Are Humans Meant to Be Monogamous?


Is monogamy best for our survival as a species? Is it a social engineering practice to keep us in tow? Should we all join a sex cult and do whatever/whomever we please?

via Live Science

News of politicians’ extramarital affairs seems to be in no short supply lately, but if humans were cut from exactly the same cloth as other mammals, a faithful spouse would be an unusual phenomenon.

Only 3 percent to 5 percent of the roughly 5,000 species of mammals (including humans) are known to form lifelong, monogamous bonds , with the loyal superstars including beavers, wolves and some bats.

Social monogamy is a term referring to creatures that pair up to mate and raise offspring, but still have flings. Sexually monogamous pairs mate only with one partner. So a cheating husband who detours for a romantic romp yet returns home in time to tuck in the kids at night would be considered socially monogamous.

Beyond that, scientists’ definitions for monogamy vary.

Evolutionary psychologists have suggested that men are more likely to have extramarital sex, partially due to the male urge to “spread genes” by broadcasting sperm. Both males and females, these scientists say, try to up their evolutionary progress by seeking out high-quality mates, albeit in different ways.

The committed partnership between a man and a woman evolved, some say, for the well-being of children.

“The human species has evolved to make commitments between males and females in regards to raising their offspring, so this is a bond,” said Jane Lancaster, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of New Mexico. “However that bond can fit into all kinds of marriage patterns – polygyny, single parenthood, monogamy.”

The human species is somewhat unique amongst mammals in that fathers do invest in raising children .

“We do know that in humans we do have this pretty strong pair bond, and there’s more paternal investment than in most other primates,” said Daniel Kruger, a social and evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. “We’re special in this regard, but at the same time like most mammals, we are a polygynous species.” Kruger said humans are considered “mildly polygynous,” in which a male mates with more than one female.

Whether or not the married or otherwise committed individuals stray for sex depends on the costs and benefits.

“There is plenty of evidence that males have less to lose than females by having extramarital sex,” Lancaster said. “Having less to lose, it’s easier for them to do it.”

Women, however, could lose “dad’s” resources when it comes to raising their kids. “For women, the well-being of their children is not improved by promiscuity,” Lancaster told LiveScience.

Some scientists view both social and sexual monogamy in humans as a societal structure rather than a natural state.

“I don’t think we are a monogamous animal,” said Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle. “A really monogamous animal is a goose – which never mates again even if its mate is killed.”

She added, “Monogamy is invented for order and investment – but not necessarily because it’s ‘natural.'”

  • Anarchy Pony

    I don’t think there is one correct model for human coupling or mating.

    • mauriziojuvefc

      Agreed, everyone is different. As long is a factor, no one needs to worry

  • Reasor

    The invention of monogamy coincided with the invention of property. It’s about men trying to exert control over who inherits what they labored for in life, by trying to guarantee the paternity of their offspring.

    • Liam_McGonagle

      Well, at least theoretically there is give and take. The male supposedly guarantees the integrity of his line of descent, in return for which the female supposedly gains a more secure environment in which to raise her offspring to maturity.

      But the premise of that compromise comes into question when the social order begins to de-emphasize violent intraspecies conflict in favor of a wider network of cooperation.

      By this line of thinking, violent chaos would tend to emphasize patriarchy, and settled communitarianism would tend to emphasize matriarchal or cognatic ordering of familial relationships.

      This seems at least partially born out by the corleation between the male dominated pantheons of low-population early hunting/herding peoples and the stronger presence of female dieties in the mythologies of high population farming peoples.

      We’re currently at a level of technological/economic development where the utility of all previous social orders has to be seriously questioned if not abandoned outright.

  • Ted Heistman

    We might have several mating strategies as a species. Polygamy, polyandry, monogamy and fucking around.

    Some researchers like the idea of two main types of dudes: Big ballers that fuck around, and lower testosterone type dudes that change diapers and go to work everyday like clockwork. Some women adopt a strategy of getting knocked up by a big baller alpha male type dude and then get some poor schlub to help raise the kid.

    Some Tribes have these flashy looking big ballers, that wear war paint and feathers all the time and don’t work but just fight and take mind altering substances. Other tribes like the San, have guys that help raise the kids and don’t spend all their time trying to seem like a bad ass.

    Terrence McKenna, argued that back in the day everyone had big shroom orgies and raised kids communally because no one knew who anyone’s Dad was.

    I think Monogamy makes for more emotionally stable kids IMO, but maybe the communal thing would have been cool too, who knows. I think the Pea Cock type males in our culture still exist though as well as the more stable ones.

    • Hocketeer

      Could learn a lot from the San & as a matter of fact the Bonobos, the Pea Cock Chimp type are among the worst alchemists in history.

      • Ted Heistman

        Drew Hempel is that you?

        • Hocketeer

          Nope, but it appears you have some unresolved issues. Doing a search for both your names just enforces my suspicion that there is some subtle hostility in the air.

          “Drew Hempel is nuts! Posted by TedHeistman at 10:19 AM”, too bad blogspot is verboten in my neighborhood.

          • Ted Heistman

            He said I was a psychic vampire trying to feast on his sexual chi. Its kind of hard to be friends with a guy like that. Be that as it may, I don’t think all of his ideas are altogether wrong.

            You seem to be familiar with some of them.

          • Hocketeer

            You really presume way too much. It all seems rather childish, psychic vampire here, he is nuts there, both of you should be ashamed, at least a little :) anyway Pea Cock and Big Ballers made me laugh a lot, very funny indeed.

          • Ted Heistman

            No he told me that straight out. I didn’t presume anything. I take it you are Chinese? Are you a Taoist or privy to any alchemical practices you care to share?

