Dan Savage (and readers) on Monogamy


If you’re anything like me, after you’ve finished reading an article, you head straight for the comments section to see what your fellow human beings have to say.

I recently spent a chunk of my afternoon reading a seven-page article in The New York Times, “Married, with Infidelities,” by Mark Oppenheimer, in which he interviews sex-advice columnist Dan Savage, who recommends that couples in monogamous relationships talk openly about cheating and non-monogamy, because no relationship is “one-size fits all” and monogamy may not be right for everyone.

Here are a couple of quotes from Oppenheimer’s article and comments by readers:

“‘The mistake that straight people made,’ Savage told me, ‘was imposing the monogamous expectation on men. Men were never expected to be monogamous. Men had concubines, mistresses and access to prostitutes, until everybody decided marriage had to be egalitarian and fairsey.’ In the feminist revolution, rather than extending to women ‘the same latitude and license and pressure-release valve that men had always enjoyed,’ we extended to men the confines women had always endured. ‘And it’s been a disaster for marriage.’”

Reader comment from NSH: “Mr. Savage needs to understand that the reason men had concubines and women didn’t was patriarchy. Men would not permit it. They still don’t…Until the word slut has been flensed from the language, until women are not threatened by their former partners, this kind of arrangement will always be a case of male privilege in progressive clothing.” (Lots of readers brought up patriarchy and the inequities in male-female relationships. They said many women like sex, too! They said Dan, even though he’s in a homosexual relationship, is still a man, speaking a place of male dominance.)

“…Savage says that…‘Folks on the verge of making those monogamous commitments…need to look at the wreckage around them — all those failed monogamous relationships out there (Schwarzenegger, Clinton, Vitter, whoever’s on the cover of US magazine this week) — and have a conversation about what it’ll mean if one or the other partner should cheat. And agree, at the very least, to getting through it, to place a higher value on the relationship itself than on one component of it, sexual exclusivity.’”

Reader comment from cnw: “If you and your partner agree that you can have sexual intercourse with other people, you’re honoring your commitment if you play by the rules you agreed to. My reading of the article is that Dan is advocating honesty, communication, and negotiation in our sexual relationships. You’d think he was advocating child rape and drowning puppies given the vitriol with which this article has been met.” (On the Savage side: they called the other readers Puritans, righteously indignant, explained and re-explained what Dan was really saying, spoke of the 50% divorce rate, and talked about the cheating scandals in the news and in their neighbors’ homes.)

Conclusion: Many of the 454 readers representing the United States, Canada, Belgium, and Earth were wary about Dan Savage’s ideas on marriage; they believe that marriage equals monogamy. Then there were the readers who were on Dan’s side, some straight, some gay, some monogamous, some in the “lifestyle,” and a few others who are poly: they believe that marriage is like a “choose your adventure” book; it is what you make of it. Of course there was also the group of readers in the gray area: the institution of marriage is currently not working, but they’re not sure what to do about it and they don’t know if Dan’s ideas are a step forward or a step backward.

I’ve always been a fan of Dan Savage’s, even though I don’t agree with everything he says (I am not down with GGG, “good, giving, and game” there are just some things I won’t do for my partner) but I like that Dan speaks openly about fidelity and marriage. If I was the 455th commenter, I would be on Dan’s side. I’ve been married for almost two years and my husband and I both agree that monogamy is what works for us now, but as we grow and change as people we may want to revisit this conversation. We also agree that cheating is not a deal-breaker (we’re talking about a fling, not a long-term relationship and no sex with friends!) but these are our own constraints. I know other couples who believe cheating is a deal-breaker; what works for one couple may not work another. Create your marriage/partnership together from a space free and clear of what you’ve been taught marriage is supposed to be.

(Full disclosure: I read 10 of 19 pages of reader comments.)

LaToya Jordan is a writer from Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of the poetry chapbook, Thick-Skinned Sugar (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and her work has been listed as notable in Best American Essays 2016. Her writing has appeared in Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Mom Egg Review, Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, and more. Visit her at latoyajordan.com. More from this author →