Will we be sexually exclusive?
Default answer: yes. At present, almost everywhere in the world,
marriage is defined as a sexually exclusive relationship.
The partners are expected to have sex with each other;
and each promises never to have sex with anyone else
"as long as you both shall live".
Having more than one spouse is also permitted
by some cultures:
Polygyny is a marriage between one man and many wives.
Polyandry is a marriage between one woman and many husbands.
Altho these are variations from the monogamous marriage-model,
they also require sexual exclusiveness: Only married partners may have
In the West, some definitions of marriage do
not even permit divorce:
This means that even if married people cannot stand each other
and are now living in separate households,
they still are not permitted to have sex with anyone else.
The promise of sexual exclusiveness can only be dissolved by death.
Spouses-for-life may not have sex with anyone else while an ex-partner
If the partnership was until death, then any sexual intercourse
while one's spouse is still alive somewhere in the world is adultery.
The Roman Catholic Church is perhaps the most notable example
of an official standard that holds that only death can end a marriage,
altho large numbers of Catholics nevertheless get divorced and remarry.
If this is the kind of sexual exclusiveness
you are promising,
make it clear to each other: "I promise never to have
sexual contact with anyone else while you are still alive."
Such a vow could run into problems if one's spouse becomes
impotent, senile, enters a persistent vegetative state or a coma.
Such problems might be resolved
by creative variations of the phrase "while you are still alive".
But most traditions now allow divorce as an
to the exclusiveness vow:
If the spouses dissolve their marriage,
they both are freed of the vow never to have sex with anyone else.
And this has become a very common practice in the West:
About half of all marriages end in divorce;
and many of these ex-spouses go on to marry someone new.
In such cases, the implicit vow was actually:
"I promise never to have sex with anyone else while we are still
56 DESIGNER MARRIAGE: WRITE YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIP
CONTRACT by James Park
surveys have shown that the vow of sexual exclusiveness
is frequently violated even by people who still want to remain married.
As we begin the 21st century, it seems likely that the vow
never to have sex with anyone else while you are still married
will be violated about as often as the vow to stay married until death.
About half of married people violate their vow of sexual exclusiveness
at some time during marriage. Should we reconsider this vow?
Creative answers: 1. Full sexual freedom with full disclosure.
Your relationship contract might provide that each partner
has full freedom to have sex with other people,
as long as the basic facts about the other sexual relationships
are disclosed to all sexual partners.
This option should be chosen only by people beyond the threat of
If both people feel confident enough about themselves
and their relationships that they are immune to jealousy,
then multiple sexual relationships will not threaten the partnership.
Only a few people have transcended the threat of jealousy.
[How this is possible is described in Part III of New Ways of Loving:
"Multiple Loving without Jealousy"—see Bibliography.]
2. Sexual freedom with the approval of one's
This option is somewhat more controlled than the first pattern.
It is still only possible for people who have transcended jealousy,
but it makes the additional sexual relationships subject to review
and approval or disapproval by one's contracted partner.
If you select some variation of this pattern
you will want to draft your own guide-lines and ground-rules
laying out exactly how additional sexual relationships
will be reviewed and evaluated by your contract partner.
You might all want to meet and get to know one another
before you get into sexual sharing beyond the contracting partners.
A variation on this pattern would be for all
to have a collective contract, which you will all sign,
laying out the rules of your sexual relationships.
3. Discreet sexual sharing with others.
You could agree to allow each other the freedom
to have other sexual relationships, the only limitation being
that you do not want the additional sexual relationships to become
And you could say in your contract that you assume
that each partner will occasionally have other sexual encounters.
And these additional encounters need not be disclosed to your contract
WILL WE BE SEXUALLY
Of course, in all such sexual encounters,
absolute safety must be observed
to prevent unwanted pregnancies and/or sexually-transmitted diseases.
This should be one of the ground rules of any sexual behavior.
4. Sexual sharing only with partners who have
The relationship contract of each person involved
could state that she or he would not have sex with anyone else
unless those additional sexual partners were also under relationship
—and that these additional contracts
were also known and approved by the first contract partners.
This is similar to the way polygyny works in
The first wife must accept the husband's second and third wives, etc.
The earlier wives have a role in selecting and training the additional
Of course, in the West, we would not think of this as only the right of
Women also would be able to create relationship contracts with new men
without giving up their earlier relationships.
And if the new relationships were subject to the veto of earlier
then new potential partners would have to be accepted by the earlier
If some of the partners have bisexual or
this could also be accommodated within the guidelines for multiple
If your first contract allows additional sexual relationships,
you will specify the procedures for admitting
new sexual partners to your circle or excluding them.
It seems wiser to have these agreements in
writing from the beginning.
This contrasts sharply with the general patterns of 'affairs' in our
Married people have all promised not to have sex with others,
but about half of them go ahead to have other sexual encounters anyway.
Usually these additional sexual contacts are kept secret.
If they come to light in some indirect way,
the spouse who feels wronged might ask for a divorce
because of the violation of the vow of sexual exclusiveness.
If you have agreed ahead of time that sexual
was not a part of your relationship contract,
you would not have to divorce if and when other sexual relationships
But, in part because of the long tradition of marriage being sexually
the majority of couples will probably continue to operate on this
They will profess to be sexually exclusive,
but when opportunities arise for sex beyond the first relationship,
a significant minority (perhaps a majority)
will take advantage of those opportunities.
And they will attempt to keep these 'outside' sexual encounters secret.
58 DESIGNER MARRIAGE: WRITE YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIP
CONTRACT by James Park
the penalties be for violating the guidelines and ground-rules
set forth in this part of your relationship contract?
In traditional marriage, the proper response to 'adultery' was divorce.
Sometimes the marriage had to be ended because of a single instance
of one spouse having sex with someone else.
If you write a different kind of relationship
you need to decide (and include in your contract)
what will happen if one partner violates the sexual provisions.
Perhaps you will revise this part of your
so that both partners have equal freedom to do what one partner
has decided to do in violation of your original contract.
Even the possibility of similar freedom for one's partner
might be enough to cause the wondering partner
to change his or her behavior to conform to the original contract.
And you might decide some form of penalty that a violator could pay
—either in cash if you have separate finances
or by doing something additional around the house
that was not originally a part of his or her responsibilities.
Care must be taken in drafting this part of a
not to violate the laws about payment for sexual services.
Eventually these laws will be eliminated from the statute books,
but while they remain, judges might be called upon to enforce them.
Payment for sexual services is prostitution.
If you want an enforceable contract you can present to a judge,
you might keep the sexual part of your contract in a separate document.
If sex is never mentioned in your relationship contract,
then your contract cannot be challenged as a form of prostitution.
At the very least, you should specify
severability in your contract,
which means that if one part of the contract is found invalid,
the other parts can still be upheld by the court.
A lot will depend on the cultural setting and the particular judge
who hears any case that might arise out of your relationship contract.
If the judge is a conservative,
he will be guided by the traditional vow of marriage—sexual
But later in the 21st century, new patterns of relationships will be so
that the laws will be changed and judges will rule accordingly.
This area of relationship contracts requires
much careful attention.
What guidelines and ground-rules have worked in practice for you?
WILL WE BE SEXUALLY
have the entire Question 7 from Designer
April 5, 2009; Revised