answer of “yes.” But from there, his logic just completely fell apart for me, because he started droning on about how monogamy is impossible, and our evolution, as a society, toward monogamy is killing our relationships.

“Because monogamy is ridiculous and people aren’t any good at it.”

Savage references the sexuality of men in history, and the fact that men were, in general, not monogamous. And I agree with him. It was silly for society to swing toward limiting itself on the whole, rather than allowing women the same freedoms men had. But there is so much more to the direction society took with regard to sexuality than just the women’s movement.

There are all sorts of bullshit “ideals” enforced on men and women alike regarding sex. A strong, intelligent woman cannot also like sex and still be respected among her peers, while a strong, virile man cannot also choose to only have sex with one woman for his entire life and still be considered a man among men. Especially when we’re looking at history. Soldiers were expected to rape the women of their enemies, and take whores to bed with them along the battle trail. Those who didn’t were considered weak, and their wives were “battle axes” who had removed their men’s balls.

For that matter, as Savage so helpfully pointed out, women of those times were little more than cattle sold off to the highest bidding suitor. It’s not as if they could say “You suck, I’m going home.”

Well, I guess they could, but in some places, their husbands could then kill them, if they wanted, and no one would do anything about it. In some places, that’s still true. But yes, please! Let’s use the oppression of women as a point in favor of polyamory.

Men chose to fuck whoever they wanted, and women had no choice but to let them. Which means it was still infidelity, and probably abuse, and it did more harm than good for the relationship. That’s so not healthy polyamory.

Honestly, I think society was closer to how it is today with regard to sexuality. Some men liked to focus on just one person while in an intimate relationship. Other men liked to have multiple partners for reasons ranging from being away from their spouse for long periods of time, to thinking it their right as men. Because not all men took whores, or concubines, or multiple wives. And in a time when it was accepted practice, that’s saying something, I think, in favor of the sexual culture being as diverse as it’s proving to be today.

Savage goes on to say that monogamy puts undue strain on relationships because there’s this expectation that once you’re in love with someone, you will never be attracted to anyone else.

And he’s right about the expectation. When I asked my parents, growing up, how you know when you’ve met the person you’re supposed to marry, they said, among other things, that when you’re in love the rest of the world just sort of fades away. You don’t really look at other people the same way again. Other people aren’t quite as attractive to you as they were before you found your “true love”. And I agree with Savage on this point.

There are almost seven billion people on God’s green Earth. One hundred fifty thousand of them live in our town, give or take a few thousand. To pretend that all of the people we will run into on a daily basis just by going about our lives hold absolutely no beauty or value is asinine. If you’re able to do it, hats off to you. My imagination is not that good. From where I sit, there’s beauty in everything if you know where to look.

Besides that, while your partner may be the single person in the world with their exact combination of traits you find attractive, logic dictates that there are at least some people in the world who have at least some of the same traits. It would be kinda nuts if you weren’t attracted to the traits you love about your partner when you found them in another person; enough to make a person wonder why you like them in your partner.

The key is not to block yourself off from the beauty in other people. Instead, recognize it. Allow yourself to enjoy the beauty.

This is where Savage and I part ways in our line of thinking.

“And the truth of the matter is, if you’ve been with someone 40 or 50 years, and they’ve only cheated on you a few times, they were good at being monogamous, not bad at being monogamous.”

You can enjoy all the beauty in the world without betraying your partner by being intimate with someone else behind their back. I don’t care what Savage thinks. If you give in to the temptation of being intimate with a person you’re attracted to without first discussing it with your partner, you’re an asshole.

The problem with being attracted to other people, when you’re monogamous, isn’t in the attraction itself. It’s in how you handle the attraction. It’s one thing to acknowledge the beauty in others. It’s something else entirely to lose sight of your duty to your partner because of the beauty you find in another person.

Contrary to what Savage seems to be saying here, cheating and polyamory are not the same thing. Cheating is NOT “popping your monogamy hymen,” though it might just destroy your relationship. There are right and wrong ways to go about everything, and having sex with someone outside of the confines of your current agreement with your partner is most definitely the wrong way.

