Cynical Advice on Responsible Non-Monogamy

I’ve been asked about “responsible non-monogamy” a couple times over the last few months. I don’t advise stepping into this realm, but should you decide to venture there, let me give you this somewhat cynical advice…
Whether it be cuckolding, swinging or polyamory, the common theme is that the culture they establish is a matriarchal one. The purpose is to create a sub-culture where normal sexual mores are removed and replaced with a shame-free environment, where the normal covert desire for opportunitisic extra-pair-copulations, is allowed to become an overt one.
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  1. Well said; and this reasoning could apply well to some current cultural commentators as well.

  2. Replace good looking with rich, sex with money and personal development with working harder and you have the same argument you hear as a justification for capitalism.
    "In a totally liberal economic system certain people accumulate fortunes; others stagnate in unemployment and misery. In a totally liberal sexual system certain people have a varied and exciting erotic life; others are reduced to masturbation and solitude." – Michel Houellebecq

  3. -modernguy

    It's an interesting political point, and while I don't usually stop by here for political commentary it is interesting. Lets replace your justification for redistribution with justification for sexual equity. Since it's obviously fair to take money earned by one person and redistribute it to another person that didn't earn it, then so it should be with sex. How about we mandate that women have sex with those poor masturbating betas, whether they really want to or not. Sounds a great deal like state sanctioned rape to me.

  4. That Guy Over There says:

    Anonymous –
    It's not an argument for state-sanctioned rape. That's hyperbole. It's an argument for legal restrictions on the sexual marketplace. We had such restrictions for almost two centuries without anything like "state sanctioned rape".

    Divorces were difficult to get. Adultery was illegal in most states. There were laws like the Mann Act that restricted crossing state lines for sexual purposes. Almost all states had sodomy laws that, contrary to modern opinion, weren't just directed at the gays.

    The sum effect of these laws meant that most men had access to the sexual marketplace, because most women didn't spend a couple of decades rotating through various alpha harems. You may be horrified that someone could be jailed for these things, but actual prosecutions were pretty rare because most people were discreet. Discretion is one of the virtues that has died along with morality laws.

  5. gameforomegas says:

    This just sounds like the rules of society in general. Is that the idea?

  6. Novaseeker says:

    This was awesome, Athol. Totally, utterly true as well.

  7. This is good. It puts the lie to the idea that the husband is (finally) going to get as much tail as he wants. That is the true underlying reason for guys to get involved in this, and it never works out that way, as you say.

  8. A nosy question: is this from your own personal experience or field reports from disgruntled men who did NOT find sexual nirvana at the swingers party? Could this just be a case of sore losers? (heh, heh, someone probably got "sore!")

    I don't really see why this then becomes a matriarchal culture? Men have traditionally had more freedoms regarding sexual choices; polygamy, sowing those wild oats, a little side action. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say (some) women have co-opted the seamier side of patriarchy?

    But, I agree, it's not usually a wise choice to engage in this; never done so myself, but have known of several couples who "opened" their marriage and it all went south. Might be workable for very confident, emotionally strong (or detached?) people.

  9. Athol, the only form of non-monogamy you discuss seems to be the "hotwife" scenario; I suppose because it's pretty common amongst beta-ized husbands. It seems pretty clear that this is doomed to end in disaster thanks to the female hypergamous instincts, but how do things change when the genders are reversed?

    For the wife it's pretty clear there's the danger from her husband pair-bonding with another girl, but men seem more adept than women (or at least more practiced) at locking down their body agenda. Is the net danger to the marriage as a whole less, the same, or more than in the hotwife scenario?

  10. Men are better at keeping a woman on the side, especially if she's married, too.

    If you are in a dead marriage, sometimes it's the only way to keep going.

    Read Chekhov's Lady with a Lapdog to get a flavor.

  11. What would you recommend to a man who just wants to have a woman on the side (with or without the knowledge of the wife)? How would you recommend the wife (presuming that it's happening with her knowledge and possibly agreement) and the lover to deal with this triangle?

    Maybe I'm wrong but perfect monogamy seems to be pretty rare these days. So it seems that it would be useful to know how to handle non-monogamy if one is likely to have to deal with it anyway.

  12. There is no such thing as "her agreement", there is just intelligence gathering in preparation for your deep raping in Family Court.

    If you're bringing your wife into the picture, you are already deep in beta territory, and it's a different kind of hell than the one you'll find yourself in shortly.

    Libera Te Ex Inferis….

  13. Julia,

    "I don't really see why this then becomes a matriarchal culture? Men have traditionally had more freedoms regarding sexual choices; polygamy, sowing those wild oats, a little side action. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say (some) women have co-opted the seamier side of patriarchy?"

    I'll try to answer your question, but I find your subtext very cynical, moreso than Athol's – "well the guys do it so why can't women?" In what universe is expanding the faults of a system to the other side an improvement? I just don't think that's a good approach to social mores.

