We can bet that the cheaters out there will try to justify their ways by dropping “science,” “biology,” or “nature.” They’ll say (or have said) things like “Male humans had several women ages ago because they wanted to pass their genes on.” As if something that happened in the Stone Age naturally remains until the 21st century. And as if people over the years all slept around to bear more children.
Noel Biderman, the founder of the dating/cheating website Ashley Madison, has said, “I believe monogamy is worth pursuing and that it’s a worthwhile endeavour. However, I’m aware we’re not engineered for monogamy and it’s actually a minority of us that will be successful with it.”
The question is, is he right? Are we not engineered for monogamy?
Unlike the very few monogamous animals, we’re not monogamous, according to sociologist Pepper Schwartz. “A really monogamous animal is a goose, which never mates again even if its mate is killed.”
And sure enough we date and date around and sleep around. We’re not monogamous like geese are, so we can’t say that monogamy is wired into our brains. In the words of Noel, “You get married, and after a period of time, your sexual attraction to your partner seems to wane.”
So we’ll say it: monogamy isn’t natural; humans in some cultures centuries ago have agreed to it. It’s not because of Christianity, which advocated it but didn’t really condemn polygyny (Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines). Monogamy was already practiced in Ancient Greece and Rome—before Christianity was even established.
There’s no certainty yet about why monogamy was imposed and practiced at the time, but plausible answers revolve around economics or logistics. Some believe that monogamy spread because historically monogamous groups had more military advantages than polygamous groups (and back then there were many battles).
In monogamous groups, men of high status couldn’t hoard all the women (who at the time wanted to be with a wealthy man even if she’s not the first wife—as long as she’s not a poor man’s), so men from different social classes could have wives of their own and not leave their homes or towns in search for a woman, which was the case for polygamous groups. And with a big number of men in an area, there was more manpower for battles and more money being paid as taxes to fund the battles.
People have become accustomed to this arrangement, so much so that it’s become the norm.
But knowing that humans aren’t naturally monogamous doesn’t mean monogamy is a bad thing since it’s not “natural,” or that cheating is justified, since an agreement is still an agreement and must be respected. Monogamy has its benefits, like providing a child with the support from two people—and let’s not deny that raising children is difficult and costly with all the assistance, protection, and investment needed.
And of course, we get to sincerely choose and follow our desire to stick with someone for life (and be chosen as someone’s life partner).
Follow Stephanie on Twitter.