by Wednesday Martin
Spark / Little, Brown, 2018
Review by Christian Perring on Sep 25th 2018
We are familiar with the high rate of infidelity in the US, and it's easy to understand it using the stereotype of men wanting sex and women wanting security and intimacy. Wednesday Martin argues against this stereotype, arguing that females in many primate species are motivated to engage in sex outside their main relationships for a variety of reasons. In this wide-ranging book she explores female initiation and engagement in infidelity, extra-marital sex, multiple partners, polyamory, and other forms of women's pursuing non-traditional relationships. She is not necessarily a proponent of alternative life styles, but she is certainly interested in exploring them and does not judge those who live in those ways, except in positive ways such as believing that rejecting monogamy is brave. She writes from her first person perspective but says little about her own life. She does say that when she was in her twenties in NYC her relationships often overlapped. She wanted to have affairs but she didn't want her boyfriends to have them, and she was aware that this was a double standard. Now married and a mother, Martin shows no sign of wanting to explore outside of her marriage. There are a few comments near the end about how discussing the issues raised in the book with her partner were helpful to their relationship.
So mostly Martin took the role of researcher and anthropologist. She meets with experts of various kinds, and also does her own interviewing of women who have engaged in infidelity. She explains how while infidelity is common and marriage is becoming less common, yet we are also becoming less tolerant of infidelity, with more people judging it to be wrong. So our attitudes towards marriage and infidelity are complicated: it seems that we view marriage as more of a choice, and if you choose it, you should be faithful.
The book is often light in tone, full of interesting stories and charismatic characters. Martin examines remote tribes, primate behavior, polyamory in the US, women's sex toy parties, and the place of marriage and fidelity in modern culture. The writing is strong, making the book engaging and provocative. Martin makes a convincing case that there is less asymmetry between men and women when it comes to infidelity than is commonly supposed, and women are often interested in a variety of sexual experiences that is hard to satisfy in a monogamous relationship. Further, while she never pretends that having multiple partners is simple or easy, she makes a case that it can be an option that works for some people.
© 2018 Christian Perring
Christian Perring teaches in NYC.