But the last few sentences actually frame the other side of the problem: as men we want to form ourselves, but we rarely realize how much not other people, but a single person can help do that. Many, perhaps most of us, dream of spending our lives with a partner, having all the comfort, intimacy, trust and history that one can only gather by getting together with someone and staying together. But what's not on that list of benefits is "self"—and that's the key to it all. We think we get self by influencing and seducing, doing and building and earning, but a lot of men never experience the deeper more meaningful self that can be achieved in the sharing and communing, trials and triumphs, with a lifelong partner.
Of course I'm talking about the right partner in the right circumstances, but here too monogamy can help. If you're in a relationship and finding yourself really wanting to act on the messages your nether side is sending, it's time for some heavy-duty examination—of your relationship and of yourself. Self should come first, asking the question of what's really going on. Is the new woman or women just attractive and you feel the twitch? If so, remember that your fantasy might well be better than the realization would be. Or has it been a long time since you've been with someone new? Okay, that might be tough, but why? Maybe it means the sex in your relationship has gone stagnant (is that your fault? your partner's? Is it laziness or are there deeper problems? All this should be explored). If that's the case, you're perhaps just missing the physical pleasure, and you should try to resurrect your lovelife with your current partner first. Men and women certainly stray less if they're happy with what they have at home.
But maybe your sex life is fine with your partner, but you're missing the seduction thrill. That means that your sense of self isn't what it needs to be, and here too you have to ask if you are not doing enough or if your partner is not doing what you need—or both. Feeling the need to seduce should be a wake-up call that you're not getting the ego satisfaction that's necessary from the other areas of your life. You should probably try to work on those before you go and cheat on the partner you love.
Or perhaps it is the relationship: you're not having sex because your partner doesn't want to or you don't want to and you want to cheat because they're not making you feel how you need to feel. But, again, it's worth trying to salvage the relationship before you run out and get with someone else. Infidelity is a symptom, not a solution. Ultimately the impulse to cheat might help you get out of a bad relationship, but first you need to see if the relationship is worth trying to hold on to. Striving for monogamy helps you get the most out of a partnership by facing the challenges head-on—the only way that works.
It's clear that none of these questions is about the supposed object of the cheating desire; they're about you and your relationship and how those things are doing. (And if you're asking yourself if the new person would be "better for you" than the person you're with, remember that you probably barely know them, are thinking wishfully, and that eventually they'll have their ticks and foibles and annoyances like your current partner, too). That's why I think monogamy is worth fighting for, because ultimately the fight is not to keep yourself from straying, it's to help yourself become a person that, with the love of the right partner, can get the fulfillment, joy, and self that you need, without having to scratch the libidinal itch for someone else.
Yes, it's very daunting to think that you might only have sex with one person for the rest of your life, but at the same time, maybe it just requires a rethinking of what sex means. The key to long-term sexual happiness is to have sex be less about seduction, ego, and the symbolic sense of power and more about pleasure, feeling, and expression of intimacy (more on this in a future article too). With that model, the best sex is sex with someone you know and love, and it should get better and better. I understand that there are only so many ways of having sex and you might sometimes feel in a rut, but truthfully that's just a challenge to expand your habits, leave your comfort zones, and grow as a person with your partner. Every challenge to having a fuller sex life with someone you love makes you a better person – more creative, expressive, and self-aware.
Sex with only one person is the hard way, but it's the way that makes us grow and develop to be the fullest people we can be. Most impulses toward infidelity are ultimately either passing physical blips or signs that something else is wrong. If you go after the problems themselves, then the band-aid solution of cheating stops being worth it. You've addressed the problem at its source, and you have the reward of that much richer a relationship, a self, or both.
Jack Murnighan's book, Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits will be available in May, 2009. Learn more or pre-order it now.