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Is monogamy social setup or 'our nature'

  1. Nov 25, 2006 #1
    I think of this as social setup. I have not heard an argument that would show otherwise. Is there any research done on this?

    Im asking in relation to our laws. (western). WHy is polygamy explicitly prohibited then? Isn't this pure religious demand?
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  3. Nov 25, 2006 #2


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    In fact sociologists of the nineteenth century identified two stable patterns: patrilocality and matrilocality. Patrilocal marriage is like the biblical one; a man who can afford them has as many wives as local custom allows, which may be on, or four or as many as he wants. Sometimes a distinction is made between wives, whose children will share some way or other in the inheritance, and concubines, whose children won't.

    The matrilocal organization is less familiar to us but was common in many places and has survived into the modern world in, for example micronesia. Women own the fixed property - agricultural land which is usually worked as simple gardens. Men are hunters or fishermen and live together in "long houses". Women take temporary lovers and paternity is not recorded, inheritance it theough the female line. As soon as little boys are fully toilet trained (or in other societies just before puberty), they are sent to live with the men in the long house.

    As you can see neither of these long established and surviving patterns have anything to do with monogamy. Modern western monogamy has specific historic and cultural origins, all well recorded in our literature.
  4. Nov 25, 2006 #3
    I have observed that in the American Midwest women much enjoy the idea of a monogamous relationship. But I suspect it has to do with inate possessiveness and insecurities as much as social pressure or religious upbringing. My understanding is that men would tend to have more partners than women in our society and that the power of women causes most men especially married ones to have fewer partners than they would like. But, there is a difference between what appears on the surface of society and what goes on underneath the covers. Many many couples are venturing out into agreed upon flings and flirtations. In general reference to your question I would say that societies that require people to suppress very natural tendencies without outlet are going to manifest problems in some way. We are in a fuzzy dynamic here but cause and effect is still not a bad way to think about it. Tell people not to eat and we ll you get what I mean. So I tend to think that people have much incentive in various cultural and historical contexts both to be monogamous and not to be. Perhaps the most poignant model might be the one that describes humans as having wants and desires and then trying to work out ways within society (if possible) so satisfy those desires. If the desire is strong enough a person may do things that are not expected. But just as we are utility maximizers economically speaking (I'm being an economic imperialist) I think most people try to count the costs of pretty much every action and so if they have control over the wants they tend not to act if there is a high risk involved. Risk here is meant to be the probability of a consequence multiplied by the magnitude of it. If I am using estimates (sample means for instance) to size up a key risk factor is the standard deviation, which tells me there is some risk is assuming the mean response to any action. Some people will try to minimize that risk by feeling things out with many little steps before making the plunge. This is a dangerous temptation because the cost is not lessened but the chance of being caught seems somewhat less.
  5. Nov 26, 2006 #4


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    I think happily married men, as well as women, enjoy the security of monogamy, and IMO it is a very practical approach regarding a special relationship between a man and a woman who both enter voluntarily a special union.

    Given the emotional commitment to the other person, it would be very difficult to have such a relationship with more than one person of the other gender simultaneously. Beyond jealousy, resource allocation would be difficult.

    I often wonder what people mean by 'natural tendencies'. Are egotism, self-centeredness, selfishness natural tendencies - or simply the consequences of an undeveloped/underdeveloped person? What about self-discipline, empathy, compassion, generosity, beneficence - are these not natural tendencies?
  6. Nov 26, 2006 #5


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    It should be noted that in flocks of ordinary chimpanzees, the typical relations are that of an alpha male having sexual access to whichever females he wants to, whereas the other males try to have as much sex with the same females they can get away with (i.e, the alpha male not discovering it). (Occasionally, a stronger male will bond with a younger, weaker male in a sort of sexual mentor relationship).

    New chimpanzee groups are formed when an alpha male breaks out of his group and takes with him a number of females wishing to join him, along with a few dependent males, often offspring.

    For bonobo chimps, the situation is radically different in that it is the females that form the dominant sub-group, even if they are physically weaker than the males. They manage to do this in essentially two ways:
    1. The band up together and require to eat their fill of fruits before any one male is allowed access (and the sorority bonds are kept strong through intra-female sexual acts).

    2. They "bribe" males with sex to fetch fruits for themselves and their offspring.

    When bonobo groups meet, it may happen that a young female goes over to the group, bringing along her immature children. She then tries to find her place in the hierarchy of the new group by entering sexual relations with the dominant female(s) in the new group.

    Thus, our closest ancestors show by their examples that monogamy is not at all "natural", but neither is it clear whether "polygyny" or "polyandry" were the original human condition.
  7. Nov 26, 2006 #6


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    I should also mention two practical benefits of monogamy: 1) little or not risk from sexually transmitted diseases, and 2) no surprised pregnacies.

