The More the Merrier: Why Monogamy May Not be Natural.
The book “Sex at Dawn” referenced in this post asks you to compare your biology and relationships as a human being to other closely related species, this can be difficult because of the amount of social beliefs that have been layered on top of our biologies. E being a zoo keeper for almost twenty years had the privilege to work with several species of primates including Great Apes. Having spent time with these “relatives” of ours he can tell you they are more similar than different. Like Christopher Ryan we believe there is great value in looking at humans as a primate first, and looking at our biology as a way to understand who we are and what we want. We also agree that regardless of how you design your own relationships, it never hurts to try to understand how others design theirs. Even if they are a bit hairy.
Monogamy is the practice of only having one mate at a time, and it is also the practice that is the most normalized in the United States. Monogamy is so normalized in the U.S. that any other practice can face stigma and judgment. Is Monogamy natural, though? Some people do not think so, and they have scientific studies to back up their views.
Christopher Ryan, an American author who received his Ph.D. in psychology, has many reasons why he believes monogamy is not really in our bones. He believes that polyamory is the more likely choice, and there’s a few reasons why.
In his book, Sex at Dawn, Christopher Ryan looks at poly animals in nature and shows how having multiple sexual partners was common. Ryan does this by comparing us to one of the closest species that we share DNA with- Bonobos. Bonobos are a type of ape that exhibit kindness and compassion. They rarely have conflict within their group. The reason for this is also the reason you will rarely find Bonobos in zoos. Bonobos have sex quite often and with multiple partners, too. Sex is a way within their community to solve problems.
Comparing our bodies to Bonobos is one of the ways Ryan shows that monogamy is probably not made for us. Something both humans and bonobos have in common is the size of their testes. Monogamous creatures in nature have smaller testes. The reason for this is because they do not have to produce an abundance of sperm. If there is no other competition, there is no need to have a lot of sperm. Ryan says, “If a species has cojones grandes, you can bet that males have frequent ejaculations with females who sleep around. The correlation of slutty females with big balled males appears to apply not only to humans and other primates, but to many mammals, as well as to birds, butterflies, reptiles, and fish.” More sperm means more of a chance that your DNA will pass on. If you are competing with other men, you would need to have a good bit of sperm to increase your chance of a female carrying on your offspring.
Another biological factor that Ryan thinks adds to the myth of monogamy is that the way we have sex and the way the penis is shaped shows that male competition occurs. The penis length and ridge work as a shovel. When humans have sex, a thrusting action occurs. If a woman was to have sex with multiple men that left sperm within her, the action plus the shape of the penis would remove some of the sperm already within her. This action helps the male now having sex with her have a higher chance of carrying on his DNA. His sperm would have a higher chance of surviving. If a woman was only having sex with one partner, there would be no need for a male’s penis to have this shape nor this length.
Something that may not seem so obvious that could allude to us being a polyamorous species is the noises we make during sex. Most people rarely have sex silently. When you hear the word moan, you think of sex. When you watch porn, you will always hear sexual noises. When you have sex, you probably moan when you orgasm. Ryan believes that moaning is another sign that shows we are meant to be polyamorous. Monogamous creatures in nature do not make noises when they have sex. The act of sex in nature puts many animals at risk of being attacked. Monogamous creatures do not want to let others know they are copulating because they do not want any competition. Noises during sex, Ryan believes, lets other animals know that a female is ready for copulation. It attracts other mates.
Ryan also believes that a woman’s hidden ovulation system is definitely a sign of early polyamory in humans. Monogamous females, when ovulating, will display obvious signs. Their genitals will swell and turn a bring pink or red. This happens in humans too, but there is no difference in females that are ovulating and females that are not. A hidden ovulation system makes it hard for males to know when they impregnate a female. This still happens in our society today. Now we have DNA tests that help prove who the biological father is. Before, this was essentially impossible to do. When males are unable to tell who their biological children are, they would be forced to take care of the whole bunch. Hidden ovulation system points to a society where everyone took care of everyone. This system would be beneficial to the survival of offspring because two, three, and four dads are always better than one.
Lastly, Ryan points out that monogamy is really just a byproduct of agriculture. Agriculture was the birth of the class system. For the first time in history, people owned things. Ownership caused prestige. People that had more resources, had more power. Now it became important for people to know who their offspring were. Dividing resources meant a loss of power and poverty. Poverty meant that your offspring had a lower chance of survival. Monogamy was born out of fear.
Ryan’s theories make a good bit of sense. Regardless of what you believe, though, having an alternate perception is important in understanding ourselves and each other. It is important to understand that monogamy may be difficult to some not because they are morally bad people but because it literally goes against our DNA. Shame surrounding polyamorous relationships is ludicrous when looking at our biological past. If monogamy works for you, that’s wonderful. It may not work for everyone, and that’s okay, too. There’s room for both walks of life in this world, and it’s always great to see many perspectives.