Life-Long Monogamy

Besides reducing risk of sexually transmitted disease, what

rational/logical/non-emotional reasons justify permanent (life-long)

sexual monogamy in today's Western societies?

Request for Question Clarification byhedgie-ga

Hello Curious,

You got some excellent comments to your excellent question,

and thing to do would be to invite one of the commenters, the one you

feel came close to the answer to post the comment and summary of other

comments as an answer.

But perhaps you feel no one came close as yet, and in that case you may

invite others to answer. It is impossible to exclude 'emotional reasons'

(isn't that an oxymoron?) from study of sex, but it is possible to answer

the question from the point of view of antropology,

which does study humans and their amotions in a detached way.

I consider the book of Harvard educated Cornell professor of antropology:

E.D. Chapple: Culture and the Biological Man (1970 Holt, Reinhart, Winston)

to be a good framework. If you want an answer, and summary of comments from

that perspective, kindly post an RFC.


Clarification of Question bycurioussam-ga

Hi Hedgie,

Yes, interesting comments have been posted. The clear tendency to

take a anthropology tact seems to reinforce that sexual monogamy is in

place at least in part because of legacy. However, I am looking for

reasons why, we should, today, elect to be monogamous. There may be

emotional reasons for monogamy. However, emotional reasons are

subjective, often culture-biased, and there are emotional reasons

against monogamy. I am looking for rational reasons for monogamy.

Perhaps the answer is there are none.



One thought on “Life-Long Monogamy

  1. Hello Sam,

    Well, you?ve certainly posed a real stumper. Turns out monogamy is a

    tough thing to rationalize…not because it?s difficult to justify,

    but because there are so many different ways of making sense out of

    it, and just as many legitimate ways of justifying non-monogamous


    I?ll do my best to summarize the pro-monogamy camp in a moment. But

    first, a bit of digression about the ?emotional reasons? you seek to

    avoid, in favor, one must assume, of some sort of Mr. Spock-like

    non-emotional reasoning. I have to admit my own bias about this: I

    simply don?t believe in the distinction between emotional and

    non-emotional reasoning.

    All reasons for human actions ultimately hark back to our individual

    values, which are in turn, rooted in our emotions. Even a very

    obvious cause-and-effect line of reasoning such as ?I eat so I can

    stay alive? has, at its core, an emotion-laden content ? I value my

    life, so I want to continue to live, so I eat. Without that emotional

    component, there would be no inherently rational reason to eat or to

    otherwise sustain myself.

    For that matter, instead of the question ?Why are we monogamous?? you

    might get even more basic and ask ?Why do I have human relations at

    all?? And the answer ? when you peel away anthropological,

    sociological, economic, theologic and all other -ologies and -ics ? is

    that it would just be so sad not to have them. Again, emotion can?t

    help but enter the picture.

    All decisions are made with imperfect knowledge. We have some facts

    at our disposal, some rules of thumb, some societal norms, and even

    our gut intuitions. Part of our knowledge is the awareness of and

    reaction to our own emotional state. Our decisions may be good ones,

    or bad ones, but it would be a mistake, I think, to dismiss the

    emotional component as somehow leading to decisions that are less

    pure, more subjective, or more prone to error than decisions that are

    somehow devoid of emotion,

    And now….




    for some of us, anyway.

    People may elect to be monogamous ? that is, have only one sexual

    partner/mate ? for a variety of reasons, ranging from the mundane to

    the noble. The reasons for monogamy include:

    ?Circumstance. A person may opt for monogamy simply because there is

    no other available option. No other person has come into their life

    with whom they?ve struck up the kind of relationship that could then

    lead to sexual intimacy. This is a sort of monogamy by default.

    ?Fear #1. A person may remain monogamous despite a desire to do

    otherwise out of sheer fear of how their mate would react if the new

    pairing was discovered.

    ?Fear #2. Similarly, the fear could be that of social discomfort ?

    how family, friends, co-workers, and others would react to the

    revelation of a non-monogamous relationship.

    ?Fear #3. For those with a certain religious bent, a non-monogamous

    relationship may raise fears of eternal damnation, or other censure by

    divine authority.

    All three sorts of fear are probably pretty closely tied to:

    ?Guilt. (I know, I know….where are the ?non-emotional?

    reasons…don?t worry, we?ll get there). Modern Western society has

    deemed it proper to practice monogamy. In one sense, this shifts the

    overall question from ?Why would a person be monogamous?? to ?Why does

    society as a whole feel strongly about the propriety of monogamy??

