Rethinking Relationships: Is Monogamy Natural or Cultural?

I was honored to be interviewed for the Vibe and Vegas Podcast talking about being a Black Blogger in 2011 and winning the Best Black Culture Blog at the Black Weblog Awards. Then I was a guest on the Up4 Discussion Podcast where we got down and dirty as we discussed the topic of “If She Was Freakier, She’d be a Keeper”. Then tonight make sure you tune in as I will be a guest on “Kontrolled Kaos” which is a live web show that you can catch at iwatchradio.com. Also make sure you check out my brand new Media Appearances Tab where you can see all the shows and interviews I have been apart of.

One of the hottest button topics in our society over the last 15 years has been the complex nature of relationships. Much of the complexity comes from the evolving nature of gender roles and self-actualization. I have written before about marriage in the controversial post “When Are We Going to Realize That Marriage is NOT For Everyone?” but I have never spoken on this blog about the concept of monogamy itself. This weeks guest blog is from Mark Harris (@darcwonn) of Polo Penmanship and he has some very interesting ideas when it comes to the concept of monogamy.

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Bi-polarity: it is the simple word that explains the human condition (in my opinion). People will say one thing and do another as easy as they tie their shoes. You have politicians that preach peace, yet will fund wars. You have parents that preach reverence, but will do something awful to their children. There are even reverends that will do things they have no business. In a sense, being two-faced is as American as arrogance,plutocracy, and apple pie.

As American people, we believe in monogamy as the prescribed way to have relationships. This makes sense due to unsafe habits (diseases and multiple children), feelings of infidelity, and religious beliefs. Yet, the National Opinion Research Center has noted that 22% of polled men and 15% of polled women have cheated in their marriages [1]. Not only that, the National Opinion Research Center even noted that 4 out of 10 men would try to cheat if they had a clear chance of getting away with it [2]. Therefore, monogamy isn’t always the choice for people whether they are married or not.

It is time to expose a mentality that people will verbally castrate me for: monogamous is the way we were made to be.

Please pay attention to what will be presented. We have to understand that many of us share more traits with Harvey Dent than expected.

Science and the Animal Condition

To be frank, monogamy isn’t something that is natural for humans. In all actuality, it is something that has to be constantly worked at with due diligence. The reason for this is due to the nature of the beast.

People have to realize that they have been misled about monogamy from the beginning. Genetic testing has recently shown that even among many bird species, which were long touted as the epitome of monogamous fidelity, it is not uncommon for 6% to 60% of the young to be fathered by someone other than the mother’s social partner [3]. Adding that 90% of the bird species is only monogamous socially, this can be disturbing for a couple of reasons [4]. First of all, it shows that monogamy isn’t as natural as we thought. The second reason is that people may have to rethink their approach to monogamy. In the end, feather flocks can now flock to even more fowl since many are of one uniting feather: that which lacks monogamy.

Our genetic descendants, the primates, don’t help the human situation very much either. Ovulating female chimps have intercourse dozens of times per day, with most or all the willing males, and bonobos famously enjoy frequent group sex that leaves everyone relaxed and conflict-free [5]. This is interesting to consider when we, as human, look down on others for their sexual habits. Men’s testicles are much larger than those of any monogamous or polygamous primate and women’s pendulous breasts, unmanageable-to-ignore cries of erotic delight, and aptitude for multiple orgasms validate the existence of sexual promiscuity [6]. As we may try, our sexual desires say something different about monogamy.

The Different Forms of Monogamy

References to monogamy are mainly referring to sexual relationships. However, there is more to monogamy than pure sexuality.

Monogamy is a multilayered relationship paradigm that has to be fully understood in order to make use of its dynamic. There are three types of monogamy scientists now refer to based on their animal studies:

  • Sexual monogamy: the practice of having sex with only one mate at a time.
  • Social monogamy: when animals form pairs to mate and raise their offspring but still have flings on the side (“extra-pair copulation” in science talk).
  • Genetic Monogamy: when DNA testing confirms that a female’s offspring all come from one father.[7]

So, there are three situations to think about: having only one sex-buddy, having only one girlfriend/boyfriend, and women having only one man being the father of their children. Social monogamy is popularized in our culture; sexual monogamy, for aforementioned reasons and occurrences, is not [8]. Therefore, monogamy and Optimus Prime share a similar trait: there is more than meets the eye.   

Cultural Monogamy…Or Not

What may be even more shocking is that certain aspects of monogamy are not promoted by certain cultures.

Before we discover how monogamy doesn’t fit all cultures, there needs to be an understanding of how we, as humans, may have gotten this far. Situations changed when communities went from hunter-gatherer groups to agricultural groups [9]. Before, there was a time when people shared everything. However, with the advent of the agricultural society, borders had to be drawn. Conclusively, the shift from a hunter-gathering society to one of growing one’s own had people looking out for theirs.

Think about it: the 10th Commandment says “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that [is] thy neighbor’s” [10]. That means that women suffered a downgrade from a partner to property. Shout out to the 19th Amendment.

