4 Myths Society Wants Us to Believe About Monogamy – And Why They’re Harmful

Three people standing hand in hand

Most people would consider themselves pretty lucky to have found a partner that they connect with on a deep level. So I consider myself especially lucky that I’ve got two partners like that – two totally fulfilling, wonderful, and healthy relationships that bring a lot of love and warmth into my life.

There’s an alternative universe where people don’t ask me questions like, “So you just want to sleep around?” or “Isn’t this unfair to both of them?” There’s an alternative universe where, instead, people don’t bat an eye at the thought that I can love two people at the same time. As consenting adults, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we can make this work (happily) as long as we’re communicating openly and honestly.

But it is a surprise to most people.

In fact, because monogamy is the default in this society, my polyamorous identity is confusing and even unacceptable to some.

That attitude makes a lot of sense, though, if you think about some of the myths we’re made to believe about monogamy.

For one, monogamy is depicted as the ultimate expression of love – an unbreakable commitment and investment in your one “true” love. It’s a commitment that’s considered purer, healthier, and more ethical, despite there being plenty of evidence that not every monogamous relationship operates that way.

There are a lot of messages about monogamy that not only place it on a pedestal but also demonize any other relationship arrangement that doesn’t fit into this very narrow box. It harms non-monogamous people, like me, who struggle to find acceptance. It also harms anyone (monogamous or otherwise) who allows society to write the rules, rather than collaborating with their partner(s) to write their own.

So here are four of the myths that I hear most about monogamyand why they’re so problematic.

1. Monogamy Prevents Jealousy and Cheating

Monogamous people get jealous. Monogamous people cheat. And guess what. So do non-monogamous people. Jealousy and dishonesty can happen in any relationship, regardless of where the boundaries lie.

Monogamy used to operate like a security blanket for me. I felt safe knowing that my partner could only be with me and that I would never have to confront the reality of their being emotionally or physically attracted to anyone else.

But I quickly realized that monogamy didn’t actually protect me from feelings of jealousy or make my partner magically unattracted to other people – it just made it easier to ignore it or not confront it.

When I was in monogamous relationships, I took for granted the important conversations that need to take place around what I was and wasn’t comfortable with. Which ultimately meant that a lot went unsaid and that only led to hurt feelings.

Monogamy as protection is an illusion because the boundaries don’t change how we feel and whether or not we choose to respect the boundaries we’ve set. Cheating isn’t synonymous with non-monogamy, just like loyalty isn’t synonymous with monogamy. Cheating is about dishonesty – not respecting the boundaries, whether they’re between two people or more – which can happen in any kind of relationship.

Some of my worst experiences of betrayal happened in monogamous relationships. This is because the betrayal comes with dishonesty, not necessarily in having other partners or relationships.

But if we fall back on the assumption that monogamy protects us from cheating and jealousy – that the rules are obvious, and therefore goes without saying – it doesn’t encourage us to have explicit and open conversations about our feelings and our boundaries.

If we stopped treating monogamy like a universally understood default, and instead emphasized the importance of honest communication between partners, our relationships could all be stronger.

2. Monogamy Is Better For Sexual Health

When I say that I’m non-monogamous, it’s often assumed that I don’t care about my sexual health. But I do!

I use protection, I get tested regularly, and there’s open communication between all parties involved. And according to the research, non-monogamous folks are actually pretty good at all of the above.

There’s this idea that non-monogamy is somehow “dirty” because it involves multiple partners. But it’s not the number of partners that necessarily makes the difference – it’s about sexual behavior. The reality is, when monogamous people wind up cheating, they’re much less likely to use protection or disclose it immediately to their partner.

And unsurprisingly, this makes for some pretty bad sexual health outcomes.

If the concern is health, demonizing non-monogamy doesn’t actually do anything to protect health. It just fundamentally misconstrues the issue. We should be recognizing the ways in which things like inadequate sex ed and limited access to sexual health services greatly diminishes health – not stigmatizing non-monogamy or people with STIs, for that matter.

Sexual health shouldn’t be a moral issue. It’s a health issue, and it affects everyone – monogamous, non-monogamous, and everyone in-between.

