Is Monogamy Biological?

I’m no scientist. I’m just interested in science. So any time there’s a study regarding dating, relationships, sexuality, or behavioral economics, I’m paying attention. Which is why I’m sharing with you a recent New York Times article that talks about the evolutionary benefits of monogamy.

“The human mating system is extremely flexible,” Bernard Chapais of the University of Montreal wrote in a recent review in Evolutionary Anthropology. Only 17 percent of human cultures are strictly monogamous. The vast majority of human societies embrace a mix of marriage types, with some people practicing monogamy and others polygamy. (Most people in these cultures are in monogamous marriages, though.)

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Ready for Lasting Love?

People (usually men) who explain everything in terms of biology tend to get excited about this. Surely, man is designed to spread his seed. We literally can’t help ourselves when we’re cheating! Well, that’s part of the picture, but far from the whole picture. Continues the NYT:

Our lineage never evolved to be strictly monogamous. But even in polygamous relationships, individual men and women formed long-term bonds – a far cry from the arrangement in chimpanzees. While the two new studies published last week disagree about the force driving the evolution of monogamy, they do agree on something important. “Once monogamy has evolved, then male care is far more likely,” Dr. Opie said.

Once a monogamous primate father starts to stick around, he has the opportunity to raise the odds that his offspring will survive. He can carry them, groom their fur and protect them from attacks. In our own lineage, however, fathers went further. They had evolved the ability to hunt and scavenge meat, and they were supplying some of that food to their children. “They may have gone beyond what is normal for monogamous primates,” said Dr. Opie.”

In other words, while we can make the rightful claim that monogamy isn’t hard wired – and that’s why men, in particular, will continue to be attracted to other women – we must also acknowledge that monogamy has a biological component as well. If I want to raise my two kids in the best possible environment, it behooves me to work hard, make money, and stick around to be a good husband, father and role model. This is common sense, of course, but it’s also biology.


Thus, any guy who justifies his cheating with the word “biology” is assiduously avoiding the biology that compels him to be faithful to his wife and there for his children.

The full piece can be read here.

Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated below.