    Anyway, polyamory is matriarchal because it is closer to the natural state of human sex grouping than monogamy. Humans have a great disparity in cost between the genetic donor and the carrier, thus men are inclined to spread the seed and women to protect the egg. That conflict is the basis for much of our history, and the resolution is the predicated on the woman's decision to permit the sperm warriors into her own cervix.

    Polyamory is matriarchal in that women, as a group, have more power to determine their sexual expression than men. Many women can get access to relatively few highly attractive men, and switch them at will. This sounds like "patriarchy," but look at the numbers – more women are getting what they want than men.

    I had more written on this but to save Athol's blogspace I'm going to post it on my own blog. Thanks for the inspiration!

  14. To 1:20
    If the husband has fallen in love with another woman (who is also in love with him), has no intention of leaving the wife but wants to explore the other relationship sexually, would it even be wise for the wife to not agree? Especially if the husband is speaking to her and asking her opinion before he does anything.

  15. Anon directly above me – it would be a terrible idea for the wife in that case to let him do anything further with the other woman. He's just going to bond stronger and stronger to her. He's doing the classic asking for space thing.

    Polyamory is all smoke and mirrors, but I'm sure as soon as a woman starts trying to get pregnant all that disappears in an instant and reality kicks in big time. It requires an enormous level of brainwashing for a man to sit passively by as another man has sex with his love interest.

    Julia – very minor flirtations with swinging very early in our marriage and we backed out of it before doing anything serious with anyone else. I've just been a keen observer of everything for a very long time.

    Even in the swinging and hotwife PORN there are frequent stories where the wife ultimately leaves the husband for her stronger harder rougher bigger lover. It's in the freaking porn! Seriously, what the hell is going on here.

    Welcome Badger. :-)

  16. @3:32:

    What Athol said.

  17. @Julia… "Men have traditionally had more freedoms regarding sexual choices; …sowing those wild oats, a little side action."

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Women have ALWAYS had more sexual choice than men. (Think about how much easier it is for a woman to get laid after a night at the local bar than a man.) What men have historically had, however, are fewer social repercussions from sowing their wild oats. The greater social repercussions for women came about precisely because of their greater choice and freedom in the matter–the need to contain it, prevent cuckolding, ensure loyalty, and ultimately produce a better functioning, more stable society overall.

  18. Hambydammit says:


    Just so you know, I don't believe that men would get "more tail" if people in general were more accepting of nonmonogamy. I also don't recommend that the average Joe try it. He'll probably fail. Nonmonogamy is an advantage to women, clear and simple.

    I also believe that our SMP is geared towards monogamy, and that's not some artificial construct. It's a reaction to a culture based on accumulated resources and exaggerated value differentials.

    My only selling point on non-monogamy is that it is probably the way we evolved, and should one be in a position to try it, there's not a biological or ethical reason not to. Which is to say it's probably not for very many people. ;-)

    I just like calling a duck a duck. And humans evolved non-monogamously. And we already behave non-monogamously for much of our lives.

  19. Athol, I'm the Anon you answered above, and thank you. I'm just curious and I hope you don't mind that I'd like to ask you a few more questions on this topic.

    I agree that sex would bond the husband in the example stronger to the other woman. However, generally, if women in this situation would eventually leave the marriage (which I agree is fairly certain), do you think a man would leave his wife too? I personally don't think he would; after all, there are plenty of examples of men keeping mistresses for years and years while remaining married to one woman. Now, it would be questionable if it would be a happy marriage, but in my opinion it is likely to remain intact (unless she gets too upset over him cheating, but if he respects her enough to ask for her opinion beforehand then that is not likely).

    If the wife in question consents to this arrangement then there is even a chance of it being a happy(ish) marriage. One possible problem I see is that the wife could start asking for "permission" for having sex with another man too. But if the husband in question is alpha enough, then maybe she wouldn't? Do you have any thoughts on this?

  20. "a little side action" ha! What did I say? Sorry to butt in, I know you asked Athol but, why does it become a "problem" should the missus ask for the same privilege you want to enjoy?

    Alpha, beta, omega: if you want to have a girlfriend the outcome will probably be: she'll get a boyfriend to spite you and possibly run off with boyfriend OR eventually divorce you and take you for everything. Or maybe, you'll both learn to live with and enjoy polyamory (and maybe we'll have world peace and prosperity!).

    Off topic: Athol, have you read "Sex at Dawn?" I know you have a large reading list on these topics.

  21. When two people, who are married to another people, "fall in love" with another, they very frequently ruin both marriages. Then they also have poor chances at their relationship surviving. Only 3% of affairs turn into a new marriage and those break down frequently too.

    Why don't you email me your actual question.

  22. Julia – no I haven't read Sex at Dawn. I'll get there eventually, but I've cut reading down in favor of writing for the moment.

  23. No need to read it. The Book Sex at Dawn can be summarized with the following syllogism…

    1. Pre-civlized man followed a multi-mate mating strategy.
    2. We descended from pre-civilized man.
    3. Therefore, we should follow multi-mate mating strategies today.

