Monogamish: The new rules of marriage | Jessica O’Reilly | TEDxVancouver

Translator: Johannes Duschner
Reviewer: Ivana Krivokuća Wow, hello, everyone. I’m going to put down my phone, and totally resist the urge to snap
a selfie to prove I was actually here. As Riaz said, my name
is Jessica O’Reilly, and I am a sexologist. A sexologist is, in fact, a real thing. Do you believe me? Three of you, okay. So you’re all on the side of my parents,
I get it, that’s cool, no problem. I got the tiger mom. Well, a sexologist; what does that mean? That means, I spend a whole lot of time
talking about sex. And almost no time actually having it. (Laughter) But I’m here today to talk to you
about a serious subject. We are in a time of crisis. We have a global epidemic
on our hands and it’s airborne. It affects the young and the old
and knows no geographical bounds. Now, this problem is not unlike
other widespread crises, the economy, climate change for instance. But this crisis effects more of us, in a more personal
and perceptible fashion. It tears families apart. It takes the most detrimental toll
on the most vulnerable among us and it’s contagious. It’s spreading. Yet somehow, we’re captivated by it. I’m talking about the crisis
of the modern monogamous marriage. Now, if I were to make you
a 50/50 offer in any realm of your life, would you take it? If I said, invest in my fund, there’s a 50 per cent chance
you’ll see a return. Or sign this business deal, you’ve got a 50 percent
chance of failure, but hey, why not? Or hop on this flight, you’ve got a 50/50 shot
at making it to your destination safely. Even if I offered you
two free checked bags, (Laughter) you’d probably say no. But the modern monogamous marriage offers even lower statistical odds when you factor in divorce rates
and the rates of infidelity. Now, in North America,
divorce rates are over 40 percent, higher, if you count your second
and third marriages. In my family sometimes
we go on even above three. Four, five, and six. You know already about my husband’s fights because of Riaz. So I might as well divulge some info. Infidelity rates in North America
are between 25 and 45 percent, depending on who’s asking and who drank
their truth serum this morning. And research suggests that satisfaction rates
in marriage plummet after the honeymoon phase,
never to recover. Scary. Now, many young people
are actually opting not to get married. Marriage rates are on the decline. Maybe because they’ve heard
that research shows that married people
are, in fact, no happier than their single counterparts. And have you heard of mate poaching? Apparently, 60 percent of men – shame, shame – and 54 percent of women – we’re not better, not much better – have tried to woo someone away
from their current spouse. What is going on? So when we combine these statistics,
we look at the numbers. We see that in marriage 50/50 is in fact a best case scenario. Marriage is in a time of crisis. Now, I’m not suggesting that we do away
with marriage; I’m a fan of marriage. I even picked one up for myself. (Laughter) I’ve been happily married
to my husband for eight years, living with him for 13. What I am saying is that marriage
is a failure in human design. It doesn’t matter that research
says that marriage is good for my health and even better for men’s health,
somehow they always win. And it doesn’t matter
that we all go into marriage with the most noble of intentions, right? To live happily ever after,
to love our partner unconditionally, to help them grow
into the best version of themselves. Because it doesn’t always end up this way. Because of this failure in human design, marriage can be restrictive
in personal growth, and even repressive in its demands
of absolute monogamy. In any other realm, if we saw failure rates
like we see in marriage, we would do something about it. When the markets tumble,
we do something about it; we adjust interest rates, we enact austerity measures, we develop stimulus packages. Right? (Laughter) If a car malfunctions in some way, we issue a recall,
so that we can repair it. And if a superbug is unresponsive
to a current vaccination, we go back to the lab
to develop a new formulation. When something doesn’t work, when anything doesn’t work, we innovate. So why do we accept
the monogamous marriage in its current form,
despite its design flaws? Could our relationships not benefit
from a stimulus package? A temporary recall. Just overnight. (Laughter) Isn’t it time we go back to the lab
to dissect the issues, challenge the failing norm, and innovate? Now, some couples have already done this. They reject monogamy altogether. Swingers for instance,
I know a lot of them. Surprise, surprise, the sexologist says. They have sex with other people
and it works for them. Polyamorous have emotional, intimate,
loving, and sexual relationships with multiple partners
and it works for them. And open relationships
come in a huge range of forms that are custom designed by every couple or threesome or foursome, or moresome, Now, I know many couples
