Let's continue the debate about monogamy with a little quiz:
Which relationship structure has been proven to be the most effective?
A) Monogamy: Agreeing to be exclusive with a single partner decreases health risks and honors the special relationship you share.
B) Nonmonogamy: It is unrealistic to expect fidelity to a single person for an entire lifetime, and monogamy places artificial and limiting restrictions on relationships that inhibit the expression of love and sexuality.
C) All of the above.
D) None of the above.
If you're looking for an answer, prepare to be disappointed: the answer is that there is no right answer. Compelling arguments have been made from both sides, and that doesn't even take into consideration the myriad other possible forms a relationship could take. I could probably spend the rest of my life posting about nothing but the pros and cons of the various relationship arrangements I have encountered, but for simplicity's sake let's focus on the two most common approaches: monogamy and nonmonogamy, in the most general senses of both terms.
Up first: the scientific arguments for monogamy.
- Having multiple partners might serve our genes, but it doesn't serve us as emotional individuals. When humans become sexual with a new partner, the brain's dopamine reward system is kicked into overdrive. But after that intense high, the brain shifts into a low-dopamine stage and humans find themselves in an unhappy hangover-like state. When partners are constantly changing, this cycle continuously repeats and dissatisfaction increases. Remaining faithful to one partner, on the other hand, allows the brain to maintain a comfortable level of happiness without the ensuing crash. (Source: The Monogamy Challenge[*1] )
- Monogamy is beneficial for childrearing. In the wild, children with two parents are more likely to survive and learn to socialize properly. Their chances of growing to adulthood and reproducing are therefore increased.
- Studies show that having a steady, intimate partner might be good for your health. Multiple studies associate this kind of relationship with increased longevity, faster healing times, and lower rates of illness, depression, and alcoholism. AIDS patients with partners, for example, have a tendency to live longer and develop the condition at a slower rate. (Source: Marital Status and Health[*2] )
- Research has found that monogamy is consistently valued across cultures, biological imperative or not. Noted anthropologist Helen Fisher points out that, even in polygamous cultures, less than 10% of men choose to have more than one wife at a time, and calls monogamy "pretty standard" for the human species. Author Tara Parker-Pope adds that "Almost without exception, men and women say they value monogamy in relationships. So while it isn't absolutely necessary from a biological standpoint, from a social, cultural and emotional standpoint, it's important to many people and that's why we try for it." (Source: The science of marital unhappiness[*3] )
Proponents of monogamy, then, seem to have science on their side. Can the nonmonogamy camp say the same thing? We'll find out next time!