Why we f*ck

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A professional thinker named Thomas Hobbes got it into our heads for an embarrassingly long time that our ancestors were pitiful, lonely, mean people.

Three and a half centuries later Hobbes is still revered for his smarts, even though he’ll always be most famous for that unfortunate soundbyte in which he described the life of prehistoric man as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Today few serious scientists are waving the “brutish and short” flag. Although the image of the paranoid, dumb, violent, solitary caveman persists in pop culture (and sometimes in our early blog posts) there’s little evidence to support it.

We now know human beings have always been highly social creatures, and that that has been our species’ defining strength. We know humans were nomadic for nearly all of their existence, roaming in groups of between 50 and 150 individuals. Rather than stressed, violent and solitary, they were probably most often calm, peaceful and intensely social.

Moving away from Hobbes’ thuggish caveman is one of those fabled “paradigm shifts” that happen sometimes in science, and which turn everything upside-down for a few decades (or centuries if there are churches involved,) until we’re mostly on the same page again — think Copernicus and his wild “the earth isn’t the center of the universe” idea.

As an interesting side-effect of rethinking what human quality of life was like in prehistory, it’s becoming clear that for all but the most recent sliver of human existence, human beings were not monogamous. Adults apparently didn’t pair off into exclusive couples like all of our storybooks tell us. They didn’t confine themselves to having children with only a single partner, as most people do (or try to do, or think they are supposed to try to do) today. 

Our closest relatives, chimps and bonobos, are both highly “promiscuous” by the standards of today’s mainstream human society. Evolutionary psychologist and author Christopher Ryan, from his book Sex At Dawn:

If you spend time with the primates closest to human beings, you’ll see female chimps having intercourse dozens of times per day, with most or all of the willing males, and rampant bonobo group sex that leaves everyone relaxed and maintains intricate social networks.

Ryan has complied a mountain of evidence that makes it hard to find compelling reasons to continue to maintain that we are biologically geared for monogamy. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. The only ape that demonstrates clearly monogamous behavior is the gibbon, a highly anti-social creature that lives in small nuclear families, estranged from other gibbons by their enormous territories. They have infrequent sex and do not appear to do it for fun.

Hobbes’s dismal vision of our ancestors has been famously debunked by all camps in the anthropology world, even if they have fiercely different opinions about other things. We know they probably didn’t live in highly competitive, scarcity-driven environments, and that they had more leisure time than we do.

And we know they had lots of hot sex. Probably more than you. They were definitely not the prudes that came about in recent centuries, bringing along chastity belts, religious meddling, and a shaming attitude towards sex.

Why did we have so much sex?

First of all, we still do. We just have more a lot more hangups about it. And it should surprise no one that the primary reason we do it is not procreation. We do it because it feels good physically and emotionally. More specifically, it allows us to share something super-intimate with another human being. Most of the time we are definitely, expressly not trying to make a child.

Out of all your sexual experiences, how often were you doing it simply because you wanted to make a baby? The vast majority of people use birth control. We try to minimize baby-making but we’re still highly interested in sex, and so for humans sex obviously serves another extremely compelling purpose.

That purpose is to bring us closer, to cement social bonds. Being big-brained and relatively weak-bodied — an 80-pound baboon can tear a 200-pound man to shreds — what kept humans alive for hundreds of thousands of years was that our interpersonal bonds were so tight.

What other species grieves so helplessly for so long when they lose a relative or companion? What other species requires a decade or two of constant attention in order to raise a child to be a healthy, independent individual? What other creature can lose track of itself completely by gazing into in the eyes of a close companion?

We bond intensely, perhaps like no other creature ever has. And sex, especially face-to-face, can create great peaks of intimate bonding. We lose our pretensions. In a hyper-intimate way we bare ourselves to another, our outer and inner selves at the same time.

Before “mine” and “yours”

Think about what it would be like to live your whole life in a social group of about a hundred people. You’d get to know everyone rather quickly, and would develop relationships with them over decades. Dissenters and troublemakers would be reformed quickly or shunned — jealous and possessive types would be too great a liability for the whole group.

Human beings have never been able to survive on their own. Even today the greatest human fear is being ostracized or abandoned, because for hundreds of thousands of years, it meant death. In the civilized world, where there’s always another job, always another circle of friends out there, rejection doesn’t mean death, but emotionally it remains a devastating experience for most of us.

Most notably, there would be no notion of private property, of “mine” versus “yours.” This can be observed in many of today’s remaining hunter-gatherer tribes, where hiding or hoarding anything is viewed as a glaring offense to the whole community.

Possessiveness would not be tolerated or even understood, and therefore the idea of sexual exclusivity would be just as absurd and offensive to the others as hoarding food. Clearly it is normal and healthy for human beings to be attracted to multiple people, and our ancestors wouldn’t have found many reasons to restrict their intimate activities to one mate.

Females each mating with multiple males means that no male could quite be sure which child was his genetically. There were no paternity tests, and everyone would be so closely related that there wouldn’t be too many giveaways in the child’s features, such as distinct hair color or eye color.

Think about what that means for a moment: it’s likely that for most of human existence, it was not normal for a man to know which kids were his.

For the survival of the group, this was a good thing. First of all, it meant that males wouldn’t kill off the children sired by other males (as some species do). But most importantly, it meant that every adult felt a responsibility to care for every child in the group. The females would breastfeed the children of other women, and no man would have any reason to view one child as “his” and another as “not his.” All children were vulnerable, all were in need of food and protection and love, and the survival of the group depended on the survival of children, no matter who fathered them. Paternal uncertainty, as biologists call it, kept hunter-gatherer groups well-bonded and more liable to survive than they would be if they were fragmented into nuclear families who had clear preferences about who ought to get most of the help.

So the result of a sexual culture that modern people might call “promiscuous” was that the whole group was one giant family, with a conspicuous lack of alienation, possessiveness and competition, compared to how we interact with each other today.

Why everything changed

Before our eyes, social norms are changing. Most people don’t gasp and whisper when they see interracial couples anymore. The US president has officially endorsed gay marriage. Hotels no longer insist that you be married to rent a hotel room with a member of the opposite sex. Normal changes, and it can change fast.

Monogamy is still accepted by most to be the “way things are” among human beings, as a general rule. Certainly it’s prescribed non-negotiably in the Bible and other religious texts. But human relationships reach back far longer than that.

About ten thousand years ago, people figured out how to stay put. Instead of roaming the country, foraging for food, they began to grow it themselves, in the same place year after year. This had several immediate, world-changing effects.

For the first time, people could stay in one place. Food could be stored and accumulated. Settlements became permanent. The population boomed, and people began to live closer together. Currencies were implemented. Social institutions formed: churches, laws, militaries.

For the first time, wealth could be hoarded. One person could amass many times the resources of another. There had never been a way for one person to become vastly more powerful than other person before, because nomad groups could only carry what they needed, and would seek newer pastures when resources dwindled. Excess was pointless.

But now, everyone saw that there was no limit to accumulation, and the more they accumulated, the more secure they were. So nobody ever felt like they quite had enough — it was always desirable to have more. Combine this to the skyrocketing population, and fierce competition for resources became the new norm.

This had to have completely changed the social dynamics between human beings, on all scales. Human existence quickly shifted from an environment of abundance to an environment of scarcity. Great imbalances of power and privilege began, whereas they were impossible before, and they have continued to widen for the last ten thousand years.

What does this have to do with sex?

The greatest change agriculture made was that particular people became tied to particular areas of land. The notion of ownership had become became crucial for the first time. If an individual wanted to survive, rather than contribute to a cohesive, self-contained group, he had to secure the right to work a particular area of land, probably in spite of the competing interests of others. He had to participate as a small part of a large, impersonal economy. His life depended on his ability to do that.

Much like today, when a landowner died others wanted the land, and the issue of who had legal claim to it had to be settled. The most intuitive arrangement was for a landowner’s offspring to inherit it.

So for the first time ever, it became absolutely necessary for a man to know that his children were his. In the age before birth control and paternity tests, there was only one way for a man to be certain:

He had to make 100 percent sure that his woman never, ever had sex with anyone else.

And so men came to control land by controlling women’s sexuality, and the new “normal” sculpted by this economic trend is still the primary model for us today: sexual monogamy. To secure themselves economically, men demanded virgins and had zero tolerance for any hint of non-monogamy. Fidelity was enforced by vicious social contracts including religious dictates and cultural beliefs, for which women were humiliated, stoned or worse for even expressing the desire to bed with another man.

This was the beginning of a culture of sexual inequality and repression that we are still, sadly, used to. Even in progressive societies, women who want to have many sexual partners are often regarded as sluts, by both sexes. Men don’t face the same scrutiny.

For centuries it was debated — among scholar-class men, of course — whether women derived any pleasure from sex at all. The academic consensus was that sex was a drive that pertained only to males, and was merely accomodated by married females so that they could have the only thing the women truly desired: children.

So monogamy appears to be a cultural phenomenon that has its origins in economics of all places. There isn’t necessarily anything instrinsically wrong with it, but looking at the divorce rates one can’t help but wonder whether it’s a round hole, while humans — biologically at least — carry square pegs.

It’s well known that in North America, most marriages end in divorce rather than death, and most marriages include sexual infidelity. Sexless marriages are common, if not commonly talked about.

We’re still recovering from long-standing, asinine cultural pressures that tell us we can’t have too many sexual partners, can’t be gay, can’t be single parents, can’t have group sex without becoming a weirdo or a hippie, can’t have two partners at once without being a cheat, and can’t decide not to have children without being a self-absorbed hedonist.

Thankfully Kinsey’s famous studies, released following the war, revealed to the world what it both feared and knew all along: that everybody was doing everything the whole time, they just hid it from view. People were having oral sex, anal sex, extramarital sex, group sex, sex with machinery, sex with their own hands and fingers, gay sex, dress-up sex, S&M sex, and sometimes, no sex at all.

The variety and volume of sexual tastes and practices were enormous in reality, but publicly everyone presented the same front: modest, God-fearing monogamous relationships.

Where normal comes from

The day we’re born, each of us opens our eyes and begins to build a world that seems “normal” to us. It is built from scratch, experience by experience, and what we build depends on the die roll of where we’re born and when. So what we come to regard as “the way things are” may only be the way things have been for a few centuries, or even a few decades, and only in our own locale.

