In this week's Sex IDK column, Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and writer, answers your questions about whether you can ever be satisfied having sex with just one person.
Q: Is it possible to enjoy sex with only one person?
Let me try to put myself in your position, Reader. I’m guessing you're either in a monogamous relationship with one person or considering getting into one. It’s likely that you think that the “right thing to do” is to "commit" to monogamy by committing to one person. And that idea is freaking you out a little bit.
Totally fair! Many people spend their younger sexual years having sex with multiple people, then eventually “settle down” with one. And while some make the transition from slutty (in the most sex-positive way) to monogamous smoothly, the ride can be bumpy for others. And those bumps may look like sex with people who aren't our significant others. Whoops.
So, here’s the thing: Monogamy doesn’t mean you’re never going to be attracted to anyone other than your partner ever again. It just means that you’ll refrain from actually acting on that attraction, except in your own fantasies. If you’re finding that it’s really difficult to not act on that attraction — aka you keep cheating on your partner or, at the very least, you really, really want to — then maybe monogamy isn’t for you. Perhaps, for you, it’s not possible to enjoy sex with only one person.
And that’s totally fine! Unless you’ve made a monogamous commitment to someone. If that’s the case, and you’re still sleeping around, then you’re in the wrong. Not because there’s something inherently immoral about sleeping around, but because you’re breaking a promise and betraying the trust of someone you care about — or even love.
But these days you don’t have to default to having sex with only one person. While monogamy used to be (and for many, if not most people, still is) the default for committed relationships, the past couple decades have seen a rise in alternative relationship structures. You can be polyamorous. You can be in an open relationship. You can be a hotwife or a cuckold or a swinger, or you could have regular group sex. There are many, many options for having sex with multiple people — with or without a committed partner — for the rest of your life.
And, for what it’s worth, the science suggests that having sex with one person for decades is difficult for the majority of humans. Most long-term couples report a decrease in the frequency of sex over time, and many also report a decrease in sexual satisfaction. Monogamy, while culturally “normal,” is a construct that our society has to default to for a list of reasons that is too long and complicated to go into here.
That isn’t to say that it doesn’t work for a lot of people. Monogamy brings a host of social, emotional, and even financial benefits to millions worldwide. You get the comfort of having a bonded partner. You’re more accepted in society. It’s easier to form a socially and state-recognized family unit. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are less of a concern.
And, for many people, sex with one person also brings benefits. When you’re with someone for years and years, you get to truly know each other’s bodies and desires. There’s a deep intimacy that forms in a monogamous couple that, when channeled, can translate into an ever-evolving and deeper sex life. Sure, sometimes you might miss those heady days when you wanted to rip each other’s clothes off. But other times, you think, “Uf, I’m so glad I don’t ever have to have sex with a new person again.”
How you feel about monogamy, Reader, is something I can’t speak to. I’d recommend taking an honest look at your sexual behavior and preferences up until now to assess whether or not you think it’s possible for you to enjoy sex with only one person. Are you a serial cheater? Have you been successfully and happily monogamous in the past? Does the idea of never having sex with a person other than your partner completely freak you out?
Think about it. Be real with yourself and real with your current and/or future partners. You don’t have to sacrifice your sexual preferences for monogamy if it’s not the right fit for you. You also don’t have to commit to one or the other for the rest of your life, as many people’s preferences change over time. What you do need to do, however, is be true to yourself and true to your partners. That’s what really matters.