          • Hocketeer

            Nope, wrong again, neither Chinese, nor a Daoist, although I do speak Mandarin due to some bizarre coincidences. Regarding alchemical practices, I guess Daoist cultivation (hell any type of cultivation) is a highly systematized form of trance dance, with all sorts of strict rules, weird superstitions and the general mind-fucking, with an emphasis on isolation rather than on participation (unless you do taijiquan in the park with some elderly ladies, although there you have the student master hierarchy and an obsession with form). Way off topic, 对不起

          • Ted Heistman

            cool. 沒問題.
            So where is blog spot banned?

          • Hocketeer

            I think blogspot is frowned upon by a handful of countries, damn control freaks.

          • Ted Heistman

            such as Vietnam?

          • Hocketeer

            And why are you asking me this? What’s wrong with you Ted?

          • Ted Heistman

            Wrong? Is it wrong to ask where you live?

          • Hocketeer

            Then please be more clear about it in the first place. You asked me if I’m Chinese, not if I live in China. My home country has experienced a major influx of Chinese people in recent years, one of the reasons I am here in the first place. You do understand there is a difference? Was a bit confused, sorry to have nitpicked.

          • Ted Heistman

            I am merely curious about you because you seem to know a thing or two that’s all.

          • Calypso_1

            Don’t you believe in psychic vampires?

          • Ted Heistman

            I also might believe in Bigfoot. doesn’t mean I am Bigfoot. Like others I have experienced people seeming to drain my energy. With Drew, maybe he found it draining that I didn’t just buy all his ideas from the get go. I took them seriously, yet remained skeptical. I think he prefers people to think of him as a guru. Most people think he is either a completer flake or an advanced practitioner. I am in between.

          • Calypso_1

            If Bigfoot is indeed being ‘fleshed out’ as part of the collective imagination, and you as a part of that process, are you not also Bigfoot?
            ; )

          • Ted Heistman


            “If you stare to long at Bigfoot Bigfoot stares back at you.”

  • Elenchus

    In regards to genetics, doesn’t having multiple kids with multiple partners offer the greatest chance of at least one of those offspring surviving?

    Having multiple offspring with the same genetic combination takes a huge risk that the combination is going to be a good one. Though much of this risk has been mitigated by modern science and society, that doesn’t mean in the long run it’s going to be successful.

    For a mammal that has as long of a gestation period as humans and produces relatively few offspring, it seems that monogamy is a biological loser.

    • Ted Heistman

      Well, not from the perspective of the high parental investment associated with delayed infancy. I think monogamy might be the main strategy which is preyed upon by the other strategists, similar to what cuckoo birds do, in getting monogamous birds to raise their young for them.

      • Elenchus

        For me, I believe the genetic motivation is probably the root, and biologically has a fundamental influence on the the other levels (of this issue) whether acknowledged by each perspective or not.

        That being said, I’m only presenting a hypothesis for humans being polyamorous.

      • Hocketeer

        Yeah!, cuckoo birds, the word “cunning” comes to mind. Like there are many cunning ways to apply cosmetics, especially when one isn’t menstruating, early female attempts to protect themselves from philanderers.

  • Juan

    The book Sex at Dawn did an excellent job of dealing with this very topic.

  • ManWithPlan

    Just because a behavior is “natural” doesn’t make it good. Monogamy and marriage are artificial constructs which have improved society and ensured paternal investment in children. But no, monogamy is not natural.

    There is more to life then getting one’s rocks off.

    Removing constraints of monogamy will result in a whole bunch more single mothers and children living off the public teet, and more children living without a father’s guidance.

    • Calypso_1

      Is monogamy in gibbons, prairie voles & numerous bird species artificially constructed?

      • ManWithPlan

        No it’s not, but I also don’t believe monogamy is humans’ natural state. It’s an advantageous construct for the long-term progress of the species.

        • Calypso_1

          And its not natural for a species to adopt behavior strategies that are geared towards long-term survival?

          By applying the term ‘construct’ in such a social fashion you are talking about social hierarchy based breeding structures.

          Is it a construct when only Alpha animals in packs are breeders?

          • ManWithPlan

            Our closest relatives in the animal kingdom are not monogamous. In many cultures, especially in ancient times, polygamy was very common. In fact, it could be argued that polygamy is more advantageous than monogamy if all one cares about is powerful men being able to spread their genes and also providing for their children.

            The impetus to monogamy, complete with the religious and spiritual trappings, would appear to be a construct meant to provide for children, and mothers of young children, while also ensuring greater egalitarianism and social stability than what happens in polygamous cultures.

            The hypergamous nature of the human female (desire to mate “up” with powerful men) and the ability/desire of the human male to mate with many females, left uncontrolled, is antithetical to social progress because the most powerful males end up monopolizing most of the females, and the lower-class males are busy killing each other in efforts to make themselves more sexy.

          • Calypso_1

            None of which takes it out of the realm of fully natural animal behavior patterns. Significant behavior changes are commonly observed both across populations and between closely related species. A strategy of any kind is only as useful as the outcomes it produces in a given environment. You simply cannot argue that anyone of them is artificial. Being natural neither makes something desirable nor potentially superior.

  • sambrown299

    I look at it this topic through the eyes of Bob Marley, he went around meeting women who were special to him. All of his kids all have a different mom. I think if the world was a different place it would be ideal to create a more diverse population by multiplying in this way. It is also our goal as humans to evolve and change throughout our lifetime, which is why monogamy doesn’t work because you might change, but your partner may not.. this is the problem that is the result of divorce. “She added, “Monogamy is invented for order and investment – but not necessarily because it’s ‘natural.’””