Is monogamous fidelity a deliberate choice?

by Felix-Abrahams Obi

In recent times, what constitutes the breaking news seems to have moved from the media focus on mass movements for freedom and liberty sweeping through the Middle East to the socially ‘juicy’ headlines. And indeed, they apparently warrant the media buzz they’ve got; for when what happens illicitly in the secret becomes public knowledge, the ears twitch to hear more about them. This is one of the traits of humans, and gossip and rumor mongering are lucrative genre of news in the multi-billion media industry. And powerful and influential men in America have made the news in the recent past: Bill Clinton, Mark Sanford, John Ensign, John Edwards, Newt Gingrich.

As I watched the public shaming of the ‘noble’ French politician and technocrat, Dominique Strauss-Khan and his fall from grace to grass as the erstwhile big boss of the IMF and presidential aspirant, ‘afraid wan catch me’, as a man. Having checked-in and boarded as a first class passenger, he least expected that security operatives will stop his plane from taxing, to the point that he was literally hounded and bundled into a ‘Black Maria’ to his new place of confinement. He now awaits the US justice system to run its full course, for his alleged crime of attempted rape of the Guinean woman that attended to him in his hotel room.

For Arnold Schwarzenegger, the open-book has shown that he fathered a son through his ‘house help’ and since genes don’t lie, the mistress of an actor can’t lie if her son’s looks are in semblance with that of the Californian Governor. And as hard as John Terry tried to hide his philandering ways in a bid to remain politically correct and be able to give a shot at the presidency, the knowledge that he seared a child with his campaign staff has punctured his political career. The former attorney general and Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer lost his political relevance for patronizing high profile prostitutes even though he had earlier earned the support of women’s rights groups for his efforts to bring stronger penalties against men who used prostitutes. How sex has ruined men of substance!

As Tiger Woods’ ex-wife took her little daughter to Disneyland a couple of days ago for the little girl’s birthday without the presence of her golf legend and dad, the cost of the pleasure-ride which Tiger had with several mistresses became very obvious; the little girl had a ‘birthday-ride’ without her father cheering on. And for Woods, the inevitable prize of proving his manliness in the bedroom had been the fall from being the top golfer, to a struggling man who can’t fit into the top 10 on the world ranking for now. Other sportsmen are also paying/have paid the prize for sexually-straying away from their partners and spouses: Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Ryan Giggs.and the list goes on.
We may never know the percentage of men and women that are cheating, or have cheated on their partners, but the numbers seem to be staggering.

Though we live in an interesting time of seeming absoluteness in our expression of sexual freedom, yet there seems to be a secret yearning in our hearts for our partners to stick with and to us in absolute fidelity. Even for the non-religious or amoral members of the society who don’t believe in absolute rights or wrongs, fidelity to one’s spouse is also a cherished commodity. And who would be so stoically strong to boast about the sexual escapades of his/her spouse with a gleeful smile before others?

For when two people unite as a couple through dating, courtship or marriage, the union by implication has some degree of exclusivity stamped on it, and there are limits (even unexpressed but assumed) that both couple and third parties are expected to observe. And this need is as old as humanity itself. And even in societies where polygamy is a norm, for a man/woman to be caught sleeping with another’s wife/husband, the gods may need to be appeased through sacrifices or ‘shaming rites’ for the defilement of the land.

And as our modern society becomes increasingly sexualized, one wonders if it is still plausible and practically possible for couples to expect fidelity from each other. And if this is to be expected, does the social milieu and culture of the 21st century provide one with the incentives that will guarantee or at least bolster the decision of those who for obvious reasons, wish to follow the path of fidelity? And if not, will it be okay to give freedom to those who want to practice infidelity without any restraints, such that no one will have the right to wink or cringe when he/she sees his/her best friend or enemy sleeping with his/her partner? And will such a society be able to sustain such culture, and what could be the likely consequences in addition to the perceived merits of legalizing infidelity, so it can enjoy part of the moral freedom that homosexuals and pro-abortionists now enjoy in some societies where they were once punishable offences?

There really are no limits to what humans are capable of doing once it can be imagined or believed to be possible. When in the past some humans thought that only birds could fly, it only took the two Lander Brothers to prove that there’s a law of thermodynamics that could over-rule the gravitational pull that draws us back to the earth when we attempt to fly with/without wings like birds. And so it was that through same use of the power of the knowledge of thermodynamics and sundries, astronauts were able to break away from the earth’s gravitational force, and landed on the moon.

