The Inconvenient Truth About Monogamy

June 5, 2017 at 10:36 pm

It’s not natural.

Before you blow your top, hear me out.

I’m not saying it’s “not natural” in the sense religionists say homosexuality is “not natural.” I’m saying it in the same sense I would say eating grains is “not natural” – meaning you can do it, it’s just not going to be easy.

In fact, it’s going to require lots and lots of work.

Just like grains have to be soaked, sprouted or soured to make them digestible, humans have to be cultivated, conditioned and groomed for monogamy.

That’s because grain-consumption, like monogamy, is relatively new to the human experience. In the span of approximately 6 million years of human evolution, grains and monogamy came into the picture only about 10,000 years ago.

Monogamy and grain-consumption have something else in common — they are products of agriculture, along with the concepts of private property and slavery.

Prior to agriculture, humans lived freely (sexually and otherwise) as nomadic hunter-gatherers. We had no concept of ownership of the Earth or each other.

When we learned to cultivate grains, we settled down and decided to claim chunks of Earth as private property. We domesticated animals (and other humans) and claimed them as our property as well.

From man’s desire to pass on his property to his genetic heirs came the necessity for paternity certainty, which meant women had to be monogamous.

Thus, marriage was born (sometimes between one man and one woman, but more often between one man and many women). Women (and their sex organs) became the property of their husbands.

Prior to agriculture, we lived in tribes, whose members shared everything — including food, water, land, grass huts, sex partners and childcare responsibilities.

Men were not concerned about passing on the “fruits of their labor” to their “own” children, as wild fruit was given freely by Mother Earth and required very little labor to gather.

Hunter-gatherers couldn’t care less about paternity. In many hunter-gatherer tribes surviving today, it is unclear who the biological father of any given child is, and all children are cared for equally by the tribe.

Sex at Dawn

Based on observations of our closest primate relatives — bonobos and chimpanzees — and of surviving hunter-gatherers, the authors of Sex at Dawn hypothesize humans have been non-monogamous for the vast majority of our existence, and they provide some pretty compelling evidence to support their case.

In addition to the obvious, observable behavior of modern-day hunter-gatherers and — almost every other ape on the planet — the authors point to human anatomy that we have evolved to be among the most sexually promiscuous animals on the planet:

1. Oversized genitalia

Darwin was perplexed by the sexual swellings of female primates as they tended to provoke many males to mate with them,” author Christopher Ryan said in a Ted Talk about his book.  “He couldn’t understand why on earth the females would’ve developed this thing if all they’re supposed to be doing is forming their pair bonds.”

Oversized male genitals are also a sign of promiscuity the book says:

If a species has cajones grandes, you can bet that males have frequent ejaculations with females who sleep around. Where the females save it for Mr. Right, the males have smaller testes, relative to their overall body mass.

In gorilla’s winner-take-all approach to mating, males compete to see who gets all the the booty … Although an adult silverback gorilla weighs around 400 pounds, his penis is just over an inch long … and his testicles are the size of kidney beans.

A one-hundred-pound bonobo [a far more promiscuous and cooperative species] has a penis three times as long and testicles the size of chicken eggs.

Humans have similar sized testicles and the longest, thickest penises of all.

The correlation of slutty females with big balled males appears to apply not only to primates, but to mammals, birds, butterflies, reptiles and fish …”

2. Extended female receptivity and concealed ovulation

“Female chimps and bonobos mate 1-4 times per hour with up to a dozen males per day when they have their sexual swellings,” Ryan says in the talk. “[While more monogamish primates only have sexual swelling during ovulation] chimps have sexual swellings for 40 percent of their menstrual cycle, bonobos for 90 percent, and humans are among the only species on the planet where the female is available for sex throughout her entire cycle.”

“If we accept the assumption that women are not particularly interested in sex, other than as a way to manipulate men into sharing resources, why would human females have evolved this unusually abundant sexual capacity?”

3. Sperm Competition

There is overwhelming evidence in both male and female anatomy and that suggest humans are evolved for sperm competition, rather than sexual competition.

This means male bonobos and hunter-gatherers don’t have to compete for sex to pass on their genes. They all get to partake in the fun and let their sperm duke it out.

The purpose of sperm competition is to allow the female body to “select” the sperm that is the best genetic match (and reject those that are not a good match) to produce the fittest offspring.

“While presenting obstacles to most sperm, the woman’s body can assist others. There is striking evidence that the female reproductive system is capable of making subtle judgments based on the chemical signature of different men’s sperm cells.”

