The Myth of Monogamy

The Monogamy Myth is the belief that monogamy is the norm in our society and that it is supported by society as a whole. The effect of believing that most marriages or committed relationships are monogamous is that if an affair happens, it’s seen strictly as a personal failure of the people involved. This can lead to personal blame, personal shame, wounded pride, and almost universal feelings of devastation.

Where did monogamy come from?
Regulations of unions between men and women first became important when private property became important to a society as a consequence of the growth of cities; at that point, the males wanted succession to be concretized and regulated. This idea of private property also coincided with the onset of monogamy. Stricter monogamy and private property ownership worked together since the inheritance of the property was decidedly the children of the owner. Therefore, the father took the most logical means at his disposal to guarantee that his property was inherited by his genetic offspring.

Is Monogamy ‘Natural’?
We, as citizens of a monogamous culture, are usually taught that monogamy is “natural” and that all other forms of sexual relations are wrong. But the evidence is clear that humans are capable of maintaining a variety of different mating patterns. It would seem, from this, that no particular pattern is innate to our species. In light of the fact that there are other societies that accept polyandry or polygyny as the norm, one can only conclude that monogamy, and the values of sexuality it implies, is a socialized institution. There is no particular marriage structure that is innate to the human species.

The Reality of Monogamy in Our Society
The reality is that monogamy is not the norm in our society, not by today’s standards, anyway. Conservative estimates are that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women who consider themselves “monogamous” will have an extramarital affair. These figures are even more significant when we consider the total number of marriages involved, since it’s unlikely that all the men and women having affairs happen to be married to each other. If even half of the women having affairs (or 20 percent) are married to men not included in the 60 percent having affairs, then at least one partner will have an affair in approximately 80 percent of all marriages. With this many marriages affected, it’s unreasonable to think affairs are due only to the failures and shortcomings of individual husbands or wives.

According to the Monogamy Myth, society as a whole is supportive of monogamy and of people’s efforts to remain monogamous, leading people to expect to have a monogamous marriage. This belief reinforces the idea of personal failure for those people who want to live up to the ideal of monogamy but fail to achieve it.

In reality, while society gives lip service to monogamy, there are significant societal factors that actually support and encourage affairs. Statistics and our own experiences indicate that it is the norm in our society for people to have more than one sexual / loving relationship at a time at various points in their lives. This may be in the form of extramarital affairs, serial monogamy with clandestine overlap, or dating more than one in a secretive way. In all of these scenarios, it is society’s message that it is less offensive to lie to our partners than to admit that we have love for more than one. The deception, when revealed, usually ends one or more relationships.
We need to reject the Monogamy Myth to help relieve the sense of shame and inadequacy felt by those who have attempted to achieve our society’s standard of monogamy and have failed. Since they keep their shame and anger hidden, they seldom get enough perspective to completely recover from these feelings, regardless of whether they stay married or get a divorce. This is best accomplished by dealing with reality, not holding on to a myth.

So, What Is Reality?
People are beginning to question the long standing myth of monogamy. Within American society, there exists relationships which pose an alternative to this traditional romantic ideal. What happens when we choose to let go of the Puritanical package we are handed as our American birthright, start telling the truth to the people closest to us and start trusting our hearts with the possibility of more love? Is the human species innately monogamous? Biologist Richard Alexander of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society stated: “Lifelong monogamous devotion is just not natural — not for women even, and emphatically not for men.”

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