Serial monogamy



Motto: A rich sheikh goes to his harem one day and speaks openly: My dear wives, I must be honest with you. There is a moment in every man s life when he must be open with himself and take a decision. There is a moment when a man must be true to himself. That moment has arrived: I am sorry to inform you, but I have fallen in love with another harem (Middle Eastern popular wisdom).


Why does the unnatural occurs?

We are a social species. But we also are sexual beings. Monogamy is a sensitive issue from both a social and a biological point of view. The question is however, why should a species often described as monogamous be so hypersexual? Among apes, the only monogamous species are the gibbons as opposed to sex crazed bonobos or chimps.
However, before we proceed, some semantic clarifications ought to be done. We should not equate frequent with natural and infrequent withunnatural. Natural means evolutionarily designed. Murder and rape are natural for men. Men are evolutionarily designed to kill other men and rapewomen under some circumstances. But both murder and rape are rare. Most men don t murder or rape most of the time, but it doesn t mean they are unnatural. It s a matter of evolutionary design, not frequency. Most people in the world speak on the phone and watch TV all the time, but both are unnatural for humans because humans are not evolutionarily designed to speak on the phone or watch TV. The fact that marital fidelity is a virtue doesn t mean that is natural or that we are always faithful.

Humans cannot be monogamous, if we take into consideration all the biological factors and natural selection pressure. But the question is should they? The answer to that is Yes, they should. Not all that is natural is to be followed upon. Leg, inguinal and armpits hair is also natural in females, but is something definitely not to desire. In most societies where monogamy is norm, being monogamous equals to being moral. Its opposite is infidelity and cheaters are usually frowned upon, being subjectsto the social pressure of gossiping. At another level, being monogamous is equivalent to being committed to helping your partner to grow your common genetic investment, your offspring, and not depriving her of resources (emotional, material, physical). Humans are generally not faithful to their long-term mate and yet we have evolved that we can chose to be faithful and monogamous to our partner. Male monogamy has thus evolved in order to support an increased survival rate of the offspring.


Ben-Zeev indicates that monogamy has been prevalent only among a minority of human societies (less than 20%) and an even smaller minority among mammals (about 3%). The author believes that monogamist societies prevail since they give people some kind of certainty and security that enable them to devote their resources to other issues. Serial monogamy gives such a sense of certainty and security for only a limited time, but this is the kind of accommodation people make for having greater novelty and romantic excitement in their life. Moreover, serial monogamy may reduce the old time practice of proclaimed monogamy with clandestine adultery.
Let us be clear. Monogamy is not extinct, it is just rare. Half of all marriages end in divorce and when a couple has been together for many years, it s newsworthy. How many of us know someone who has been together a lifetime? Not many. If a partner cannot remain faithful, we now have a reason and explanation for it. Biology seems to have an answer for everything and the reason why so many find it difficult to be faithful to their partner for a long time, is indeed biological.




Barash and Lipton posit that monogamy is unnatural because it does not occur spontaneously, naturally, and culture must always nurture it. But if it s so rare and so natural, is inevitably to ask why monogamy exists at all? They also suggest that it may occur as a means for males to minimize the risk that someone else s sperm will fertilize the eggs of a given female and that society s many strictures against adultery arise because monogamy is not automatic but needs to be enforced and reinforced.


...even if human beings were more rigidly controlled by their biology, it would be absurd to claim that monogamy is unnatural or abnormal, especially since it was doubtless the way most people lived... (p. 153)




These two authors also make a distinction between sexually monogamous and socially monogamous. Social monogamy is a complex phenomenon that doesn t correspond to reproductive monogamy. Social monogamy describes a demographic and close sociospatial relationship between one female and one male. The social monogamy is that a female and a male can have each a single partner of the opposite sex at a time and the temporal component is important for understanding socially monogamous partnerships because only a few sexually reproducing organism truly establish a unique monogamous lifetime partnership. Most majority practice sequential social monogamy. Social pairing includes nest building, territorial defense, raising offspring and other family matters.

But there is also the possibility that marriage may be an established social arrangement among many hunter-gatherers but it s one in which sexuality is decidedly fluid. Lipton and Barash emphasize the ways in which monogamy has been used as a means of controlling women in patriarchal societies and make a number of connections between the invention of agriculture 12,000 years ago and how sedentary societies influence the structure of human mating. By monopolizing a woman during her fertile peak makes her unavailable to other males, then theserial monogamous man moves on to another fertile woman, usually younger with better ovules, as men have longer reproductive windows.




