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Hooked on monogamy


'Hooked' by McIlhaney and McKissic BushWe certainly need not venture far — in fact, no further than a simple Google search — to come across humans at their most promiscuous.

It's not just out there in cyberspace, either. It's in nature — all around us — or so we're told. No wonder then that even as we strive for long-lasting love, we seem to constantly come up against a wall when it comes to long-term commitment.

Or do we? What if I were to say that despite 'evidence' to the contrary, we really are monogamous at heart. 'God has set the type of marriage everywhere throughout the creation,' said Martin Luther. 'Every creature seeks its perfection in another.'

But I'm not just drawing on a biblical or conservative viewpoint here. This is about romance, pure and simple.

Yet our need for a soul mate has sociological bearing, too. To be a true romantic is to seek fellowship with another human being. It's about challenging ourselves, putting up with each other's foibles and follies and, ultimately, growing from that association.

Crucially, though, it's about being true to our natures.

In their book Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children, Dr Joe McIlhaney and Dr Freda McKissic Bush write that rather than add anything of worth to our emotional development promiscuity can irrevocably lead us away from self-fulfilment.

It comes down to that great sex organ — the brain. The human brain is magnificent, multifaceted and, until we reach the magic age of 25, malleable. And so it is that each thought, emotion and behaviour in our early years lays down the framework for our adult selves.

In a modern world of brief hook-ups, one-night stands and 'friends with benefits' this theory brings with it new urgency. As New York Times columnist David Brooks writes: 'The rules of courtship ... have been replaced by ambiguity and uncertainty. Cell phones, Facebook and text messages give people access to hundreds of 'friends'. That only increases the fluidity, drama and anxiety.'

This is certainly supported by the Relationships Australia survey released recently that shows a strong correlation between an online life and chronic loneliness among young people.

The rising call both here and the US for marriage between homosexual couples can be seen as another case in point. While New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan recently argued that sanctioning gay marriage could lead to demands for the legalisation of polygamy, to invoke such an argument is to undermine the human spirit.

Gay, straight or celibate we all strive for the 'dialogue of giving and receiving' and the 'pair bonding that contributes to equality and unity', as US author Sidney Callahan reminds us. Only in a one-on-one relationship — the dyad — is the 'intensity' of an 'I-Thou quality'.

It's foundational in the sense that it provides psychological grounding, but also, Callahan suggests, its 'power may be a legacy of mother-infant relationship ... In this dialogue, human selves are created — whatever the gender.'

That's all well and good, the critics chime, but it's hardly sexy. They've got a point. Sex can, and often is, the first casualty of a long-term relationship, especially when children enter the equation or when old age slows us down. But while a loving and dynamic physical relationship might have brought two people together it rarely remains the sole driving force.

Like anything over time, romantic love must morph if it is to survive. Relationships that stand the test of time are based upon friendship and honesty. And rather than run away in horror when faced with this truism, young people appear to be signing up with their eyes wide open.

Take 20-year-old US university student Taylor Hamilton. In the 2011 book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying, Hamilton, one of many young people interviewed for the book, announces: 'Marriage is not for sex; it's for settling down and having kids.'

Love and emotions are difficult to navigate at the best of times, and this is particularly so if we break out of the dyad. Putting aside the tedium often associated with day-to-day familiarity, only a permanent happy committed relationship can tap into the ongoing and boundless supply of care, support and understanding.

'It's probably one of the most profound human experiences,' Justin Garcia, US evolutionary biologist and, curiously, scientific advisor to dating website Match.com told Salon.com. 'Love drives us to do remarkable things, sometimes crazy things, much more so than anything else, even the sex drive.'

Amen to that.

Jen VukJen Vuk is a freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including The Herald Sun, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Age and The Good Weekend

Topic tags: Timothy Dolan, Sidney Callahan, Hooked, Casual Sex, Children, Joe McIlhaney, Freda McKissic Bush



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Existing comments

Thanks for your words...young people seem not to be so much guided now by the fact that our body's most powerful sexual organ is between our ears.

As usual, the poet puts it best:
i am through you so i. (E.E.Cummings)

Caroline Storm | 10 August 2011  

God wills marriage between one woman and one man for procreation and education of children. The Sixth and Ninth Commandment precludes all other forms of sexual activity. Purity and Modesty have been forgotten by so many including many Catholics.

God (the Trinity) is greatly offended by the sexual mores of today. All people are expected to abide by God's Divine Laws or suffer the eternal penalties.

"For there is no true civilization without a moral civilization, and no true moral civilization without the true religion, the Catholic church: it is a proven truth, a historical fact." (Pope Saint Pius X, Notre Charge Apostolique, August 15, 1910.)

Trent | 10 August 2011  

"And so it is that each thought, emotion and behaviour in our early years lays down the framework for our adult selves" - also, of course, what happens to us, by chance or design. "only a permanent happy committed relationship can tap into the ongoing and boundless supply of care, support and understanding." Not sure whether this happens so often in reality. I've certainly known people, including my grandmother who was a widow nearly all her long life, who created happy lives without such a relationship. Not everyone needs/wants the same things - let's allow individuals a little freedom here. The NY archbishop's argument is stupid - monogamy is not polygamy. But I'd be interested to know what the situation is in Australia with regard to de facto polygamous relationships. I think, in W.A. at least, if you are in a de facto relationship, for all intents and purposes the law regards you as married. Does it recognise de facto polygamous relationships and treat those the same as monogamous de facto relationships?

Russell | 10 August 2011  


I have deep respect for the Catholic church, and its ideal of marital love.

I respect your obvious faith, but it is illusory to believe there was an ideal age of sexual mores. People have failed to meet the standard of divine marital love in every age.

In any case, a literal interpretation of the ten commandments means that if one is not married, and neither is their partner, then they have not committed adultery. Likewise, if they have not sought to sleep with their neighbour's wife, they have not broken a commandment.

If this literal translation is not acceptable to you, then perhaps other literal translations are not acceptable either.

Always, love, compassion, goodness and mercy guide us in following 'God's will.'

Anonymous | 10 August 2011  

"Gay, straight or celibate we all strive for the 'dialogue of giving and receiving' and the 'pair bonding that contributes to equality and unity'" My understanding is that the Australian government recognises polygamous marriages entered into overseas, but does not recognise same sex marriages. The path that Timothy Dolan is concerned about has long ago been trodden with no appreciable effect.

It seems to me that it is unjust to deny same sex couples in stable, committed, loving relationships the support and recognition that straight couples enjoy. As a gay man who was in a straight marriage for twenty eight years, I find it bizarre that that marriage was sanctioned, even encouraged by society, when marriage to a person that I am more naturally drawn to is not.

Malcolm McPherson | 13 August 2011  

So, Trent, according to your reasoning, a marriage between a man and a woman one or both of whom are physically incapable of 'procreating' is not a valid marriage, and that any 'sexual activity' within that relationship is precluded by the sixth and ninth commandments.

Ginger Meggs | 28 August 2011  

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