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Are Humans Hardwired for Monogamy?

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Are Humans Hardwired for Monogamy?

Does the entire wedding industry these days seem like one big racket to you? In your lifetime, how many thousands of dollars have you spent flying all over the country (or out of it) to watch people say “I do,” buying place settings and champagne flutes from couples’ Williams-Sonoma registries, and oohing and ahhing over boulder-size diamonds on your girlfriends’ ring fingers? Adding up the numbers can be a dizzying experience, but what’s truly disarming is the fact that your total payout most likely pales in comparison with the price tag for just one of these celebrations. In 2009, industry-trend resource reported that the average cost of a wedding in the United States was $19,580—that’s more than $12,500 greater than the median annual tuition at a four-year public college.

What’s worse, many of these marriages don’t even last; in fact, some social scientists have estimated U.S. divorce rates to be as high as 41 percent. Yet people just can’t seem to stop equating “happily ever after” with settling down with one person for the rest of their lives—even though numerous studies suggest that humans actually aren’t hardwired that way.

Monogamy Is Multifaceted

Ironically, the word monogamy doesn’t have only one meaning; rather, scientists have long subdivided it into three distinct categories: social, sexual, and genetic. In his book, Monogamy: Mating Strategies and Partnerships in Birds, Humans and Other Mammals, anthropologist Ulrich H. Reichard defines social monogamy as “a male and female’s social living arrangement (e.g., shared use of a territory, behaviour indicative of a social pair, and/or proximity between a male and female) without inferring any sexual interactions or reproductive patterns,” and further establishes that for humans specifically, “social monogamy equals monogamous marriage.” He characterizes sexual monogamy as “an exclusive sexual relationship between a female and a male based on observations of sexual interactions.” Finally, he describes genetic monogamy as a situation in which “DNA analyses can confirm that a female-male pair reproduce exclusively with each other.”

Two’s Company

In the animal kingdom, sexual and genetic monogamy both occur in certain species, but both types are rare: according to, only 3 to 5 percent of some five thousand mammal species have been observed to form exclusive, lifelong, and sometimes fierce bonds. A male prairie vole, for example, will not only remain loyal to the female he lost his virginity to, but also fight off other females who try to vie for his affections. Male anglerfish are also very attached to their partners—literally. When this fish mates, he affixes himself to a female’s body with his teeth; his mouth then fuses permanently to her skin and their bloodstreams merge, until the male becomes solely a source of sperm for the female. Birds are also well known for being monogamous: bald eagles mate for life, as do some types of geese, and the latter refuse to take on new partners even when their original mates die.

In humans, individual circumstances make monogamy less straightforward. For instance, a married man who is sexually unfaithful to his wife still classifies as socially monogamous, despite his infidelity. If that man procreates only with his wife, he’s both socially and genetically monogamous; however, if he remains married, has a child with his spouse, and fathers a child outside his marriage as well, he’s socially monogamous, but not genetically or sexually so. Because society is quick to excoriate people who have extramarital affairs, we applaud individuals who practice all three types of monogamy. Yet some evidence points to the idea that these “role models” are actually contradicting their biological and emotional nature by remaining legally and physically committed to a single partner.

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Read more: Dating, Life, Love, Relationships,

By Annie Tucker Morgan, DivineCaroline

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2:20PM PST on Dec 17, 2012

I think the only difference between the 3 - 5% of mammals that are exclusively monogamous is that unlike many humans they know what love is and how to behave when in love with regards to their partners feelings.

I would like to see studies that show the changes in people when they are truly in love. I feel polygamy makes sense when people can't find someone that they truly love but monogamy is for people who have found someone that they sincerely love and who sincerely loves them in return.

7:18AM PST on Dec 13, 2012

If we look back to how humans lived in the 99% of human history before we gave the world away to what we sometimes call the 1% - and became slaves and living zombies (LOL) engaged in a war on the natural world which is staggering in it's impact ... we will find mostly models that were not monogamous ... or where monogamy was the surface model, but the underlying truth - culturally accepted - was that monogamy is a flop. Many / most Europeans I know, who have been married for more than 10 years, have or sometimes have extra lovers. They are very worldly in how they manage the emotional side of it - and worldly doesn't necessarily mean cynical.

We north americans especially need to grow up.

Did you know that in many original / aboriginal cultures older men were EXPECTED to initiate young women into their adult sexuality just as older women were EXPECTED. to initiate they younger men. This was a duty, a responsibility which COULD NOT be trusted to the young and inexperienced ... obviously it was a responsibility with benefits for all.

Final note: Look around at how many marriages involving relatively advanced / mature adults involve an affair or even more than one, often by both parties but where the parties always (or almost always) return to the original partner. This may be a hint about the real natural way we want to live.

12:31PM PST on Dec 9, 2012

Any comments on what I wrote? I received two emails that someone had a comment on my comment but could not see either comment...just here on this site. A personal message to me? Try again.


12:12PM PST on Dec 9, 2012

@vicenzo c.wish a lot of guys like you,happy holidays

11:11AM PST on Dec 9, 2012

Don't know about the rest, but I'm very very monogamous. Thanks everyone for their comments.

6:03AM PST on Dec 3, 2012

"Men are happiest when they never get married; instead, they prefer to be shorter-term serial monogamists, involved in a succession of relationships but always stopping short of popping the question. In stark contrast, women who had had several partners and split from them were the least happy of all the female subjects in the study, while the ones who married their first love were the most emotionally fulfilled." THIS IS BOGUS

My married female friends are very unhappy and divorcees in my life are MUCH happier. Also: I have several 'never married' women friends who are exceedingly happy that they NEVER married.

Back in the 1970s, a book was written by Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D. called "Women and Madness". A study showed conclusive evidence of the following:

Happiest Member of Society: Married Male
(2nd) Happiest Member: Single Female
(3rd) Happiest Member: Single Male
LEAST HAPPIEST: Married Female

Once again a survey on the Internet falls far short of reality.

2:42PM PST on Dec 1, 2012

Thanks - great article - we humans are just here to procreate - Populate or Perish everything else is Society based and as the article stated - it's a BIG business

12:59PM PST on Dec 1, 2012


10:47PM PST on Nov 30, 2012

Thank-you for the interesting article.

10:46PM PST on Nov 30, 2012

Thank-you for the interesting article.

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