I love you and you love me


Evolutionary payoff and genetic benefits are two exchange coins when we speak of evolutionary psychology. What other benefits would result from being aserial monogamist? For starters, you invest genetically in several bonds, and refresh your genetic investment. In case your first bond happens to be consanguine (by chance) and you don t know- by moving on to another relationship (serial monogamy) you ensure genetic refreshment and also spread more genes.
So, is love in the air and does it help us be monogamous? What is love s evolutionary purpose? Love, actually, is in the air but so is oxygen, nitrogen, argon, and carbon dioxide. So what is love? Zeki, who intensively studied the neurobiology of love said that the chemical components of love are: nerve growth factor, testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin. But what love s got to do with it (monogamy that is)? Griskevicius et al claim that women should neverbe told they are loved and I will explain later why. Love s purpose is not to assure a life-term bond but just the amount of time when the mother assumingly gets pregnant and nurses and is the most vulnerable and cannot procure food herself (2-3 years). The collaboration bond could not be meant to be long term and it is culture and civilization that imposed long terms and pretense is forever.


Greeks have several definitions and a strict semantics when it comes to love: philia, eros, agape, storge or orxenia. Philia is a virtuous love, unifluenced by emotional implication, but neither platonic. Philosophia is a love (philia) for wisdom (sophia). Storge is the passionate and sensual love, while agape is the word that comes closer to the meaning we know and use the most- je t aime, voulez vous coucher avec moi?




S. Zeki found that human attachment seems therefore to employ a push-pull mechanism that overcomes social distance by deactivating networks used for critical social assessment and negative emotions, while it bonds individuals through the involvement of the reward circuitry, explaining the power of love to motivate and exhilarate. The concentration of both neuro-modulators increases during the phase of intense romantic attachment and pairing.




Griskevicius et al have explained why some people dislike hearing too often the magic words I love you. Sixty-four per cent of participants were likely to think women were the first to say they were in love. The stereotype is that women are more interested in relationships, especially serious relationships, and are therefore more likely to confess their feelings sooner than men. However, men were more likely to confess their feelings first and 62% of participants reported on past relationships and 70% reporting on current relationships stated that the man said I love you first. On average, men started thinking about professing their love about 3 months into the relationship whereas women in the study started thinking about it closer to 5 months into the relationship.


Why is this? The study claims this happens because women s physiological traits (i.e., childbearing abilities) are evolutionary more valuable. Therefore, women can afford to wait for declarations of love and be more selective about who they choose to love or have sex with.




The Australian author Simmons shows that infertility occurs one in six Australian couples, and in approximately half of these cases the problem lies in poor semen quality. If we look at things from an evolutionary point of view, poor semen quality in the human male is not unexpected. All organisms are faced with a fundamental decision whether to invest limited resources into growth and survival or into reproduction. The production of semen requires resources to produce its components: sperm and the seminal fluid compounds that power motility and affect their ability to fertilize an ovum.
Resources used for semen production are unavailable for use elsewhere in the body. Simmons further adds that once produced, sperm can be recognized by the immune system as a foreign body, because sperm possess surface antigens that are not recognized by the male producing them. As a result, a man s sperm can be attacked by his own immune system. Recent investigations have revealed the selective pressures that promote semen quality. When females mate with two or more males in quick succession, the sperm from those males must compete to fertilize one or a few eggs. The male with the greatest semen quality will father more offspring, leading to selection for improved semen quality across generations.
This happens due to two particular reasons: 1) enforced monogamy in polygamous beetles resulted in an evolutionary decline in testes size and competitive fertility; 2) polygamy in female house mice resulted in an increase in semen quality in as few as seven generations.




Trivers posits that the sex with larger parental investment, often female, becomes a limiting resource for which the other sex competes (1972). Male monogamy predicted when high paternity certainty, high importance of paternal rearing of young, and/or need to defend / monopolize females but with agriculture, patriarchy and polygyny spreads. A Swedish study shows that about 78% males and 79% females had one partner and about 15% of both sexes had more than one partner during their reproductive lifespan in the oldest short. Thus, monogamy was predominant, and serial monogamy was equally common among men and women. Remating increased the number of offspring for males but not for females in both cohorts. This is in accordance, claim the authors, with the idea of serial monogamy being a conditional reproductive strategy for males in a society with institutional monogamy. However,the reproductive costs and benefits for females or remating are obscure.

Do serially monogamous men have more children?

Well, yes the answer to this question is that serial monogamy paid off for men and they had more children but this surplus was lost among grandchildren while women with more than one spouse did not have more children. Sexual selection still acts and may have favored male serial monogamy also in agrarian and post-agrarian societies (Finland and US). The triumph of monogamy as a social norm may now co-exist with reproductive benefits, claims the Finnish author. In 1967 George P. Murdock s Ethnographic Atlas reported that only 14.5% of modern preindustrial societies could be classified as monogamous.