And the whole world envied America when it became the first nation to have its star-infested flag, hoisted deep inside the moon’s rock! And modern technology has made what once was seen as scientific theory and fiction to become a reality. And had I seen my grandfather when he was alive, he never would have believed that my village would be a place where I could receive a telephone call from ‘obodo oyibo’, let alone make video call from my laptop using an internet modern from his former bedroom.

That science has changed the world is a fact that need not be contested. But somehow and for reasons scientists have not been able to fathom, man has not changed from who he is, biologically speaking. Surgical and medical science has helped us to fight fatal diseases, perform complex surgeries, organ transplants, boob-jobs, facial-lifts and tummy-tucks, but we often are at lost as to how to handle or modulate our emotions and natural desires which seem too powerful to be tamed easily: anger, jealousy, envy, strife, gossip, fear, anxiety, depression, phobias, prejudice, hatred, covetousness, infidelity and the list goes on.

Even as we take pride as those privileged to live in the post-modern world that has become more like a compact village, our murderous tendencies have not yet waned. We still feel threatened by our talented subordinates at the workplace, and if given the opportunity, there is no limit to how far we can go to amass power, wealth and fame.

Notwithstanding our high level of sophistication and drive for independent living and the expression of self-centeredness, we still treasure a hug, a kiss and spend hugely on telephone calls, e-chats and every other form of communication that helps to keep us in touch with other human beings irrespective of culture, colour and creed.
So humans have not really changed after all, despite the thousands of years we’ve cumulatively spent here on earth! Little wonder we still expect our spouses and partners to remain (sexually and emotionally) faithful to us even though we live in modern times. And that is why divorce courts are as busy as ever, ending marriage unions mainly on account of the almighty infidelity which we seem to fall so helplessly into, and the rate of divorce is as high among the both the religiously pious and the non-theists and secularists.

Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists seem to have bad news for those who expect their partners to be monogamously faithful to them. In their classic

book titled “Strange Bedfellows: The Surprising Connection between Evolution, Sex and Monogamy”, Judith and Eve Lipton (married couple) posit that nature ‘favors’ sexual variety as a reproductive strategy. And the facts seem to show that of the world’s mammalian species, 98% and more are polygamous in nature; and of the remaining few, most are what scientists call ‘serial monogamist’ who exchange partners; they cheat, and try to conceal their extra-pair copulations (EPCs)-what we stylishly call ‘affairs’ to reduce their social impact.

In a way that will make any proponent of monogamous fidelity to cringe in shock, Judith and Eve Lipton would add that, ‘Our species is naturally resistant to monogamy’ and the only mammals that were found to be truly faithful to their partners are Beavers; which are one of natures’ most monogamous species and work best in pairs. So the crux of the matter which all humans have to admit however disappointing to our social and spiritual expectations is that; sexual fidelity is naturally not as easy to maintain among humans.

However, we still expect our partners by nature to remain faithful to us, and even those who are into the concept of ‘friends-with-benefits’ and “with-no-strings-attached”, have been found to experience bits of jealously and a sense of betrayal when the other party sleeps with a third party. So as humans, we seem to not easily mortgage our expectations even in these modern times.

How paradoxical it is for to eat our cakes and expect to have them back if we give a free rein to our natural desires. And this catch-22 situation we now face in terms of sexual fidelity may continue without the cycle ending in our favor except something happens. It’s either we allow this absolute sexual freedom that we so desire and happily embrace the unpleasant consequences that come with spousal infidelity or we strive for spousal fidelity and be ‘denied’ the sexual variety that monogamy unfortunately curtails. For in life, every decision or action has a cost price and its opportunity cost is equal to whatever valuable the decision maker has to willingly or unwillingly forgo in other to follow that course in life.

Sadly and contrary to the reality of our existence on earth, a lot of things in life are mutually exclusive, just as one has to give up something to gain another. The old principle of trade by barter is operational even when we don’t realize it. And we may never enjoy the benefits of being faithful to a partner if we go the way of infidelity; and even modern society seem not to grant us that privilege expressly without the media blowing the whistle or washing the dirty sheets in the public for all to see and hear.

A young and single ‘born-again’ Christian lady recently lamented how disillusioned she was about marriage owning to the fact that most of her born again Christian friends who married decent Christian guys are hurting from the philandering ways of their husbands. And if so many Christian guys now cheat on their wives contrary to religious and societal expectations, should we now lose hope and banish fidelity and monogamy from the society?

