Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pretending at Monogamy

Blogger hambydammit says, "So We Aren’t Monogamous… What Are We?"

From the archaeological, anthropological, sociological, biological, and anatomical records, we get a clear picture of what humans do. They have sex with multiple partners.

Most do, yes.

But this observation doesn’t help us very much in our day to day life. Particularly in America, we don’t have much choice but to toe the party line and at least pretend towards some form of monogamy, even if it’s serial.

We're working to change that.

The blogger poses some questions, including...

If we are designed to bond long-term with one partner (or perhaps two), why does our biology most closely resemble bonobos, who do not bond this way?

If we are designed for sexual exclusivity, why are human vaginas designed specifically for intense sperm competition? (Sperm competition happens when sperm from multiple males is in the vagina at the same time.)

Why do so many existing hunter-gatherer societies practice multi-male/multi-female mating?

Prompting this...

Clearly, our social insistence on strict monogamy is largely attributable to the imposition of modern monotheism on the Western world, and as I’ve detailed in THIS ARTICLE, the motivations were hardly altruistic.

Whatever the source of the demand for monogamy, there's no need to require people to be monogamous, including in marriage law. Let people decide for themselves.

The blog entry goes on to discuss "primitive cultures," sperm competition, and accumulation, among other things before wrapping up that entry...

In any case, even if we decide that monogamy is still our goal, it’s helpful to understand that we are not especially built for it, and it’s as much about ownership as anything else. Knowing that non-ownership is an option is liberating in and of itself, and perhaps it will open new doors for people who feel like they just “aren’t ready for commitment” at this time. Maybe it could even help redefine what it means to have a “friend with benefits.”

There are, of course, many forms of nonmonogamy that involve commitment.

The next entry is "If We’re Not Monogamous, then Why Are We Monogamous?"

To begin with, let me offer a caveat. Whatever else we might be, we humans are very flexible in our mating. Even today, we see everything from communal mate swapping to highly stratified polygamy to near monogamy. And if there is still a question of whether we are most naturally drawn to monogamous long term pair bonds or not, it’s clear that we are capable of long term monogamy. But it is a very difficult strategy to follow, and seems counter-intuitive on several levels.

It sure does.

This entry goes on to talk reproduction, "bastards," and sperm competition (again).

Finally, there's the third entry that asks, "Can Non-Monogamy Work Today?"

The blogger notes that in reality, we already practice nonmonogamy.

Like it or not, strict exclusive monogamy exists primarily in the wishes and hopes of the highly religious and doggedly old-fashioned. (Not that it was any different in the real good old days…) We practice a coy game of
wink-wink-nudge-nudge when it comes to exclusivity. Estimates range as high as
40% for extra-pair coupling in some populations. In other words, we say we’re
going to be exclusive, and then we practice non-monogamy on the sly.

Furthermore, a large percentage of young people are part of the “hookup culture,” in which some sort of sexual contact is a precursor to a possible relationship. They have friends with benefits, booty-call buddies, pretend boyfriends/girlfriends, and at least a dozen other kinds of short-to-medium term non-committed partnerships. It’s not uncommon for a young person to have uncommitted sexual contact with a half-dozen or more partners before finding someone to commit to exclusively. At nearly all ages, we practice serial monogamy. A significant percentage of young people have relationships that last less than one year. Most retirement age people have had at least two marriages,
and several mid-to-long term relationships in between.

Add to this the growing number of committed couples who are participating in
occasional consentual non-monogamy, such as sex clubs, threesomes, sharing
prostitutes in Vegas, making out with the best friend, etc, and we realize that
we are already non-monogamous. We just make a big show of telling everybody we

That sounds awfully familiar.

The blogger looks at various reasons people profess or pretend to try to be monogamous, then concludes...

We have to admit that each aspect of a relationship is possible without sexual exclusivity. Granted, there are potential pitfalls and problems with each category, but that’s not news. There are problems with all of them in exclusive relationships, too.

There is much more to each of the three entries, and they are worth a read.
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