If the relationship survives, great. But if it doesn’t, the failure falls with the person who committed the betrayal, not the person who wasn’t able to take the chance of being betrayed again.

“I’m conservative. I think we should do what we can to preserve marriages and long term relationships and one way to do that is to encourage people to have more realistic attitudes about sexual exclusivity.”

I agree that if you make a commitment to someone you should do what you can to maintain the relationship. But to suggest polyamory as the only way to do that is kind of ass-backwards, I think. Plenty of people happily maintain monogamous relationships. They “desperately want to fuck the shit out of other people,” as Savage put it, but they’re able to put that aside and just be with the person they’ve promised to remain monogamous with.

Hell, M can go out today and have sex with whoever the hell he wants to. He’s monogamous by choice. And it doesn’t “place a tremendous strain” on our marriage. We’re not chomping at the bit, playing monogamy chicken, waiting to see which of us is going to crack and decide we should open the relationship back up. I mean, come on.

I’ll concede the point that some people have polyamory hardwired into their moral code. I’m pretty sure my ex is one of those people. He just hasn’t had his mind opened to the potential of being honest with himself and his partners about his sexual orientation. So many people wouldn’t have gotten hurt by him if he’d just said, “Yo, I like to have sex and relationships with lots of people. This is me. You with it, or not?”

But just as there are people who can’t do monogamy, there are people who can’t do polyamory. Either they’re not mature enough, or they’ve got too much baggage, or they don’t have the attention span to maintain more than one relationship at a time, or it’s against their moral code, or whatever. And to suggest that they just blindly went with monogamy because that’s what society tells us to do is kind of insulting.

M and I have tried polyamory, and we’ve tried monogamy. Despite all the chicks who were really only interested in him, and were just acquiescing to the fact that I would always be there (which was not what we were looking for), it wasn’t terrible. I think I’d enjoy having someone to share the chores with. We’re monogamous because we choose to be, not because we’re not informed or don’t have a “realistic attitude” about exclusivity. Frankly, our attitude about exclusivity is very realistic.

We’ve decided that there’s enough going on in our lives without the added stress a third party would bring just by being human. Besides that, we rarely have time to hang out with our friends as it is. How would we find time to even find a third person? Maybe one day in the future, we’ll feel differently. Who knows? But there’s nothing new under the sun, so I’m sure we’re not the only people who have tried polyamory and decided it wasn’t for them. Suggesting otherwise is ridiculous.

Categories: Rayne Tags:
  1. October 17th, 2013 at 20:32 | #1

    But everyone will bow to his opinion because he is Dan Savage. I think he has some great ideas and does a lot for advancement of the sexual positivity ideal, but again the “I’m right and if you don’t agree you are fucking stupid” attitude is dumb. Really dumb. My relationship isn’t your relationship isn’t their relationship. What works for person a and b may never be feasible for person c, and for that I wholeheartedly agree with you on this Rayne.

  2. aunt_deen
    October 18th, 2013 at 15:10 | #2

    I’ve listened to him talk about this quite a bit and I have never heard him say that monogamy was impossible or that people shouldn’t make monogamous commitments. Just that society has placed such value on monogamy that any infidelity is likely to destroy a relationship, or close to it. His view is that if we place less importance on that, people are less likely to end a long-term, mostly happy relationship because of one indiscretion.

    And I agree, if you’ve made a promise of monogamy to someone and you break it without talking to your partner first, you’re an asshole. But I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any multi-decade stretch in a person’s life when they weren’t a colossal asshole a few times.

  3. Mike
    October 18th, 2013 at 16:44 | #3

    You know, I’m not sure you actually disagree with him. When he says if “they’ve only cheated on you a few times, they were good at being monogamous” he doesn’t mean, as you imply, that cheating is OK. He’s saying that cheating happens, whether you think it’s OK or not. And when you get cheated on, you can react by freaking out and dumping your partner, or you can forgive and move on. He’s saying one or two indiscretions does not have to be a “relationship extinction-level event”, especially considering all the other connection you have. It doesn’t mean the cheater didn’t do something wrong, or that they’re not an asshole. Nor has he ever said monogamy is impossible. People who have no trouble being monogamous have nothing to worry about. His advice is for the people who DO have trouble being monogamous.

