Why Humans Aren't Designed For Monogamy

Is monogamy the natural state for humans?

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Editor's Note: This is a part of YourTango's Opinion section where individual authors can provide varying perspectives for wide-ranging political, social, and personal commentary on issues.

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 causes of the increase in women's intimate misadventures, such as financial stability, social media, a changing culture, and the realization that women have an equal need for passion compared to men. Many media outlets focus on infidelity like it's a curse and socially shame those who step out on their spouses.

RELATED: 3 Scientific Reasons Monogamous Relationships Don't Work Out

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 intimate 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 intimacy while thriving on the emotional monogamy and continued love of their wives.

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


RELATED: The Harsh Reasons Women Get Bored With Monogamy

In their book authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá point to anthropological and biological evidence that humans are designed to seek variety in their intimate 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."

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 human desires and anatomy. 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 people believed babies could receive genetic material from multiple fathers, so women were encouraged to be intimate with men who could pass on different positive characteristics."


Sounds like our male and female anthropological and biological stories enjoy their thrills and pleasures.

Interpersonal bonding, community, and teamwork 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.



RELATED: Your Age Doesn't Affect How You Feel About Monogamy, But There's One Surprising Trait That Might


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 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 maniacs who are destined to divorce."

Dossie Easton is a psychotherapist specializing in polyamory and penned her book on the subject. She says:

"The book discusses how to live an active life with multiple concurrent relationships fairly and honestly. 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 different group 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, be intimate with someone else, and return to her commitment at home. After all, we no longer live in the Victorian Era.

RELATED: How To Tell If Someone Has Commitment Issues (Even If It's You)

Tiffany Anton is an intimacy therapist. With over 10 years of experience, she works to help individuals and couples create more intimate and fulfilling lives through psychotherapy that's compassionate, supportive, educational, and empowering. She is a regular contributor to We Want More Now and her articles have been syndicated by MSNBC, FOX News, and more.