Monogamy and Polygamy

Being a pleasant experience, sex in mammals (which include humans) is a reward mechanism that favors the survival of its class. No question about, sex is natural. Monogamy—the practice of being married to one person (social monogamy) or having only one partner as lover during a certain period (sexual monogamy)—it is not. If monogamy is not natural, polygamy should be so, right? Neither: Half of the of the planet’s population prefers monogamy and such fraction of the human race cannot be considered as abnormal.

What is the great achievement of social monogamy? Emotional stability: the early education of children by parents with lasting unions contributes to the future balance of youth and adults. This reason alone justifies social monogamy up to the highest tolerable level.

Although this columnist found no endorsement in Internet for his theory, he claims there is another justification for sexual monogamy which, in turn, generates points for its social equivalent: Monogamy by decree in any society encourages equality of sexual opportunities, for both males and females, and reduces imbalances in the satisfaction of such a significant need.

That must have been the divine intention when we were created: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24). Over time, the restless Jews ignored the Lord and disfigured the well-intentioned leveling. King Solomon was the unbridled champion: “And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines” (1 Kings 11:3).

Ten centuries later, Jesus decided to put an end to such unusual hoarding and established the monogamous marriage in the Western Christian civilization, giving full backing to the Genesis: “What God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19: 4-6). He himself honored a wedding in Cana (although it is not known who got married) and there he performed his first miracle by turning water into wine when it began to run out (John 2:1-11).

In the distribution of wealth, including sensual pleasures as such (according to my theory), Jesus was quite a socialist. (In my college days, Catholic Communists, clearly thinking more of “the rich who would not pass through the eye of a needle” than in the apportionment of sexual wellbeing, said that Jesus Christ was a commie. “It was in the Gospel where I learned to love the People”, often repeated rebellious priest Camilo Torres).

Social monogamy in the West thus has its origin in Christianity. Sexual polygamy, on the other hand, runs parallel with the evolution of the species and its roots are genetic. Only a few mammalian species, less than five percent, are monogamous (gibbons, wolves, prairie voles…) and, with the exception of roughly half of humans, all members of the hominid family (gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos) are polygamous.

Though it may sound contradictory, societies seem to be moving towards the ‘unnatural’ monogamy. With Muslims on the top, a quarter of the world’s population lives in polygamous cultures. Still a clear sign of the monogamous trend in such cultures is the fact that, despite being accepted by their religion, polygamy is forbidden in Islamic-majority countries as Turkey, Tunisia and Albania, as well as in the Muslim states of the former Soviet Union. Formerly polygamous Mormons, on the other hand, abolished it in 1890.

In spite of what seems a solid trend, the results of a hypothetical referendum (to choose between monogamy and polygamy) would not be predictable because of the West world predominating sexual freedom. Though with different purposes, an investigation of the University of Oxford, England, directed by Dr. Rafael Wlodarski, provides some interesting results. In a summary of the conclusions of this study, The Economist writes that disloyal husbands outnumber the faithful ones “by a ratio of 57:43. Loose women, by contrast, are outnumbered by their more constant sisters, but by only 53:47. Each of these ratios tends in the direction of received wisdom”. The proximity of the four figures to ‘fifty’ is both interesting and surprising.

Unlike mammals, birds generally display a monogamous ‘social’ behavior that is often exalted by poets and lovers. Such ‘fidelity’, however, is habitually accompanied by frequent ‘extramarital’ breaks. As the careful observers they are, ornithologists are now destroying the romantic myth of the ‘winged loves until the end of the days”. Is this kind of ‘volatile’ scheme—social monogamy, sexual polygamy—the direction toward which marital relationships in human couples are actually moving?

Atlanta, March 10, 2015


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