The Economics of Sex

Sexual freedom and economic theory. What does it mean for men and women?

A Consideration of Polyamorous Relationships as Social Evolution

Is The Lifestyle a social fad or a social trend?

I recently made the acquaintance of a young woman - not a patient - who is a participant and proponent of The Lifestyle. For those readers less informed, The Lifestyle refers to social/sexual relationships involving multiple partners - sometimes anonymous, sometimes standing - or, put more plainly, swinging.

Our conversations led me to consider whether Lifestyle proponents constitute a deviant (in the statistical, not the negative sense) subculture or, as our evolutionary psychologist colleagues might argue, a logical progression toward a more natural state of relationship.

Regular readers of this blog know that I frequently work with non-traditional couples and, in fact, may remember that I have an on-going therapeutic relationship with a "triple" - a married couple with a girlfriend of 10+ years. In addition, many of my clients, past and present, have been involved in The Lifestyle, BDSM and other non-traditional socio-sexual practices.

The woman with whom I had the conversations I mentioned is an intelligent, beautiful, healthy, well-adjusted, financially and socially successful divorcee from a fairly typical upper-middle class background, residing in one of the more tony suburbs of southwestern Connecticut. She is a hard-working Mom and a great parent who owns her own business and works long hours to keep her kids in a manner to which they are accustomed. She is neither the idle rich, nor on the fringe.

Our conversation was sparked by a random comment. The rather unexpected dialogue that ensued led us down a path that was both enlightening and thought provoking, at least for me. What made this conversation different for me was the lens provided by the writings in this forum on polyamorous, polygamist and polyganist relationships authored by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa. His perspectives gave me new perspective.

While I am certain that my new-found friend will be somewhat disconcerted, if not offended, that her comments became folded into my thinking about this subject -- especially given my frequent protestations that I leave my work in the office -- it was the clarity, emotional health and social and emotional intelligence expressed within her commentary that were the catalyst for my thinking.

Very few species on the planet are actually monogamous. One presumes that this is because monogamy would not be evolutionarily advantageous in terms of perpetuating a species.

Marriage, and its attendant presupposition of monogamy, is a social convention imposed to legitimize human sexual activity, which, at some point in our history became something to be regulated, if not disdained.

Infidelity, whether actual, emotional or objective (e.g., porn, strip clubs, etc.) is almost a given within our culture. Why is that? Considering here our premises regarding monogamy and the imposition of social convention, might it not be because monogamy is antithetical to some primal hardwiring that drives the perpetuation of the species? What if we were to characterize infidelity not as a moral transgression, but, rather, as an artifact prompted by the imposition of an unnatural stricture on a system that is unwilling to accept that stricture? In other words, what if we weren't meant to be monogamous and all of the variations of infidelity -- whether they be actual, emotional or objective -- are in fact the result of trying to put a square peg in a round hole?

In order to have this conversation rationally, we are going to have to suspend our natural tendency to exercise the moral conventions, ego and catholic rigidity to which we have all been socialized and look at this notion from a completely objective standpoint. That is undeniably difficult, but consider it rationally for a moment.

Doesn't it make sense that, at some point in our social evolution, polyamority would be re-introduced as the logical standard for perpetuating the species? And, given that, doesn't it make sense to consider that non-socio-sexually deviant proponents of The Lifestyle are actually more in line with that evolutionary imperative to perpetuate the species?

Granted, this conversation actually raises more questions that it answers, and I, for one, am not going to pretend to have the background to begin positing potential hypotheses on the matter.

And, yes, what I've proposed -- from the standpoint of conventional morality -- does, indeed, suggest an "inmates-running-the-prison" scenario. But if our own intellectual imperative is to think outside the box and consider all facets of a thing, then I think I may have just handed off to someone the makings of a pretty spectacular doctoral dissertation.

© 2009 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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The Economics of Sex