    While at univeristy, a number of friends contract STD's, but none knew the source, although there was a lot of finger pointing. Also, one friend actually got a girlfriend pregnant, and possibly another. Then there were several women who got pregnant, and there was one case where paternity was questionable, because the woman had sex with multiple partners.

    I happily avoided all that.
  8. Nov 26, 2006 #7


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    I would like to add that as the humans' emotional life has nuanced over the ages, it by no means follows that the "original" societal&sexual mores will remain satisfactory to the individual. Thus, for example, the WEALTH of social relations that a harmonious monogamic relationship gives rise to between the two partners may in itself be more sought after than just the number of sexual encounters consisting of only the narrow social roles as sex partners.
  9. Nov 26, 2006 #8
    From the posts i observe opinion that monogamy is a choice. Between two subjects.

    Of casuse the law does not reflect that. For the law, monogamy is the enforced social set up.

    Why if subjects want to set up polygamy thinking that it would provide more balanced relationship are prohibited to do so. If say a woman does not have a required sexual drive, or feel like pursuing career rather than taking care of kids, and etc, it could be 'healthier' to take upon another 'legal' wife with all the rights of a wife for the man, rather than to seek random temporary encounters, stuggle to impose his views what she should do, etc

    Of cause one may look at it this way. One may look at it another way: sharing of duties, chores, bigger income to the family, kids have another closer subject than a 'babysitter' to them, more time to do things for individual wife since she is not responsible for everything, etc

    To stress my point, it should be a choice of all subjects concerned which way they would like it. Not imposed law, as far as i can conceive.
  10. Nov 26, 2006 #9
    I agree with the examples you gave, but humans are a different species at least so it is possible that our habits and genetic disposition are different enough that we are free to be considered in our own right.
  11. Nov 26, 2006 #10

    I like that point. Without drawing in unprovable religious statements, a reasonable hypothesis might be that humans have the ability to be jealous hateful, ... and have self-discipline, empathy, compassion, generosity, beneficence,...

    Many religious try to explain these things as opposing forces. Perhaps they are simply possibilities of response more or less deinfed by our genes our upbringing and our life history (current physical and psychological health) in a situational sense.

    I would submit that bonobo culture is mostly learned and not genetic. In fact in human culture the trading of favors takes on many forms that are not strictly sexual. Good ole boys clubs for example are essentially of the same nature as the groups formed by males in chimps and females in bonobos. Are sexual favors traded in good ole boys groups? Why is it that ugly rich men can always have a beautiful girl on their arm?

    "nine rings were gifted to the race of men, who above all else desire power." Galadriel

    I do agree that virtue has long been understood to be of greater and more constant value than vice. Does virtue bring power, or satisfaction?
  12. Nov 26, 2006 #11
    It seems to be setup both by culture and ecological restraints. Promiscuity is what chimpanzees engage in, but humans need to have 2 people at least to raise children, hence a need for 2 parents. Same with a lot of birds I believe. What humans do seem to engage in is serial monogamy - pretty much polygamy (polyandry and polygyny) but doing it one mate at a time over your lifetime. Anyhow, I think promiscuity would be the "natural" urge. That is, we engage in monogamous marriage but not necessarily monogamous sex.

    To some extent, we are biologically designed for monogamy - Women really only have resources to lose, so they seem to just get upset rather than violent when they're "cheated on." Men, however, my potentially give resources to another man's child when their spouse cheats on them. Hence why men get so violent when women place their attentions on other men. Also accounts for infanticide (is that why step-fathers get a bad rap?)
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2006
  13. Nov 26, 2006 #12


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    Evolutionarily, I would think it makes sense that early humans developed a biological inclination toward temporary monogamy. At the very least, the father (or someone) needed to be around while the mother was pregnant and nursing, leaving her otherwise vulnerable.

    The reality, though, is that humans never lived in isolated pairs, or nuclear families, the way they do today. They roamed in bands, and the community could easily take care of both mother and child without the necessity of paternal involvement, and certainly without the necessity for monogamous pair-bonding. I would think there are archaeological studies done by those who know more than I do that can demonstrate in some way the social bonds formed by typical humans, but the question of whether these developed biologically or culturally is difficult to answer, because by the time human mating habits developed, the ability to transmit information culturally, and the behavioral plasticity to quickly adapt to ecological demands without waiting for biology to catch up, already existed in whatever protohumans we descended from. The only experimental setup I could think of to test the hypothesis would be to somehow examine the mating behaviors of all early humans, cross-culturally, and look for patterns, but even finding such a pattern would be more suggestive than confirmatory. There is certainly no such pattern of monogamy found cross-culturally today, and to the extent that patterns are found, history shows them owing as much to the cultural hegemony of intrusive peoples as they do to any intrinsic behavioral presets in the human brain.
  14. Nov 27, 2006 #13
    Can I have polyandry? Say if a man does not have a required sex drive or feels like pursuing a career rather than taking care of the kids...? :rofl:
  15. Nov 27, 2006 #14
    I would say that common sense dictates from knowing father and mother of a child, that polyandry is not desirable from this point of view.
  16. Nov 27, 2006 #15


