Two articles on monogamy came out this week, both once again proclaiming monogamy has outlived its origins and is not suitable to our wiring.
In Salon’s Take that, monogamy! We’re actually hard-wired for polygamy, which helps explain why so many cheat, biologist David P. Barash explains that humans are hard wired for poly relationships:
Even though monogamy is mandated throughout the Western world, infidelity is universal.
Anthropologically speaking, Barash contends cultures around the world fulfill their social commitments in monogamy but not their biological commitments, which is more inclined toward polyandry.
In short, when adultery happens—and it happens quite often—what’s going on is that people are behaving as polygynists (if men) or polyandrists (if women), in a culturally defined context of ostensible monogamy. Adultery, infidelity, or “cheating” are only meaningful given a relationship that is otherwise supposed to be monogamous. A polygynously married man—in any of the numerous cultures that permit such an arrangement—wasn’t an adulterer when he had sex with more than one of his wives. (As candidate Barack Obama explained in a somewhat different context, “That was the point.”) By the same token, a polyandrously married Tre-ba woman from Tibet isn’t an adulteress when she has sex with her multiple husbands. Another way of looking at this: when people of either gender act on their polygamous inclinations while living in a monogamous tradition, they are being unfaithful to their sociocultural commitment, but not to their biology.
Meanwhile, in today’s Globe, Science writer Ivan Semeniuk reports on science’s latest findings that monogamy may have its roots (more likely one of them anyhow) in avoiding STD’s in To have, to hold, to avoid STDs in Science tackles evolution of monogamy.
In a paper published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers propose that the impact of sexually transmitted diseases may have started pushing humans toward monogamy during the agricultural revolution, when social groups began to grow in size to hundreds of individuals. The culturally imposed reinforcement could have taken hold even though the individuals involved would not have been aware of any longer-term survival benefit to their group over many generations.
Monogamy as an early safe sex device? Seems so unsexy.