We have a tendency to project our own “normal” backwards and forwards across time and across millions of other people’s lives, making a lot of people wrong in the process. The irony is that we refer to these relatively new practices and social rules — of which monogamy is only one — as “traditions,” and that any deviation from them is a betrayal of what’s natural. Ninety-nine percent of human existence occured before the “traditional” ways even began.

I know some people reading this have no idea where I’m going with this or why I’m picking on monogamy, but I know a lot of people out there are nodding their heads. There might be a very good reason why it’s been so damn hard to make things work the “traditional” way. What’s traditional in your culture might clash very strongly with your biological and emotional makeup.

I’ve been in relationships where I was expected never to audibly acknowledge that I find other women attractive. It was somehow wrong, offensive to my partner, to disclose this truth. Yet it’s the most basic and obvious truth of human sexuality — that we all feel desires for more than one person throughout our lives. Still, somehow, the normal perspective is that the right thing to do is to hide it from the person we are supposed to love most.

Think of how many people have suffered the most miserable ache in the heart, just because they did not accept that basic reality. If that’s normal, you may find it’s a good reason not to be normal.

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Photos by sinabeet and GulinKopec

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{ 262 Comments }

michael June 18, 2012 at 2:12 am

fucking good article.

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TimT June 18, 2012 at 10:20 pm

…fucking good article.

Or *ahem* a good fucking article?

I don’t necessarily agree either, but that’s life. Can’t resist a good pun though.

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Gareth April 25, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Fucking awesome title!! I bet this post has the highest click through rate on your blog

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a lion September 8, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Or a “fucking good fucking article”.

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kay September 30, 2013 at 3:52 am

I believe people do not know the art of love. Maybe because it is hidden part of society. Shame on you! There is a lot of people who have sex but do not know how to make love. Where would they learn if it is not shown in everyday circumstances? Everyone explores to learn about something they are passionate about. I believe sex is natural, the parts of our body and senses are there for a reason. Yes I firmly believe romance and pleasure. But I also believe, for everything there is a limit.

Karen June 18, 2012 at 2:51 am

I did hear not so long ago that some Pacific nations (was it Samoa?) historically had a matriarchal system with regards to land ownership, they hand down the land through the maternal side, through the women. The reasoning that not everyone in a tribal society can prove who their father is but of course they know who the mother is. So it stays in the family. An interesting and clever system if that’s true.
I like your article. It resonated. I think you can love more than one person. It’s society that makes it wrong, makes it go underground. Unhealthy. But I think there were arguments,jealousies and fights around relationships even in the tribes of old!

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David June 18, 2012 at 7:13 am

>I think you can love more than one person. It’s society that makes it wrong, makes it go underground. Unhealthy. But I think there were arguments,jealousies and fights around relationships even in the tribes of old!

That was on point I didn’t explicitly touch on: it’s common to believe that you can’t love more than one person.

There were definitely arguments and jealousies as long as we’ve had brains. Jealousy is the fear of loss, and fear is a lot older than humans. But I think our jealousy today is highly conditioned. We are taught that love means a pair bond, and when another person tries to get too close to one of the pair, fights should happen.

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Alan November 12, 2013 at 4:43 am

Interesting article, David, very thought-provoking. Just want to point out that “fights should happen” is not only the expectation of a likely outcome from the couple but also the third. True that everyone is taught that love means a pair bond. Which is why when that third person comes in, they know fully well what they are doing is attacking and breaking a relationship. Meanwhile one of the pair will probably try defend the relationship. Regardless of whether monogamy is a relatively recent concept or not, in this modern framework when the third person comes in, everyone knows that one will win and one will lose, which forms the incentive to fight.

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Alan November 12, 2013 at 4:44 am

Interesting article, David, very thought-provoking. Just want to point out that “fights should happen” is not only the expectation of a likely outcome from the couple but also the third. True that everyone is taught that love means a pair bond. Which is why when that third person comes in, they know fully well what they are doing is attacking and breaking a relationship. Meanwhile one of the pair will probably try defend the relationship. Regardless of whether monogamy is a relatively recent concept or not, in this modern framework when the third person comes in, everyone knows that one will win and one will lose, which forms the incentive to fight.

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Vilx- June 18, 2012 at 2:52 am

Here’s the first thing that came to my mind: do you think those ancient people had love like we know it? I mean the love between two people, who wish to be together for the rest of their lives?

Back then, when all were wanderers, the death rates were also devastating. Accidents, diseases, wild animals – humans were practically unprotected. A 30 years old man would be the tribe’s elder; most didn’t make it that far. So rampant sex wasn’t just for fun – constant procreation was absolutely necessary for survival. And also, with the high possibility that anyone could die anytime, I doubt that people formed very tight attachments to each other. To the tribe, yes, but not to any single person. If attachments as tight as love that we know today would have existed, the humanity would have mourned itself out of existence.

Yes, times change, traditions change, cultures change, and sometimes very fast. And maybe there is something in monogamy that wasn’t applicable to the society 5000 years ago, but which is relevant today?

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Vilx- June 18, 2012 at 7:13 am

And another idea – back then there was little of the way of ethics, religion, etc. Killing other people (enemies) was considered a norm, as was stealing from them, etc. Many things that you (David) yourself describe as undesirable in your blog were not thought to be such back then. Only through centuries of collective experience have we begun to make sense of this most ridiculous animal. We have found that many of our inborn impulses (anger, hate, fear, etc) are actually not beneficial to us in the long run – or at least should be handled carefully. I do think that there is something of that too in monogamy. It’s not just trying to control bloodlines. Maybe it was at some point. But today it’s also about not hurting the people you love, and showing them that you care about them.

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David June 18, 2012 at 7:29 am

Again, I think you are projecting the Hobbesian view on our ancestors.

There wouldn’t be much to gain from fighting other humans before the advent of wealth. The population was small and the world was huge. There was certainly enough food and shelter to be found, and nomads would just move on if they were in a place where it was scarce.

I think culturally enforced monogamy is more likely to create heartbreak and unrealistic attachments than a culture in which it is accepted that people may express love to multiple people.

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Steve November 14, 2012 at 4:08 am

Before the advent of wealth? Since when has wealth not existed? Also, if you read any Pinker, I think he pretty clearly demonstrates the false notion of the ‘noble savage’

Dave September 30, 2013 at 3:17 am

I love you Dave, you are sexy and its your blog.

David June 18, 2012 at 7:21 am

I think the deadliness of prehistoric human life has been overstated, and what you describe resembles Hobbes’ outdated notions. Ryan devotes and entire chapter in his book to explaining how the “old age” mark of prehistoric people became erroneously supposed to be about 30. It is likely many of them lived in to their 60s or older. It is also thought now that life expectancy went down with the advent of agriculture, as we began to eat a smaller variety of foods, and disease and war became much greater risks.

But even so, there is no reason to believe that a person can’t form attachments to someone even if they don’t live past 30.

Also, that we only have sex for procreation doesn’t make sense. For one thing, human women are receptive to sex throughout their cycles, while many other species won’t bother unless they are ovulating, because their only purpose for doing it is to get pregnant. We also take far longer to do it that is actually necessary for impregnation. Clearly we do not only have sex to get pregnant.

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Vilx- June 18, 2012 at 7:53 am

I never said that sex was only for procreation. I apologize if I implied it, for it was certainly not my intention.

Anyhow, you might be right about the deadliness being overstated. It’s hard if not impossible to say today what it was like back then.

Still… the question remains: as you have so aptly noted yourself, many of our inborn emotions/impulses are geared for survival in prehistoric environments, and are little relevant today (if not even harmful). Is polygamy still relevant in todays world?

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Derek October 11, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I think we’ve learned in recent years that trying to fight hundreds of thousands of years of evolution is a hard, if not impossible goal.

The point is not to argue for polygamy but rather to make clear that monogamy may not be as natural to us as we’ve been led to believe and so to de-stigmatize the issues surrounding non-monogamy.

If being monogamish leads to happier lives and better, longer marriages I think one can argue it’s very very relevant.

Ultimately though I think we’re moving beyond a one size fits all monogamy or nothing view into a more open approach to life, love and sexuality.

ChickPea October 13, 2012 at 9:08 am

I think that most people conflate life span with life expectancy.
The human life span seems to be typically around 70-80 years- not far from the biblical “three score and ten”. But life expectancy is very variable. Life expectancy at birth in a modern Western country is in the 80-85 range. But in some other countries where infant and child mortality are high, and where war and disease are prevalent, it can be as low as 30. That *doesn’t* mean everyone dies before 30! It means that *on average*, you’ll make 30- but the large numbers who die before 5 distort the meaning of that figure. If you have four people born on the same day, and three of them die at 5, the fourth needs to reach 105 to give an average of 30!

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jaengus August 26, 2013 at 2:37 pm

though i try no to be “hobbesian” i try no to give into the ideal of the noble savage either. if you read some of jared diamond, you’ll see that “traditional” societies are actually extremely brutal. in scuffles between tribes up to 1/3 of the male popluation will be killed. these wars are not in response to modernization or a result of colonization like many seemingly unpleasant aspects of aboriginal life- they are looong standing practices. this isn’t a judgment call, its just fact. long before agriculture there was war, and often the war doesn’t have a rational (to a westerner at least) rationale.
to say wealth accumulation is the origin of violence is extremely simplistic. not everything can be broken down materialistically.

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David June 18, 2012 at 6:22 pm

>Still… the question remains: as you have so aptly noted yourself, many of our inborn emotions/impulses are geared for survival in prehistoric environments, and are little relevant today (if not even harmful). Is polygamy still relevant in todays world?

I think we should make it clear that “polygamy” refers to marrying more than one person, and being non-monogamous definitely does not necessarily mean being polygamous. Polygamy also tends to have religious and misogynistic connotations, both of which have plagued monogamy too.

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whatever August 30, 2012 at 2:05 am

Infant mortality is what changed in modern times and has skewed the averages to make it look like we are living longer.

And actually, polygamy refers to one man marrying more than one woman. The rare analog of one woman marrying several men is called polyandry.

You really need to read more on this subject. Ryan is kind of a crank. There’s a lot of good evolutionary psych on the subject of human sexuality, but you need to take male preferences out of the argument to get past anthropomorphizing and start interpreting things from the perspective of what our DNA “wants”, not what men want. Freud is over, my friend.

