How Natural Is Monogamy?

Western society treats monogamous marriage as the default relationship style for humanity. For thousands of years, the fantasy of the prince and princess, nuclear family has proliferated. Shame, humiliation, and social ostracism have been used as weapons of control for those who don’t easily align to the “norm”. The reality is, Monogamy is far less normal or natural for humans than most want you to believe.

History and our biology suggest that the estimated 55% of adults to admit to infidelity are simply the more honest among us. Eurasian patriarchal imperialism has conditioned us to ignore the anthropological and biological evidence even while our bodies and minds are driving us to notice attractive potential mates.

Anthropology Meets Biology

Looking at this from an anthropological point of view, per studies, just 9 percent of mammals are monogamous. Among primates, humanity’s closest relative, just 29 percent are. Before Western imperialism, just 16 percent of indigenous human societies were monogamous. 84 percent of ancient societies included acceptance and normalized non-monogamy.

From a biological standpoint, research suggests that the penis evolved in its shape to act as a “semen displacement device” built to displace other men’s semen. The phenotype only confers an evolutionary advantage in a non-monogamous culture. Simply put, if a woman is only sleeping with one man, then there is no advantage to semen displacement. In fact, quite the opposite. The shape of the penis itself indicates non-monogamy in our species.

An academic team from the State University of New York theorizes that the thrust of the penis during sex may help to clear a woman’s reproductive system of a previous lover’s semen. Not all animals have sex the way humans do, with a thrusting motion in and out. The primary benefits of the thrust come down to increasing pleasure for both partners and, according to research, displacing competitor sperm.

Stamina variations in men, likewise, indicate that monogamy is not our default state. Think about this for a moment. If humans were genuinely monogamous, what is the evolutionary advantage to having sex for 30 minutes before ejaculation? How would it confer an advantage over 2 minutes? Simply put, it would not confer an advantage in a monogamous couple.

But now consider a non-monogamous culture. If the male knows that he is competing with other males, the longer he can thrust with his specialized-shaped penis, the more competing sperm he can displace before depositing his own. This creates an evolutionary advantage.

So then why wouldn’t all men evolve to be marathon men? Well, let’s look at it from a different perspective. In most highly social mammalian cultures that are not monogamous, you have a hierarchy of males from Alpha to Betas and beyond. For the Alpha male, who has no threat to be chased off or attacked while having sex, the advantage is to last as long as possible.

For the betas, however, it’s a totally different story. The best chance at procreating is to get in and get out, depositing his semen as quickly as possible, before being chased off by another competing male. Lasting 30minutes is an evolutionary dead-end for a non-alpha male.

Culture is King

Stepping back from the dry biology and anthropology, let’s look at the sociological side. How did we get from 16% monogamy to a society that stigmatizes anyone who does not practice pair bonding?

The Alpha/Beta dynamics are instructive. Until 6000yrs ago or so, humans were primarily hunter-gatherers. Nomadic in Europe mostly following the roaming herds of animals, with more available local flora and fauna in Asia and Africa. As our societies have evolved from a world of emperors, kings, and dictators, we see that monogamy becomes an attractive feature for culture aligned to a more egalitarian form. Just as the New Deal promised a chicken in every pot, I think societies have evolved to deal with the single male problem by promoting a one woman, one man culture.

As humans evolved from hunter-gatherer societies to agrarian settlements, concepts of ownership and property began to form. We think of property as a fundamental aspect of humanity, but in reality, there was no need for ownership of land or another person prior to humanity settling down in one place. As humans started to work the land and cultivate crops, they needed to protect those efforts and labors by ensuring that no one else came at harvest time and just took the crops.

As this dynamic started to settle in, it was a slippery slope into ownership of property, tools, and eventually people. As humans became more and more specialized in the crops they raised or the type of animals they raised, they needed to create economic systems to trade their surpluses for other staples needed in everyday life. So a person with milk cows trades with a wheat farmer.

Around this time, surpluses became crucial, and labor was the primary constraint to creating surpluses in society. There were two primary mechanisms in a pre-currency world to acquire labor. 1. Family 2. Subjugation and Slavery. Those who preferred option 2 created the modern imperialism that has created the concept of the nation-state. Those who preferred building family needed to ensure that they could reliably count on building a labor force of familial kin. Enter the concept of Monogamy, roughly 6000yrs ago or so….

Size As A Sign

And an argument could be made that penis size is also evidence of variations in patriarchal control of female sexuality. This may be controversial, but consider the lack of evolutionary advantage of a larger penis in a society where women were treated as property. Penis size as a sexual selection trait evaporates in those societies such as Europe and Asia which are highly patriarchal.

In other societies, where women were free to choose their partners, there is evidence that penis size has grown over millions of years to far larger than any other primate species. Sexual selection is a powerfully compounding force in nature, resulting in bright plumage in birds, for example. But it also manifests in many other aspects with a limited functional purpose other than attractiveness to a mate.

If you are monogamous, this is not intended to tell you that you are wrong. But if you have long felt the draw to others and felt shame for not feeling like it was ok to be attracted to others, just know that you are not the weirdo. Society moved in a weird way over time.

As the imperial age has slowly been winding to a close, and humanity becomes more egalitarian and less patriarchal, can we expect to see non-monogamy make a comeback? I would say we are well into that correction already.

Some would say society is breaking down, but a real case can be made that we are swinging back to our more natural state. And for those on the vanguard, take heart that history is on your side.