People often ask if my boyfriend and I are monogamous. Since I write about sex and relationships—and I’ve done things in the name of my craft some consider needlessly risqué, such as lap dancing, naked body sushi modeling, and sugar daddy dating—the question never surprises me. The certainty with which I answer “yes,” however, surprises most inquirers.
I’ve never been much of a romantic. I didn’t parade through early adulthood expecting Prince Charming to reveal himself by way of knowing glance before escorting me down the path to Happily Ever After. The concept of the one is too neat and fatalistic for me, so I continue to ponder whether meeting the right person is more important than developing the will to commit. When it comes to the long-term, I would never dare argue that monogamy is the only relationship construct that works. Still, it’s what I want.
The ability to intellectualize that monogamy is an unreasonable expectation for biological reasons doesn’t preclude the desire to aspire to it. I was reminded of this recently while speaking to a class at Indiana University called Ancient Love, Modern Sex. Twenty minutes into my guest lecture, a handsome, floppy-haired student of about 19 asked whether I was saddened while researching a story about AshleyMadison.com, a website that facilitates affairs. The notion that so many couples cheat—enough that a website with millions of users exists expressly to service their philandering—saddened this young man. Intrigued by his reaction, I posed two questions of the class. First: How many of you believe monogamy is a practical lifestyle choice, considering what you know about human biology? (Roughly 10 percent of the students raised their hands.) Second: How many of you want to be in a long-term monogamous relationship one day? (Nearly 100 percent of the students raised their hands.)
Even to those who recognize that the strongest love isn’t necessarily sufficient to thwart straying—who understand that humans live long lives and temptations are bound to arise—a tidy, faithful forever after can sound appealing. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve seen Unfaithful, or how many sex-centric scandals we’ve watched unfold in the news. We know that people cheat, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or economic class. Yet we fly in the face of reason by seeking a lifetime of fidelity with someone special.
I’m not psychic enough to tell you whether my boyfriend and I will manage to remain monogamous, let alone whether you and your partner will. What I can do, however, is provide some unsolicited advice based on limited life experience regarding how to build a long-term relationship free from the nagging feeling that your partner’s destined to cheat.
1. Pick a partner whose sex drive matches yours
People are as varied in libido as they are in shape, size, and color. Some are legitimately addicted to sex while others identify as asexual and the rest fall somewhere in between. I’m guessing you wouldn’t recommend that a sex addict search for love in a nunnery, so why settle down with someone miles away from wherever you stand on the libido spectrum? The trap of mismatched sex drives is that one person is likely to end up feeling sexually deprived (or hyper-sexualized) and resentful. So be honest from the outset, no matter how tempting it is to make false claims designed to please. It’s counterproductive to exaggerate or understate how often you “want it” or how often you masturbate. Sexual health and mental health are linked, so it’s worth paying serious attention to compatibility in the sack as you assess whether or not to move forward together.
2. Own your own sex appeal
Feeling desired is not entirely the same thing as feeling desirable. Everyone should do what he or she can to make their partner feel beddable through regular compliments and such, but it’s also important to feel sexy independent of secondary affirmation. The ol’ put-your-oxygen-mask-on-before-helping-another philosophy applies. When we don’t feel good about ourselves—on the inside or outside—naked human contact is the last thing we want. So take responsibility for your personal seductiveness quotient by doing whatever you have to to feel good. For me, that means running three to four times a week, reading a lot, and spending a certain amount of time each day completely alone. If you have to do yoga, or listen to positive subliminal messages while you sleep to be in the right mindset for intimacy, go forth already!
3. Keep rebooting the newness
It’s easy to get sucked into a routine, but the beauty of routine life is that the simplest changes can make everything seem exciting again. New doesn’t have to mean agreeing to a threesome or introducing handcuffs and a whip. I was shocked, after years of Brazilian bikini waxes, to learn that my boyfriend didn’t mind pubic hair. His appreciation for the au naturale me was arousing on an unprecedented level, and led to fun play. Novelty between the sheets doesn’t even have to start with anything remotely sexual. Any new activity—jogging, traveling, cooking, spelunking, meditating, theater going, camping, or reading aloud to one another—can trigger the release of dopamine in our brains. That love-drug high is always one fresh pursuit away.
4. Embrace jealousy
Jealousy is demoralizing, especially within a relationship. No one wants to catch their partner checking someone else out or communicating with an ex over Facebook. But jealousy’s negative connotation isn’t completely deserved. Scientists view it as an evolutionary adaptation designed to keep us on our toes. So rather than get angry when you find yourself captive to the green monster, recognize that you’re experiencing a universal human emotion and use it as inspiration to work on your relationship. A little friendly competition never hurt anyone.
5. Have sex when you don’t want to
In a Salon piece about marriage, renowned biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher counsels couples to “Have sex regularly, even if you don’t feel like it.” Genital contact triggers our dopamine systems, which reward us with enhanced “feelings of romantic love.” The release of neuro chemicals during orgasm also promotes attachment. But you shouldn’t wait around until you and your partner are both in the mood to copulate, says Fisher. Essentially, it’s unwise to assume that simultaneous excitation will occur often enough to encourage the amount of sex required for ongoing pair bonding. There are benefits to engaging in sexual activity to please your partner regardless of whether you’re in the mood—something scientists call sexual communal strength. A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science concluded that couples ranking high in this measure were better equipped to sustain long-term desire. If the data isn’t enough to sway you, just think of meeting your partner’s needs as leverage for negotiating who has to unload the dishwasher later.