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DEPARTMENT: Family Briefing
Open marriage" is a term becoming more and more familiar these days, as commentators discuss this or that celebrity's adulterous approach to the sacred institution of marriage. Most recently, "open marriage" has been the subject of a book, causing quite a stir.
Robin Rinaldi, author of The Wild Oats Project: One Woman's Midlife Quest for Passion at Any Cost, found herself feeling restless in her early forties. She had a good husband in Scott, and a good sex life, but she began to think that adding children would bring fulfillment to her life. Scott adamantly refused, and when he went so far as to get a vasectomy, Rinaldi decided to take action. "I refuse to go to my grave with no children and only four lovers," she wrote. "If I can't have one, I must have the other." So she and Scott agreed to a one-year "open marriage," for the sake of rescuing their own.
Thus began her quest for fulfillment—which consisted of sleeping with both friends and strangers, experimenting with homosexuality, and finally joining a sex commune. Rinaldi engaged in these activities only on weekdays, however. On the weekends, she returned to Scott, so they could work on their marriage.
It's all a bit 50 Shades of Grey-ish, with the notion that female fulfillment is found through weird sex. Not through God, relationships, or even work, but sex. And sex is all about exploring options, having a good time, finding yourself. It certainly isn't about the other person, and his joy or wellbeing, and it most certainly isn't about the bearing of children. Those are old-fashioned notions.
In reality, however, what non-marital sex brings is anything but glamorous. For instance, researchers from Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin recently discovered that, among low-to-middle-income individuals, when sexual involvement begins early in a relationship, it seems to be damaging to the couple's overall satisfaction with their relationship, while, "at least for women, the postponement of sexual involvement is associated with higher levels of relationship quality."1
And in her recent book The End of Sex, Donna Freitas argues that the hookup culture is failing women. Such a culture "promotes bad sex, boring sex, drunken sex you don't remember, sex you could care less about, sex where desire is absent, sex that you have 'just because everyone else is, too' or that 'just happens.'"
So what kind of sex is satisfying? Every TV show and trashy book to the contrary, years and years of survey research has demonstrated that the ones who enjoy both the most sex and the most fulfilling sex are married people. In 2010, the Kinsey Institute—not exactly a bastion of support for traditional sexual norms—published a study showing that married couples have significantly more sex than do single or even partnered individuals.2
Perhaps even more interesting is a 2013 study by researchers from the Juan March Institute and the University of Washington, which found that the married couples who enjoy the most sex are those in which the spouses tend to perform more traditionally gendered tasks. That is, marriages in which the husband does the yard work and the wife the cooking also see the most passion in the bedroom.3
Other research indicates that those "open marriages" that people nowadays find so fascinating are actually doomed. In a newer study, Alfred DeMaris at Bowling Green State University discovered that, even adjusting for differences in initial marital quality, those who engage in extramarital sex are two-thirds more likely to divorce than those who do not.4 So those who like to tout that such experimenting can save a marriage don't have a firm grasp of the facts.
Robin Rinaldi, by the way, is now divorced. •
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