Are couples today really more monogamous?

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With all the news of celebrity splits due to infidelity, is it really possible that monogamy is on the rise? According to a recent study of 6,864 straight and gay men and women published in the journal Family Process, the rate of monogamy has been rising since 1975.

heart art by Chris Olson

The study appears to be good news for couples, but the research does not include data from the past ten years. The study just released includes data from research done in 1975 and 2000. The study reported in found:

The percentage of heterosexual men who reported having sex with someone other than their wife dropped to 10% in 2000 from 28% in 1975; among married women, it declined to 14% from 23%. Among gay men, the percentage who cheated on a partner they lived with dropped to 59% from 83%; for lesbians it declined to 8% from 28%. Half the gays and lesbians in the study were in civil unions, half were living together in committed relationships, the researchers say.

Did sexual liberation lead to less cheating? Does a higher awareness of STIs (the new term for STDs) cause people to stay monogamous? Maybe not. According to Amanda Marcotte's blog on Slate:

They had STDs in 1975, and people worried about them then, too. Plus, the unintended pregnancy rate was much higher then, and most research I've found suggests that straight people worry far more about pregnancy than any STD. AIDS really doesn't account for the difference, since most straight people really don't see themselves at risk, even if they're cheating. They worry more about the stuff they worried about in 1975: the clap, herpes, warts.

The news of monogamy rates improving may seem surprising because betrayal and celebrity breakups are so common in the news today–almost to the point that infidelity both shocks us and seems normal. When the story broke last spring that Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child out of wedlock, people were shocked. Now it's old news, perhaps because new cases of celebrity infidelity are revealed every week.

Even if the rate of monogamy is rising and couples are happier together, we still focus on cases of infidelity especially when it involves a celebrity. Celebrities make mistakes in marriage like the rest of us. Gwyneth Paltrow has been married for 8 years, and she revealed to The Sun that she is both a romantic and a realist regarding marriage:

Life is complicated and long and I know people that I respect and admire and look up to who have had extra-marital affairs... It's like we're flawed — we're human beings and sometimes you make choices that other people are going to judge.

Although this recent study shows a positive trend for couples remaining monogamous, the big question remains: Why are monogamy rates rising? Are couples happier with their lives together so they don't want to stray? Are couples more worried about the risk of STIs if they cheat? Or are couples making better choices because now people tend to wait longer to decide to become a couple?

(Heart art by me, Chris Olson.)<

~Chris Olson
Writer and illustrator Momathon Blog: the 24/7 mommy marathon–on two feet or four wheels


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