Monogamy and sperm competition


Now here is a bit of a controversy. Some authors believe that modern humans appear to be free of the sperm competition that selects (in evolutionary terms) for male investment in high semen quality. This is because our societies are largely characterized by medium- to long-term monogamous pair bonds, and in many societies, confidence of paternity - knowing who a child s father is - is high. Put another way, women generally do not have multiple sexual partners immediately prior to conceiving so there is little selection on semen quality. Relaxed selection of this kind can allow the evolution of greater investment of resources into traits that contribute to improved growth and long-term survival.

But Geoffrey Miller (who supports the female choice strategy) believes, on the other hand, that in Pleistocene it was practiced monogamy or harem-style living for purposes of food distribution. His line of reasoning is as follows when food is scarce, it is more beneficial for females to find food alone, therefore males will begin to separate and pair off with single females. This pattern is seen in gibbons, lemurs, and some African and South African monkeys. While there is an abundance of food, females tend to band together, and a single male can exclude other males from sexual access. And this pattern is seen in hamadryas baboons, colobus monkeys, langurs, andgorillas.There is also a complex multi-male/multi-female: if female groups are too large for one male to protect, males will band together to form coalitions: sperm compete with other sperm already inside the females which results in sexual selection for good sperm. The most common practice of mating in Pleistocene, claims the same author, seemed to be serial monogamy. And this is why: first, the females had incentive to mate with males of higher fitness than their current partner and second, the males had incentive to mate with as many females as possible.


Like Miller, Kanazawa believes that if you want to know what women have been up to during evolution, we should look at men s genitals. It turns out, that we can measure the degree of female promiscuity by the relative size of testes on the male body. Across species, claims the author, the more promiscuous the females are, the larger the testes relative to the male s body weight. When a female copulates with multiple males within a short period of time sperm from different males must compete with each other and a good way to win this competition is to outnumber them. The species where the females are highly promiscuous, have also the males with the largest size of testes. On this scale, human male tests are 0.04-0.08% of their body, way larger comparative to the size of the body than all other primates. The only female primates that are more promiscuous than the homo sapiens females seem to be the chimpanzee females. This discovery is added to the idea that the human penis is specifically shaped like this (larger head added to thrusting movement) in order to draw foreign semen back away from the cervix, scooping out all foreign sperm that could have been implanted before copulation by another male. This biological evidence underlies the fact that monogamy, the way we culturally perceive it today, is not supported by biological evidence of the human body or behavior and it is in the end, although unnatural and rare, a matter of choice.


Natural means neither good nor desirable, and polygyny is embodied in each of us and the more polygynous the species the greater the size disparity between sexes (gibbons are totally monogamous and there is no sexual dismorphism in size, both females and males have pretty much the same size and weight). While human males are 1.1 as large by height and 1.2 as large by weight than human females. Kanazawa believes this is a way to know that humans are naturally polygynous.


Monogamy has been also a tool used by men to assert property rights over women and Ryan and Jetha, in their book Sex At Dawn, present this very point. This example is one of many that suggests the human species did not evolve in monogamous, nuclear families but rather in small, intimate groups where most mature individuals would have had several ongoing sexual relationships at any given time. We are the descendants of these multimale-multifemale mating groups and, even though we ve constructed a radically different society from our hunter-gatherer forebears, the behavioral and psychological traits our species evolved in the distant past still manifest themselves today. The authors shed some light on why fidelity has been such a persistent problem for both men and women throughout recorded history.


Diploon paradoxum or til death do us apart


Not many living things partake of the extreme monogamy shown by the parasitic flatworm Diplooon paradoxum, a fish parasite whose partners meet as virgin adolescent larvae, whereupon they literally fuse at their midsections and subsequently become sexually mature; they then remain together (in every sense of the word) till death parts them-in some cases, years later. Screw-worm flies - in spite of their name- turned out to be a rare exception to the rule, and the basis of comparison for later research.


Promiscuity is also suggested by the good gene theory, as exhibited by the great reed warbler. The female warbler may nest with a male with a small song repertoire, but she will seek extra-pair copulation with males with big song repertoires, which tend to live longer. This way she gets the best offspring and they are looked after.
The female pseudo-scorpion which has a brood-sack to store fertilized eggs, provides another example. If she has mated with just one male, there is a high rate of spontaneous abortion, but if the scorpion has mated with two males, the likelihood of abortion is a lot lower, because the female can choose the best sperm.
What to do with the natural?
Many evolutionary psychologists believe therefore that humans are naturally polygynous not monogamous and that all human societies are polygynous to variousdegrees. However, contrary to what people think, most women benefit from polygyny while men benefit from monogamy. And now allow me to explain why. A survey of the traditional societies shows that 83.9% practice polygyny while only 16.14% practice monogamy.




