Why Humans Aren't Designed For Monogamy

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Is monogamy the natural human state?

The percentage of wives cheating on their husbands rose by almost 40 percent during the last two decades — to 14.7 percent in 2010 — while the number of men admitting to extramarital affairs held constant at 21 percent, according to the latest data from the National Opinion Research Center's General Social Survey, as published in Bloomberg Business Week.

The article explores possible causations to the increase in women's sexual misadventures, such as financial stability, social media, a changing sexual culture, and the realization that women have an equal sex drive to men. Many media outlets focus on infidelity like it's a curse and socially shame those that step out on their spouses.


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Is monogamy natural? Fear not, because infidelity is not an epidemic, nor a behavior that necessarily needs a solution or cure. Monogamy may be.

We tend to ask why people cheat instead of asking whether monogamous, long-term relationships should be our natural state. Our culture places high social standards on fidelity, demonizing the seemingly natural behavior of diversifying one's sexual partnerships.

In an article by Vicki Larson in The Huffington Post, she interviewed Eric Anderson, an American sociologist at England's University of Winchester and author of the provocative book, The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating.

"Monogamy's stronghold on our belief — what he calls monogamism — brings ostracism and judgment to anyone who questions or strays from its boundaries," she reports. His main point in the interview is that men have a strong urge for quick, frivolous, unattached sex, while thriving on the emotional monogamy and continued love of their wife.

Quick sex here, stable marriage there. Anderson's view appears just a bit skewed, as it reflects the biological male imperative for both sexual variety and an emotional home base, while completely leaving out the female's point of view from both a sexual and emotional standpoint.

In Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá point to anthropological and biological evidence that humans are designed to seek variety in their sexual experiences. In his Psychology Today blog, Ryan calls the idea that "you should be completely happy, completely fulfilled with one partner for 50 years" a myth. "That's not the design of the human organism."


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In a Washington Post article, staff writer Ellen McCarthy writes: 

"Adultery has been documented in every human culture studied... If monogamy is such a natural state, the authors ask, why are so many people driven to cheat? Ryan and Jethá trace many of our modern ideas about matrimony and monogamy back to Darwin and a Victorian understanding of sexuality. To support their theory that the story is much more complex, they examine early human cultures and those of remote tribes that don't place a high value on monogamy. Some peoples believed babies could receive genetic material from multiple fathers, so women were encouraged to have sex with men who could pass on different positive characteristics."

Sounds like our male and female anthropological and biological story enjoys its thrills and pleasures.

Interpersonal bonding, a community, and team work provide safety and security and promote the continuation of the human race. Yet monogamy, with its tendencies to provide financial security, stability in raising a family, emotional comfort, and more, is a choice.

Dan Savage coined the term "monogamish" to describe his long-term relationship. Savage asks, "Why do most people assume that all non-monogamous relationships are destined to fail? Because we only hear about the ones that do. If a three-way or an affair was a factor in a divorce or breakup, we hear all about it. But we rarely hear from happy couples who aren't monogamous, because they don't want to be perceived as dangerous sex maniacs who are destined to divorce."

Dossie Easton is a psychotherapist specializing in polyamory and penned the book The Ethical Slut. She says:

"The Ethical Slut discusses how to live an active life with multiple concurrent sexual relationships in a fair and honest way. Discussion topics include how to deal with the practical difficulties and opportunities in finding and keeping partners, maintaining relationships with others, and strategies for personal growth. It contains chapters discussing how consensual non-monogamy is handled in different subcultures such as the gay and lesbian communities, information on handling scheduling, jealousy, communication, conflict in relationships, and etiquette for group sexual encounters."

Monogamy can be a surprisingly difficult commitment, one that may be against the story of our human history. Practicing it faithfully is a choice — but the only one. A woman can love a partner and eye another, have a sexual romp, and return to her commitment at home. After all, we no longer live in the Victorian Era.


RELATED: Why Polyamory Actually Is NOT The Opposite Of Monogamy


Tiffany Anton works to help individuals and couples to create more intimate and fulfilling lives through psychotherapy that's compassionate, supportive, educational and empowering. With over ten years of experience, she knows how difficult it can be to find the right help, obtain healthy guidance and start living the life you deserve.

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