A war has been waged on monogamy. Polyamorists, people who engage in consensual romantic love with multiple partners, are going around suggesting that the “soul mate” is no more real than Santa Claus.
The increasingly publicized, nontraditional lifestyle is finally “creeping out of the closet, making gay marriage feel somewhat last decade,” according to a Jan. 3 article in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine.
If we don’t fight back soon, the whole world is going to start engaging in uninhibited, promiscuous sexual intercourse, the foundations of society will crumble and the entire human race will die from some terrible, genitally transmitted malady — at least that’s what director of the Center for Research on Marriage and Religion Patrick Fagan seems to think.
“The polyamorists ‘snatch’ children away from their parents and from the culture of monogamy just as the Ottoman Turks of the 14th century raided boys from Christian nations to train them as their own elite warriors, the Jannissaries,” he wrote in this month’s issue of Touchstone Magazine.
But maybe polyamory is not the force of evil Fagan suggests it is.
According to evolutionary theory, humans developed monogamous tendencies because infants are totally helpless at birth — unlike baby chicks, which can survive on their own immediately after hatching. Throughout our evolutionary history, infants were less likely to survive without the protection of both a mother and a father. Thus, natural selection favors an inclination to form monogamous relationships.
But we no longer have to worry that wolves might eat our children if we leave them behind to grab some dinner. The core reason for which we developed the inclination to commit seems to have become irrelevant.
Is it possible that the growing polyamorous community, infidelities like Tiger Woods’ and John Edwards’, and the skyrocketing divorce rate are only natural consequences of monogamy’s decreased importance for survival? Some people argue that monogamy no longer serves any purpose and is merely a denial of our naturally fleeting sexual appetites.
Evolutionary theory suggests that in a species with a highly competitive sexual environment, individuals with the greatest sperm count — i.e., the largest testes — are more likely to pass on their genes. Sexually promiscuous chimpanzees, for example, have very large testes. On the other hand, gorillas have never faced that type of competition. They have always tended to mate for life, so they evolved small testes.
Human testes size lies somewhere in the middle because of our mixture of monogamous and polygamous inclinations. Evolutionary theorists often attribute the prevalence of serial monogamy to this paradox.
Polyamorists choose to resolve our conflicting inclinations by having multiple committed relationships. Thus, they embrace both the natural human desire to commit and the innate human instinct to copulate with more than one person.
One polyamorist in a Boston Globe article explained that she chose the lifestyle for “the freedom to engage in relationships that are not about life partnerships but may provide different perspectives, adventures in sexuality and new connections with many people.”
Other factors seem to point to a natural human promiscuity. Bodily dimorphism, the fact that human males are generally larger and heavier than human females, seems to support the idea of comparatively high sexual competition as well.
But even if monogamy really has stopped being necessary for survival, and we do have an inherently promiscuous nature, is polyamory really the answer? Most people who choose to commit to one person acknowledge that they don’t just magically stop desiring other people. It takes discipline and restraint that pays off in other ways.
Polyamorists must also discipline and restrain themselves. They must suppress their feelings of jealousy and possessiveness, just as monogamists must suppress their unfaithful sexual urges. So really, it’s not like polyamorists more fully embrace human nature than monogamists do.
Jealousy is just as innate as our fickle sexual instincts. Nature selected in favor of humans with possessive emotions. For women, jealousy helps secure a man’s help in fathering their children. For men, it helps them ascertain that it is their sperm that impregnates a woman, not anybody else’s.
Surely polyamorists have as tough of a time trying to transcend their innate feelings of jealousy and possessiveness as monogamists do trying to transcend inclinations toward promiscuity.
Our nature is divided. No matter what lifestyle we choose, it’s going to be difficult. Is one endeavor really more noble, natural or reasonable than the other?
Jean Guerrero is a senior majoring in print journalism. Her column “Scientastical” runs Mondays.