I work as personal and professional development coach and have a graduate education in both a hard science and psychology. In my role as a coach, I have seen with my own eyes the devastation that infidelity, sexual addiction, sexual deceit causes in many lives. I have also written articles on infidelity and have done some deep studies in human sexuality from various perspectives. It is from this place that I am evaluating this book with a very open mind that is concerned with dealing with the modern culture landscape as it relates to sexual morals.
As a biologist/biochemist, I have read extensively on evolutionary biology and it is clear to me from the literature that we are hard-wired to pursue two mating strategies (long and short term) and that like other primates we have a strong tendency toward being promiscuous. This is complicated by a lot of ignorance, guilt, shame and hurt that is often not communicated about and sometimes not healed. (For more information on different mating strategies see The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating.
The modern dilemma seems to be what does sexual ethics look like in contemporary society where people often wait until their mid-thirties to marry and life is much more complicated. Given that it is also a post-modern world where for many people old paradigms don't seem to apply, what can one use as a yardstick for evaluating behavior. This book attempts to address these issues head-on.
At the same time, social institutions such as marriage seem less relevant to many people and there seems to be a crisis of meaning. While everyone seeks intimacy, many people feel out of alignment or can't make peace with the cultural instituitions and beliefs we have inherited from the past and our respective religious backgrounds. I think this is underscored in the alarming statistics of the infidelity rate -- the sad reality is that in any given marriage, there is an 80% chance that at least one of the partners will cheat at some time often with devastating life consequences.
Polyamory or non-monagamy is one possible solution that is proposed to this dilemma. This book is a sensitive exploration of this topic and asserts that honest non-monagamy is more authentic, less hurtful and often workable for people who struggle with monogamy. It even goes so far as to say that serial monogamy is a form of non-monogamy and it is what people are really practicing in general as evidenced by the high divorce rate and dating behavior of most people.
I think Deborah Anapol presents a strong argument for the validity of honest non-monogamy that respects other people's rights, dignity and trust. Certainly, I see this as a more healthy alternative to secret agendas, sexual deceit and furtive relationships that engender shame, guilt and anger. On the other hand, I think the book underplays that we are also wired to bond and that for many people this is a perfectly comfortable arrangement. In reality, I thihk there is a range of sexual styles and I see all of them as legitimate depending upon how they are practiced.
The author makes it clear who her audience is in the introduction, "This book is addressed to the millions of men and women who are failing at traditional relationships who feel guilty, isolated, and ashamed." She goes on to say that "Our culture desperately needs a new set of sexual ethics. We need a middlge ground between the free love doctrine of the Sexual Revolution and outmoded lifelong monogamy." While I think saying that lifelong monogamy is outmoded is an assumption rather than a fact, I do think there is much value in Deborah's message and well-written book.
What this book proposes as a potential solution is RESPONSIBLE NON-MONOGAMY. This is a non-monogamy based on honest communication, keeping the heart open and suberb communication skills. In reality, I think it is very difficult for most people to do one relationship well. This is a reality that author acknowledges and doesn't see nonmonogamy as a panacea for marital or sexual discontent. However, she believes that "poly" arrangements are workable and based on my experience, I have seen that a small percentage of the population can live this way and do it successfully. On the other hand, I believe it exponentially more complicated than making a single relationship work, which is also something to consider.
If you are considering a polyamorous lifestyle, this book gives you a good model and roadmap for implementing this lifestyle in an open, honest and productive way. This book is written from a vulnerable place, is well-organized by topic and covers every dimension of moving into this arena including "coming out."
While I personally feel that committed monogamy is the highest expression of love, I do see this approach as a valid and ethical lifestyle choice. I regard relationship to be a crucible where safety and trust is nurtured and allows a relationship to flourish. I think it is possible to set up a similar safe container in nonmonogamous relationships, but like I said earlier it would seem to require very mature people who are suberb communicators. The point I'm making here is that while polyamory could be a valid life choice, there is also a danger that one can use it to escape from real intimacy, avoid problems, etc. The author does a good job of making this point too.
In short, this is a very worthwhile read that does a very fine exploration of a sensitive and controversial topic. I highly recommend it to anyone considering this lifestyle or that has an interest in sexual ethics in a modern context. Some other books of interest in this area can be found on my listmania lists, but I particularly recommend the following Ethics for the New Millennium, The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment, Women, Sex, and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power and A General Theory of Love.
If you are looking for a way to contextualize the complexities of this arena and other aspects of the postmodern era, you may also enjoy A Brief History of Everything, Kosmic Consciousness or Guide for the Perplexed. These address the often missing meaning dimension of modern life, as does Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World's Religions.
In summary, this is the best book that I am aware of on this topic and I probably own or have read at least 300 books on human sexuality. I think it is an important area where most people look for their primary meaning in relationship to another human being. Indeed, relationship seems to have taken the place of traditional religion in some areas. Given this fact, I think it is important to explore all of the questions we have around sexuality and use all of the tools and disciplines we have to explore solutions to the dilemmas facing modern people in world that is increasingly fast-paced, atomized and often impersonal.