Back in the day, we had a name for those who defied the definition of monogamy. They were called swingers.
But today, it seems the rules have changed and the prevalence of open relationships has increased significantly.
Open relationships are often defined as a situation in which couples agree that it is acceptable to date and engage in sexual activity with other people while still maintaining a relationship with each other.
But a better definition may be cheating without the guilt.
Over the past few years, the social stigma of engaging in polyamory has greatly subsided on college campuses — and this university is no exception. It is a common occurrence for someone to proclaim this so-called "relationship" status on Facebook or to engage in a sexual rendezvous with another person while in a supposed relationship.
One way or another, I find it difficult many do not consider this cheating.
Maybe the Kinsey Report was the start of this deviation from traditional values. But the prevalence of open relationships was precipitated by something more.
Jokingly, a friend recently handed me a copy of Open Marriage, the 1972 best-selling book by Nena and George O'Neil. I would have guessed a book of this raunchy caliber came from a used book sale sponsored by Sex Out Loud — but I was mistaken.
The back cover promises a book that will "introduce you to the open marriage concepts — trust, liking, role flexibility, individual freedom and growth, and love and sex without jealously — that can do wonders for your marriage."
Somehow, I'm not buying it.
There are obvious health concerns for engaging in an open relationship for all participants involved. Having multiple sexual partners greatly increases the probability of contracting a sexually transmitted disease and becoming pregnant. But there are other problems for those who engage in this lifestyle.
More importantly, how can one consider an open relationship to be, in fact, a relationship? Normally, a relationship requires a commitment between two people. If this doesn't exist, then what differentiates an open relationship from mere dating — or friends with benefits? I'm drawing a big blank. Nonetheless, using the word "relationship" to define the aforementioned association diminishes the significance of a monogamous relationship between two people.
Definitions aside, there are also the emotional issues.
Intimacy can only come when two people can engage in sex knowing there are not other sexual partners on the side. Sex is meant to be a bond that brings two people together — which is why waiting until marriage is the ideal situation.
Unfortunately, today it seems the intimate value placed on sex is minimal. Rather, sex is frequently used to either fulfill some mere physiological desire for both sexes or satisfy the lustful mind of an inebriated male after his beer goggles are firmly in place following a night out. It is disheartening to see so many people relegate sex to "it's just sex."
And then there is the issue of jealousy. If individuals do not become jealous of the other woman or man in their partner's sex life then they are either lying to themselves or, sadly, sex is nothing more than a purely physical act to them.
A question I have, though, is if someone can't be monogamous before marriage, who is to say they will practice monogamy within the bounds of matrimony? If people are accustomed to relationships without a commitment to remain faithful to one another (i.e. open relationships) during their dating years, why would marriage be any different?
According to "The Monogamy Myth" by Peggy Vaughn, 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will break their marriage vows at some point during their lifetime — and these figures represent only those who admit to engaging in infidelity. The increasing prevalence of open relationships before marriage will not improve this statistic.
Nonetheless, perhaps a course in relationships can help answer these questions. The Department of Psychology at Haverford College is offering a course this semester titled, The Psychology of Close Relationships. Potential topics to be covered in the class include "alternative relationships" (or more aptly, open relationships). And an entire week will be spent on the issues of infidelity and jealously.
But given the audience this course is targeted toward, I'm not holding my breath. And I can guarantee that contrary to popular belief, the answers will be not found in the next issue of Cosmopolitan either.
The rules of the dating game have been redefined. But sometimes changing the rules doesn't always make a situation better in the long run.
Darryn Beckstrom ([email protected]) is a doctoral student in the department of political science and a second-year MPA candidate in the La Follette School of Public Affairs.