America is awash in trashy magazines—People, an issue of which mysteriously shows up in my mailbox every week, Us Weekly, InStyle, the legions of greasy tabloids devoted to critically examining the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby bump—but perhaps the trashiest of them all is Cosmopolitan, a magazine whose chief stock-in-trade revolves around creative sexual uses for cranberry Yankee candles. Cosmo is superlatively trashy in large part because it ostensibly purports to be classy; it seeks to present itself as a latter-day Kama Sutra, but it generally ends up being a kind of lowbrow ulta-soft-core sex confessional, with the same 12 Mind-Blowing Sex Moves to Try in Bed recycled month after month for years on end.
If there were any more proof needed that Cosmo is little more than checkout-aisle garbage, last week the magazine ran a paean to infidelity, explaining to its readers “Why You Should Rethink Your Stance on Cheating.” There are, apparently—of course—efforts to “break down the taboo that exists around [cheating] in U.S. culture,” and Cosmo is evidently onboard.
Citing Esther Perel, “probably the foremost scholar on cheating that the world has to offer,” the magazine gives several reasons why you shouldn’t flip out when your spouse has sex with someone else. Among those reasons: cheating is very common; cheating is “way more complicated than most people think;” “treating cheating with shame only hurts people more;” and so forth. Relativizing immorality is usually the quickest way to normalizing it: a lot of people cheat, after all, and anyway it’s like super-complex and complicated and everything so you totally shouldn’t shame someone who does it. In truth I can think of no other area of moral depravity that we so often seek to equivocate, let alone in so perverse a way: racism, after all, is also both common and complex, but nobody—no good person, anyway—wants to “break down the taboo that exists around it.” But when it comes to breaking your spouse’s heart, tearing apart your family, and placing animalistic desires over self-control and self-sacrifice, well—we wouldn’t want anyone to be ashamed of doing those things, would we?
But maybe that whole dichotomy is outdated anyway, as Perel argues:
Monogamy can’t and shouldn’t be assumed. Perel credits LGBT communities with carrying the conversation around non-monogamy and more realistic, freeing approaches to dating. “When you are not part of the heterosexual norm, you are more isolated, but you are also sometimes a lot more creative,” she said. “You get to actually invent your own norms, you’re not beholden to a system that is telling you how to live.” She added that conversations around monogamy should be just that – a conversation, and not an assumption. It lessens the odds that you’ll ask something from a partner that they can’t or don’t want to deliver, and makes sure everyone’s on the same page in a healthier way.
“Inventing your own norms” is, of course, a euphemism for promiscuous, sluttish behavior—which, if you’re into that sort of thing, then sure, I suppose you should “credit LGBT communities” for helping to make such behavior not merely mainstream but potentially orthodox. That seems to be what a lot of people are aiming for, anyway: the kind of relationships gay activist Dan Savage calls “monogamish,” which is to say not monogamous at all. (It is interesting, in any case, to compare the rhetoric of gay marriage rights with the weird whisper campaign going on beneath it: “Gay people want to get married just like straight people” very often exists right alongside “LGBT people can teach straight people a lot about open marriages.” Do tell.)
Monogamous norms exist for a reason—several reasons, actually, all of them good: they promote family stability, they protect children (those both living and as-yet-uncreated) from instability and insecurity, they are physically safer, they ultimately undergird a stable and civil society. There has always been infidelity, of course, and one assumes there always will be—but it has also always been looked upon as a moral failure, something that is of course forgivable and rectifiable but nonetheless bad and utterly inadvisable. If we are indeed moving toward a society in which infidelity is looked upon favorably—if sexual promiscuity and immorality become the open and celebrated norm—then families, children and society will surely all suffer for it. And that would be a great shame, in every sense of the word.