    The author (Chris Ryan) does a wonderful job with #1 & #2. It's fascinating to read how closely the female anatomy of a bonobo chimp resembles that of a human. Such examples help with an understanding of our own sexual origins. But then the author completely screws the pooch with #3. His normative conclusions that mankind would be better off today if we all followed a multi-mate mating strategy akin to the bonobos or our cave-dwelling ancestors just does. not. follow. logically.

    Ryan's main fault is that he's skipped over the most recent 4,000 or so years of recorded human history demonstrating that multi-mate mating strategies have almost universally failed Darwin's test. Such multi-mate cultures either transitioned into, or were physically conquered by, cultures that practiced polygamy, and later monogamy. Monogamy's advantages to civilization and the economy have simply been too great to ignore.

    It's telling that Ryan must rely on examples including Bonobo chimps, the Mosuo (a tribe in rural China), or the Canela (a tribe in the the Brazilian rain forest) as evidence for the success of matriarchal or multi-mate mating strategies. IMO, if one has to venture deep into the Amazon rain forest, finally locating a tribe untouched from our modern economy and civilization in order to find a successful example of a multi-mate culture, then one really hasn't found a successful or long-term viable multi-mate culture at all.

  24. Nice summary MNL.

  25. "Monogamy's advantages to civilization and the economy have simply been too great to ignore."

    This is the final point in my post about polyamory – monogamy is pareto-optimal for a well-structured society, meaning it is the best system for balancing competing desires and interests across an entire society and allowing that society to progress.

  26. I know only one real-life couple who attempted to live nonmonogomously; predictably, they divorced a couple years later. I think a lot of couples who get involved in swinging are trying to inject some excitement into a relationship that is already failing. Swinging seems better than unilateral infidelity to them because they are both equally "guilty"; neither side can claim to be the wronged party.
    Athol- in a previous post you wrote that you "gently pressured" Jennifer to get into swinging. Apparently she disliked the idea and wouldn't play along. Why did you propose this idea in the first place? Was it because you married as a virgin and felt you missed out on the sexual experiences many other people enjoy in their youth? Did you think your sex life was too routine? Also, if you did wish to try other partners, why insist she do likewise-did you think this would lessen any guilt/remorse feelings that could have resulted from extra-marital sex?(ie,if she joined in, she could hardly criticize you afterwards if things got out of hand.)

  27. I might post on that Anon. It's too long for a comment.

  28. Athol- Thanks; I'd really appreciate a reply. Also, does Jennifer ever post anymore? As a female, I'd really like to hear her take on all of this (I'm sure your other lady readers are curious as well).

  29. patrissimo says:

    I like this take a lot – it expresses a true aspect of polyamory which is never said by polyamorists b/c they don't like to say bad things about poly. (I say this as someone in the 6th year of an open marriage, with numerous poly friends).

    But you are deceiving yourself if you think that it is the whole picture – humans are more complicated & you are oversimplifying. I've seen poly relationships last 10+ years. I've seen men & women who genuinely didn't get jealous when their partners hooked up. I've also seen attempted poly break up a marriage instantly. It's dangerous stuff, and practitioners would benefit from more Game and more EvBio. But it can work.

    For example, your analysis is focused on female-powered poly (polyandry), but consider the model of "high-status man has multiple wives (or girlfriends), who are monogamous" (polygyny). This allows the man to be polygamous while the woman is hypergamous – thus letting both cater to their instincts, and fitting our evolved nature. I don't think this is the only way that poly can work, but it's very defensible from an EvBio standpoint.

  30. This needs more study. I need some volunteers. :P

  31. Athol, I could email you my real question but I don't really fit into your intended audience and so wouldn't my question (I am a young woman and not married). Plus my situation isn't one that I have a lot of control over (besides walking away).

    I am reading this blog in order to better understand relationships so that once I get married then my marriage would have a better chance of succeeding. While I enjoy reading your blog and tend to agree with what you say, I also think that it is not the "whole picture" sometimes. Plus, eventually all of us have to work out these things for ourselves (while I agree that nobody is "completely different" from everybody else, there is some personal variation in these matters).

    Basically what I wanted to point out was what patrissimo said above regarding 'the model of "high-status man has multiple wives (or girlfriends), who are monogamous" (polygyny)'. I would argue that this model probably has a high success rate. Arguably this model would be better than unilateral cheating for all parties involved, but especially the "other" woman, who would get some protection from being recognised as a legitimate sex partner of the man. I know that some people are going to say that if some men have several women then there will be others who will be left with none, and it is a valid argument. My answer to this would be that whether you like it or not, it is happening already anyway. Very few people in the modern West are monogamous like Athol and Jennifer.

  32. Actually I have answered the male + multiple female question by default. It only works if you are an exceptionally sexually attractive male and the women are willing to share to get that better male that they could by themselves.

    It CAN work, it's just very rare.

  33. I love how the peaceful market is being falsely analogized to the article, but as soon as the same false analogy is exercises to condones state enforced rape in the name of equality, oh no, we cannot have that! Hahahaaaa!

    Rationalization hamsters in the comments. Not surprising at all.

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