3. Monogamy Is Inherently Natural and Ethical

Natural? Nope, nope, nope. Let me stop you right there. There’s plenty of research to the contrary. And even if there weren’t, things that come “naturally” to us don’t necessarily make them better for us by default.

I think the question of whether monogamy is natural is a moot point. Some better questions for you: “Is monogamy or non-monogamy right for me? Am I open to trying something different? What are my other options? Is this working for me? Does this work for my partner(s)?”

Rather than questioning what’s natural, can we prioritize what’s healthy?

Our relationships should make us feel respected and cared for. That requires an intentional effort on our part to communicate our expectations, boundaries, needs, desires. How to get there is a conversation that’s more worthwhile having.

Similarly, I want to push back on the idea that monogamy is somehow more ethical. When I think about my personal ethics in relationships, I’m very focused on ensuring that everyone I’m involved with feels valued, loved, and safe – that is my ethic as a polyamorous person, and I’m in constant dialogue with my partners to ensure that my actions line up with that ethic.

I’ve always prioritized consent. I’ve prioritized healthy boundaries. I’ve prioritized open communication. And I know many monogamous people who prioritize the same. Our ethics, then, may not be as dissimilar as we’ve been told.

It’s harmful to assume that non-monogamous people lack morals. Your morals aren’t tied to how many partners you have – your morals are reflected in how you treat them.

We need to stop prescribing a certain kind of morality to monogamy or non-monogamy and focus instead on how we can ensure that our relationships are safe and healthy for everyone involved, no matter how many people that includes.

4. Monogamous Relationships Are Deeper and More Serious

Some monogamous people treat love like an equation – like it’s a finite resource that you divvy up among your partners. Following that logic, then, if you have multiple partners, it just means that you love each of them less because you have less love to go around.

I find this to be really weird. I have two parents, but I would never say my relationship to them is somehow diminished because there are two of them. I wouldn’t say my love for one of them jeopardizes or threatens my love for the other. And I’d say this is true of my friends, my family members, my partners, and even pets.

I have two partners that I absolutely adore. And I just don’t see those relationships as “in competition,” fighting for my attention, as if my love is a very limited resource. I find the idea that I can’t love two people in a deep way offensive because it suggests that monogamy is the penultimate expression of love as if the way that I love is less valuable or beautiful because it isn’t confined to one relationship.

I also think that hierarchies can and do emerge in relationships, whether they’re platonic, romantic, or sexual. 

Some of us have certain relationships that we prioritize over others. Some of us have bonds that are closer than others. That’s not exclusively the domain of non-monogamous people.

My polyamorous ethic says that I’m open to every relationship unfolding in whatever way feels good for everyone involved (and is, of course, consensual). And while it can be a balancing act, the sincerity and intensity of my love is not jeopardized by having multiple partners.

Just like with friends or family, I have the capacity to care deeply about more than one person. I imagine almost everyone does.

***

Monogamy doesn’t protect us against jealousy and cheating. It doesn’t guarantee sexual health. It’s not more pure, moral, loving, or deep. Monogamy, simply put, is one totally valid way to arrange a relationship out of many (equally valid!) possibilities.

There’s serious harm done to non-monogamous people when we suggest that monogamy is inherently better. Not only do we trivialize and even demonize their relationships, but we make it incredibly difficult to find acceptance in a society that treats monogamy as the default.

This translates into real life consequences, too, in which our failure to recognize the myriad ways people arrange their relationships ultimately creates barriers in legal protections, including in marriage, housing, and parenting.

I want to live in a world where having two wonderful partners isn’t seen as an oddity or a horror. I want to live in a world where assumptions weren’t made about my morals, my sexuality, or my worth based on how I choose to arrange my relationships. I want to live in a world where we celebrate – not demonize – the beautiful love shared between us.

Or at the very least, a world where everyone minds their own business and it’s not such a big hecking deal.

That’d be nice, too.

Noah Redd is a contributing writer at Everyday Feminism, and a genderqueer, kinky, non-monogamous, graysexual writer with a knack for making things weird. In addition to kicking the heterocispatriarchy where it hurts, he writes about relationships, sexuality, and that fetish that makes you blush. When he isn’t doing that, he’s watching YouTube videos of dancing birds who are probably too good for this world. You can read his articles here.