It’s a common theme and plot device in our TV shows, movies, and pop songs – infidelity. The act of cheating on a spouse is such a useful and commonplace dramatic device because the consequences are often extremely dramatic – and traumatic.
An unfaithful spouse is the most likely cause of divorce all over the world. Many studies of monogamy have shown that up to 1/3 of married or committed couples have had at least one incident of unfaithfulness in the relationship. So the question logically arises, is monogamy natural for human beings? The answer, as in most questions about human behavior, is that it depends.
Defintion of terms
Primarily, whether or not monogamy is natural depends on your definitions of the words being used to ask the question. Monogamy seems easy enough – having only one sexual partner at a time is the simplest definition. But to many people, it extends beyond this simplicity.
I know of married folks who cannot conceive of their husbands or wives having a new spouse if they pass away, and consider the very idea a form of adultery. The whole idea of the importance of a bride-to-be’s virginity in much of the world is in some ways a kind of retroactive monogamy, and even the more open-minded of us wonder how many partners our spouses have had before us – and of course how we compare.
And the word natural can be taken in different ways as well. If we are talking about nature in general, we have to include all animal species, but if we mean natural for humans, than we are restricting its meaning.
If we further use it to distinguish between the sexes – well, maybe that is what we really mean – is monogamy natural for men, and is it natural for women, and is there a legitamately different answer for each?
Natural for men?
In this modern age we have probably all heard about how monogamy works for men in evolutionary terms. In order to make sure the human race continues, men have to be sure to spread their genes as far and wide in the gene pool as possible.
At a general, top-heavy level this means that a man is being very natural when he has many sexual partners, some at the same time, because he needs to promote the future of the species.
It is also much easier for him to do so, as he can theoretically impregnate a woman and simply move on – he isn’t naturally required to stick around, nor does he have anyhting else to do for the progeny to be born.
Natural for women?
A woman, on the other hand, has to put in a lot more time and effort to keep the human race going – she has to carry the fetus for 9 months, give birth, and then ensure that the child reaches maturity. Because of this, modern science has given us to believe that women are more naturally monogamous than men – for biological reasons.
But in our culture, women have become more equal to men in many ways, and the restrictions imposed by nature in this regard are often seen as limits to rise above. Women don’t want to be tied down and they want to have a variety of sexual partners, just like men.
Monogamy: nature vs civilization
It becomes clear when you think about it that we are trying to have it both ways. Men would like for their infidelities to be sanctioned by the idea that it’s the only natural way to behave.
Women who cheat can use the argument that nature is old-fashioned, that civilzed behavior means sexual equality. So, their infidelities may not be natural, but they are normal in the current social and cultural times we live in. So monogamy is both natural and unnatural, depending on how you look at it – and who’s doing the looking.
What’s your take? I’d love to hear your view.