Because that’s how it works: whatever makes the most copies wins. Even just a few tiny percentage points of advantage will quickly displace all other options in the pool. It’s a fencing match negotiation between people whose evolutionary strategies differ. Male and female reproductive strategies are just not the same. It’s a numbers game.

And the fact is that females who can direct male resources toward THEIR offspring, rather than toward this fictional “group care” arrangement (that has never existed anywhere), have better success.

For instance, even today, rare as it is, step-children are far more often killed by their new fathers than natural children are.

Ryan’s thesis is really just 60′s-era “free love” all over again. And we know how that turned out. Women rapidly got over it because they got stuck with the check, i.e. higher rates of STD infection than men, single-parenthood, etc.

Men tend to viscerally hate this because, theoretically, they can sire hundreds of offspring. But humans have a ridiculously long developmental period because we are born too soon (expanding craniums, limited birth canal space).

So, children that have two parents fare far better in the long run, explaining why men settle down at all and also why they tend to be on the lookout for low-investment sex on the side.

Women, on the other hand, are incentivized to tie up a good provider and cheat with a fit male to get better genetics for her relatively few offspring.

Guess all this is why we invented ethics…

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Greg October 11, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Actually, polygamy refers to multiple spouses and it’s gender-neutral. Polygyny refers to one man, multiple wives, while polyandry refers to one woman, multiple husbands. (Look it up.)

Beyond this, you make a lot of assumptions here that are convenient to your conclusions but aren’t necessarily true. For instance, why do you think that pre-historic humans assumed that a child could only be fathered by one man instead of multiple men? Many tribal cultures believe the opposite: that a child can be fathered by the sperm of multiple men, and that the child that results from multiple mating with different men is stronger because of it, both because different sperm contribute different qualities and because the child is born to several fathers, not just one, which makes multiple men responsible for child-rearing instead of one. In fact, that belief is much more conducive to a child’s survival than the one-father perspective, because when the child’s one father dies, the mother and child are without a male helper and supporter.

This leads to the next insight: if a child fares better with two parents, he or she fares even better with three, four or more parents, no? Which makes a pretty compelling case for why pre-historic sexuality would gravitate toward a more free-wheeling sexuality, like bonobo culture. It promotes survivability (and not just for child-rearing reasons).

Ethics? About consensual sexual practices? Anyone not ignorant about the huge range of sexual practices in human cultures couldn’t make such a statement. Your twenty-first century prudishness is showing.

Suzanne October 21, 2012 at 9:21 pm

I think the poly that should be used is polyamorous…that one person can love more than just another person. But I’ve yet to see that ever work successfully: when a man loves many women, one or more of the women will want exclusivity. And a woman loving more than one man could end up being stoned to death. Men share even less easily than women do. It might just be society supporting this environment because men have usually made the rules from the very beginning.

Mim Chapman June 8, 2013 at 10:32 pm

This was a great article, and I’ve enjoyed the discussion. My response is specifically to Suzanne’s comment that she’s never seen polyamory work. You might want to look on lovemore.com for lots of pictures and info about people in Loving More, the poly nonprofit organization – full of people like me who really are living happy, polyamorous lives! Or you might look at uupa.org, Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness to see actual sermons about polyamory – one of which I delivered at the UU church in Anchorage, Alaska, hardly the most liberal city…but the sermon was enthusiastically received. If you want to see examples of how poly works, check out my book, “What Does Polyamory Look Like?” on amazon, hard copy or ebook.

So yes, we DO exist, and we have the same challenges any relationship style has, but in general are as happy as bonobos!

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Jen June 20, 2012 at 11:45 am

Actually the evidence shows that humans have always had long lives- hunter gatherers often live to 60, 70, 80, and there is no reason why our ancestors wouldn’t have as well. Of course, in prehistory childhood mortality was much higher, but for those who made it through adolescence (and through childbirth for women) often lived to a very old age. the 30 year old elder cave man is a myth.

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River June 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Thanks for saying this, I was about to post that when you look at the actual archaeological evidence the whole “died young” thing falls apart.

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Torsion May 27, 2013 at 7:21 am

Precisely and there’s more to that as well, but that is true. I know several people including myself today that actually want to be in a monogamus relationship; and none of us are religious at all!!!!!! Far from it!! There are also different kinds of love and as for the whole divorce thing, well perhaps there are people that get divorces because the other partner is a complete and utter knob head and doesn’t treat the other right at all? Good Lord! There are several reasons as to why somebody could get a divorce you can’t just go by the numbers of divorce rates, perhaps you should talk to a lot more individuals about the reasons why some of them get divorced in the first place? I don’t know but I think this article has things in it yes; but there are lot of findings in it put in place, which to me and people I know that are not religious or anything of the sort doesn’t make sense with at all. Not only do we want manogamus relationships with a special somebody but we are also just as much being told that we can’t be manogamus in this article if we want to be, so when there is the mention, you can’t be gay, you can’t be this and you can’t be that, but then this person is saying we can’t be monogamus because we want to be, also basing it on religious and God fearing people and that actually is not true in at all! Yes, it could explain the whole sexuality issues people have; or at least certainly that they question it at least once in their lives, but that is sexuality and sex drive? Well that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get rid of that drive with another; especially if it’s not for the means of procreation, but you still don’t, there is such a thing called sorting yourself out you know!! Some people actually do prefer that because at least they getting actual satisfaction for themselves instead of being told that other people can satisfy them more when actually 9 times out of ten that is rarely true! Even in Marriages, masturbation happens, now that is natural, that explains to get rid of a sex drive, and there are also marriages out there where they are not totally sexless, where they are monogamus and actually do have a good sex life including sorting themselves out. I feel quite frankly that this article has been written extremely from an extremely biased point of view without actually gathering enough evidence from enough people themselves to actually prove that what’s been stated for the most part is nonsense, in the sense it’s just using certain information and then certain evidences, minusing out other real evident true parts, so the biased view can be believed it’s true.

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Seb June 18, 2012 at 5:28 am

Completely agree with June.

But beyond this there’s evidence on hereditary fidelity within relationships that suggests some people are hardwired towards committed monogamous relationships (“swan couples”) whereas others will always feel instinctively compelled towards multiple sex partners.

Perhaps evolutionary drives have favoured a balance in the tribe between the high procreation rates of the naturally promiscuous and the stability afforded by the naturally monogamous.

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Seb June 18, 2012 at 5:29 am

*Completely agree with Vilx, not June!

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Ektor June 18, 2012 at 5:49 am

hahahaahah that was so funny!! june!!! :D

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Alex Smith June 19, 2012 at 8:33 am

:D

David June 18, 2012 at 6:26 pm

>Perhaps evolutionary drives have favoured a balance in the tribe between the high procreation rates of the naturally promiscuous and the stability afforded by the naturally monogamous.

This is a good point. But if the “fierce egalitarianism” model that I’ve described here is indeed the case, then non-monogamy within a group of a hundred or so people would lend more stability to the group than monogamy would. Children in such environments would have more adults with a high emotional investment in them than if a band were composed of separate nuclear families that favor their own children over those of their neighbor.

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Seb June 19, 2012 at 4:41 am

The problem with the fierce egalitarianism model is that it is fundamentally unstable. As soon as one set of parents begins to nurture their own biological offspring more than others’, those favoured children (and genetically speaking, the parents) will have an advantage over the rest of the tribe. Everyone else in the tribe is then forced to copy the favouritism strategy in order to compete. Natural selection thrives on the “unfair” advantage – the nuclear family certainly has roots in a certain selfishness, but unfortunately in a tribal setting a little bit of selfishness goes a long way in paying genetic dividends.

As soon as humans evolved enough faculties to reliably identify their own biological offspring over others’, it would seem inevitable that something like nuclear families – and by extension monogamous pairings – would be the most logical outcome. As is the case in modern human societies. The fierce egalitarianism model belongs to a previous tribal evolutionary age before reliable offspring identification was a human norm. You might be interested to read about orangutans’ parenting behaviour for comparison with the primates that you do mention.

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Zuul July 20, 2012 at 10:18 am

>Natural selection thrives on the “unfair” advantage – the nuclear family certainly has roots in a certain selfishness, but unfortunately in a tribal setting a little bit of selfishness goes a long way in paying genetic dividends.

You’re assuming a nuclear family with its own distinct survival resources is possible in a hunter-gatherer society. This isn’t how they work. While status may be collected–beads, clothing, tools–food is shared because it takes the entire community to gather it. For such a nuclear family that bestows more food on their own offspring than anyone else to exist, they would first have to be tolerated by the community. Since the community itself isn’t benefiting from one family keeping food to themselves and not sharing equally, this is generally not tolerated in hunter-gatherer societies. There are complex social arrangements and traditions in place to avoid such hoarding.

We don’t have to theorize on this, BTW. There are extant hunter-gatherer cultures in the world today and we also have written accounts of the social mores of historical aboriginal peoples that weren’t agricultural.

Selfishness and keeping resources necessary for survival to yourself is one of the gravest crimes in a hunter-gatherer society and is a fine way to become an outcast. A family intent on behaving this way would have to live on its own and then lose all the benefits of the larger group, thus reducing the survival odds of their own offspring.

whatever August 30, 2012 at 2:14 am

Actually, Zuul, there’s abundant evidence that subsistence cultures and other primates do not “share equally”.

In many (most?) hunter-gatherer cultures, men eat most of the meat, sharing it amongst the hunters, not the families. And even chimpanzees trade meat for sex.

Resources are resources and all animals use them to their own advantage. Humans are better at sharing than most, but even a cursory look at American political debate shows how deep is the resentment at having to share even ill-gotten gains.

Crystal June 18, 2012 at 5:38 am

I personally think this post speaks to what many of us already know intuitively. Fantastic post, plan to share it.

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Ektor June 18, 2012 at 5:47 am

There’s a whole spectrum of relational behavior even in hunters gathers societies. They can range from totally monogamous couples with laws and rules against extramarital sex, to strange monogamous life after marriage with rules that wanted you to have sex with the whole tribe if you wanted than to get married, to even societies where married individuals could have sex with anyone else but women could not cook for anyone but their husbands and men could not hunt for anyone but their wives or, during cerimonies, the tribe as a whole.

