Data shows that male animals are not naturally promiscuous, nor are females naturally reticent

Originally published at:


I am not clear what is being overturned here. I’ve often heard that some species are always promiscuous, and that some are always monogamous. Is this new research saying, in effect, “No, it’s just a lifestyle choice?” I would imagine anisogamy exists in some species somewhere. Is this new research simply saying it’s not true for every species and not some kind of universal principle? Or are they saying it never exists anywhere?


They’re saying that scientists have been making skewed observations.

Donna Haraway has a wonderful essay about how the same thing affected (affects) primatology, in her book Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. Scientists observed and noted aggressive males and shy females in primates, because that’s what they were expecting. Anything observed otherwise was dismissed as odd or irrelevant.

It took decades before it was realised aggression and gentleness were distributed across the genders.

Sounds to me like the same thing is happening here. How that plays out for observations of individual species depends on the actual behaviour of that species.


That absolutely makes sense. It sounded like the author was making a more extreme claim. That happens sometimes around here.


I really like this idea, and I personally think it’s on-point, but I wish to god there was an academic journal article for it, instead of an independent one. I get that there’s a hundred and one reasons why it might not have been possible to publish this as a journal article. Not being published in an academic journal doesn’t make it automatically invalid (and being published in one wouldn’t make it automatically valid), but I prefer when these types of things manage to make it through the peer review system.


I didn’t make it very far into the Skeptics Guide to the Universe* but early on, the host was very open about the fact that every skeptic has their one weakness for an unbelievable phenomenon that is their logical blind spot. Listening to that host then being stripped, layer-by-layer of his fandom for Evo-Psych was a highlight.

*Because holy shit, a bunch of nerds sitting around, awkwardly taking pot shots and expressing exaggerated dismay that there are people who believe in weekly world news level hoaxes is…the reason people tend to not want to listen to “skeptics.” I started back at the beginning, I’m an obsessive podcast completist…I know I should give it more time, I’m sure it gets better, but I…there are so many podcasts


Doesn’t this vary wildly between species? I mean, the statement “It’s a commonplace that in the natural world, males attempt to mate with multiple females, while females attempt to entice males into being monogamous;” doesn’t apply to at least half the nature videos I have seen, nor was that something I believed to be true in the first place.

Examples: pack animals who have an alpha male tend to have a single male breeding with the females, but even then some of the females will mate with some of the other males.

Many species mate for life, or stick with one partner during the mating season. Some species has the female mate with multiple males, insuring fertilization and a more robust set of offspring.

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As I understand it, in every single instance where this claim has been exhaustively studied - 24 hour monitoring of individuals, DNA testing, &etc. - it has been disproven. Social monogamy exists - for example, most birds pair-bond for the necessary duration when raising offspring - but sexual monogamy in species* is apparently incredibly rare, if it even exists at all.

If anyone knows of any cases where solid research, informed by DNA testing, has truly borne out claims of animal monogamy, I’d like to hear about it!

* as distinct from sexual monogamy in individuals, which is reportedly commonplace among humans, who never ever “cheat”, ever, according to their own reports, unless they are very bad people.


If you think about it humans aren’t that far off, especially if you take into account the shorter life span of centuries past. It just happens to be the duration to raise an offspring is 15+ years. Couple that with being locked into being around your mate because of the first offspring and you have a high chance of producing more. My parents both have 7 siblings spread out over 20 years. That’s 35 years of just raising kids…by the time that ends do you even want to exert the energy to find a new partner if there isn’t anything wrong with the current one?

I can see it working if you took the complete communal approach and there were only your biological parents, but everyone raised the children. Although I think you’d end up with a much different society structure if you took this approach than anything we have today.


Right, I didn’t mean to imply it was completely monogamy sexually, as I too have read that both parties might get around. Just that they still are mated pairs.

Simple truth - biology likes to fuck. Humans are no different. Now that we have the techonlogy to keep babies from popping up like dandelions, there is little reason to make it seem like females and males don’t both like variety.

But at the same time - lack of monogamy in social creatures makes things way more complex, as aside from biological urges, you have emotional ties and attachments and feelings.

I’m divorced and don’t want to exert that energy…


Societies where paternity is not tracked at all still exist in the world, but those places are overrun with sexual tourists already, so I am not going to name them here. Yes, they are structured very differently!

That would be the point of the piece, yes.


Unless you count species that die shortly after mating. Not a lot of philandering octopi out there.


“Finding a new partner” is a construct we’ve built, though. What about after 35 years of raising kids you are away at a conference and meet someone and you are both interested in having sex that night?

Obviously if that is going to damage your relationship with your long term partner then you might decide that’s not worth it, but we shouldn’t confuse forming pairs for the purposes of raising children (and raising grandchildren) with just having sex with someone.

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Yes, but it was framed as being new knowledge, using the part of the article I quoted, it leads off with a statement that I don’t think a lot of people thought was true in the first place.

Maybe from a “person on the street” view point it was true. But if they thought it was true, they aren’t the audience that will be reading this article.

I think the point is that it varies widely WITHIN a species. Behaviors are individual and harder to make blanket statements about than we imagine.


I think it says more about the human brain. We like to organize who and what we encounter in simple, monolithic patterns which are borne out into stereotypes whenever we discover a similar pattern elsewhere.

It’s probably very efficient as a survival technique (the last lion tried to eat me so I’d better watch out for the next one…), but it probably inhibits us as we try to learn more about the universe and other cultures when we see things that aren’t really there and miss what truly is.


Oh, no, another political thread. I’m out!

Heh, I had that book.

I found this part of the paper to be very interesting:

“differential treatment among preferred and nonpreferred females is a form of male mate choice. In some species, males may even refuse to copulate with certain females. Indeed, male mate choice is now a particularly active field of study.”

It’s not really monogamy, but it does point to discretion, which has been framed as a female trait by the old research.