IS MONOGAMY NATURAL?

Q:
Is monogamy natural?
A:
This is one of the questions I hear as a sexologist and relationship expert, and easily its one of the top five most common questions asked of all possible questions around love, sex and relationships. One might assume its a question asked more frequently by men, and youd be right, although women certainly ask about it too. According to research, especially recent research on the brain, its becoming increasingly apparent that no, sexual monogamy is not natural, or easily achieved, for humans or for animals, for that matter. There have been many cultures that have recognized variant unions, such as polygyny (one man and several women), polyandry (one woman and several men) and polyamory (multiple or open, loving, consensual relationships), although these unions have continued to remain in the minority, when compared with the widespread acceptance of, and desire for monogamous unions. While non-monogamous unions became popular in Western countries such as Australia in the 1970s, following the 1972 release of the groundbreaking book, Open Marriage, by George and Nena ONeill, the trend then of responsible non-monogamy, including trios, open marriages, groups of couples and intentionally created families never really caught on. Partly this is due to jealousy men and women alike do not like to share sexually, and emotionally.

Humans, like animals, are generally not successful at monogamy. Research indicates divorce rates nearing around the 50% mark, and reasons cited for splits include communication difficulties, basic unhappiness, incompatibility, and infidelity. Studies reveal 25% of married women and 45% of married men admit to being unfaithful at some point in their union (not all couples divorce over this, however. Many marriages weather infidelity). So, it seems, we, like animals, are not good at monogamy. Why is it such a challenge?

Anthropologist Helen Fisher believes that evolutionarily, humans are programmed for serial pair-bonding (what we often refer to now as serial monogamy) in which sexually faithful unions last approximately 4 years staying together just long enough for a child to be weaned from total dependence. Additional children can extend this pair bond for another four years. Fishers research on this four year itch shows that divorce rates peak at 4 years of marriage in over 62 cultures. Research also shows that biologically, humans are not wired for monogamy either. The biochemicals oxytocin and vasopressin are two of our love bonding chemicals and have complex effects on our sex drive and feelings of romantic passion and commitment. Interestingly, the higher testosterone levels that men have, the lower vasopressin they have. Men with high levels of testosterone marry less frequently, have more adulterous affairs, and divorce more often. Women, on the other hand, while not wired for lifelong monogamy either (they have testosterone too), have more receptors for oxytocin (one of the chemicals released in men and women during sex) than men, making them more likely to bond with their partner through the act of sex (translation: it explains why, after sex, women want to cuddle and talk, and men want to sleep or head for the door. Yes, its biological! At least in part). The case against monogamy is pretty strong. However, our culture is based on pairing and rearing in monogamous unions, so we each make decisions to accept or reject living with that premise. Most of us adapt to living in a pair and promise to do our best with monogamy. Whether in a monogamous or non-monogamous relationship thought, its not just the temptation of infidelity that can threaten the bond. Jealousy can play a part in destroying a union, so remember some basic l-o-v-e relationship fundamentals:

Learn about your partner. What do they expect from the relationship? What are their jealousy triggers? What do they like and dislike? What are their boundaries? What are their unforgivables?

Open communication. Lack of effective communication is one of the primary causes of divorce. Decide how honest youre going to be with your partner, and stick to it. Maintain open channels of listening and talking with your partner, especially as you change over time.

Variety. Not just sexual variety, but inject your relationship with variety in general. Too often couples say we just grew apart. Prevent this by trying new things together. Build more common ground together by finding new hobbies and interests as a couple.

Explore fantasies. Worried about infidelity, jealousy or sexual boredom? Indulge in each others fantasies, role play, and create sexual alter-egos for yourselves - you can be monogamous while acting out fantasies of sleeping with a myriad of other sexy personalities.

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