Is Monogamy What Ails Us?

It’s a commonly held belief in our culture that men are wired to be promiscuous, while women to be monogamous.  In his book, What Do Women Want?, Daniel Bergner explores this belief, and finds it to be nothing more than a fairy tale.  Berner reviews compelling research undertaken at Queen’s University that found women are actually sexual omnivores who are anything but naturally monogamous. 

Alas, thousands of years of oppression by men have forced them to deny this.

In fact, monogamy runs counter to the biological imperative—for both sexes. It is instead a cultural construct. Our society celebrates long monogamous relationships, holding them out as the glue that keeps our world from falling apart, to quote Bergner. We are raised surrounded by messaging that we must force our minds to deny our bodies.

But more often than not, biology prevails, and partners in so-called monogamous relationships step outside. We slap nasty labels on this behaviour, like “cheating”, or “infidelity”, or “adultery”.  These terms are apt, given than in almost all these situations, partners lie to conceal their behaviour. But it can be argued that such lying is merely a result of the stigmatization of the biological imperative.

“Keeping the romance alive”, celebrated in supermarket checkout aisle magazines around the world, is yet another denial of the biological imperative. Bergner cites studies of troops of rhesus monkeys, where females dominate, which show that lust fades within a short period of time, leading them to repeatedly find new partners. The same thing happens to humans. Lust fades (and you’re lying to yourself if you deny it).  Despite what the pop psychologists might say, fighting that fact is akin to fanning dying embers. Sure, they make get a little hotter for a short period of time, but it’s tiring work. And the embers will inevitably go cold.

But I’m no cynic when it comes to love. It can indeed can last a lifetime, and there’s something very special about forming a life-long partnership with another person. Too bad it almost always comes at the cost of sublimating lust.  Perhaps, if the cornerstone of our society is indeed these enduring partnerships, we need to open a discussion about how monogamy can be toxic to life-long love.

There’s no denying this is a tricky matter, laced with thorny issues (jealousy among them) and societal norms mean few of us are willing to engage in an honest debate about monogamy.

After all, what would people think of us?

Photo courtesy of Peter Lee.

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