    (The societal aspects may have a biological origin, and will be

    discussed below, but for now, let?s stick with individual choice). A

    person who has spent a lifetime internalizing societal values of right

    and wrong may be left with a strong sense of conscience regarding

    fidelity and infidelity to one?s spouse. Stepping outside the

    monogamous relationship is seen and felt as ?cheating?, and it feels

    bad, and is enough of a deterrent to encourage a person to remain


    ?Biological Imperative. Monogamy may not be the predominant practice

    in the animal kingdom, but it certainly is known to occur

    (particularly when one combines the fairly common practice of serial

    monogamy with the probably rarer practice of monogamous lifetime

    mating). Biologists have speculated all sorts of reasons for the

    existence of monogamy in animals, generally regarding the advantages

    having to do with rearing children, and the desirability for males of

    genetically ?knowing? for sure that your offspring are carrying your

    genes. The animal?s aren?t ?choosing? monogamy in the sense of making

    a reasoned choice. They are simply hard-wired for monogamous

    behavior, much as they may be hard-wired to strut a particular mating

    dance, or to build a certain type of nest.

    We have come to accept that human sexual preference may be a matter of

    biological imperative rather than conscious choice; we no longer try

    to ?cure? homosexuality because we recongize it is not a disease, but

    a simply matter of biology, just as is heterosexual preference.

    Perhaps the same is true (though probably to a lesser degree of

    determination) of monogamous behavior. Humans may have evolved a

    mix genetic heritage, and some people may simply have a strong genetic

    predisposition towards monogamy.

    ?Cost/benefit: Relationships offer considerable benefits, but they

    also can take a toll ? possible rejection, possible diseases,

    stalker/fatal-attraction types of situations, investment of time and

    money and emotional energy. A person may have put the pluses and

    minuses on balance, and decided, consciously or otherwise, that

    expanding beyond the present monogamous relationship may simply not be

    worth it.

    ?Respect: Regardless of whether I consider it a rational reaction or

    not, I am nevertheless very certain that my involving myself in an

    extramarital relationship would be very painful to my spouse. That

    alone is substantial motivation for remaining faithful.

    ?Love: Falling in love can be an amazing experience, one that seems to

    dissolve the boundaries of individuality, making two become as one.

    True, the dissolving-feeling passes after a while, and individual

    identity returns, but the bond remains, and with it, there also

    remains an important sense of the-two-of-us-have-become-as-one. In

    other words, the bond of love creates a unit marked by intimacy, and

    if the intimacy is maintained, there simply may not be the desire to

    seek it elsewhere.

    * * * * * * * * *

    In actual practice, it is probably a combination of these things that

    keeps people in monogamous relationships, and perhaps there are other

    factors as well. However, there?s nothing in the above list to

    suggest that monogamy is the only correct choice, or even that it?s

    preferable in any way to alternative mating choices.

    What I mean by this is that a narrow interpretation of rational choice

    will not necessarily lead one to the conclusion that monogamy somehow

    makes more sense than polygamous behavior, or celibacy, or whatever

    behavior one may adopt. But, in taking a no-man-is-an-island type of

    view, and recognizing that people exist in the context of personal and

    societal relationships, then there are plenty of reasons for

    practicing monogamy, as elucidated on the above list.

    Let me explain this in a bit more detail.

    Your question and comments make a very clear distinction between

    rational and irrational reasoning…you even offered up ?jealousy? as

    more or less the epitome of the irrational.

    But what, then, is ?rational?? What reasons do you ever have for

    applying any sort of self-imposed limit on your actions or behavior?

    Suppose you?re the type of person who thinks it wrong to commit

    murder. What?s your ?rational? basis for believing this, and from

    refraining from going around killing people at a whim? Perhaps your

    reasoning involves something like the ?sanctity of human life?, but

    does that have any more of a rational basis to it than the ?sanctity

    of matrimony?? Perhaps your rational thought tells you that ?Society

    will punish me severely for my deeds?, but is that fundamentally any

    more rational than ?My wife?ll kill me if she catches me fooling


    We all have as part of our personalities a socialized self (what Freud

    labeled the superego) that internalizes the values we have been

    exposed to during our lives…thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not

    steal, thou shalt not put your elbows on the table…whatever. These

    values underlie our human desires as much as our more animalistic

    urges towards sex, violence, and general havoc.

    Our rational self strikes the balance ? acknowledging our feelings,

    desires, fears ? along with everything else around us as the basis for

    making our ?rational? choices. For some, that choice is monogamy.

    And, one final reason to consider:

    Monogamy. It?s not just a good idea. It?s the law.


    I have absolutely no idea if this is the type of answer you were

    looking for. But if not, just let me know what you want in addition

    to, or different from, what I?ve presented here, and I?ll do my best

    to deliver.

    On a final note, allow me to close with a trifle of a poem:

    Woman wants monogamy;

    Man delights in novelty.

    Love is a woman's moon and sun;

    Man has other forms of fun.

    Woman lives but in her lord;

    Count to ten, and a man is bored.

    With this the gist and sum of it,

    What earthly good can come of it?

    ——————Dorothy Parker


    Enjoy your musings.


    search strategy: poking around the internet under the Google search

    term ?monogamy? led me to the Dorothy Parker poem, but mostly I poked

    around in my head.

    And kudos to my fellow researchers who offered up some splendid

    insights to this mystifying topic.

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