The Myth of Monogamy

Bio Medicine.org
Monogamy appears to be unnatural in the natural world

In "The Myth of Monogamy," a husband-wife scientific team contends that monogamy among animals, and humans in particular, may be the exception rather than the rule.

David Barash, a University of Washington zoologist and professor of psychology, and Judith Lipton, a Seattle psychiatrist, said the book, published by W.H. Freeman and Co. , is intended to empower people, not to condone infidelity.......

Obtaining accurate data about human infidelity is difficult because people lie about it, according to Lipton. But she said various studies indicate it is quite common, with 50 percent of men confessing to at least one affair and 30 percent to 50 percent of women admitting that behavior....

"Being monogamous is rare. If people want to do it they have to work at it," Lipton said. "It's similar to wanting to play the violin. People can love good music and aspire to play the violin. But most find it difficult and won't practice. Monogamy, like the violin, takes practice and diligence because there are so many temptations."

The authors contend that the sexes engage in infidelity for different reasons and that evidence for monogamy in human history is sketchy. Males tend to be opportunistic and have sex out of marriage because it is available and pleasurable. For women it is a way of obtaining something better than their mate, someone who may be richer, more handsome or more powerful, they said. While there is no historic record showing how prehistoric humans behaved - at least, not when it comes to their sex lives - Barash and Lipton point to numerous 20th Century anthropological and sociological studies of hunter-gatherer societies where monogamy is the overwhelming exception, not the rule. In the western world, they said, monogamy only ascended in the late Middle Ages and the Industrial Age. The rich and powerful gained the cooperation of the masses by trading some of their wealth to low class men, enabling them to have wives and a stake in society.............more

Joel Schwarz joels@u.washington.edu
University of Washington

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Vikram Madan said...

"Monogamy appears to be unnatural in the natural world."

Nice blog entry.

Monogamy is a bit like the dodo bird. Doubtful that it ever existed!

But I have seen some couples who have led monogamous lives. Or so it seems.

I wrote about Sperm Competition on my blog in late 2006.

I am not totally convinced of what I have hypothesised in this blog entry, need to re-think and write a continuation of this blog entry, but its not that bad as it is.


"There's Something About Monogamy"


md said...

Luv your post, my thoughts exactly!

I can't help but wonder about the sperm from a male with split personality disorder, would his sperm fight each other? People with split personality will manifest allergies and other physically measurable differences between each of their personalities.
Monogamy has been a question, across time and cultures, since its creation.
The nature of males and females in the animal kingdom does not appear monogamous, and it is very trippy/creative how this basic 'nature' is moderated for social order.
Females do not seem to be any more monogamous than males, Bonobo's*, our closest relative, are non-monogamous and would put a California Swingers party to shame. Bonobo have a matriarchal social order and seem to prefer sexual contact over violence. They engage in kissing, face to face sex, oral sex........primarily heterosexual, except for the occasional 'penis fencing'....
.......A rooster will mount a chicken, but not deposit semen, to maintain his position, because he knows she will get it somewhere, and he only has so much semen....

In the West we have a myriad of therapists, retreats, workshops, priests, counselors and family to help us maintain a monogamous relationship, usually marriage........so much work, why?...kinda funny, we don't need Help to stay non-monogamous

BUT, some of the most evolved, enlightened, enraptured, enchanting, beautiful beings I have ever known, are part of a sacred pairing... that has surely fed the fire of their divinity.

*The Bonobo (Pan paniscus), and other chimpanzee, DNA is more than 98%identical to humans...Bonobo are more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas....Scientists are now considering changing 'Homo sapiens', to the more logical, 'Pan sapiens'...

Vikram Madan said...

Pan sapiens indeed.

Pan-sexual-sapiens rather. Pan-poly-sexual sapiens!

I mean...MOST** humans are a bizarre combination of crazy relationships...they are like poly-this, poly-that, pan-everything, poly-everything! :-)

Every possible sexual combination, with everything that walks..or doesn’t - makes no difference!

Pan-Poly-Sexual-Sapiens, basically. :-)

Only recently I read about a lady who married a dolphin, but let me not get started on that!


Bonobos sound interesting. Have not heard of them before, not that I can recall.

I'd say bonobos are better than we are. Because we prefer violence to everything else.

And I agree with you totally. If a priest or counselor is required to help us maintain a monogamous relationship - it means there's something wrong with us. Love should not need any counselling. But in the human world, it does....because its not love that they feel for each other, its just cathexis. Objectification and subsequent cathection of the person objectified.


Sarced pairing is something I have pondered often. I assume you meant a monogamous setup when you wrote 'sacred pairing'.

I believe that a sacred setup of a polygamous or polyandrous nature - or a combination of polygamy/polyandry - is possible.

I would call it a sacred setup, if I was convinced that the members of the setup were genuinely in love with each other. If I was convinced that everything about every member was totally accepted by all members, without question. If I was convinced that any member can walk out of the setup anytime, without any harmful consequences. If I was convinced that every member was a part of the setup out of love, and not out of fear of loneliness.

The people of science I respect the most - they are very powerful intellects but their 'faith' in science and biology's ability to unravel the deepest mysteries of life - this faith - seems to be much lesser than others.

I am talking about Werner Heisenberg and Arthur C Clarke.

Werner Heisenberg was very much into mysticism. Took active part in the writing of a book named 'The Tao Of Physics' which focuses on the parallels between mysticism and modern physics. Have covered this on my blog.

Arthur C Clarke's Space Odyssey - the message in this movie is that 'humans must transcend human form; that very limited development is possible until humans evolve into a force that manages to transcend the limits of human form...and that this transcendence is very much possible'. Plan to cover Arthur C Clarke's Space Odyssey on my blog soon.

I am writing all this because I often wonder how valid the biological point of view is.

--->How valid is it to study the animal kingdom and then extrapolate the results to humans?

--->How useful is it to analyse the human personality in terms of firing snypases, neuron functioning etc?

(I don't want to write more about biology...it might expose my lack of knowledge of it! :-P)

So...the crux of what I am saying is…to what extent should such comparisons/extrapolations, that have a biological foundation, be given importance?

Because the deepest truth of humans in my opinion cannot lie in their DNA, or genetics etc.

If the deepest level in the human being consists of chemicals, atoms, electromagnetic currents, quarks, mesons etc....is there any difference between humans and machines?

**I understand that “MOST humans” is a very strong phrase here. A very bold application of inductive logic. I can justify how I have applied it, but its difficult to justify in this short comment.