I think that human nature is fare more complex than we’d sometime like it to be. We cannot say that people is totally monogamous or totally polygamous, there are many drives in each of us, some of which may seem even contrary to some other but they are there to keep balance in us, i think that the real problem is not monogamy in itself, it is the fact we dont want to accept we are highly ambiguous and controversial beings and we always try to categorize the absolute truth about our own lifes. So the point is not if we are monogamous or polygamous but how we make those two (and many others) drives meet and keep an equilibrium in our whole personality, as individuals an as the whole species.

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David June 18, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Awesome comment, really well put Ektor.

>i think that the real problem is not monogamy in itself, it is the fact we dont want to accept we are highly ambiguous and controversial beings and we always try to categorize the absolute truth about our own lifes. So the point is not if we are monogamous or polygamous but how we make those two (and many others) drives meet and keep an equilibrium in our whole personality, as individuals an as the whole species.

I agree and I hope that people do not take this post as flatly anti-monogamy/pro-nonmonogamy. I just want to have us take a second look at something that most of us have always accepted as the way things just ARE. My second look is showing me that monogamy often comes with a lot of irrational beliefs (that two people can expect to remain ideal partners for each other even as decades pass and they become different people; that falling in love with one person means falling out of love with another; that one’s partner does not fantasize about anyone else, or at least should never say so; that there is someone out there who will be everything to you; et cetera).

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Recovering Entrepreneur June 18, 2012 at 6:24 am

Firstly I look forward to your new posts. Great blog with some interesting articles.

I agree with the post completely regarding our past and the use of religion as a form of control. I wonder if this could form a new theory based on the first creation of religion to control the opposite sex rather than the populous as a whole. But I can’t help thinking your perspective would be different should you be a father and witness the birth of your own children, it is a life changing moment that I could not begin to describe. Also the moment I married my wife was the biggest emotional experience for me until the birth of my son and daughter. I felt a yearning to have a child two years after we were married, I had plenty of niece and nephews around me at the time but it could not fill the space that I knew was missing that only became filled when my son arrived. My wife and I were 16 & 17 when we met, I’m now nearly 30 and am still looking forward to rest of our lives together. I was in the ARMY when we met and had known my fair share of women. Sure I find other women attractive still but the thought of actually having sex with other people does not do it me to be honest. I cant be the only man out there that feels this way.

I’m pretty sure I don’t live by social norms and am considered eccentric by most people that know me, however I could not for a second imagine living a life without having the love that comes from such a bond that my wife and I share along with out children.

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David June 18, 2012 at 6:42 pm

For sure, all of our perspectives would be different if we had different experiences.

I can’t really believe that the emotional parental closeness you describe is necessarily exclusive to married or monogamous people. Neither you or I could know what it would be like to be an adult raising children in a strongly interrelated band of eighty people, who have all known each other their whole lives. I think it is a mistake to imagine that modern monogamy offers certain heights of emotion that non-monogamy (past or present) doesn’t.

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Carolyn June 21, 2012 at 2:11 am

I think, David, that you missed Recovering Entrepreneur’s point – that there are, in fact, some things that we would lose out on if we were to revert back to non-monogamous ways. Namely: feeling the bond held with another human being for 70 or 80 years. Allowing an intimate bond to grow and transform over those years into something completely new and even more complex.

Im only 23, so I can’t say that I know how that feels. But I do think that we have evolved as a species to find a more fulfilling experience intellectually/emotionally when we stay loyal to one person. Sure, we may find a physical attraction to another, but this is only on a shallow surface level – to procreate. Human beings have emotionally evolved to be able to love – what no other species can do. This, to me, is what keeps us thriving monogamously.

Plus, I’d be damned if our caved ancestors didn’t give a flying fuck who their own genetic offspring was.

On another note, also think we don’t have the capacity to be emotionally close to more than one person. We want to find importance and meaning in another and provide that for the other. I could never imagine myself ever being capable of spreading myself that thin across 10 or so dudes. lol. I know you were talking about sex, but, bottom line is, humans aren’t just about sex and survival anymore. We have expanded and are reaching for more, just like that psychological pyramid of base-needs illustrates. Anyway, just my two sense. : )

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Recovering Entrepreneur June 18, 2012 at 6:49 am

Sorry… meant with OUR children.

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Katie June 18, 2012 at 7:15 am

I agree with all of the observations in your article. But the question remains, if monogamy is our hard-wired norm, why is infedelity so shatteringly painful to our emotions and personal security? I really appreciate Recovering Entrepreneur’s response about the love between a modern man and woman. The fantasy of sex with other partners and the actual act are incredibly different on an emotional scale. It is a fact that any person, male or female, who has multiple sex partners feels less and less secure in self as time passes. They are seeking closeness with another human, not sexual release. Spreading such intimacy and emotions around to many others who in turn do not hold them sacred leaves one feeling thin, used and worthless. This is such a complex issue and I honestly don’t know why our emotions have become so entangled. The evolutionary facts you have cited seem correct in that we began as “promiscuous” and had no qualms about the behavior, rather, we flourished inside it. But it cannot be denied that such behavior now is damaging and painful, violating and shattering to our worth, more than it is just some misdirected desire to know which children are ours.

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David June 18, 2012 at 6:51 pm

I’m guessing you meant “if non-monogamy is our hardwired norm”.

I think it’s important to avoid the term “hard-wired” when we’re talking about human behavior (even though I know I’ve used it before) because it implies that there is a right and wrong behavior, in the view of our genes. Our genes can incline us, and predispose us, and make one behavior more rewarding than another, but they can’t really tell us what is right. Nowhere did I say monogamy is wrong or that it doesn’t necessarily work.

>It is a fact that any person, male or female, who has multiple sex partners feels less and less secure in self as time passes. They are seeking closeness with another human, not sexual release.

This is way too broad a generalization, even for me :) It is definitely no fact, it’s a preconception. Why do you presume that only one person can hold someone sacred, or that on person can only hold one other person sacred?

>But it cannot be denied that such behavior now is damaging and painful, violating and shattering to our worth, more than it is just some misdirected desire to know which children are ours.

Sure it can be denied that having multiple sex partners is necessarily damaging, shattering behavior. I am denying it right now and I’m not alone. Cheating, hiding, and deception *are* almost invariably behaviors that cause suffering to others, and by all accounts on both sides, much more of that happens in monogamous relationships than in open ones.

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Ektor June 19, 2012 at 4:22 am

I totally quote David here. It is not the fact of having multiple sex partners or multiple lovers that makes people suffer today. It is a matter of how is done something.
It IS possible to love more than one person (if you love yourself) as it IS natural to have always some kind of felt preference. This kind of preference is like Attention, you can only direct it to one thing at a time but you can move its focus so quickly and smoothly that in fact you will give attention to more than one thing in a lapse of time. In alternative you can direct it to nothing/none, with the end result of giving it to everything/everyone.

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Katie June 18, 2012 at 7:23 am

As an after thought, I think the subject of pornography would go hand-in-hand with this thought line. It’s use is so wide spread these days and almost acceptable as “just something [men] do”, yet it can damage the core foundation of trust and security inside of a love-relationship. So it seems it’s not just the act itself that can destruct but even the idea of your partner desiring another body other than yours can crack our internal layers of self-worth and security. A stranger in a video. A face you’ll never see again. We are quite fragile. Is it just our ego with its constant attachments and fear of loss, or something deeper maybe in the vein of spiritual evolution?

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Katie June 18, 2012 at 8:22 am

I real want to understand this. I believe if the answer to this perplexing problem was available, much of human suffering could be eliminated. That’s how big and important this issue is for our individual and societal happiness.

Perhaps vulnerability comes into play. Perhaps we are emotionally evolving to be truly vulnerable and share that part of ourselves with another human. And in that sharing, a deeper love is created that pre-modern humans could not reach inside of their interpersonal relationships. Maybe simple gratification was the goal at that time and we are evolving to set down the self-ness to attain selflessness by valuing our partner’s feelings and security needs above our own with the reward of true intimacy.

We went from a close-knit social group where individualism was a dangerous notion (in terms of survival) to a society where individualism meant success & surplus for one’s own nuclear unit, to individuals capable of reaching out past themselves to care more about others than self yet still inside the idea of a highly individual security. That is a powerful notion. Inside this idea, monogamous sexual relationships with your partner express that you care so much for the other person you are willing to forgo your own selfish sexual desires. Monogamy is an expression of deep reverence, respect and caring for someone other than yourself with the end result of a closeness and sharing not available on any other level, by any other means, inside any other species. Sexual stepping outside of this bond may not be the terrible “crime” as it is seen today, but it prevents reaching the higher levels of human intimacy that are so beautiful. Signs of our higher intelligence and higher spiritual awakening. Perhaps an ease of monogamy (those that have no desire to share that part of themselves with anyone other than their one chosen partner) is a sign of our emotional evolution. Sadly, such individuals are very difficult to find.

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nicole June 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm

“Perhaps so many still conclude that sexual monogamy is characteristic of our species’ evolutionary past, despite the clear messages inscribed in every man’s body and appetites, because this is what they *expect* and *hope* to find there.” ~Sex at Dawn

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David June 19, 2012 at 7:15 am

>Inside this idea, monogamous sexual relationships with your partner express that you care so much for the other person you are willing to forgo your own selfish sexual desires.

Do they? Relationships vary from person to person, but we have all seen co-dependence, possessiveness, selfishness and all other sorts of immature and unloving behavior from people in monogamous relationships. The quality of a relationship does not depend on its “type” but the maturity of the people involved.

>Sexual stepping outside of this bond may not be the terrible “crime” as it is seen today, but it prevents reaching the higher levels of human intimacy that are so beautiful. Signs of our higher intelligence and higher spiritual awakening.

This is a massive assumption, but you’re free to continue making it. One attitude I keep running into is that loving more than one person means your love is diluted somehow — that love is a finite resource and that the heights of caring are only available to those who keep a certain emotional distance from all but one of the people around them. I think this is a huge mistake. When a mother has a second child, does it mean she must love the first one less? Does the mother of a single child have access to feelings of devotion and closeness that the mother of two can no longer know? Why would romantic love be different in this regard?

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Karen J October 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Well put, David.
That Love is somehow a “zero-sum game” – that it’s a *finite* resource – is another one of the so-entrenched-we-don’t-question-it Assumptions that pervade this topic.

