If you ever wonder why, despite being in love with your partner, your inclination to stray persists, you’re not alone, and it’s not just because you’re a man. As new research emerges, hard and soft sciences alike continue to question the nature and practicality of marriage and monogamy. Biological hardwiring, shifts in social trends and the progression of gender equality have all made their way into your bedroom—and they’re shaking more than just the bedframe.
Nature vs. nurture: A brief history lesson
While society projects a seemingly ironclad expectation that we’re all meant to follow the design of monogamy, researchers say it’s actually a biological long shot.
A study published in Science examined 2,500 mammalian species in search of monogamy’s roots. The researchers findings confirmed what we many have suspected, that monogamy is more of a social construct: “The ancestral condition for all mammalian groups is of solitary individuals and that social monogamy is derived almost exclusively from this social system.”
So what does that mean for us? The traditional ideology of monogamy fails to acknowledge what many anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists have voiced—the overwhelming influence of social factors in the development and practice of monogamy in the real world.
Research psychologist Christopher Ryan and psychiatrist Cacilda Jetha explore the many plot holes in evolutionary psychology’s long-held misconceptions in their landmark book, Sex at Dawn. They argue that economic opportunity and religion have historically played an enormous role in goading us to the altar, particularly after the Agricultural Revolution.
As people shifted toward permanent land ownership, they needed a means of expanding and keeping their resources, which means one fertile woman = capitalistic returns, as the more children she bore you, the better chance you’d have of maintaining your assets. Enter religion, establishing a set of moral and ethical standards to live by, predominately at the expense of women’s sexual freedom and expression.
Fast forward to present day, when marriage is still a billion-dollar industry—as is divorce. “Marriage in the West isn’t doing very well because it’s in direct confrontation with the evolved reality of our species,” Jetha explained in an interview with Salon. “What we argue in the book is that the best way to increase marital stability, which in the modern world is an important part of social stability, is to develop a more tolerant and realistic understanding of human sexuality and how human sexuality is being distorted by our modern conception of marriage.”
Where do we go from here?
Now, before you break up with your partner or use these words as validation for cheating—or beat yourself up for experiencing a case of the wandering eye, consider this: Monogamy is a choice. While it may not be our natural inclination or evolutionary preference, it remains valued and desirable by many.
To choose monogamy is to acknowledge our sexuality holistically and still actively enlist the company and established intimacy of one over the rest. In actuality, it makes monogamy more meaningful because we are in direct conflict with our biology, intellectually and emotionally challenging our nature in order to build something special with another person.
So don’t give up on monogamy if it’s what you want: Just make sure you know what you are getting into…