Posts Tagged ‘Polygyny’

is monogamy best? is polyamory wrong?

March 10, 2012
Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women'...

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My perspective is to recognize that various forms of marriage have manifested in human history– such as lifelong monogamous marriage as well as polygamy (multiple wives with one husband) and polygyny (multiple husbands with one wife). Recognizing the variety, one can notice when each of the variations is deemed best by the majority of people within that culture or social group.

As for monogamy, it is a natural preference for reproduction within any species with such a long gestation period as humans. However, while lifelong monogamy may be a popular ideal, it is also widely recognized that many people (and not just men) may have a single long-term marriage, yet also have occasional other sexual partners, sometimes even of their own gender.

So, why is monogamy generally so popular among so many human cultures? Biologists know that there are many species that mate for life as well as many species in which adult organisms typically have multiple partners over their lifetime, or even within short periods of time, such as “mating season.” In some species, the female is only fertile once a year, but may be inseminated several times in a row by a variety of adult males who basically take their turns, sometimes with intense competition for who will be first (or next) and sometimes with the adult males having no interaction with each other at all.

Pregnancy in the 26th week.

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As for humans in particular, pregnant women (and nursing mothers) tend to want to keep the fathers around- sometimes even for decades and even past the point of child-rearing. When economies boom, there is less relevance for a woman to having any particular man around to support the mother of his children. Sometimes governments will even subsidize single mothers. In human history, that may be a very rare social development. It is also rare that governments would act as debt collectors to pursue fathers for child support, though alimony laws probably originated from the same basic interest on the part of women (and the grandparents who may have supported the formation and enforcement of such legal policies).

keith's child support

With polygamy, that is when a man can support multiple wives, and apparently has been modestly popular in the last few thousand years of human history. With polygyny, that is when multiple men (usually who are very close genetically such as brothers) marry one woman as their shared wife for life. She has her choice of sexual partners and the husbands all support the children of the polygynous marriage without knowing which of the men are biologically uncle or actual father. In other societies, it is typical for a widow to be re-married by the eldest brother of her deceased husband. That is similar to polygyny.

In a way, when governments subsidize single mothers, that also resembles polygyny. Instead of “marrying the husband” or “marrying in to the whole family,” the citizens of some of the wealthiest nations in human history have basically been considered by default to be “married to the nation.” Some societies even subsidize not just single pregnant women or single mothers, but single people of any gender and even people with severe functional disabilities. Of course, that is exceedingly rare in human history, at least on the large scales common within the great empires of modern times.

Turn of the century photograph of the entire f...

Famous early leader of the Mormon Church, Joseph F. Smith, surrounded by several of his wives and dozens of his children- Image via Wikipedia

When there is a social trend away from reproduction and parenting (as when there is an economic contraction underway), then sexuality may be viewed more as recreational, which is when homosexuality, polyamory and serial monogamy tend to be most popular. Serial monogamy is also supported by government subsidies of mothers, as mothers have much less economic incentive to cater to “keeping” the father of their children around. Fathers have less incentive to “work it out and stay together” with the mothers of their children when there is a robust economy and government subsidy of single mothers.

Given that serial monogamy can involve a man (or a woman) reproducing with multiple spouses, serial monogamy is similar in many ways to both polygamy and polygyny. The distinction is that rather than stay in the same household with all of one’s wives or husbands, someone practicing serial monogamy will only reside with one spouse at a time, typically for several years or even decades in a row.

English: Hindu marriage ceremony from a Rajput...

Traditional Wedding of Hindus – Image via Wikipedia

So, when is monogamy best (whether serial monogamy or lifelong monogamy)? It is functionally best whenever people  who do that thrive most.

When is polyamory wrong? Polyamory is functionally “wrong” whenever people who do that thrive least.

English: Woman and child in Raisen district (B...

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Sperm Sorting Function (


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