Sara April 7, 2013 at 10:42 pm

Katie, your theory is absolutely beautiful. My heart aches a little bit imagining love like that.

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David June 18, 2012 at 7:06 pm

I don’t know if conflating this discussion with a debate about the ethics of porn is going to make things clearer for either issue.

I think what damages relationships is dishonesty, jealousy and misrepresentation, and I think monogamy tends to set up a lot of situations that incline people towards those behaviors.

In the case of porn, I think what damages the relationship is not porn itself but the feelings of jealousy and misunderstanding it triggers, and the lying and hiding men engage in so that they don’t upset the relationship. Seeing your partner become aroused by someone else is disturbing to anyone who has not emotionally accepted the fact that human beings have sexual desires for multiple people. I am realizing that most of us who have grown up in a monogamous society have not confronted this basic, obvious fact.

I’m just doing it now — imagining my partner with someone else and examining what feelings come up. It’s really interesting and liberating, but also scary. I think it is healthier to confront jealousy in ourselves, rather than attempt to control the people around us so that they do not trigger it.

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Katie July 2, 2012 at 7:36 pm

I appreciate the idealism behind what you are trying to say regarding monogamy, I really do. The world you describe is a beautiful one lacking the jealousy and hurt we see day after day caused by something as natural as our sexual desires and behaviors. And I agree wholeheartedly that love is not a divisible substance and an individual is capable of holding many persons simultaneously inside their love (such as your example of a mother’s love for one child not diminishing her love for another). But I think the key factor that you are failing to address is not how the *individual* feels about their own monogamy, but how the *other party* feels. You have said in several ways that a person is capable of loving multiple partners, but are those partners capable of accepting this? It’s much easier to imagine myself having sex with several other men, but when I imagine my boyfriend having sex with several other women, well, the feelings are very different. I think my response is probably pretty typical. Most of the responses you posted to my comments repeat the idea of what the individual is capable of, or should be anyway…but you have altogether failed to consider the reactions of the other party; the emotional ripple in the pool of an interpersonal relationship. I again refer to the idealistic notion that things *should* work differently (it would be a beautiful way to live if everyone could reach that place of perfect self security)…but we cannot draw conclusions about what *should* be the correct reality of human experience while ignoring the actual state of things. From all the evidence we have available, monogamy seems to be the least emotionally destructive path. Even Nature seems to feel monogamy is the better choice when you consider the existence of so many destructive sexual transmitted diseases. The fact is, most all humans will experience negative emotions if their partner intimately shares their body with another. This cannot be denied. Males become red with jealousy when imagining their female mate with another man. Women feel at risk and struggle with personal security when imagining the same. These reactions are factual human responses and I am certain they are measurable inside numerous human behavioral studies. They not only pervade throughout human history, but have played significant roles in its mapping. Most likely these reactions are derivatives of the evolutionary process. Perhaps modern man becomes jealous because pre-modern man knew that a female having sexual relations with another male lowers his chance of creating an offspring with that female. Gene pool diminishment. Self-preservation. There’s the key word…self. Evolution is almost exclusively driven by an individual’s selfish desire to push their genes forward through time. I refer back to my previous comment that maybe as we evolve to a higher spiritual level and set down that self-ness, the selfish sexual desires we humans have for sex partners will be set down as well. Sexuality is an animalistic behavior. It is clearly not of the spiritual plane simply because without a physical body one is freed from gender and genitalia alike. Sex is a part of our physical life. As we spiritually evolve, we should be growing further away from a physical world reality. I believe our desires for sex will fall away with the tide. Please do not misunderstand. I do not mean it to sound as though this happens in one’s actual life time or that if you are driven by sex you are not spiritual, or not growing spiritually. Hearing it this way would be a terrible and gross misunderstanding. I refer to a larger and more collective evolution of our beautiful species. In the here-and-now we are sexual creatures and there is nothing wrong with this whatsoever. It’s natural and beautiful on many levels. But what might our relationship with sex be two hundred years from now? Two thousand? I don’t think we will freely engage in sex acts with various partners sans any negative emotional impact as your theory seems to purport. I think more likely we will simply not be as driven or satisfied by sex and will begin to set it down altogether. I do not know what will happen, but I eagerly await the experience of the blossoming of mankind.

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Shade July 17, 2012 at 1:29 pm

What I’m hearing from your post is that being sexual or wanting sex with more than one partner is specifically not spiritual. I disagree with this statement, on the grounds that sex IS a highly spiritual act. The fact that mainstream society claims monogamy is the only right way to do it is where we experience conflict. It is easier to see in a nomadic society that sex with multiple partners would be more acceptable, because you only have that group’s accepted norms to conform to, not the norms 7+ billion ppl spread over a global multi-cultural platform. Taken into consideration that a majority of our biological (and hence, psychological) evolution developed in this period, compared to the period of modern societal development (where you see an increase in institutions and thus the regulation of widely accepted behavior), I think it’s safe to say there is room for doubt on monogamy being the road to finding ultimate happiness/safety/security/enlightenment.

Monogamy is a beast in terms of modern society, as it’s founded on religious context that not everybody accepts, on top of the legal meddlings of tying yourself to another person. If we loosened our expectations of everybody finding that “one” to live up to, we may be able to focus wholly on ourselves and ALL our relationships with others, not just the sexual one, and thereby release all of humanity from the idea of owning someone or being owned by someone, which could translate to owning property, or owning wealth. This is a far reaching ideal, to be sure, but one I hope comes about sooner than later.

Another thing that monogamy implies is this style of relationship being “safer” than another one. There is a degree of safety you feel in being monogamous, mainly in the belief of ownership and securing an emotional contact you can rely on, but it’s never that simple. Attraction will always exist, the curiosity of the unknown, the disparity between what you “need” and what your partner is able to provide. Monogamy implies that in mating with one for life, you will get everything you need, but this is always too much to put on one person. So is monogamy wrong in having this expectation of fulfillment of each other, or are we wrong for having expectations of fulfillment from monogamy?

Jana June 24, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Katie, I don’t think the pornography issue is an afterthought. I think it goes hand in hand with the argument about the monogamy/polygamy evolution of social infrastructure of our species. I would support your argument that looking at strangers in a video is not only damaging to the capability to be truly intimate with a real person, but damages the women/men and their sense of worth. Not to mention the harm it does to the countless young people, children even, who are victims of the industry’s visuals that cater to an illusion of intimacy and an even bigger illusion of a harmless pastime.

I think intimacy is as complex as the number of individuals amongst us. Communication and respect is a key.

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Mike June 18, 2012 at 7:34 am

Interesting post! It’s given me a lot to think about.

“we’re still highly interested in sex” – Unless you’re asexual, like me. =)

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David June 18, 2012 at 7:07 pm

I do generalize sometimes, and I think that humans like sex is one of the safer generalizations that I’ve made. No offense intended to asexuals.

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Rosa July 10, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Hi Mike!
May I ask why you are asexual? It’s pure curiosity, I find it hard to believe that someone could *choose* not to have sex, when most people love it so much. =)

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Hayley July 16, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Rosa – asexuality isn’t a choice. It’s an identity, a a sexual orientation, just like heterosexuality, homosexuality, pansexuality, bisexuality and the like.

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The Fuddler June 18, 2012 at 8:47 am

Great article, as usual. There’s little here that hasn’t been said before about this subject but you’ve presented it in your own inimitable, informative and entertaining style (love the photo at the top of the page!).

You’ve described what’s now called “polyamory” to a T. I think it’s a shame that some folks feel compelled to slam polyamory or open relationships (is this the result of moralism or jealousy?).

As for pornography and/or erotica, that’s been around in one form or another ever since people learned how to draw on cave walls (see the ancient statuette at the top of the page). Arguments for it causing emotional damage are baseless. The thing that causes emotional anguish is alienation; sexual shame, be it of religious or other origin has crippled many peoples’ ability to relate sexually to other human beings.

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David June 18, 2012 at 7:11 pm

I always appreciate your take on things.

Polyamory is a new word, but it does suit the model of prehistoric tribes I’ve described here. It is only one of several types of the broader term “Ethical non-monogamy.”

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the animosity towards non-monogamy. We are heavily emotionally invested in it as a society.

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Mark Steele June 18, 2012 at 9:23 am

Your article is well reasoned (as usual), tight and provocative. I’d really, really, really like to believe your view of our ancestors is right. It has a happiness, good cheer and richness that so many former theories lack!

Sadly hard facts about how people lived 10,000 years ago, and in particular how they “felt” about their lives, is wicked hard to come by. You present an interesting argument that should go on every evolutionary biology shelf, and I hope a lot of people read it. However it falls into what a doctor friend of mine calls “science with a story.” Just as our former views of caveman society, it starts from a small number of verifiable facts and weaves them into a compelling, internally consistent, argument about what life must have been like. As I said, I like your version. I hope lots of further archaeology and paleontology come along to back it up. But for now I’m going to reserve a large dose of skepticism.

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David June 18, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Yes, definitely. We can’t know what dead people were like, particularly how they felt. But we can certainly discern what is likely and what is not. This article was already too long, but I could have included another fifty or so biological and cultural traits that suggest this model makes more sense than the standard narrative about human coupling.

That’s not the point though here, to declare one model right and another wrong, it’s to question the status quo, and it’s necessary to give people reasons to do that.

I like this version too, and I try to be careful not to let its appeal influence what I think is true. I think the standard narrative often paints humans in really nasty colors, and the polyamorous model of human development does make us look better. It also means that many of the modern world’s problems are not intrinsic to our makeup, but are systematic and recent. Honestly, I think they are.

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rob June 18, 2012 at 10:13 am

Excellent and insightful post, David! The power of words and the paths they create never cease to amaze me. My tendency is to seek the deep and unifying thread of another’s train of thought through their language. Many compelling words surfaced through your post: “normal”, “hide”, and a whole series of pleasant and unpleasant terms that implied both attachment and release. The take away I see is that intense attachments lead to heightened, fear-based behaviors that further create divisiveness and alienation. And releasing behaviors (letting go) lead to easing of tensions and stimulation of connections and strengthening of group process, harmony, and peaceful coexistence. Humans certainly have the capacity to do both these behaviors. The question becomes, “How well do we choose to invoke which behavior and when?”

