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Sex, Love, and Fidelity: A Study of Contemporary Romantic Relationships By Kassia R. ...

Chapter 1:  Operationalizing Fidelity
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Sex, Love, and Fidelity:

parameters of relational commitment through dyadic exclusivity. Enveloped within the monogamous marriage template is the expectation that both partners will not only commit to one another through exclusivity but also adhere to the ideology of marital union. Vows articulate the key responsibilities of the marital contract: to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, to forsake all others, and to pledge faithfulness for eternity. Whether these rules are presented in a religious or a secular vein, promised in the presence of few or many, or abided by through belief or behavior, they are perhaps the most influential force in relational commitment.

Social changes over the past several decades, however, have affected traditional notions of marriage in terms of cohabitation, divorce, religion, gender, race, and sexual orientation. Although marriage itself may in fact be diversifying, monogamy seems to be more important than ever. Most Americans (95%) state that they want monogamy, regardless of whether it occurs in a matrimonial relationship (Treas and Giesen 2000). Monogamy is therefore not only central to the romantic relational model; it has essentially become the master template. Monogamy is predicated upon forsaking all others for one special person. Therefore, much like that of marriage, the cardinal rule of monogamy is dual exclusivity, which embodies the highest level of relational commitment and devotion through both sexual and emotional involvement with only each other. Monogamy’s rules are normalized, routinized, and institutionalized in paradigm and practice; American culture is decidedly mononormative. Inherent in mononormativity is the notion that one should feel special within a romantic relationship and ensure that one’s partner feels significant as well.

Whereas the rules of monogamy appear to work successfully for many, for others there is a discrepancy between desiring monogamy and behaving monogamously. Studies report rates of nonconsensual extramarital sex that range from an average of 15% (Davis and Smith 1991) to 25% of men and 10% of women (Laumann et al. 1994). However,