What's the point of monogamy?


I am so glad to see they didn’t go down the road of equating natural with moral. So often people argue whether a particular moral issue is “natural” based on animal behaviors. Actually, animal behavior is a pretty poor moral guide, when you think about it. All kinds of horrible behavior is “natural.”


As a polyamorist who recently finished reading Sex At Dawn, I feel compelled to snark that if anybody finds any actual monogamy in nature, perhaps we can examine it.


Maggie, you might find an article or three about how Animal Behavior is analyzed in terms of an “economic” model. IE. Behavior evolves over many generations to produce a maximum “economic” benefit for the individual and/or herd/species.

There’s also an old but startling and thoughtful book called “Why Males Exist” which is generally available, and is reviewed here: https://library.villanova.edu/Find/Record/5111/Reviews

Considering most women and men have affairs in their “monogamous” relationships, maybe it is time to retire the word altogether.

1 Like

Whenever the scientific “appropriateness” of monogamy comes up, I’m always reminded of this exchange in Dr. Strangelove when the members of the war room have realized their impending doom, and begin planning a retreat into the deepest silos to protect civilization.

Turgidson: Doctor, you mentioned the ration of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn’t that necessitate the abandonment of the so called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?

Strangelove: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious… service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.

DeSadeski: I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.


Humans have been polygamous or polyandrous or just plain poly throughout recorded history.

Most of the time, the distinctions on who may marry who and who may have sex with who are ultimately based on social heirarchy and property.

When you have an economic model of property and power being inherited through breeding, you end up with a structured and controlled culture of sex and marriage, so as to better structure and control the exchange of property and power. Being a “bastard” isn’t inherently bad, it’s just treated that way by systems in which families do not share their influence and wealth, but rather divvy them up according to rules of breeding.

Religion also helps cement these values in place, as they can help to cement any values. There’s nothing intrinsically tying monogamy and the major world religions together other than the fact that the major world religions all cropped up from heirarchical cultures, and hence drew from heirarchical values.

If you asked “what’s the point of capitalism” and looked at other primates, I doubt you’d get many answers there. The fact that it costs money for humans to have children discourages men from “spreading their seed” with multiple partners. And our sorry state of welfare and the stigmatization of single mothers encourages women to demand monogamy from men.

Personally, I’m just monogamous because I’m happy this way. Probably because I’m introverted and need a certain amount of alone time. Having more than one partner sounds exhausting.


My understanding is that primate monogamy is often not nearly as monogamous as the term would lend you to believe.

Coyotes might be monogamous.

“The fact that it costs money for humans to have children discourages men from “spreading their seed” with multiple partners.”

You seem to be making a few assumptions here that I don’t particularly think should be made. One, you’re casting things in the light of a single man and multiple women, when of course it could easily be multiple men and a single woman, or merely multiple men, or merely multiple women, or multiple of both.

You’re also making it sound like having multiple partners makes you more likely to have multiple children, which may or may not be true. After all, there are plenty of monogamous couples who have large numbers of children, especially historically speaking. Having multiple mothers involved in a poly relationship doesn’t necessarily mean you multiply the number of children born - you could just as easily only one child with each mother, or even none.

In fact, comparing a monogamous couple who have three children with a polyamorous quintuple who also have three children, in the latter case you have four parents available to care for the children, as opposed to merely two parents in a monogamous relationship. So if we’re talking about efficiency of resources or money in terms of raising children, logic seems to suggest that it’d be most efficient to live and raise children in small groups or communally, rather than in pairs.

And if we also factor in individuals’ desires for larger families, this likewise favors poly relationships because instead of having three children yourself, you could have three that are collectively yours, only one of which is biologically your own, but all of which you love and care for and which are in every meaningful respect “your” children.

1 Like

Such a lengthy post to not-a-lengthy post. :wink:

I’m just going to get to the point. Communally raising children would be collectivist and what was trying to imply was that monogamy evolved as a product of Capitalism. (I make no claims as to the efficiency of resources under capitalism.)

My Grandfather left my Grandmother with 8 kids, and had 4 more kids with another woman. It was financially devastating. Perhaps it would not have been if we had an alternate reality like the one you speak of.

1 Like

Thus the qualifier “what scientists define as,” as opposed to “what society defines as” or “what that no good cheating sack of shit defines as.”

Whenever all this polyamory stuff comes up, I always think that it’s just too complicated to have these kinds of relationships, which is why we default to one-on-one.

It’s not that it’s more morally correct, more “natural”, or whatever. It’s that people are fucking complicated, and the more of them you involve in an intimate way in your life, statistically speaking, the crazier your shit is going to get.

Sort of like Metcalfe’s Law …

… but applied to relationships. The complexity of any intimate relationship is proportional to the square of the number of people involved.

And then, as I also went through a period in life where I listened to Dr. Drew on Lovelines every night for months and heard the same advice given over and over by someone who has talked to a lot of people with relationship problems: http://ask.metafilter.com/28744/How-creepy-is-polyamory

For this stance I have to admit that I completely blame Loveline and Dr. Drew. It’s just that after having heard countless callers on the show that ask a question along the lines of “we decided to try a threesome” or “my wife and I decided to let each other fool around with other partners” get systematically analyzed by Dr. Drew and found to be doing things destructive to their emotional health, that I have come to form this opinion that “it can never work and anyone that thinks it can is only fooling themselves.” I know that I have a problem with selective sampling here in that of course all the callers to Loveline are going to be having serious relationship problems. But that I counter with the fact that Dr. Drew is a trained physician that has dealt with many people, and he seems to be steadfast in his assessment that these kind of things in fact always end in pain, disappointment, and so on. So for better or worse his unwavering assessment of this behavior as across-the-board destructive has worn off on me.

I reiterate: I hold this opinion not because I believe one approach is more moral or natural or correct or whatever, but because it’s too damn complicated. Hell, it’s puh-lenty complicated with two people, much less adding more people to the mix and squaring the complexity.

Ooh, say more - I’m close to getting a poly bingo!

Non-monogamy as practiced by the “polyamory” subculture seems to be largely made possible by reproductive technologies of various ages: contraception, sterilisation, abortion, and paternity testing. It has little to do with preagricultural ways of life.

Those same technologies are used in much greater numbers by the “monogamy” subculture as well. Does that call its historical authenticity into question?

I think you would have to define ‘actual monogamy’. Is it social monogamy, sexual monogamy, or genetic monogamy? According to the study published under EVOLUTION OF SEX, A New Look at Monogamy by Virginia Morell, up to 10% of socially monogamous song birds are also sexually monogamous.

Bald Eagles are monogamous and remain faithful to their mate until death.

The idea that children cost us, rather than make us, money is much, much newer than monogamy. For subsistence farmers (who make up the vast bulk of humans for all but a tiny fraction of history) children are necessary to survive, and start paying off in terms of the work they do compared to the cost of having them at age five or six.

1 Like