“Normal” is an unfortunately vague description of a widespread familiar, socially accepted behavior that mostly exhibits the avoidance of change from what others do (fear that the perceived loss will be painful and thus needing avoidance). The paradox here is that this calmness and peace humans so desire requires embracing perpetually changing circumstances. The “pain” of change we unconsciously know becomes exacerbated through clinging, isolation, hiding, attachment to “fantasies of future outcomes” and the like. These behaviors do seem to be functional in short term, limited contexts, yet at some point become so emotionally intense that the ability to choose an alternative becomes so obscure, it is essentially lost. Thus, the cascade to ownership, separation and alienation you so eloquently describe, gains momentum.

Learning happens in the journey from the known into the unknown. The pervasive misconception is that “fear of the unknown” prevents us from learning. Actually the unpleasant known is feared; something unknown can’t possibly be feared. What is feared is a thought that we can predict an unpleasant outcome based in prior experience (what is known to have happened in the past). The past is not the present nor the future; a difficult thing to remember and act upon in the face of intense emotion such as fear.

Wisdom arises when rational mind can be strong and resilient enough to hold these paradoxical narratives and courageously choose alternatives to the reflex actions based in protection from intense fearful emotions. Posts like yours elucidate these scenarios. Bravo!

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David June 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Wow, what a fantastic comment.

>The take away I see is that intense attachments lead to heightened, fear-based behaviors that further create divisiveness and alienation. And releasing behaviors (letting go) lead to easing of tensions and stimulation of connections and strengthening of group process, harmony, and peaceful coexistence. Humans certainly have the capacity to do both these behaviors. The question becomes, “How well do we choose to invoke which behavior and when?”

This is what I was trying to get at. The image of relationships I grew up with seemed in practice to lend itself to fear-based behaviors (possessiveness, fear of loss, approval-seeking, dependence, control-seeking). Long before I took a second look at relationships, I learned that attachment is the source of all suffering for humans, and the beliefs typically surrounding monogamy are frequently irrational and they epitomize and encourage attachment.

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Jun November 26, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Hi David. I’m a very immature in the context of this topic, but I’d like to voice my opinion- about your view that the attachment is the source of all suffering for humans.

If humans’ suffering all derived from this attachment, than I believe there cannot exist happiness. But because of this very reason humans illustrate happiness through the form of this very attachment that originate the source of suffering.

I think attachment is a prime source of everything that is now- our modern society.

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Matthew June 18, 2012 at 10:15 am

I think it works the other way around.

Assuming that we (you) are correct in assuming that prehistoric peoples had multiple sexual partners (and that they were following their natural tendencies in so doing), I prefer to think that our ‘collective attitude’ about monogamy has evolved from a deeper place – a preference for real intimacy and deeper spiritual connection that can only be achieved through voluntarily giving oneself to another and making a lifelong commitment. I have been the promiscuous “ladies man” type and I am on my third marriage, and I can honestly say that the most fulfilled I have ever felt in the context of a sexual relationship is the one I have with my best friend (who also happens to be my wife).

Stated another way: Chimps express their aggravation with one another by throwing their feces. I think, based on the above, I could conclude that prehistoric man may have done the same.

Does anyone else see where I’m going with this?

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Julie June 18, 2012 at 10:25 am

Matthew~ you and I were posting similar comments at the same time. I totally feel ya on this. Feel free to read my post right below yours :)

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nicole June 18, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Matthew – what makes you think real intimacy and deeper spiritual connection can only be achieved this way? i am here to tell you that i have many deeply spiritual and intimate connections, some sexual, some not, and i don’t like that you’re implying here that your connection with your best friend/wife is somehow deeper than mine because i have many, and you have one. why does love have to be like this finite resource that we horde for one person and one person only?? what would happen if parents did this with their children???

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David June 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm

We are all surrounded by examples of horrendous suffering created by monogamous relationships, and we are also surrounded by people experiencing dazzling heights of love in monogamous relationships. Your experience with your third wife certainly doesn’t it mean works across the board, just as your experience with the first two doesn’t mean it doesn’t work across the board. It’s just more evidence to consider when we’re deciding how to live.

I also question the possibility of a meaningful “lifelong commitment.” A person who makes a commitment he sees as lifelong when he is 25 is not going to be the same person as the 45 year-old who is upholding it later. If he has grown at all he will have different values, and may no longer see it as wise. Who is more foolish, the person who gets divorced when a relationship is no longer serving anyone, or the person who is believes that a commitment should never be reconsidered?

And by the way, modern humans do much worse than throw shit when they get aggravated. Perennially, the number one motive for murder in the US is domestic disputes between spouses.

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Julie June 18, 2012 at 10:22 am

Brilliant, David. I’m so grateful you contributed your gift of writing to this subject… I plan on sharing this a plenty today. It’s such a topic of conversation in my circles, and I’m sure many across the world at this point in time. Where I go in my head, though, is… what is the new way? It can’t be the recreation or return to the old. Or perhaps it can. We have evolved. The emotional landscape of our being-ness has deepened (I was really feeling this on recovering entrepreneur’s comment). It does feel that there is a new path emerging, and what touched me most deeply on your blog was the image of a whole community caring for their children and themselves as one cohesive unit. I know a trend now is the return to that grass-roots community feel and perhaps there is an evolved expression of that ancient togetherness. Perhaps the evolution we can bring to that picture is one of doing it consciously now, and because we choose to, not because we have to. Or, perhaps it really isn’t about sex, but a return to really caring for one another and having a “group intimacy” in whatever form that wants to take. Feelings of isolation are rampant… I yearn for that feeling of a tight knit community that cares deeply for one another both emotionally, and in practical terms… and perhaps I can see that extending to the physical as well.

I must say, though, that what I have experienced as far as non-monogamy goes… is that the majority of times I have felt, or any of my former partners have felt like going outside the boundaries of the relationship… it is because of something we were unwilling (whether conscious or not) to face about ourselves within the relationship. Someone else comes along that is the energetic siren to that realized growth. Choosing to go outside has always lead to pain and suffering, a dashing on the rocks. Choosing to do the work within the relationship has always lead to growth and a deepening of the intimacy. In my experience, one partner is the key to going deeper in consciousness and the evolution of the soul. It’s harder to do that at times, yes… and it does feel against the reptilian brain… but we can choose outside our reptilian-ness. We can choose for the evolution of our soul. For some, this may be polyamory or an open marriage. I know successful stories are out there, but I have yet to meet someone for whom that has truly worked. The funny thing is that, for me, I don’t particularly see a lifetime of monogamy… but I do see a lifetime commitment to doing the work in consciousness first with a singular partner, and a commitment to authentic communication with that person. Perhaps that would lead to a sexual open-ness at times, perhaps not.

Thanks for listening… :)

I appreciate your authenticity around this subject… and your courage in posting it. I believe authentic communication is the key in all this. Much love….

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David June 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm

>Where I go in my head, though, is… what is the new way? It can’t be the recreation or return to the old. Or perhaps it can. We have evolved.

This is such a huge point Julie, and I’m glad you brought it up. If the way humans lived twenty thousand years ago is the way I described, it doesn’t mean we can go back. There’s just no way to go back to hundred-person bands with no birth control and limitless foraging lands. We are inextricably tied to currency, agriculture and high population density, and the limitations that come with them.

I was careful not to prescribe a response to the points I made in this article. I just want to get us questioning what we’ve come to view as normal. For me I know that confronting jealousy is absolutely crucial to my personal development, whether or not I find non-monogamy is suitable for me on a practical level.

Loved this comment through and through. So insightful, thank you.

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Marie June 18, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I love loving people. I love developing connections with people; it is my favourite thing to do. To understand and to feel understood. I love being close with people, physically, emotionally, mentally. Touch is comforting. Sex is wonderful, but there needs to be a connection, affectionate touch, and mutual respect. There needs to be friendship, new, existing, developing, and maintaining. I have had that with many people and I feel like I could have that with many people. I’m what one might coin as a ‘serial monogamist’. I have had many wonderful relationships with people, each one teaching me something new about myself or the world. I used to believe in this idea of one true love, or soul mate. That idea has caused me a great deal of anxiety over the years and has lead to plenty of soul searching within myself instead of searching for ‘the one’. The fact is, you can make any relationship ‘work’, providing you are both two consenting adults who feel empathy and have a connection. Relationships grow over time, be they personal, family, romantic, or friendly. Romantic relationships can turn into friendships and vice versa. It all really boils down to what kind of life you’re comfortable with. Is it a conventional life you want or are you open to other possibilities?

I myself have never been in s polyamorous relationship, in fact I used to look down my nose at them quite a bit. I feel that now I am in a space where I would be open to that. I understand it a little better and I understand where my feelings come from. I don’t want to go out and sleep with as many people as possible; what I do want is to develop connections with people when the oppourtunities arise (as they arise) as there are so many wonderful people out there to love (and learn from) and only one trip around this planet. If all parties are aware and responsible (communication is key here) I see no harm. The last thing I would ever want to do is to hurt someone, but alas, as with all matters of the heart, it is all part and parcel, polyamorous or monogamous.

Isn’t that what life is all about? Relationships with those around you make life. You can experience things all you want, but truly, the experiences are better shared. Sometimes the experience is more about the people you meet, and who you’re with rather than the actual experience. I want to share my life and I want to share my love. I see this as a viable option and a path that may hurt less people in the end; to be a whole lot less confusing, heart-wrenching, and anxiety inducing as searching for the one. But if he comes along, I’m open to that too. Peace and love.

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David June 18, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Thanks Marie. I feel the same. That’s all I want too, intimate connections with a lot of people, and that usually doesn’t always mean sex. That’s what I’ve always wanted and a lot of my habitual behaviors have stood in the way of that: my cautiousness and suspicion, and also my jealousy and attachment. I want to do whatever it takes to challenge whatever conditioning prevents me from making those connections, and reforming my idea of what relationships can be is part of that.

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Marie June 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm

No it doesn’t always mean sex. A nice conversation, a date, a moment, a kiss. Just being open to another person. The cautiousness and suspicion won’t always protect you, as I’m sure you’re aware. You can be hurt at any time by anybody; people are always changing.

For me, letting go of labels may help with my attachment issues. It will be a start at least. Thanks for another lovely entry David : ) You make me think and help me grow.