for whom open relationships have worked, Rosa and Dan for instance. After 22 years of marriage,
they said, “Something’s gotta give.” Their words, not mine. So they decided to open
their relationship up and now they have lovers
across North America, and they couldn’t be happier. But like monogamy, open relationships only work
for a very small number of people. An estimated four to five, not 45,
four to five percent have tried it with a good degree of success. The problem with open relationships
is that most of us just don’t want one. We’re okay with other people being open, but we don’t want to share our partners. Happily ever after with one true soul mate has been too firmly ingrained
in our subconciousness, since birth. So what we’ve determined so far is that over here we have the monogamous. Monogamy works
for a small number of people. Over here we have the non-monogamous, and that works for an even smaller
percentage of people. And the rest of us, we fall somewhere in between. So what about the rest of us? Cheating isn’t an option. I’m not even going to go there. So how do we find our happily ever after? Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed guests, I submit to you that the solution is to consider the gray area of the monogamish. (Laughter) This term has been around for some time. I remember hearing it as a kid when I shouldn’t have been listening
to my parents friends back in the 80s, but it became
popularized by sex columnists, Dan Savage, more recently. And Dan used this term
to describe his relationship in which he is emotionally,
and practically, and lovingly monogamous with his partner, but sexually they’re allowed
to do other things. So to me, that’s more
of an open relationship. So what I suggest
is that we fine-tune the term – the philosophy of monogamish – to make it more accessible
to the rest of us, who fall into this gray area. Let’s use monogamish to take the monotony out of monogamy in a way that preserves the sanctity, the safety, and the comfort
of our relationships. So, monogamish, what might this look like? Monogamish couples
might look to extramarital sources for sexual stimulation. But only in thought, not in action. So if I’m monogamish, there might have been
a volunteer backstage that was kinda cute. So I took a second look. I hope I didn’t make him uncomfortable,
never making him uncomfortable. I might have had a break
and thought about him a little. I might think about him later tonight. (Laughter) But I’m never going to act
upon that thought. And this thought and thoughts like it that are forbidden
in so many monogamous relationships, admitting to this thought serves
to further stabilize my relationship because when we put
these forbidden thoughts out in the open, we serve to reduce their power,
and we decrease the likelihood that we’ll actually act upon them. So, we have thought, but not action, and then we have talk, but not touch. So monogamish couples
might look to extramarital sources for sexual arousal and pleasure
in a talk format with no touch. Flirting with other people comes to mind
as a really good example of this. So, bear with me a moment. Picture this: you’re at a bar,
you’re with you partner. Say you’re with your husband. And there’s a waitress
and she’s kinda cute. Not too cute. (Laughter) We all have our limits. So you tease him a little: “She’s really cute, isn’t she?
I think she was checking you out. You look hot tonight, Babe.” She totally wasn’t checking him out, but they all like
a good stroking of the ego. With your coaxing, maybe,
he even flirts with her a little. Maybe you get in on that flirting, too. Obviously showing her the utmost respect
and respect for your relationship. At the end of the night,
you go home together, you and your husband, not the waitress. (Laughter) Let’s be clear here. You go home and you continue the fantasy. You weave it in the bedroom. You even talk about having a threesome. “Oh Babe, you look so hot tonight. I totally want to bring her home with us. Yeah, I’d love to, absolutely,
don’t you want four hands on you? Can’t you imagine, I’d love to share you.” It’s just talk. You pull out all the stops. You drive him into a frenzy and then you both get off,
you have a great time. When you’re done, you take him by the hand
and look him in the eye and you say, “Don’t even think about it.” (Laughter) And he knows and says, “Of course not, Babe,
that was amazing, thank you. You’re all I want. Can I get you anything,
a beer or a cheeseburger?” (Laughter) Isn’t that how it should always end? Alright. You break the norms of rigid monogamy
without ever touching another person. It’s just talk. All the flirting, all the fantasy,
the four hands, the waitress. You’re never going
to that bar again, by the way. So one shot deal. It’s just talk, nothing more. Now, we have thought, but not action. We have talk, but not touch. And then we have couples, who make this foray into monogamish
territory, and they love it. They relish in it, and they say, “You know what?