  4. Carlie
    October 18th, 2013 at 20:59 | #4

    Reading this makes me think you haven’t actually read/listened to much of Savage’s work. It’s well-established that he views monogamy as a commitment you should stick to if that’s the agreement you’ve made with your partner, and that cheating is not ok except under very extreme circumstances. However, he also thinks infidelity should not be viewed as the kind of relationship-ending betrayal many people view it as, and he suggests it would be healthier if it were more socially acceptable for couples to open up their marriages a little.

    I would also like to point out that there is WAY more to the relationship spectrum than monogamy or polyamory, which is what your post implies. Polyamory involves multiple full-fledged romantic relationships, and it’s certainly not for every one. It’s a far cry from all of the variations of an open marriage, which can take thw form of anything from the occasional threesome to one or both partners having a casual side relationship. The key to what Savage proposes is complete honesty – about what you need, what you’re doing, etc.

  5. October 18th, 2013 at 22:57 | #5

    @ Carlie You’re right, I haven’t. I was merely responding to what he said in this video. And while I agree some relationships are savable after infidelity, the fact is not all of them are. In my experience, there is usually far more involved in cheating than sexual boredom. The cheating is usually a sign of something deeper wrong in the relationship…often involving a breakdown in communication. It’s more than just, “My partner had sex with someone else.” If it wasn’t, I would wholeheartedly agree that we should be more lenient.

    Also I realize there’s more to plurality than multiple relationships, but I tend to use the heading “polyamory” as a catch-all because it’s easier than typing out the plethora of potential plural arrangements. That could take all day. 🙂

  6. October 18th, 2013 at 23:21 | #6

    @ aunt_deen The thing is, there’s usually more to cheating than just sex. There are emotions involved, decisions you make without your partner’s involvement, lies told, needs unmet and unmentioned, loss of trust on both sides…to just gloss over all that and suggest we should all be more accepting of infidelity because “monogamy is hard” invalidates the importance of these things.

    I’m not saying all relationships in which a party cheated are doomed, but I don’t think we should be suggesting people downplay the issues involved in cheating, either.

    And you’re right, everyone’s an asshole sometimes. But I think it’s up to each of us to determine what’s “too much” for ourselves. And for even some who are well versed in sex and relationships, that line is drawn at infidelity. That doesn’t make them unrealistic or ridiculous. Just means they know what they’re able to forgive.

  7. October 18th, 2013 at 23:31 | #7

    @ Mike In some cases, sure, it doesn’t have to be. And I’m not suggesting that it does. In my experience, when the cheating starts, it’s the beginning of the end anyway, unless you’re both willing and able to figure out why it happened and resolve the issue.

    In some cases, the result will be that one or both of you is not wired for monogamy. But the answer is not to just occasionally step out on your partner. It’s to be honest with your partner about your sexual needs and see where that goes.

    His assertion here comes across as, “Cheating’s no big deal. Hug it out and move on.” But that’s just not true. In many cases, cheating is a sign that there is a deeper issue than sexual boredom. It may not have to be a relationship killer, but it should definitely be a wake up call for all parties involved.

  8. October 18th, 2013 at 23:34 | #8

    @ Mr. Will Thanks, dude. He does do some great things, from what I know of him. He also does some stupid things, which I’ve written about in old editions of SexFeed. He’s human, so I suppose he’s allowed. The whole “cheating is no big deal” thing is a sticking point for me, though, as I’ve mentioned a time or two in past entries.

  9. Carlie
    October 19th, 2013 at 01:25 | #9

    @ Rayne Millaray
    Savage has actually coined a great term – monogamish. It means, you have one committed romantic partner, but your relationship is… flexible. The key there though is open, honest, and continuous communication. It fits better than polyamory, especially since, at least in my experience, people in true polyamorous relationships take quite a bit of offense to people equating polyamory with open relationships. The distinction is important.