4. Female copulatory vocalization

The book argues the reason female bonobos and humans get loud during sex is to attract other males to the scene to promote sperm competition.

Of hundreds of primate species, there is a consistent correlation between female copulatory vocalization and promiscuity. The louder the females get, the more promiscuous they are.  The more monogamish species, like the gibbons, are quiet during their infrequent sexual encounters.

5. Multi-orgasmic females

While a man is likely to require a prolonged refractory (or recovery) period immediately after an orgasm … thus getting him out of the way of other males, many women are willing and able to continue sexual activity well beyond a ‘starter’ orgasm.”

This indicates a woman might require several men consecutively to “get the job done.”

“Female chimps and bonobos go wild regularly and shamelessly, mating with every male they can find,” the book says,  “… Goodall reported seeing one female who mated 50 times in a single day … to all intents and purposes the human female is sexually insatiable.”

6. Promiscuity Produces Fitter Offspring

As mentioned, sperm competition (many males inseminating a female around the same time) gives the female body more sperm to choose from, increasing her chances of a better genetic match.

Additionally, men produce higher quality sperm when watching porn or having novel sex.

7. Monogamy drains men’s testosterone

“Monogamy itself seems to drain away a man’s testosterone. Married men consistently show lower levels of the hormone than single men of the same age … Married men having affairs however were found to have higher levels of testosterone than those who weren’t … even a brief chat with an attractive woman raised men’s testosterone levels by an average of 14 percent. When these same men spent a few minutes talking with other men, their testosterone level fell by 2 percent.

Men with lower testosterone levels are four times as likely to suffer from clinical depression, fatal heart attacks and cancer … they are also more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and have a far greater risk of dying prematurely from any cause (between 88 and 250 percent, depending on the study.”

A modern problem

In addition to evolutionary evidence that our species is a promiscuous one, the authors point to modern evidence, like the failure rate of monogamous marriage.

“If the nuclear family is the structure into which human beings most naturally configure themselves, why do contemporary societies and religions find it necessary to prop it up with tax breaks and supportive legislation while fiercely defending it from same-sex couples and others proposing to marry in supposedly ‘non-traditional’ ways?

… If the nuclear [family] is so deeply embedded in our nature, why are fewer and fewer of us choosing to live that way? In the U.S., the percentage of nuclear households has dropped from 45 to 23 percent since the 1970s … the number of unmarried couples living together mushroomed from 500,000 in 1970 to more than ten times that in 2008.

… For centuries, millions of European infants were passed through discreet revolving boxes in the walls of foundling hospitals … far from being places of healing, these were government and church-approved slaughterhouses where [illegitimate] children whose existence would’ve raised questions about the naturalness of the nuclear family were disposed of in a form of industrialized infanticide.”

“Our evolved sexuality is in direct conflict with many aspects of the modern world,” Ryan says in the Ted Talk. “The contradictions between what we’re told we should feel and what we actually do feel generates a huge amount of unnecessary suffering.”

Ryan say he’s not arguing that monogamy is not a valid choice when consciously made — “I’m arguing against the shame … the idea that if you love your husband or wife, but are attracted to other people there’s something wrong with you, something wrong with your marriage, or something wrong with your partner. A lot of families are fractured by unrealistic expectations based on this false vision of human sexuality.”

An ancient solution

While the book does not attempt to provide solutions to the problem of monogamy – Ryan hints in several interviews that his relationship to his wife (and co-author) is “informed by their research” and says “others” have found balance and happiness in polyamorous or open relationships.

Whether one chooses to live in total relationship anarchy, a polyamorous quad, or a monogamous marriage, Ryan has one piece of advice: be honest with yourself and your partner(s). If you feel sexually attracted to the waitress or mailman or computer repair man, talk about it.

Tell your spouse or partner how much you love them. Tell them there’s no one else you’d rather spend the majority of your time with. Tell them you want to grow old with them. Tell them whatever feels true, and if that includes a strong desire to have sex with the nanny, tell them that too.

It doesn’t mean you have to act on it — now or later or ever — if it’s too disruptive to your lifestyle, but being honest about your instinctual desires actually creates more trust and less temptation.

And maybe, just maybe, that trust — the trust that your love for them is not diminished by your sexual attraction to others — will build to the point that they’ll wake up someday and say “go ahead, f**k the nanny:”

And maybe, just maybe, it will make your relationship stronger and better in the long run.


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