Things have never been better. Let’s take it to another level.” Those couples might decide,
“Let’s go to a strip club. Let’s get a couple of lap dances.” A few years later, maybe they work
their way into the back room, the champagne room. I don’t even know what goes on in there. (Laughter) Maybe they love the dirty talk element
and they want to bring a third person in, but they don’t want the threat
of a real live person in the flesh. So they call a phone sex line together. I know, it’s not 1982,
but they still exist. And they make a lot of money,
it’s a profitable industry. Maybe they know someone who is a swinger, and they’ve been invited
to swinger parties. Now, they do not want to swing, but they like the idea of the environment, of being around this kind
of erotic element; the edge, the sights,
the sounds, the smells. Not the smells, forget that. Just the sights, and the sounds,
and the energy. What we have to remember
is that monogamish is a mindset, not a manner. You make it what you choose. If the strip club doesn’t appeal to you, don’t go. If the idea of flirting
with a real live person seems just too risky, don’t do it. Maybe you opt instead
to sign into a chat room together or use a cam service for a little bit
of nighttime fun on a Saturday night. There is no universal formula
for happily ever after. And there’s no formula for monogamish. I’m simply suggesting
that we might benefit from considering options beyond the rigid norm of monogamy. So now, you’re thinking,
“Okay, monogamish sounds good, I love strippers.” (Laughter) Right? And now guys don’t even have six-packs,
they have eight-packs. It doesn’t sound bad. You’re thinking, “This sounds okay,
but how do I get over my insecurities? How do I deal with the jealousy? Part of me would want to tear
that sort-of-cute waitress’s hair out. Or I don’t want this ripped guys
grinding up on my wife. I can’t handle that. I gained weight during her pregnancy, had a lot of cravings. Can’t expect a man to have a six-pack
after pregnancy, right? So these are all valid concerns. I can’t help you with the six-pack, but every couple deals
with these jealousies, these insecurities, these challenges,
in their very own way. Some take baby steps. They don’t dive into monogamish,
they do it a little bit at a time. They might start by simply admitting to which celebrities they find attractive. It could take them years
to work their way up to actually divulging their deepest,
darkest fantasies. But these years, that process,
is what makes it hot. A little bit of fear and anxiety, balanced with love, comfort,
and security is the perfect recipe, not only for love, but for lust. Other couples, in addition
to taking baby steps, they decide to compartmentalize their monogamish element
of their relationship. They say, “I really like
our relationship as it is. I love a little bit of monogamish,
but not too much.” So maybe, they make a rule that they only talk about fantasies
that include other people on special occasions. Or Tuesdays, or the month of March, whatever works for them. Maybe they love the idea
of flirting with other people because flirting is so much fun, it brings out the sexual animal in you, it boosts your self-esteem and it can actually be kind of hot to watch your partner flirt
with someone else, under the right consensual circumstances. But maybe they only do this once a year,
when they’re on vacation. Or maybe that bar with the waitress
is just too close to home, so they only do it when they’re together
at least 200 miles from their hometown; whatever works for them. Some couples, they go after monogamish
and they push their boundaries too far and they end up regretting it, but regret is not tantamount to disaster. Mistakes are the most important
learning and growth opportunities in a relationship. When we think of monogamish
or we think of relationships, you can think of it as a rubber band. You can stretch it in this direction, but it still goes back to its solid form. You can stretch it over here, and it doesn’t mean that you ever
have to do it again if you don’t like it. And if you stretch it this way,
it doesn’t mean that the next time – the next day, next month, next year – that you have to pull it further. In fact, you may not want to
because it can snap. What we have to know is that progress
and relationships are elastic. They are not rigid. Now, as we look at monogamish, we can’t just look at anecdote
and conjecture, we also have to look at the science of why monogamish relationships
might be the panacea we seek in response to this epidemic
of the failing monogamous marriage. There are, of course,
no universal set of rules for a successful relationship. However, there are some components that tend to be present
