* Updated 2023
Phrases such as “soulmate” and “the one” have taken root in society and pop culture, molding our mindset towards monogamy. Today, these concepts are part of a typical lifestyle, but before the 17th century they were not. According to Live Science, while civil marriages were established in the United States around 1639, they only became common in the 19th century. In modern culture, it’s become the norm for someone to spend his or her life searching for a partner to tie the knot with, but is it really natural for humans to live their entire lives with just a single partner?
Here are three reasons why monogamy is natural, and three reasons why not.
Monogamy is natural
Today, monogamy is the most common lifestyle choice, making it a lot easier to be accepted in society. One only has to look at the reasoning behind the movement from a polygamous to monogamous society in order to realize why it was natural: A study by the University of Waterloo shows that the concept originally developed when groups of people formed into societies, and people were becoming more and more exposed to sexually transmitted diseases. The way to treat these sexually transmitted epidemics was to become monogamous. Being monogamous was thought to be a safer way to live, and it transformed into what we know as parenthood once offspring came into the picture. Although we now have modern medicine, it is still safer to be in a monogamous relationship health-wise; people are now less at risk to contract STIs from each other or other partners.
It’s best for the kids
Many people feel that monogamy provides stability in their lives, especially when it comes to raising children. Research confirms that this is positive; a Cornell University study showed that children living with their two married, biological parents demonstrate less risk-taking behaviors, have lower levels of substance abuse, and are less likely to become sexually active when young. Additionally, a National Survey of Children’s Health showed that children were physically healthier when living with two biological parents than in other familial arrangements. In other words, a monogamous relationship between parents seems to be healthiest for society’s children, suggesting that this relationship may naturally be the right one.
Survival of the jealous
Unlike most other primates, humans have many emotions that need to be nurtured and attended to. One of these human yet imperfect emotions is jealousy. Jealousy has biological roots, with sexual jealousy and emotional jealousy being the two most vicious contenders. According to Darwin’s model of sexual selection, humans adapted these natural jealous traits as a way to ensure survival of the human race. In fact, studies show that sexual jealousy is one of the most important human emotions. While there may be a small percentage of people that are able to overcome their jealousy and live happily in open relationships, most have a hard time sharing their loved ones with multiple partners. The fact that this feeling is instinctual shows that monogamy may likely be the natural choice.
Monogamy isn’t natural
Wider variety of sexual experiences
In an open relationship, one can seek multiple sexual partners while still being committed to their romantic partner. By now, humans have proven that we don’t just have sex to procreate. As it is an inherent part of most romantic relationships, many would argue that being sexually fulfilled is equally as important as being emotionally fulfilled. Open relationships may be an advantage to those couples who want to explore different experiences. In fact, around 12% of adults living in America were said to be involved with more than one sexual partner with their spouse’s consent. Experts suggest that we may be seeing a rise in poly relationships in the post-Covid era as result of the desire for something (or someone) new – inside the bedroom and out. The stresses of the pandemic may have exposed faults of a traditional marriage, including lowering partners’ libidos. Therefore, a consensual poly or open arrangement may rejuvenate or strengthen a strained marriage because each partner won’t furtively seek other experiences outside the relationship that often lead to infidelity in monogamous relationships.
Monogamy is a cultural lie
Although the culturally accepted norm, monogamy hasn’t necessarily been successful as a societal model. Divorce rates have proven that monogamy in its purest form does not always work. Though the US divorce rate is at its lowest in 50 years, according to the US Census Bureau, society and culture are changing: Today, 79% of Americans find divorce morally acceptable. Additionally, along with society’s increased awareness about issues surrounding gender identity, its tolerance for non-traditional relationships may have also expanded. In fact, more and more Americans (5%) are open to the concept of polyamorous relationships (i.e., consensual non-monogamous relationships). Even in countries that punish people, mainly women, for marital infidelity, many still look for partners outside of their monogamous marriage. This may indicate that, while the current cultural convention, monogamy isn’t necessarily the natural choice for human cohabitation.
Communication is key
Couples who have open relationships actually improve their communication. Each person involved must be open and honest with one another in order to fully understand their partner’s desires and experiences. Couples in open relationships tend to share their experiences, making them transparent to one another and enhancing their communication. Monogamy, on the other hand, may hinder this type of open communication, as the structure of the relationship doesn’t carry as much of a push to be forthcoming with one another.
The Bottom Line: Monogamy provides many people with needed structure and health benefits, but it may take away from the kinds of relationships people actually desire. What do you think? Is monogamy natural for you?