    I do agree with you that cheating is often a sign of deeper problems, and I wouldn’t argue that it’s no big deal (and for the record, in his larger body of work, neither does Savage). But I do think sexual boredom can be the first symptom of a problem, and if more people were open to the idea of becoming “monogamish”, not only could it help rekindle their sexual connection, but the communicate skills necessary to maintain being monogamish are good for a relationship as well. Also, if sexual fidelity weren’t on such a high pedestal, maybe folks in relationships where a partner has cheated could better focus on the underlying problems that causes the cheating, and thereby perhaps salvage the relationship. It also creates options for folks in relationships where the problem is mismatches sex drives, or incompatible sexual fetishes, etc.

    I guess what I’m mainly saying is, as someone who is familiar with Savage’s larger body of work, I think one of his biggest arguments is, sexual fidelity and love for one’s spouse are NOT necessarily linked, and it would be beneficial to society as a whole to stop pretending otherwise.

  10. Anonymous
    October 19th, 2013 at 11:19 | #10

    It’s chattel, not cattle.

  11. October 19th, 2013 at 12:26 | #11

    @ Anonymous
    Lol. I know the difference and used cattle on purpose.

  12. Mack
    October 25th, 2013 at 10:52 | #12

    Why can’t people just live and let live and realize that what works best for them is probably different than what works best for someone else?

  13. November 18th, 2013 at 11:53 | #13

    This was my dismayed face upon hearing that Savage news:


    Thanks for airing your very cogent arguments. Having tried polyamory gives everything you’ve said more weight and I value that. I often feel as if the kinkster community (or at least people who are out about their kinks) is predisposed to thinking that monogamous folks are medieval (or at least in the dark) about their relationship choices. It’s nice to find a fellow blogger with views to the contrary.

  14. Trix
    December 4th, 2013 at 13:29 | #14

    I wanted to like Dan Savage for so long, but It Gets Better is about the only thing he’s done lately that provides more good than harm (and even then I think that’s only because other people have run with it instead). I was stunned at his misogyny in the tale of how he lost his virginity in some anthology I read (he disgustedly compared the woman’s vagina to a lasagna, at length). Considering that he’s certainly been marginalized by society at various points in his life, it’s a shame that he embraces snap judgments and blanket statements of his own…

  15. January 3rd, 2014 at 12:06 | #15

    @ Mack Here, here!

  16. January 3rd, 2014 at 12:25 | #16

    @ Carlie 🙂 I’m not new to the sex pozzie scene (just don’t pay a whole lot of attention to Savage), so I’ve heard of “monogamish”. Didn’t know it was a Savage thing.

    people in true polyamorous relationships take quite a bit of offense to people equating polyamory with open relationships

    That’s funny. I used to be pretty heavily involved in the kink community, and I’ve been a freelancer in the adult industry for the past five years, both of which include a large number of polyamorous people. My husband and I were polyamorous for a while before deciding we prefer monogamy, so we spent a lot of time with other polyamorous people. I’ve never heard of anyone taking offense to people equating poly with open relationships. In fact, this is where I learned the habit of using polyamory as the catch all. Most of the people I know will tell you polyamory has many faces and dynamics…including open relationships.

    I’ll concede the fact that sexual boredom can be a factor, but from where I sit, the larger problem with sexual boredom is a breakdown in communication. People, for whatever reason, just don’t feel comfortable talking to their partners about their sexuality, which is a shame. If you can’t talk to your partner about sex, there will always be a rift in the bedroom, and this is known to cause tension and even break ups.

    I’ve been with my husband 11 years, and we’re still finding new ways to please each other. There’s no such thing as “sexual boredom” in this house, because we approach sex with lots of communication, imaginations engaged, and minds open. Of course, like most people, there are things we will never do, but even within the limits we’ve set for ourselves, the possibilities are endless.

    I will never agree that being flexible on plurality will save relationships. Adding more people to an already troubled relationship just complicates things further-especially if it’s done behind your partner’s back. Even if plurality were an option, it should not be injected into the relationship until the larger problems are dealt with.

    I agree that we shouldn’t tout cheating as a relationship killer, but acting like it’s no big deal isn’t beneficial, either.

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