Inconvenient truth about monogamy

This post was originally published at lifestylecouch.wordpress.com on July 17, 2018 and is revised and edited in this new post for openogamy.com. The owner/author is the same for openogamy.com and lifestylecouch.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but everything you have been told about love equating to monogamous behavior is, well…a lie. This topic is too big to be covered in masterful depth, but I will highlight some of the basics and provide you with some tremendous resources for further exploration.

What we are told

Look, we all know the story: Charming prince swoops in and mutually falls in love with the distressed princess-to-be and they live happily ever after…or some variation thereof. Romantic? Absolutely! Completely true? Nope! Despite what current-day society continues to feed us as that there is only one true love for each of us, this just isn’t true in the realm of human (or even animal) sexuality. I have spent a great deal of energy teaching my three teenage daughters to be strong, independent women who will never need to be swept away by Prince Dreamy Eyes to save her or to be happy forever and ever. No, they have been taught to first love themselves and focus on their education and careers so they can look eye-to-eye with any wannabe prince (or princess) and know her worth before taking a marital leap, if ever a leap need-be taken. Before you think that I am anti-marriage, I’ve been happily married to my wife for over 25 years. As we’ve grown together over the years we’ve become even happier when we owned our own sexuality fully. That story is for another blog.

The social narrative of falling in love with our one true person and living in marital bliss forever is challenged by the reality that marriage itself has not been a stable societal construct since the 1970s. Divorce rates continue to run nearly 50%, though further statistical analysis puts this number really closer to 33%. Here’s a great chart from Anna Swanson of the Washington Post regarding this data. Marriage is a beautiful way to publicly express one’s love for another. It is not, however, the foundation for monogamy. Many of those divorces are due to “extra-marital affairs.” Statistics aside, I imagine you would be hard-pressed to say that you or the majority of people you know have had sexual intercourse or a sexual experience with only one person their entire life. It’s also likely that you or others have been attracted to a person other than your primary partner. These are signs that we humans are simply not monogamous. The belief system that marital monogamy is the true example of human sexuality is false but has been part of molding our beliefs for hundreds of years.

Faithful Attacks on Monogamy

This section of this post is not an attack on any religion, but is meant to elucidate the problematic role that organized religion has played in fabricating the concept of monogamy. While it is true that some find the historical Christian teachings of appropriate sexual behavior according to writings of celibate priests a bit difficult to accept, it might surprise you to know that early Christian priests were actually married. Their possessions (e.g., land, home, etc.) belonged to the church if not handed down to their heirs. The legitimacy of paternity become religious industry. The best way to control illegitimacy and keep all the riches for the established Church? End the practice of married priests and promote celibacy, which is exactly what Pope Innocent II did. Celibate priests, who were now closer to godliness, promoted this practice. But, if the flock isn’t reproducing, then there won’t be anyone to follow the Church and pay the taxes. Control over sexual behavior by organized religion has typically placed the man at the “head” of the marriage and held that the first heir was to be the primary recipient of his father’s possessions. What of the value of women in this narrative? Most of us have heard that “coveting thy neighbor” means that one should not desire another woman or our neighbor’s wife. Historically, however, “coveting” referred to another man’s property relegating the wife to a man’s property. This practice continues to this day.

One of my favorite books that brings this history to light is O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm by Jonathan Margolis. It’s a very insightful book that I recommend for your reading. There’s an entire section on the role of religious institutions on sexual intimacy. Beyond organized religion, social institutions have promoted the concept of monogamy and marriage for centuries. But, in comparison to the beginning of human existence, the past 800 years or so of sexually restrictive dogma is but a blip on the radar of human sexual behavior. Humans have been enjoying sex without these recent social institutions for thousands of years before we became an agricultural species. In fact, there’s plenty of evolutionary evidence that humans are supposed to be non-monogamous.

Evolution

Obviously I cannot go into the the entirety of Darwin and his theory of evolution. You probably know the basics: Evolution is based in reproducing to strengthen the species. In essence, we evolve or disappear from the planet. Until recent centuries, human evolution and sex were not about property rights or social institutions that promoted monogamy. In fact, Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha make a compelling argument in their book, Sex at Dawn, that humans are specifically designed for sex in a very social way. From an evolutionary standpoint, Ryan and Jetha align human sexual behavior with that of the bonobos, which are more closely related to humans than any other primate (chimpanzees are second). Bonobo sexual behavior is nearly identical to human sexual behavior. Bonobos are the only other animal in the animal kingdom that has sex face-to-face. Bonobos have sex for the fun of it and use sex to defuse tense situations. Bonobo societies are typically free of inter-species wars. They actually make love, not war.

Bonobo testicles are huge compared to their body, which is also true for humans. Bonobos and humans have larger testicles to produce more sperm, where the “battle for survival” really takes place. More frequent sex with numerous partners means that you better be able to have plenty of healthy sperm in order to procreate. Human males also have larger testicles compared to other animals that have sex only to reproduce. And human males have enormous penises for their physical size compared to their primate cousins who only have sex to reproduce. Great apes have disproportionately small penises for their size from an evolutionary standpoint. Why? Because they fight for dominance and only need to have sex occasionally to reproduce. they do not have the sperm competition that humans and bonobos have. So size does matter when comparing primates. Another interesting evolutionary result of sperm competition for humans is that the human penis is believed to create a vacuum during intercourse to literally suck back any previous deposits from sexual competitors.

Non-monogamy is not just for the human males, but for the females too! One of the most fascinating aspects, I think, of Ryan and Jetha’s book is the concept of “copulatory vocalization.” Copulatory vocalization is the sounds women make during sex (and popularized by Meg Ryan in the film When Harry Met Sally. Copulatory vocalization is intended to be heard…by everyone in the area. It is a beacon to alert other potential sexual partners that you are open for business! Think about it: Why do males get one orgasm (typically) during intercourse but females are capable of multiple orgasms (typically)? While this seems like a cruel joke for the males, there may be an evolutionary reason. Ryan and Jetha argue that females use copulatory vocalization to bring in multiple sex partners to improve the odds of procreation. Her multiple orgasms keep drawing the competing sperm closer to her egg while the males each attempt to pull competitor sperm away during intercourse. The males who are able to ejaculate during the female’s orgasm may have a better chance of fertilizing her egg. From a social perspective, the potential that any one of the male sperm donors, of which there could be many, could be the father of the offspring creates social responsibility among the males in the group. In other words, any one of the babies in a group could be the offspring of any of the participating males. This communal approach of childcare and responsibility was historically spread across numerous individuals in the group. This communal approach is still found in tribal societies across the world today.

Netflix Original Exposed: Monogamy is a very good episode to further explore human sexual behavior.

Clearly this is not an all-encompassing explanation for human non-monogamy. There are exceptionally few examples of monogamy in the human kingdom. If somewhere between 2-7% of all species are monogamous, and none of those are in the primate family, then the argument that humans are naturally monogamous is just not the truth. It’s a societal construct created to manipulate our natural behavior. Monogamy is a behavior choice, not a human disposition.

*Disclaimer: I receive no funds from any of the links shared in this post.