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Marie June 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Thank you David. I don’t want to be afraid of the truth any longer either. It’s scary when you start to think this way at first. When I first had thoughts of other men (I Love my boyfriend and he is a wonderful, respectful, true friend) I felt like there was something terribly wrong with me. I felt like I was no longer deserving of any love or attention because how could I think about other men and think of leaving him, when he is so absolutely wonderful.

Nasty thoughts and feelings of self hate began to flood my entire being. I was in the worst place I have ever been in my entire life. I love him, he’s everything I want – so why do I want more? I must be a horrible person.

No. I realize now – I’m human. And this is how humans are. Forget how you think you’re supposed to act, love, and have relationships: It will do nothing but cause you pain. There is no right way, there is just what is right for you, what is honest, and what you are brave enough to begin discovering. If that’s the fulfillment you get out of being with one person over a lifetime, so be it. If it’s from letting go of your preconceptions and diving into unknown waters, so be it. Just be honest, to others and to yourself. Hurt as few people as possible along the way.

Also, just to note:
I have many friends that I have had for many years; friends I intend on having until one of us leaves this earth. Can I not get that from people I have an open relationship with as well? I think it is possible. I think the idea of one soul mate is romantic, but impossible. You can make yourself feel whole, and many other people can help you with that as well.

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Maia June 18, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Interesting post David. The thing is as some here have already said, yes we may want to feel like spreading our love (and sex) to more than one, but really most people cannot actually handle open relationships. We are naturally jealous and possessive of the ones we love. Perhaps it is conditioning, or perhaps it is our nature – it’s hard to tell. I personally couldn’t imagine sharing my partner with someone else and be fine about it and I don’t think many would be. Lots could be debated about this, but I guess everyone should do what works for them…

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David June 18, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Yes, I agree. But I do wonder how many people really can’t, and how many just aren’t interested in finding out if they can, for whatever reason.

I’ve been reading a lot of polyamory forums, and I expected to find people who were especially unaffected by jealousy, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Usually they are people who are interested in personal development and see jealousy as a major barrier in life that they can do something about. Often they began with exceptionally high levels of jealousy and tentativeness surrounding the issue. So I don’t think it’s so much a matter of who’s cut out for it and who isn’t, but who finds incentives to experiment and who doesn’t. Most of my life I regarded an open relationship as unthinkable, like most people probably do, and now I don’t.

The broader lesson for me here is that I often decide too quickly what “works” for me. For years I was extremely shy and avoided social engagements, because that’s what seemed to work for me. Only now do I realize that going with what “worked” (i.e. what I was comfortable with) meant I was missing out on so much of what is most fulfilling to me, which is social connection with other people.

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U June 21, 2012 at 8:27 am

I would disagree that people are naturally jealous. Just because some people are jealous does not mean that we are born that way. I have personally never experienced jealousy of my romantic partners… unless I feel that they have committed an act of mistrust.
When someone else notices my romantic partner or expresses interest in them, I am more proud than anything.
When my romantic partner expresses physical attraction to someone else, I usually agree with them!

To me, this is completely natural, but it may be because I am such a self-assured, confident person. I never fear “competition” from others.

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Elizabeth Bell June 18, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Paternal uncertainty = Maternal certainty.
that’s a juicy thought.
As a species, thankfully we have developed incrementally where many women today have access to most of the same rights as men, albeit hard fought. We all know that misogyny is still rampant and that violence against women still an appalling reality however, today a (white western) woman has many more choices.Who knows, in time perhaps we’ll move to acknowledge and incorporate an irrefutable truth: Maternity.
I have a girlfriend who has four children now; she consciously selects the fathers based on their brains, looks, wealth and character (humour, perspective, compassion). She now has a generous pool of extra income support, not that she needs it, being a savvy turn to gold kind of girl and happily self sufficient. A rare and precious kind of woman, this one, who is passing on her genes and her smarts and her model to her children – all of whom are fine young people. Courage.

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David June 18, 2012 at 9:44 pm

I am all for passing on smarts :)

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David June 18, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Just wanted to thank everyone for their insights here. I am fascinated by this topic and there are great points being made. I’ll do my best to respond to all new points.

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Berni June 18, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Many of our ancestors lived far shorter lives than we do, so in this current era we have the opportunity to have many different phases in our sexual life, and in truth most people do. Often younger individuals have many partners, and probably most young marrieds are monogamous–at least serially monogamous, while individuals in longer relationships might end a marriage and start another or make a different arrangement.
There is social and cultural support for serial monogamy as the nuclear family is considered to be the unit that can best provide financially for children, as opposed to expecting the ‘state’ to be involved, and these days we aren’t living in tribes but in nation states. But in our long lives staying within a monogamous relationship is simply unsatisfying for many people. It is an overly romantic notion in our highly individualized and isolated society to expect one other person to be our ‘everything’, not to mention to find someone who remains compatible sexually with us over the decades. It would be curious to know if monogamy is more supported where individuals have stronger connections to social groups and have strong friend and social attachments formed. This might both broaden support and lessen the tedium of the One Partner model, that perhaps there was little time for when people lived only a few decades.
I’ve been married 22 years and certainly I have learned things in my relationship that I would have missed had I swapped this partner for another – the depth of attachment for one. Nevertheless, this relationship is NOT the one we had when we married, and both of us have different needs & wants than we had in our 20′s. If it was not so taboo or complicated, I can imagine a more flexible marital arrangement being beneficial, and without a strong support network which has allowed great emotional support from a wide range of individuals in our lives, I suspect we wouldn’t have lasted this long with just each other for support and love.

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David June 18, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Very well said. Thanks Berni.

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Tiva Joy June 18, 2012 at 6:29 pm

I have to say, David, that I don’t always comment, but do read all your posts, and actually look forward to them. You always make me think, and I really like that.
I have been in relationships where I felt uncomfortable when the male made comments/compliments towards other women. I think that on my part, I didn’t feel secure enough with what we meant to each other, or how he really felt about me. On the flipside, with male friends, it’s different. In a REAL relationship, as friends first, I don’t think it should be hidden, but talked about and discussed openly.

I have been involved in sexual experiences with multiple male partners, but for me I think it comes down to psychological issues as to why I have participated; mixed with drugs & alcohol it was easier for me. When I’m sober, I mostly think about having one man… that soul mate that someone commented about above, but they are right, it is cause for great anxiety. Someone else commented about how too much of it makes one feel used and cheap, which I completely agree with. Those men weren’t friends, and we didn’t have that kind of friend connection.
I know someone in an open relationship, but I don’t know if he’d be good in it without all the openness. I do know that he has had occasions where he has cheated on his wife and doesn’t feel comfortable enough to tell her about it… so does it work really? Maybe for them it does.
Whatever people choose to do is not, by any means, wrong or right, but their choice in how they live their lives… and whether or not they are learning any lessons and evolving into someone they want to be.

Thanks again, David.

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David June 18, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Hi Tiva. Good to hear from you.

>I have been in relationships where I felt uncomfortable when the male made comments/compliments towards other women. I think that on my part, I didn’t feel secure enough with what we meant to each other, or how he really felt about me. On the flipside, with male friends, it’s different. In a REAL relationship, as friends first, I don’t think it should be hidden, but talked about and discussed openly.

This is the primary sticking point I have with monogamy. Why can we not be upfront about how we feel? Is it not possible to do this respectfully?

When I first started reading about the notion of open relationships, I thought the “open” part meant it’s open season to do whatever you please no matter how it affects others. But I had it completely wrong. The word “open” refers to upfrontness, not recklessness. It means being open with your partner and expecting them to be open with you, and committing to accepting truths that may be difficult at first, such as the reality that your partner is not always thinking about you, and does not desire only you. I realize now I had never quite confronted these truths emotionally, even though I can’t deny them rationally — and I think that’s where most of us are. I don’t want to be afraid of the truth any more.

Your friend who cheats on his wife does not have the same idea, obviously.

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Trish Scott June 18, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Honk if you’re a nomad and you know it. Honk!

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David June 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Honk

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Karen J October 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Honk

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lenore June 18, 2012 at 8:47 pm

this post seems like a looong and unnecessary apology for not wanting to be monogamous. it’s better stated here.
http://delicioustacos.com/2012/06/14/okcupid-poly-people/

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David June 18, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Wow, looks like you win “Most presumptuous comment” this time. I just find this topic really fascinating, and I’m not the only one. I never said I don’t want to be monogamous, but anyone who reads this blog knows that having unconventional views isn’t something I would apologize for.

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lenore June 18, 2012 at 10:16 pm

the word ‘seems’ is presumptuous? maybe so. ‘seems’ to me that being non-monoganous is like being vegan. no one even notices unless you yourself make it an issue. ‘seems’ like you wrote something about that in your “playing the v card” post? – or maybe i misunderstand.

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lenore June 18, 2012 at 10:33 pm

btw, i mean ‘apology’ as in “a defense, excuse, or justification in speech or writing, as for a cause or doctrine”
NOT “a written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another”.
perhaps that makes me a bit less presumptuous. again, maybe not.

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Don June 18, 2012 at 11:04 pm

There is a time to be non-monogamous in life – your youth. When you are young, you are good looking, sexually charged, and have little responsibility. It all goes downhill the older you get. Obviously societal norms make it difficult as well, but I think the need for ‘the rock’ becomes more important than ‘spreading the seed’. The temptation of course will always be there as ‘God’s gift’, but it becomes less and less practical the older you get – You can’t attract beautiful women, your sex drive goes down, and of course you can’t really be focused on career/family when you’re constantly thinking about the next time you’re going to bang. It becomes a choice of priorities at some point.

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David June 19, 2012 at 7:23 am

Hi Don. This is the standard view, yes. I don’t want to pick on you, but there are a lot of standard assumptions here that I think are worth questioning.

-that monogamy is necessarily more stable than any type of non-monogamy

-that non-monogamy is about “spreading your seed” (i.e. having sex with a lot of people)

-that non-monogamy is the same as being single (i.e. having no commitments to anyone)

-that monogamy is necessarily responsible and non-monogamy is necessarily irresponsible

-that non-monogamy means you aren’t yet serious about your life, that you are preoccupied with “banging” and can’t cultivate a healthy career or family

All of these impressions stem from a complete misunderstanding of how people actually go about open relationships. This is normal and I can’t blame you for it, I just wanted to identify some of the more common myths in our monogamous culture.

