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I Love You, Let's Meet » more primates

more primates

I’m starting to research a new book about alternatives to monogamy (with much overlap in research — so many polyamorists are computer geeks/computer daters). I’m trying to figure out how exactly monogamy became the totally dominant relationship model in the first place and sexual fidelity such an unquestioned piece of the marriage contract. I get that the male wants to know he’s the father of the babies he’s providing for, but what else is at work, socially, biologically, historically? And how flexible are people in these realms, now that we have control over reproduction and women bring home the bacon and so we don’t really need monogamy for those reasons?

According to this fun, breezy history of sex I’m reading, by Reay Tannahill, after Darwin’s Origin of Species first came out, scientists and social scientists concluded that humans must be descended from gibbons, the only monogamous primates and the only ones who form families. And of course it turns out that we’re genetically much closer to chimps, who are as polymonkeyist as they come. So biology or “wiring” isn’t the answer.

Re an earlier comment, Clint Eastwood must be OK with partners who swing, because it’s chimps and orangutans he runs with, not gibbons. Sassy chimps and orangutans with hearts of gold.

4 Comments so far

  1. kmcleod on August 25th, 2006

    “In 200 words or less, explain monogamy”
    Er, uh…
    (those don’t count as words)
    I guess historically, with arranged marriages and mates chosen by parents back when marriages evolved from tribes uniting through breeding their offspring together, monogamy would be necessary for maintaining controlled, family branches and clear lines of inheritance, but polygamous cultures don’t seem to have troubles with that.
    In past and present patriarchal societies, women are controlled like property (or livestock), with infedelity regarded as theft or vandalism. Male infedelity, the institutionalized kind in which discreet use of prostitutes or mistresses are allowed, is approved as long as it doesn’t disrupt the family/home unit. So monogamy, or the appearance of it, seems to serve familial stability (“What about the kids? Weren’t you thinking of them? Did you care what it would do to your family if the news got out?”).
    I’m not a family man, but I like monogamy, just as a personal preference. In the mobile, global-linked, job-to-job present, the idea of “home” may be in decline, making monogamy a matter of choice (stronger bonding, stability, disease prevention) instead of an imperative. Of course, if parents immunize their fetuses with the “monogamy gene” to prevent having to raise a polyactive child, choice isn’t guaranteed.
    But modern monogamy?

  2. Anne on August 25th, 2006

    I heard we were genetically closest to the bonobo chimp, which is actually an ape I think (my hubby did a term paper on it for vet tech school. that makes me an authority!) and their sexual behavior is notorious. Primary form of casual social life, and hetero monogamy is a foreign notion to them…

  3. Steve on February 13th, 2008

    There is an article about polyamory in today’s Washington Post. You need an account to read it, but the accounts are free:


  4. Steve on February 13th, 2008

    I recently heard about “polyandry”. It is the flip side of polyGAMY. Several men are mated to one woman. Apparently, according to wikipedia ( not known for being 100% correct ) it only happens in some remote areas of Tibet.