Yet, there are certain religions and societies that do not follow monogamous ideals. Although highly unjustified in most Christian influenced societies, countries ruled by Islamic laws allow for men to have up to four wives [11]. In our present society, this type of act would be frowned upon outside of Utah. Even more interesting is the inclusion of polyandry in Tibetan society in years past [12]. Even still, the idea of monogamy is looking more and more cultural by the second.

The Skinny

With all that is given, monogamous relationships are a cultural function. This does not mean that monogamy does not have its merits. Nor is this piece put together to say “have relentless sex, you filthy apes!”. This literary composition was put together to help people understand that monogamy is difficult for many of us for natural reasons. Monogamy, like being a vegan, is a situation that has to be worked on quotidian. And by quotidian, I mean “on a daily basis”. Keep it real: even some vegans may crave a burger now and then. So it would make sense for someone to crave some polygamous play.

Just keep working at it, people.

‘Nuff said and ‘Nuff respect!

So what do you think? I know there will be a lot of opinions on this subject so show some love and comment below and let’s keep the dialogue going!

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19 responses to “Rethinking Relationships: Is Monogamy Natural or Cultural?

  1. Good write. Monogamy is probably the mosy illogical condition in human relationships. It applies over looking animalistic instincts. So you’re already doomed from the jump. BUT!!! It’s the most rational because it helps govern your relationship. Do I believe in monogamy? Yes. But can you ever really be surprised when animals (Tiffany, Gerald, Tonya, and Jennifer) act as animals? That would be crazy. Monogamy is nothing more than an influential tool used to help people practice self control. If you have self-control, this wouldn’t even be an issue. Great topic though!

  2. I have to diagree with this post! Does the bible not say that God made a help mate for Adam in the bible? Also isn’t the union of two into one the main point of marriage? Marriage is very mandated by God

    • Mandated by God? Sure. Mandated by man? No. Just because it is what “God intended” doesn’t make it any more “natural” than it is. Religion, like other similar cultural structures, help with our self control (or lack thereof).

    • As usual great post, Digg! Have to co-sign with what Rach said. Monogamy IS mandated by God……and it WAS natural……starting with Adam & Eve….but I’m not sure it has been turned into something cultural. From the TV, magazines, movies, music, etc., those sources seem to say, do what makes YOU feel good, no matter what. It’s okay for ANYBODY to fantasize about other people; just don’t get caught. Sooner or later, the fantasy turns into an urge and the urge turns into an act, then reality. But Digg you made a profound & TRUE point:

      “People will say one thing and do another as easy as they tie their shoes.”

      Part of the problem with some of us (and I’ve done it too), is being right…….Doin’ Right, Actin’ Right, Livin’ Right. Treatin’ Others Right……when we know what Doin’ Wrong leads to……I’m just sayin’ bro………

    • For those that say that only people that are very seruce in their relationship and communicate and trust each other are the only ones capable of having an open relationship I say bullshit! I have been in a loving, honest, seruce relationship built on trust and communication for over 11 years now and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could NEVER be in an open relationship. I am not wired that way and neither is he. Now .I have told him I am going to make out with Moon- from desertNmoon and Mikey’s reply? Oh, go ahead. Do whatever you want . That actually is NOT permission, but .I can debate that at a later date,huh?LOL .:)Also I would have a real problem if Mikey fucked other women. Not that I don’t find other women hot myself, but he is MINE. I am not a lady that shares. I love him and do not want to share him.Sex is a very intimate and special act for us and not taken lightly . I think that too many people just give up and listen to the bullshit all around that boys will be boys.They will always cheat- so may as well give them permission to do so and have an open relationship . Bullshit! Not ALL men cheat. Not ALL women cheat. Everyone is subject to temptation, but it is what you do with those moments of temptation that really matter! Just my 2 cents

  3. It is something I think that needs to be explored but thesad thing is most people are only emotionally comfortable with their mate being with someone else

  4. Intereating post! I remember when I was in Africa a man told me about the true nature of marriage for us as black people but thats a post in itself. I may need to write a guest blog myself!

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  7. I agree with the author of this article/blog. Monogamy is difficult. It is TAUGHT in our culture that we should be in monogamous relationships. But I believe it is something that has to be worked at/on. I believe naturally we want to be with more than one partner, in an animalistic kind of way, we lust to be. And there are some factors that determine how a person feels about this subject. Two in particular- culture and/or religion.

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  10. Someone mentioned the bible and Adam and Eve and this is just religion’s continued attempt to control us, what we do, and how we do it. Didn’t say this to step on anyone’s beliefs, but religion ain’t telling the whole story here – and they don’t need to as long as we do as they say and embrace one man/one woman.

    Monogamy sucks; some people flourish in its embrace while others are just screwed in so many ways, like imposed celibacy, being put on lockdown as an individual and oh, so many other things I could mention. Monogamy isn’t the only answer for relationships… but one has to be “very grown up” in order to embrace the other paths… and our society/morality/religious belief doesn’t allow for such a thing.

    Knock, knock, Neo – the Matrix has you…

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  12. kdaddy you’re a dumbfuck. Your logic is fucked: a relationship is not a relationship if it’s open. Why be in a relaationship if you want to sleep around like the biggest whore on the planet? Have fun with your fucking litters of kids and STDs all over the planet.

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