Are Humans Monogamous or Polygamous?

From Slate:

MonkSince we like to think that how we mate defines us, the sex lives of ancient hominids have for many years been examined in computer simulations, by measuring the circumferences of ancient bones, and by applying the rules of evolution and economics. But to understand the contentious field of paleo-sexology, one must first address the question of how we mate today, and how we’ve mated in the recent past. According to anthropologists, only 1 in 6 societies enforces monogamy as a rule. There's evidence of one-man-one-woman institutions as far back as Hammurabi's Code; it seems the practice was further codified in ancient Greece and Rome. But even then, the human commitment to fidelity had its limits: Formal concubines were frowned upon, but slaves of either sex were fair game for extramarital affairs. The historian Walter Scheidel describes this Greco-Roman practice as polygynous monogamy—a kind of halfsy moral stance on promiscuity. Today's Judeo-Christian culture has not shed this propensity to cheat. (If there weren't any hanky-panky, we wouldn't need the seventh commandment.)

In The Myth of Monogamy, evolutionary psychologists David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton say we're not the only pair-bonding species that likes to sleep around. Even among the animals that have long been known as faithful types—nesting birds, etc.—not too many stay exclusive. Most dally. “There are a few species that are monogamous,” says Barash. “The fat-tailed dwarf lemur. The Malagasy giant jumping rat. You've got to look in the nooks and crannies to find them, though.” Like so many other animals, human beings aren't really that monogamous. Better to say, we're monogamish.

More here.

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