Paternity certainty is rare in monogamous marriage where the woman is supposed to be mating with one man. The cuckoldry in monogamous societies is 13-20% in the US alone, 10-14% Mexico, 9-17% Germany, which says that even in monogamous relations a man can t be sure of the paternity of his offspring (Kanazawa).
However, there is a benefit to fraternal polyandrous marriage and that is that child is always genetically related to any of the husbands, even if the paternity is not sure. Meaning, if two brothers share the same wife, chances are either 50% or 25% that child is his, which is a pretty good genetic bet.


Eric Anderson is yet another author who believes similarly that men are by nature polyamorous creatures, and attempting to stay within the confines of a monogamous relationship will almost certainly lead to resentment or straying.


Kanazawa thinks polygynous society is difficult to maintain, because polygynous men must be resourceful enough to support many wives and invest in manychildren. That s why the degree of polygyny across societies is correlated with the degree of resource inequality among men. However, what predicts the degree of polygyny in society, more than the degree of resource inequality among men is the average intelligence of the population. Monogamy is so unnatural for humans (especially for men) that only very intelligent men can practice it and only societies with very high average intelligence can maintain the monogamous institution of marriage (from personal correspondence with the author).


It is confusing because some people call it serial monogamy while others call it serial polygyny, even though they are all talking about the same thing (a sequence of marriage, divorce, remarriage, divorce, and remarriage, etc.). Serial polygyny is to be preferred (in contrast to simultaneous polygyny) in order to emphasize the fact that the reproductive consequences of serial polygyny are the same as simultaneouspolygyny. In both cases, some men (who are wealthier than others) have multiple wives (whether simultaneously or sequentially) and reproduce with several different wives, while other men (who are less wealthy than others) are left without wives, because by the time the serial polygynists divorce their wives, they are post- reproductive and cannot marry the younger, wifeless men. So, even though there are roughly same numbers of unmarried men and unmarried women in serially polygynous, nominally monogamous societies like the United States, many men are still left wifeless and end their lives as total reproductive losers.
Helen Fisher looked at divorce statistics in many western nations and noticed that divorce peaks after four years of marriage. From this, she concluded that humans must be evolutionarily designed to stay married (or pair-bonded) for about four years (as opposed to the 18 years or until the child is able to provide the 2000 kcalories back theory), until the child becomes somewhat self-sufficient and does not require constant care, and then move on to other marriages to produce more children. Kanazawa however disagrees with Fisher s argument. If she is right, and if humans are evolutionarily designed to engage in serial pairbonding, then men should find a 13-year-old girl and 35-year-old woman equally attractive, because both are capable of producing one child and raise it for four years.
However, men always and everywhere find younger women more attractive than older women, and there can be only one explanation for this: Men are evolutionarily designed to stay married to the same women all their lives and raise manychildren. Only 13-year-old women are capable of producing 10 children and raise them all to sexual maturity; 35-year-old women can produce far fewer children than 13-year-old girls.




The fact that people in nominally monogamous societies engage in serial pairbonding (or serial polygyny) is a consequence of socially imposed monogamy. Humans are evolutionarily designed to be simultaneously polygynous. Men are evolutionarily designed to (want to) have several wives simultaneously, as many wives as they can afford to maintain, and women are evolutionarily designed to raise their own children with men who also have other wives. Yet most modern societies legally and socially impose monogamy and prohibit simultaneous polygyny. But evolved human nature cannot be denied forever. The fact that men become dissatisfied with their middle-aged wives, want to get divorced, and have younger wives to have more children with, is a consequence of the fact that they are not allowed to have multiple wives simultaneously.




Recent research shows however that we have monogamy in modern societies for two reasons: 1) Given that men are more or less interchangeable in their resources (i.e. the resource inequality among men is much less now than in the historical past, and wealthy men are not that wealthier than poor men, compared to the past),
women want monogamy instead of polygyny, and in matters of mating and marriage, it s what women want that matters, not what men want; and 2) we have become so intelligent that we want such an unnatural social institution as monogamy, mandatory education, higher education, criminal justice system, etc. Serial monogamy is in societies where it is costly (economically, morally, emotionally) to be polygamous (for polygamists men must have resources in the same time, all at once, but for serial monogamy you have several wives, one after each other, but your spread out resources in time, which makes it easier to provide).


Just like monogamy, it is extremely unnatural for humans to keep children in schools all day, to keep young adults in school in their 20s, to rely on third parties for punishments for crimes, but all civilized societies have all of these unnatural institutions. Monogamy is just another example of an unnatural thing that we do because we are so intelligent and yet so unprepared for it.