It might seem odd that a romance writer, whose whole genre (and therefore livelihood) is predicated on the mythology of “one true love!” which is the foundation of Western ideas of romantic relationships, would be a huge fan of a book which detractors describe as an attack on monogamy. But I am. I think it is one of the most romantic books ever written.
Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan, Ph.D. & Cacilda Jethá, M.D, is an anthropological and economic analysis of the claim that humans are “naturally monogamous.” The conclusion made by the authors is that we are not, at all:monogamy is a modern social construct, invented after the introduction of agriculture around 10,000 years ago,and is in direct counterpoint to biological urges that took literally millions of years to evolve. It is as natural as vegetarianism, that is to say, a person can live a happy, fulfilling monogamous life but it is something they must consciously choose to do and something that may prove difficult to continue throughout their whole life. It is a choice based on human-created ideas (vegetarianism, monogamy, twitter), not the “natural” standard that so many people believe it to be. Humans are not the only “naturally” monogamous social-group primate because we’re not monogamous.
[email protected] has been accused of vilifying monogamy, which is not true at all. Instead the book simply points out the very clear facts supporting the theory that we evolved as polygamous/polyamorous creatures, and that we are still hardwired that way despite centuries of cultural conditioning.
(I won’t rehash the argument here. Suffice to say I think the authors are completely in the right, and that their evidence is solid. If the idea they propose intrigues you or horrifies you, I suggest you read the book before commenting.)
Of course, the idea that romantic love=sexual desire is so ingrained in us that we think that if you separate the two, not only do you lose monogamy but the whole fabric holding society together. That’s not true, and I think most people instinctively know that there is a difference even if they are culturally brainwashed to believe that the loss of sexual monogamy in a relationship means the people involved “don’t really love each other anymore.” Hogwash. Utter, ridiculous hogwash.
However I’m a romance writer, and the romance industry (no matter the category) is quite simply predicated on the idea that there is One True Pair (OTP) for every person, and that upon finding our “other half” (as long as it is the right and correct other half, and there’s the trick, eh?) then we will live the rest of our lives in romantic bliss and totally monogamous sexual fidelity, because that is what comes naturally to us.
Only it doesn’t, does it? Go ahead, raise your hand: which of us have lived our whole lives having had only one sexual partner, to whom we remain totally and completely sexually faithful to, to this day? Oh sure, some people have done just that, but they are swimming against the tide, not floating down the lagoon on a lounger with a pina colada in their hands. Yet the romance industry trades on the idea that sexual monogamy for life is the purest form of love.
Personally I’ve always found the idea somewhat ridiculous (along with the whole virgin fetish thing, I mean really, who wants a virgin???) yet I’m a die-hard romance fan. I LOVE ROMANCE. I love it in my personal life, I love writing about it, I love reading it.
The reason for that seeming conundrum is that for some reason, even as a young girl, I never conflated sexual attraction with romance. I think they go together like cake and ice cream, but they are not reliant of each other. It is possible to have romantic, life-time fidelity in a sexually open relationship, just as it is possible to have incredibly passionate, emotional sex with people you aren’t “in love” with.
Furthermore, to me, neither romance nor sex has ever been about “possession,” which is the crutch monogamy rests on and that the romance genre trades on. You don’t need one to enjoy the other, and IMHO the artificial restrictions that kind of mentality places on people are more often destructive than not. That’s why I think Sex at Dawn is a very romantic book: it allows for people to be open about their sexual needs with themselves, with their lovers and partners, and society at large. I think that kind of honesty and trust is ten times more romantic than owning someone for life.
Sex at Dawn has given me perspective on my stories, none of which feature virgins, love at first sight, soul mates, or HEAs (I tend to write optimistic HFN). My characters are usually sexually experienced, bisexual and open minded, although most of my work is very pair-oriented m/m romance with a capital R (and that is certainly what is popular).
I’m not sure how to capture the idea of polyamorous characters in a romance novel, though. Sex at Dawn, while very accessibly written, hardly lends itself to fictional interpretation. Threesome novels of the m/m/m and m/f/m varieties seem to be selling well (or, at least, selling) and I do have a couple of m/f/m books in the work queue. But it’s not about the number of people involved in the sex, it’s about the willingness of people to be flexible in their ideas about what a relationship is, and how it really is possible to both be in love and sexually attracted to different combinations of people. That’s not a paradigm that “romance novels” have really done much with, you know? But I’d like to go there.
I’m sure there would be push back from readers who want their “OPT FOREVAH!” endings, who will feel threatened by the idea that a life time of monogamy may not be the ultimate symbol of love (no matter how many times they, themselves have been in and out of “love,” divorced, or bedded). I have to believe, though, that there are readers out there like me who want a broader, less conventional, and even MORE romantic approach to their romance novels. Maybe?