Marriage and Sex: Why Monogamy?

Call me crazy, because I am for trying to tackle this issue. Why, oh why would I decide to toss my dog into this fight? Well… I’m married, I have a kid on the way, and I currently work with children. I’ve been percolating on this topic for a while and I’ve some thoughts I’d like to jot down.

So here’s a question: have you ever driven someone else’s car? Do you remember how that felt? Every time I drive a different vehicle, I have to spend time adjusting mirrors, driver’s seat, steering wheel, A/C levels, and radio settings before even looking for the gear shift. Then, I have to fight with the steering’s looseness or tightness, how soft the brakes are, and how quickly the car accelerates… or not. I spend the entire drive trying to figure out the car… and heaven forbid it rain or I have to find the headlight switch.

I could very easily make a common sense argument for monogamy based on my car experience. I like my car. It’s comfy. I have the seat right where I want it. I can find every button without looking. I rarely have to adjust anything, and can turn on the ignition and go. I have an idea when something’s wrong and I need to have some maintenance work done. Because I drive the same car every day, the car and I can act like one body. Not to say my wife is in any way like a car. I have a hard time imagining trying to learn to live alongside a different human partner in the same house after six years of marriage. I know where Kristie sits, how towels should be folded, how she likes her steak. I know her habits and I have learned to appreciate everything she is. Personally, I can’t imagine spending another 6 years learning someone completely different. Part of the joy of monogamy is getting to know just how unique and multifaceted my wife is and enjoying the process as we both change and grow together over time.

So, to start into a theological discussion on relationships and monogamy, let’s go back to the beginning. I mean, of course that’s where we start, but I also mean Genesis. So looking at Chapter 2, we get a picture that one of God’s creations was lonely. He had a demanding, but fulfilling job – caring for an amazing piece of property and cultivating the land and animals – but something was missing. The man looked around at all of the animals and realized there wasn’t really anyone up to speed to be his partner, if you will. Sure, animals are great friends and we make stories and movies about that human-animal friendship all the time; however, it doesn’t satisfy the need humans have for community for relationships with other humans.

(Theological side note: we are created in God’s image. As Christians, we have a belief that God is a community in Himself – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – but also a unified God. So to be alone is to deny and to miss out on an essential necessity in the way God created us.)

So what does God do? Well, he creates a woman. He creates a human who is alike enough to be a companion, but different enough to add something new to the man’s understanding.

(Second side note: We usually see an artist’s last work(s) as the culmination of their efforts, a magnum opus, if you will. As such, woman is the crowning jewel in the creation of this universe.)

And yet, in all of this, there is something almost unnatural about selecting one partner “until death do us part.” Many of those who study the mating habits of animals and humans will often reference the fact that humans are one of the few species that continually mates with one partner for an entire lifespan… in theory, at least. Many of the sex-positive tribe (those that believe sex should be discussed and enjoyed in its many facets, without judgment from others) will often use these very natural observances of the world around us as a kind of permission for almost any kind of consensual act of sexual enjoyment between adults. The idea that society is the arbiter of sexual morals is at the same time both distrusted and used as a facilitator. (Read there: “No one can judge me,” but also “everyone else is doing it.”)

For those that claim to follow the Bible which contains Jewish and Christian texts, the concept of something being “natural” isn’t always a point in its favor. Even as we look around and death and violence seem to permeate every aspect of our lives, that natural violence and death are things God has been working to remove. The Mosaic Law creates a social order that cares for the weak and oppressed, and is written in such a way as to prevent and proactively fight against violence. Jesus and his followers often teach the nonviolent route, even to the point of submitting to that natural violence in order to defeat it. I think the same concept applies to sex.

Whether you are reading the Hebrew texts or the Christian ones, God is a God of order, who has a very clear idea of what a society should look like – that society should care for all, especially the weak. Society should give its worship to one God, and care for creation as duly appointed caretakers. Society should honor the family and give special respect to elders and children who often have no one to speak for them. These are not the natural order, but these are aspects of a supernatural order. God’s order goes beyond what nature insists and can even contradict nature’s imperatives.

Consider the first mention of marriage in Genesis 2 where the “man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh.” The order of words here is important: in this paradigm the man leaves his family to join the woman’s, not the other way around. It’s an interesting thought, and a subversion of what we typically think of relationships between the genders.

Polygamy, though recorded in the Bible, is not endorsed by the authors. Tolerated… maybe, but the stories and laws concerning polygamy more often illustrate the dangers, disruption, and unfairness inherent in a sexual relationship encompassing more than two people. The Patriarchs and their wives suffered because of this. David, Solomon, Esau and many others made the same mistake and found themselves in the natural trouble that arises from following a natural desire to its extreme. Also, polygamy, in ancient times, was often a way for one person to display their wealth and power – which often meant men having power over women who were considered property. Today, those that do practice poly-amorous relationships (romantic relationships involving more than two persons) still wrestle daily with the issues around openness, trust, and communication.

Monogamy is an idea baked into monotheism. Monotheism is, in a way, a covenant between a people and their god – one people, one god. Viewed this way, the relationship between God and his people is a view of marriage – a one-on-one covenant that relies on trust, faithfulness, and selflessness. God’s biggest complaints through the prophets often involve Israel’s unfaithfulness – going after other gods – and forgetting to care for the poor and oppressed. In other words, when the people began to drift back into the “natural” ways of thinking and acting, God sent his messengers to remind them that they had and have a higher, supernatural calling.

And so, we today, when faced with the natural urge to pursue multiple partners (not all are) we must remember that we are called to a supernatural standard that is in place to help create a different kind of society.

How will you discuss these issues with your family? How have you wrestled with the idea of monogamy? What messages do you and your family see in the media concerning relationships?

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