Dr. Christopher Ryan and Dr. Cacilda Jethá argue in Sex at Dawn that humans did not evolve to be sexually monogamous. Critical of the standard model, they argue – in part via the incredibly insightful and hilarious chart above – that human sexual anatomy and behavior is far more akin to the highly promiscuous, non-monogamous, occasionally bisexual bonobo, an ape species in central Africa in which the vast majority of sexual interludes are for social bonding and relieving sexual frustration, not procreating.
In this video, Dr. Ryan gives a brief synopsis of their central thesis.
That normal humans (outside college campuses) could enjoy multiple ongoing healthy emotional and sexual relationships at any given time seems surprising, but what’s more surprising is how recent in social evolutionary history monogamy became the supposed norm. It’s not the de facto norm, of course, as most people are only serial monogamists who, even on their third or fourth marriage, truly believe that it will work this time.
No doubt that sexual monogamy actually works for some, but pretending that it works for everyone (or even most people) is, at best, detrimental to those who really do thrive under a different sexual ethic, and, at worst, clinically delusional.
I think the modern monogamy ethic is largely about ownership – that is, the right to control another person’s body, actions, feelings, and perhaps even thoughts. (A previous significant other of mine got positively outraged at my attraction to actress Jennifer Connelly.) Date someone long enough and the exclusivity discussion will inevitably come up – or, worse, exclusivity will simply be assumed. Under no circumstances should a person intentionally lie, but it’s all-too-easy in the heat of chemical passion to be convinced of one’s undying, exclusive love for another. But when a sexual interest naturally rises for another, the lover is forced to choose between breaking up (which she may not want), cheating (which is almost universally harmful to one or both parties), or denying herself. I guess the accepted solution is self-denial, but if we really are close cousins to the bonobo, sexual restraint will only last so long. All bets will be off after that third gin-and-tonic.
My question for you: could non-monogamy (coined by some as “polyamory”) work for you? Why or why not?