Why We Should Push Back against Platonic Marriage

Jul 15, 2021 by

Sex makes marriage much more than just friendship with “benefits.” The sexual excitement, the powerful bonding, the oneness, the potential creation of human life, even the vulnerability—all of this alchemizes friendship and sexual attraction into marriage. We have been separating sex from marriage for decades now, with foreseeable destruction. This latest innovation adds more fuel to the inferno.

The meaning of marriage matters. A common understanding about important social institutions is that they create pro-social norms that positively guide our behaviors. They can nudge us to become our better selves. They erect guardrails that prevent unnecessary carnage by keeping us within lanes that lead to better outcomes. In the context of marriage, cultural norms shape how we share funds, time, domestic labor, children, our bodies, and many other aspects of our mutually joined lives.

It’s this sharing of our lives that struck me a few days ago when I read in the New York Times the latest journalistic effort to turn marriage into a Sunday brunch buffet rather than a core institution with tangible boundaries. The article highlighted and cheered the anecdotal advent of sexless marriages by design—legal, platonic marriages between friends. Platonic couples make it clear to others that their unions are platonic; it is not a quiet secret.

Of course, we know that there are and have always been sexless or sex-starved marriages—by neglect or circumstance—but such marriages were not intentionally designed to be platonic. The latest innovation is. Thus, it challenges the most basic social and legal understanding of marriage as a sexual union.

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