Recovering from a heartbreaking divorce, independent filmmaker and son-of-an-Italian-Prince Tao Ruspoli takes to the road to talk to his relatives, advice columnists, psychologists, historians, anthropologists, artists, philosophers, sex workers, sex therapists, and ordinary couples about love, sex & monogamy in our culture. What he discovers about his very unconventional family, and about the history and psychology of love and marriage leads him to question the ideal of monogamy, and the traditional family values that go with it. Featuring Diana Adams, Dan Savage, Christopher Ryan, Esther Perel.
The “traditional” values that have shaped our understanding of love, sex, and marriage are losing their hold on our culture. The last half century, in particular, has seen dramatic changes in attitudes about sex and sexuality. We no longer accept a sexual division of labor and distinct gender roles. We now aspire to a fairer distribution of social and economic power among the sexes. And we are increasingly open to alternative forms of sexuality and sexual relationships. These changes are greeted with anxiety by conservatives, who are afraid that changes to traditional views about sex, gender, and marriage will undermine the very foundations of our civilization. These changes are celebrated as liberating by progressives, who welcome a more equitable view of gender roles. Despite all these dramatic institutional changes, and despite the ongoing culture wars over sexuality, the ideal of a monogamous loving couple continues to exert a powerful influence on the popular imagination.
What scholars understand, and what Ruspoli’s own family history illustrates, is the artificiality of modern assumptions about love, marriage, and family relations. What we today think of as the ideal — a couple in a life-long, loving, monogamous relationship — is a recent invention. Not only has our culture bought into a fictional, “just so” story about the nature of marriage, it also engages in surprisingly little rigorous thought about what a good loving relationship amounts to and what it entails. What does it really mean to be monogamous? What does a successful monogamous relationship involve? How should it deal with the inevitable changes that all human relationships undergo – for instance, from the passion of first love to the day to day demands of everyday domestic life? Or, the way children change the dynamic of personal relationships? How ought partners in a monogamous relationship deal with temptations? Can a monogamous relationship preserve passion in a satisfying way? Or does it offer a different kind of satisfaction to compensate for the loss of passion? What about alternatives to monogamy? Are they viable given the strength of the monogamous ideal in our culture?