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    I lack this common sense because I don't follow. In a highly dangerous environment, I would think multiple males per female would make sense. What is this 'common sense'?
  17. Nov 27, 2006 #16
    describe one situation that could occur in real world when multiple males per female is preferable?

    Common sense- i may start another thread on this. I noticed there are educated ppl who are always ready to come up with situation that is possible only when humanity/person stops thinking, or/and some ridiculous condition occurs and call that 'my common sense' and give it as a proof that there is no such a thing as common sense or that it is highly relative.

    I would agree that common sense changes from time to time, but its COMMON SENSE that each and every person thinks for and on his/her own about things before doing certain actions. So if in the light of new discovery/facts/knowledge some doings become wanted of change, common sense dictates it would be changed.

    I detest even telling and educated person what a real life common sense is. We can engage in scientific/philosophic debate on the essense of the issue. BUt if I invoke common sense application in REAL LIFE situation i expect from all but donkey to know what im talking about. Every one uses common sense in his/her daily life but when other person invokes it, behold!, we dont know what you mean.
  18. Nov 28, 2006 #17
    Polyandry occurs in rural Tibet. Multiple men, usually brothers, take one wife. They live on large, low production farms that require labor. These farms can't be divided because they are so low producing, thus the solution is fraternal polyandry. They rotate on these positions: one brother provides labor for the farm, one brother tends the yak herd, and the other brother leaves home for long periods of time to trade. Thus, brothers take turns mating with the wife according to rotation to reduce burden. Of course, nobody prefers polygamy, but it's required in some instances, in others the alternatives are worse (hence why we have polygyny).
  19. Nov 28, 2006 #18
    There are theories that this is the how early human were structured and the reason for it - multiple males had to band together because they couldn't protect mates on their own.

    From http://www.umanitoba.ca/anthropology/tutor/marriage/polyandry.html"University [Broken]
    The Nayar case discussed in another section represents a non-fraternal form in the sense that a woman engages in sexual relations and has children with several different men, any of whom may be called upon to acknowledge paternity.
    Apparently, polyandry is also "sporadically distributed in Africa, Oceania, and Native America."

    From Wiki
    "Polyandry is a controversial subject among anthropologists. For instance, Pennsylvania anthropologist Stephen Beckerman points out that at least 20 tribal societies accept that a child could, and ideally should, have more than one father, referring to it as "partible paternity""
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  20. Nov 28, 2006 #19
    Thank you 0TheSwerve0 for the research. I am aware that polyandry exists and that it existed before. And its not point of my debate. Book 'sperm wars', even shows how human male sperm count accounts for the fact that we are not 'alpha' male society by 'nature'. [most of the sperms are not designed to fertilize the egg, but rather designed to fight off other sperms that might be present from other male to help the fertilizing sperms reach the egg].

    I wanted to know from the other person, when would polyandry be preferable to polygamy in our society? (western). Knowing what we know of psychology or children, men, and women. THIS is the question i was replying to : "? Can I have polyandry? Say if a man does not have a required sex drive or feels like pursuing a career rather than taking care of the kids...?"

    The fact that there are primitive societies in polyandry setup does not mean to take it as something to be learned from them. Just like some ppl are attracted to the same sex, does not mean that we all should strive to be like that. Its detrimental obviously to society. (plz do not take it as hate speech, its common sense that same sex relationship is not preferable from point of view of population growth etc).

    I gave very reasonable conditions when and why polygamy would be preferable given our situation. (careers, sex issues, psychology, psychiatry of children, men, and women., etc...)
  21. Nov 28, 2006 #20
    Monagamy used to work well as a function of raising children. Today there are more parents leaving children with underpaid child care providers instead of raising their own children. Divorce rates are at 50 to 60% amongst those initially professing to be monagamous. When the interests of the child are the primary concern, monagamy offers the stable choice. Children of polygamous parents don't know who they are or who their parent is. Its a replication of conditions that occured in the dark ages or in third world economies. Everyone thinks we're so hip to be able to have duo incomes and 3 lovers plus children. But attention deficit and several other detrimental conditions in today's children are increasing because of "ambitious parents" (using the term lightly).
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