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Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Is Monogamy Natural?

Kanye West: No Church in the Wild
Contains (mildly) sexually explicit photographs and content. The content below is not intended to be pornographic, sexually suggestive or arousing. Is for informative purposes only.

We all know someone who has cheated, been cheated on, or perhaps we’ve cheated ourselves. I’ve never cheated on anyone (or been cheated on), but maybe that’s just because I haven’t been in a relationship with someone long enough to consider the possibility of cheating. I hope never to cheat on a partner because of the emotional damage it would cause them. However, I understand why people cheat and in a way it makes a lot of sense.

I don’t believe humans are naturally supposed to be monogamous. I mention this in my post ‘Slut-Shaming: Part 2’ and I will mention it here:

‘foragers lived in communes devoid of private property, monogamous relationships and even fatherhood. In such a band, women could have sex and form intimate bonds with several men (and women), and since none of the men knew which children were his, they would look after them all equally. It’s well-documented among animals, such as chimpanzees and bonobos. A good mother will make a point of having sex with several different men, especially when she is pregnant, so that her child will enjoy the qualities not merely of the best hunter, but also of the best storyteller, the strongest warrior and the most considerate lover.
Researchers who propagate the ‘ancient commune’ theory argue that reasons for high rates of divorce and infidelity in marriage is due to forcing modern humans to live in monogamous relationships and nuclear families.’
 – Sapiens: A  brief history of humankind.

Some scholars disagree with this theory, arguing that although ancient hunter-gatherer societies tended to be more communal and egalitarian, they were still comprised of separate cells, each containing a jealous couple and the children they held in common. (Extract also taken from the same book).
However, I agree with the first point and believe monogamy is 'learned' rather than innate. Logically, how can one person be expected to fulfil all of your sexual needs forever? How can you be expected to only lust after one person for the rest of your life? Sure, people get married, but they’re still human. Doesn’t mean you don’t look at and feel attraction for or crush on other people. It’s nature. We’re just animals sniffing each other’s hormones and feeling the pheromones. Do other animals have ‘marriage’? In any given Pride, the male lion sleeps with all of the lionesses in the pack.

Men are more likely to cheat than women, but women do cheat, naturally, because everyone has a sex drive and sexual urges, no matter how big or small. (Also, women are more likely to lie about not cheating on their partners). Women do tend to cheat for more emotional reasons such as loneliness or lack of attention, whereas men more often cheat for purely physical reasons.

It is possible to sleep with someone and for it to mean nothing. I’ve done it, perhaps you reading this have done it, or perhaps you haven’t. I don’t necessarily mean a one night stand/casual thing either; you can be in a relationship with someone and have sex with them but feel a lack of emotional connection to them, or feel like the sex is meaningless besides a ‘fun activity.’ Or, you can be with someone but fall out of love with them, turning the sex into meaning nothing emotionally.

So if that’s possible, why do we get so angry when our partner is unfaithful to us? If you’ve been married to someone for ten or twenty of fifty years, and they have one meaningless sexual encounter, why is it so painful? Why is love cursed by monogamy?

Because we’ve been conditioned to view sex as more emotional than it always is. Marriage, monogamy, the nuclear family – these things are all socially constructed. I’m not saying religion created the concept of marriage – I don’t know where the concept of marriage actually came from – but I do think the rigidness of religion and the heavy emphasis it places on monogamy has contributed to how we think. After all, Western society is founded on Judeo-Christian values.

In Ancient Greece, it was not uncommon for men to casually sleep with other men; tutors would often sleep with their students. Why have we so rigidly associated sex only with love? Of course when you love someone you have sex with them, and sex can be an expression of intimacy. But the primary function of sex is for genes to be passed on for pro-creation. There’s nothing ‘emotional’ about that; lust is all chemicals. You don’t need to love someone or even care much for them to sleep with them, but you do need to lust after them.

Because we have been socially conditioned to accept marriage, exclusivity, and monogamy as the norm, the alternative – polygamy – seems unthinkable. Why would I want to be in an open relationship? I’d be terrified my boyfriend would fall for other women (or men) and then leave me for one of them. I’d get jealous and think he liked them better than me. I would struggle to detach the sex from the emotion.

I do believe that polygamous relationships would probably reduce divorce rates and break-ups. After all, how many people split up because someone cheated on the other? If we all saw a distinction between sex and love we would realise that you can be in love with a partner but at the same time have emotionally meaningless sex with other people to fulfil the basic instinct of lust. In the moment we get crushes. Men get them, women get them. The moment can strike, and then –
your entire marriage is over because of one slip-up. What if that wasn’t the case? What if you saw it as a fun sexual encounter, did it, and then forgot about the person and went back to your partner?

I know this is un-heard of for most people. I don’t know if I could emotionally handle a polygamous or open relationship. It would probably drive me nuts with jealousy. But perhaps one day society will move back into that being the norm. Rather than ‘families’, we will go back to living in communes, where everyone sleeps with everyone and everyone helps to take care of the children. There probably are societies where that is how they live, as opposed to having nuclear monogamy.

There's loads of stuff online about cheating and monogamy. How often people do it, why people do it, and what kinds of people do it. There's also plenty of debate about whether or not monogamy is 'natural' or learned, something we did because it felt more practical in raising a family. 


  1. i don't think it matters if it's natural, just cause something is "natural" doesn't mean it's good, we don't have to sleep with as many people as possible anymore unlike in our early days, i had a friend who had her heart broken by a cheater who told her he never cared about her

    1. That was part of the message of the post; for most of us polygamy or open relationships are unthinkable due to the emotional elements of it. Sorry to hear about your friend, it always sucks when you're with someone who seems not to care for you.


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