Once I asked a guy how he had managed to remain faithful to his wife, who had lived through the anxiety of suspecting that he’s cheating on her like her friends had experienced in their marriages. And in sincerity, he admitted that it has been really tough especially when opportunities abound for him to cheat on her without being caught in the act. And he said jocularly that ‘she really is lucky that she married a God-fearing man”; and save for the fact that he had made a commitment and sought God’s help to remain faithful to his wife, it would have been far more difficult to keep to his vows; thus proving that monogamy has a price-tag which most people are unable to pay within their natural power and ability.

As I sat listening to another dear friend, I was struck when he said that one of his greatest desires is that when he would be lying on his death-bed, he would like his son to walk away from his tomb knowing that ”his father never slept with any other woman, besides his mother”. He has been working towards it with his wife accountability partner, knowing how hard it is.

And the other day, I listened to a guy who lost his dear wife speak about her with such devotion. And without much effort, he told us how he and his wife had been faithful to each other from their dating days in the university over a decade ago till they got married and remained so throughout their time together as husband and wife. Having had sex with no other woman other than his wife, the bond between them was as intimate, deep and strong than anyone could imagine.

Contemplating a life without her has been one of the greatest challenges he has had to face, he admits regrettably. And it appears that the exclusive bond of intimacy he had with her seems to be one of the benefits that monogamy had made possible for him, which marital infidelity may’ve denied him had he strayed like most men. As he talked on, I wondered how possible it would have been to clone such rare men like him, for there’s a possibility that so many women would like such as a husband that will stick with them in rain or shine, amidst the sexual variety that other women could offer.

What I didn’t bother to ask was how he was able to remain faithful to his wife all these years. Having known him intimately for years, I chose to not bother him. For one unhidden truth about him is that he has been a man whom his family members, friends and professional colleagues respect and know as someone that genuinely fears and respects God. And little wonder he also keeps to those godly values and maintain such a lifestyle which only God can help a natural man like many of us to live out in this 21st century.

And when I faced myself before the mirror afterwards, I silently wished to at least be like my dear friend since birds of the same feather are bound to flock together; and am bowing my head in humility and utter helplessness as a human, wishing, resolving and praying that same thing shall be said of me, someday. That in spite of the natural tendency in humans to be unfaithful to their partners, I wittingly (and maybe unwillingly) chose monogamy as a deliberate, but tough and costly choice which I helplessly have to admit and certainly know that, self-will and resolve alone can’t pull it through for me, without some element of divine help to overcome my human weaknesses and natural tendencies as a man!

Sara Lipton in a recent article published in the New York Times titled “Those Manly Men of Yore” hinted that historical record from the medieval ages showed that the most desirable trait of manhood and true masculinity then was self-mastery. And Roman writers like Plutarch reportedly lauded men for their ability to ‘resist sexual temptation and control bodily desires through the force of will and intellect’, and it was actually women that were seen to be unable to control their sexual urges.

Too much sex was thought to weaken men and the masculinity of those who were susceptible to feminine attractions was generally questioned. Hence Marc Anthony was derided for having been ‘softened and effeminized’ by his desire for Cleopatra. And when the king and war hero Pedro II of Aragon spent the night before a battle not in prayer or council, but in bed with a woman, he was labeled effeminate by his medieval society.

The medieval Western society expected men to grow out of rampart sexuality and any man who indulged in excessive eating, drinking, sleeping or sex – who failed to ‘rule himself’- was considered unfit to rule his household, less a polity. And this high expectation had long been established in Christian tradition (before the medieval period) when Paul advised his protégés, Timothy and Titus to appoint as an overseer, only but a man who among others is “blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, not given to wine, not violent, self-controlled, sober-minded, holy and on

e who rules his own household.”

Maybe we need to reexamine the pervasive but defeatist thinking that has made masculinity to be synonymous with the sexual conquest of women by supposedly successful and powerful men of means and influence. Maybe we have to redefine the paradigm which allows society to gloss over men’s engagement in illicit sex and the boast about the number of women we have lain, save when we are caught and exposed by the media.

Maybe in the wake of the pervasive sex scandals involving men occupying top social, political, economic and spiritual positions, it might help if society can so challenge, inspire and motivate men to once again begin to believe that monogamous fidelity can still be possible in this post-modernist 21st century. Maybe as men, we should begin to humbly and shamelessly acknowledge our weakness and helplessness to control those powerful and natural desires that readily overcome our reasoning and self-will, especially our sexual urges, so we can indeed be qualified to receive the needed help keep our pants and boxers on!

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1 comment

Tokunbo June 29, 2011 - 3:53 pm

The statement below should have said John Edwards and not John Terry

“And as hard as John Terry tried to hide his philandering ways in a bid to remain politically correct and be able to give a shot at the presidency, the knowledge that he seared a child with his campaign staff has punctured his political career. “


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