Monogamy - Is It Bad for the Soul? A New Survey Showing That Women Are as Likely to Cheat as Men Coincided This Week with a Lively Debate Involving Writers, Academics and Philosophers

The Evening Standard (London, England), November 25, 2004 | Go to article overview

Monogamy - Is It Bad for the Soul? A New Survey Showing That Women Are as Likely to Cheat as Men Coincided This Week with a Lively Debate Involving Writers, Academics and Philosophers


Byline: NICK CURTIS

WOMEN, as the E v e n i n g S t a n d a r d revealed yesterday, are now as likely as men to be unfaithful. A major survey found that one in five British women in a longterm relationship had strayed, and that 90 per cent had considered infidelity. Both sexes, the survey said, were now increasingly likely to cheat on their partners.

These findings gave this week's debate on the motion "Monogamy is bad for the soul", at the Royal Geographical Society, an eerie prescience.

Six of London's leading writers and thinkers discussed the future of fidelity before an audience of more than 700 people, including Hugh Grant, Jemima Khan, and Ms Khan's sister-in-law, Sheherazade Goldsmith.

In the chair was Joan Bakewell, whose own struggles with faithfulness were detailed in her memoir The Middle of the Bed, and in her former lover Harold Pinter's play, Betrayal. Perhaps surprisingly, in the face of science, surveys and the personal experience of those taking part, the motion was defeated.

The team speaking for the motion were, perhaps predictably, all male.

Journalist Rod Liddle, noting that Alicia Munckton, the Spectator secretary for whom he left his wife, was in the audience, avoided personal testimony and drew on theories of evolutionary biology.

Actor and academic Jack Klaff sought to head off accusations of male self-interest by using only female sources, academic and anecdotal, in his assault on monogamy.

Philosopher AC Grayling argued with impeccable logic that the precise definition of monogamy - only one partner, ever, for a whole lifetime - was a likely recipe for misery.

But this was not logic's day.

Writer Rowan Pelling mounted an unashamedly romantic defence of fidelity, acknowledging that it was a "Gerald Ratner moment" for the woman who founded The Erotic Review.

The notorious playboy Taki Theodoracopulos suggested that people should do as he says, not as he does. Finally novelist Howard Jacobson swung the vote monogamy's way, arguing that faithfulness was not just a literary ideal, but also the only option for men, given their inability to multitask.

Joan Bakewell later told the Evening Standard that she was annoyed that infidelity had been treated throughout the debate largely as a matter of male choice. But this debate - the last of this year's stimulating confabs organised by Intelligence Squared - marked a triumph for oldfashioned values.

In an entry poll of the audience, 219 people supported the motion, with 297 against and 218 "don't knows". By the end, 419 people had decided that, actually, monogamy is good, not bad, for the soul.

Hugh Grant and Jemima Khan, alas, left before the second vote.

YES IT IS

"Monogamy is a condition, a rule and a custom. The condition sounds like it is a sickness, but some exceptional and deeply romantic people do survive it ...

the real problem comes with the rule and the custom."

"Monogamy with a capital M brings together all three tyrannies: religion, the state and the family, and adds in the media and the sour-faced dinner party, too."

"If God really did wire us this way, and then commanded us not to do the things we are most programmed to do, then he's one sick puppy."

"[Monogamy is] a domestic Gulag, fascism with full consent. Adultery is the nearest thing to a popular uprising."

"In order to love, our souls must be free ... Love is an infinite, not a finite commodity ... my third child is loved as much as the other two, and when we meet a new friend, we don't have to think about who gets dropped."

"Monogamy is like a low-watt bulb, it doesn't quite work and it's not quite enough."

Jack Klaff Actor and academic

Only three per cent of mammals, including the American field vole - good bloody luck to it, I say - are truly monogamous, and that number does not include human beings. …

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