It's (Strange) Science: How STDs Influence Monogamy

holding hands
Love, Sex

A new study investigates the evolutionary effect that monogamy has on STIs.

Monogamy is a great idea, if you're in to that type of thing. People in monogamous relationships have many things going for them, aside from getting to do it without a condom and not being alone, but they also get to build a life together. For many, if not most, that seems to be the game plan. At least that's what the hundreds of online dating services will have you believe.

But for all the great things that come with monogamy, there are some downsides, too. One of those downsides, which seems sort of strange, but is true, is the evolutionary effect that monogamy has on sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), or rather the effect they have on each other.

Studies have found that STIs have a direct hand in monogamy, because people are only likely to be monogamous when faced with the possibility of getting an STI that could be fatal. The idea is if there are a multitude of STIs out there, and they're easy to contract and can lead to death, people are more likely to couple-up. But in a society where those types of STIs don't exist, if we were to somehow eradicate them, then monogamy might not seem all that glamorous after all. Instead, people might opt for a promiscuous lifestyle where there are no rules. Further investigation into this theory by scientists also found that it would only be at "intermediate transmission rates," would people want to couple up. In other words, people have to be faced with an easy transmittable disease or one that guarantees death, before monogamy starts looking like a good idea.

Let's face it: monogamy is something that we decided was good for us, not something that we're biologically and evolutionarily supposed to be geared toward. If the threat of an STI has to be a great one before we'll consider monogamy as a good idea and a means to keep the species going, then that says something right there.

As the study's researcher David McLeod, a doctoral student at Queen's University in Ontario explains, monogamy, at least when we consider diseases, is rare. "It's difficult to get the strategy off the ground." We like the idea in theory, because there is something to sharing financial obligations and raising a child together, but mating for life isn't an easy thing to pull off.

I think all we can do is give it a shot, commit to it the best we can, and if it's not for us, move on. It's not the worst thing in the world if we can't make monogamy work for us, especially if our reasons for going into it are as ridiculous as getting to have sex without a condom. There has to be more behind the urge to commit than just that.