in happy, lasting marriages. The first is habit-formed,
emotional expression. Scientists like to sound fancy. It means talking. Talking about your feelings. The good, the bad and the ugly. Admit when you’re jealous, admit when you’re feeling
a little bit off. This is important. The second involves a balance
between connectivity and freedom. It is all based in self-expansion theory. The self-expansion theory explains that we are most happy
in our relationships when our partners offer us
opportunities for growth. Humans; we’re animals, and we’re programmed
to seek change, to seek novelty. We have a hunger for it. And when our partners feed this hunger, we are more happy with them
and more attracted to them. Now, the third component of a happy relationship
is an active sex life. An active sex life doesn’t mean that you need to be swinging
from chandeliers or doing it every day, or every week, or every month. It just means that you put some effort
into your sex life. Even the Pope and the Catholic cardinals
and the bishops know this. Do you know why? Last week at the Vatican, these celibate men
had a symposium on marriage. They got together to discuss
what makes a marriage work, but they did invite in experts. And one expert couple from Australia, who has been married for 55 years, told this group of entirely celibate men that their sex life has been, and continues to be,
of paramount importance. Very interesting to me. Now, in my job, I work with couples
from all around the world, thousands per year. And what I’ve seen is that when couples consider opening up their definition of monogamy,
even in the smallest of ways, it forces their relationship to thrive
on these core elements. Emotional expression,
connectivity balanced with freedom, and an active sex life become the norm, as soon as you start to see
monogamy along a continuum. I’m going to give you an example
of these observations. I host a reality show, sorry to say this, and the reality show is for PlayboyTV, but I’m proud to say
that this reality show is one of the few
real programs on television. So this show is about a big group
of swingers living in a house and every weekend I bring in a new couple, a newbie couple,
who has never swung before, so they can decide if perhaps
they want to try it for themselves. This house is called “The Swing House,” but I call it my personal lab because it allows me to observe couples
in their fairly natural habitat; expect for the cameras
and stuff like that. (Laughter) You forget that they’re there
after a few minutes. Some of these newbie couples,
who have never swung before, they decide to dive in headfirst. They know that swinging
was meant for them. Others, on the other hand,
realize very quickly that they are not cut out
for sharing their partner. And the interesting thing is, I learned so much from this second group because they don’t want to be monogamous, and they don’t want to be swingers. But the mere possibility
of opening up their relationship actually brings them closer together. They are forced
to talk about their feelings. They are forced to balance
the needs of the couple with the needs of the individual. And of course, it’s the PlayboyTV
Swing House, so obviously, they’re forced to think
about their sex life. Now, I want to be really clear,
monogamish couples are not swingers. I only use this example because
many of them decide not to swing. In fact, they are practicing
a version of monogamy. We might call it monogamy 2.0,
and their marriages are thriving. Now, will becoming monogamish
save a failing marriage? Of course not. It only addresses one component
of the relationship, the intimate part. But this is an important component,
along with kids and money. Sex is one of the most contentious issues
in the modern marriage. And though monogamish
won’t save a marriage, it may be the lifeline we need to tilt the scales in favor
of the institution of marriage. We have to do something
about monogamy as our default setting because we are in crisis mode. This crisis, the failing monogamous marriage, is pushing us onto the brink
of a new frontier. The monogamish solution
might seem radical, but what is our other option? Failure? Whether we want to admit it or not, every couple in this room
and every couple out there is at risk of failure. It’s a statistical reality. So I leave you with one question: Would you consider
tilting your perspective and opening your minds
to the possibility of the monogamish, if it meant you could shield
your relationship from this crisis, strenghten your bond, and increase your chances
of living happily ever after? Thank you. (Applause)

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