May 4, 2010

Faithful or no, couples misunderstand monogamy, scholar says

Whether they’re cheaters or chaste, people in relationships often set the bar higher for their partners than they do for themselves.

“My research showed a great variety in the way couples view cheating,” said anthropologist Katherine Frank, a scholar-in-residence at American University during a talk Saturday.

Her recent research focused on how couples understand monogamy. Frank drew from interviews and ethnographic studies performed with both monogamous and non-monogamous couples. Frank found a wide range of relationship configurations that dealt with boundaries in a variety of ways. “I found that monogamous couples differed from non-monogamous couples in the way they felt about love, but both still established boundaries,” Frank said.

Frank found that couples had differing standards for the others’ behavior, and often had difficulty communicating their desires. In one couple Frank studied, both partners believed the other would be unwilling to make their relationship non-monogamous, while at the same time both desired to do so.

Frank’s past works have dealt with swinging, the sex industry, and pornography. She is the author of G-Strings and Sympathy: Strip Club Regulars and Male Desire, in which she uses her background as an anthropologist to look at the nature of strip clubs and the sex industry.

The talk, entitled “Feminism, Heterosexuality and Non-monogamy,” was hosted by the Center for Gender Studies, part of the center’s Friday Lunch Series.