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Don June 20, 2012 at 1:22 am

I think by its very nature monogamy is more stable than any type of non-monogamy. Splitting your time and resources x number of ways is inherently going to cause less stability than not doing so. How would the quality of your relationship be if you split your time up between 3 people vs. 1? How can you dedicate yourself totally if you are needed by multiple people?
How can you possibly dedicate yourself to career or anything worthwhile when you’re thinking about potential future partners?

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David June 20, 2012 at 7:10 am

Time is always a limited resource and there are ways to makes things work. “Dedicating yourself totally” does not mean spending 24-7 on anyone, or anything.

>How can you possibly dedicate yourself to career or anything worthwhile when you’re thinking about potential future partners?

What? Why would “thinking about future potential partners” be something exclusive to non-monogamous people, and how is thinking about something supposed to undermine one’s career aspirations?

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Don June 20, 2012 at 9:27 pm

I think what I’ve been trying to point out, perhaps not very well, is that it comes down to priorities. Is investing precious time, money, and emotions on multiple relationships worth the extra benefit of having sex? Does each additional relationship in a non-monogamous relationship cause each individual bond to become weaker? Will emotional investment in non-monogamous relationship cause more conflict? It may worth it for some, but in my opinion it is not practical for the masses.

David June 21, 2012 at 9:30 pm

>Is investing precious time, money, and emotions on multiple relationships worth the extra benefit of having sex?

Having more sex is not necessarily the reason people want to have multiple relationships. Many people want different kinds of intellectual connection, or they want to do activities that their other partner doesn’t want to do, or they want to learn more about life and love by becoming close to people they would normally have to keep a polite distance from. Different people are looking for different things, and yes, for many it is obviously absolutely worthwhile.

>Does each additional relationship in a non-monogamous relationship cause each individual bond to become weaker?

No, and I think that’s a major myth we have to address here: that love is finite. The analogy is often made with having a second or third child. Does a second child weaken the bond with the first one? Of course not. But it does probably take more time, money and emotional energy.

It is probably not practical for the masses, no. But I’m not sure how practical monogamy has proven to be for the masses either.

Mia June 19, 2012 at 3:45 am

Great work David, lots of thoughtfulness and fearless dialogue happening here! Love the way you take the time to answer the comments too.

I think there are people who are naturally monogamous and people who are not, and the only way we’ll find our own way is to take a good open-minded look at ourselves in the light of the issues you raise. I so wish that we could stop judging and manipulating each other and ourselves.

“Monogamy often comes with a lot of irrational beliefs […] that one’s partner does not fantasize about anyone else, or at least should never say so”
I think that people have a right not to be judged for polyamory, and I may have misunderstood you here. But I still think it’s good manners not to tell a lover about your fantasies about other people, unless you’ve agreed to do so or they’ve said that they like it. I may go too far in that I wouldn’t even gush to my mom about how great another mother is, or to a student about how great another student is, unless I could see that it was productive. Yes it isn’t healthy to tip-toe around each other, but you don’t have to be a repressed puritan to avoid saying everything that’s on your mind at all times, either. Even if someone’s open-minded and tolerant, and has genuinely accepted that you are attracted to others, they’re likely to still suffer from human feelings which should be accepted and respected as much as yours. Telling a lover off-hand that you find other people attractive, unless it’s done with care as part of a serious ‘negotiation of terms’, can equally be used as a manipulative device, and seems to me more often than not done for selfish and thoughtless reasons. What do you think?

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Marie June 19, 2012 at 1:48 pm

What about if it’s not simply a matter of finding another attractive, but that you have feelings for another, care about their well being, their passions, their emotions, their path in life? You are their friend and want to be their lover as well. How do you express that to someone you already love and are in a relationship with? Or do you just try to bury those emotions and avoid them altogether? I think there may be more than just those two options.

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nicole June 19, 2012 at 4:39 pm

I dunno, I think repressing anything just fills our minds and bodies with layers and layers and layers of unchecked and undigested emotions. these feelings and emotions don’t just go away because we repress them – they accumulate and turn into embarrassment, shame, and resentment.

the happiest monogamous couples i know are the ones who are still having lots and lots of sex, and who communicate openly and honestly with one another about everything – including that they occasionally or maybe even often find other human beings attractive.

“Is there really any difference between a yes
And a no said insincerely?

Is there really much of a difference
Between being angry and pretending not to be?” ~Lao Tzu

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David June 20, 2012 at 7:14 am

Clearly there are both respectful and disrespectful ways to conduct yourself in any kind of relationship.

A “serious negotiation of terms” is something most polyamorous couples do, to avoid surprises and make sure everyone is on the same page before anything happens with anyone else. It represents an unusually frank level of communication that just strikes me as much healthier than keeping things to ourselves so as not to rock the boat.

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Alex Smith June 19, 2012 at 8:54 am

While reading this – again – excellent post, I thought about that part where you say some ancient people used to mate with any woman of the “tribe”. Doesn’t it mean that you could (accidentally or not) have sex with a very close relative? What about the problems with children birth from a cousin, brother/sister, father/daughter relation? Was this kind of problem common at that time?

Another thing that comes to my mind goes about “labeling”. It was well put by Ektor: we had (and still have) all kinds of behavior (being it sexual or not) in our society, thus labeling can lead us to mistakes, unless we don’t use it to define a “new norm”, but only to name different kinds of behavior, basically for studying purposes.

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David June 20, 2012 at 7:20 am

>Doesn’t it mean that you could (accidentally or not) have sex with a very close relative?

Yes, it does. There would have been more inbreeding and probably more birth defects as a result, as both parties are likely to carry the same recessive genes. It certainly would have been a bigger fact of life for them than for us, because of the much higher and more diverse population in our pool of potential mates.

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Lazylland June 19, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Very interesting and well-written article!

However, it seems that there is a leap from “communal tribe” to “individual property”. For an activity as communal as agriculture, land ownership would make even less sense, imho. e.g think of the maxim “These are our tribes fields, we will till them together for a better harvest”.

And there is another leap from a person deciding that he didn’t care who his offspring were to wanting to figure out exactly who would be eligible as his heir.

This is where I feel you have projected backwards from modern day settings.

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David June 20, 2012 at 7:26 am

Well all we can do is project backwards, because we’re here and not there.

I don’t see how land ownership could have been important to nomadic tribes, and I don’t see how it could be anything but crucial to farming people.

“Deciding that he didn’t care who his offspring were” is mischaracterizing it. Men would have no way of knowing, if their mates had had more than one partner. If it was common for females to have multiple partners, then the idea of a child “belonging” to a particular male wouldn’t be something they’d be able to be concerned with. Our polyamorous ancestors may not have even known that a single sex act could conceive a child. There are tribes today who believe that multiple males are required for the making of a child, and they all consider themselves a the “father” of a different aspect of that child.

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Nitya June 19, 2012 at 9:46 pm

This turned out to be an unexpectedly interesting,insightful article. I initially resisted reading it as I thought that it wasn’t aimed a my age group. How wrong I was! I found the article incredibly thought provoking and the comments were some of the highest calibre produced since I started reading your blog.
It’s difficult to make a contribution as all aspects of human sexuality appear to have been thoroughly covered already, however I could add one observation. In other primate groups I’ve observed via many of the wonderful documentaries out there, the male appears to have very little interaction with the young, whether or not they are his offspring. Perhaps this was also the case in early human societies. The females do all the nurturing individually and as a group activity. In fact , I’d go as far as to guess that this was the case until fairly recent times.

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David June 20, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Yes, in groups of chimps and bonobos males do not interact much with the young. Biologists say male parental investment is uniquely high in homo sapiens. But I think you may be right if you are implying that culture has more to do with what the family dynamic is like than biology, especially for humans. We just know that in species with “promiscuous” females, paternal uncertainty is high and so infanticide is low. Under paternal uncertainty, males don’t have a way of knowing which children are theirs and therefore can’t be a “worse” parent to children who don’t carry their genes.

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kitschculture June 20, 2012 at 3:01 am

Like another poster said, attitudes on sex vary greatly person to person. For some monogamy seems completely natural while for others it’s draconian.

Most people though do believe in monogamy in one way or another though, but because the spectrum is so wide – it’s hard to agree. My wife and I are heading towards divorce because of “infidelity” (definitions vary person to person). One reason it happened in the first place is that we we just weren’t close enough on the spectrum in terms of our beliefs. But the truth is of all the people I’ve talked to in my life on this topic, I haven’t found a single one who fell into the same part of the spectrum as me. It’s probably unreasonable to try to use that as a filter when dating. As a result, we just use societal norms. However, what results when two people disagree is the following:

1) You live by the moral standards which is the more conservative of the two, but in the long run this can lead to resentment.
2) You can try being honest about your attractions and desires, but it doesn’t work because it results in jealousy.
3) You can try to to hide it, but its discovery is a break of trust that is nearly irreparable.

As you can see, none of the choices are good. So, what do you do?

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David June 20, 2012 at 5:55 pm

You’re right, there are no easy options. I think the clear choice is number 2, because I don’t see jealousy a deal-breaker. Jealousy is something that is normal, but can be confronted, dissected and eventually overcome. I find this path really attractive because it offers a chance to confront many insecurities and accept many harsh truths. In the long run I think it’s better than the others. Dishonesty (door #3) is hard to make work. #1 could work, but it doesn’t seem like meeting halfway, it seems like the more conservative person gets their way, which can only lead to resentment on one side and entitlement on the other side.

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kitschculture June 21, 2012 at 4:35 am

Well, I’ve tried all 3 my relationship but wound up settling on number #3, because I found the first two ineffective. It worked for a little while until things just kind of unraveled. I think most people in this position wind up going with #3 with varying degrees of success.

I don’t think #2 is as easy as you make it sound, because jealousy is really powerful and can beget more jealousy. Plus, as a loving spouse I felt guilty for making my partner feel this intensely negative emotion that I saw eating away at her. Maybe I was just weak, but it was easier to hide my attractions to other women and so I chose to do that. Of course it backfired in the end, but I’m sure some men and women go through their entire lives avoiding the issue.

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David June 21, 2012 at 9:22 pm

>I don’t think #2 is as easy as you make it sound, because jealousy is really powerful and can beget more jealousy.

I think I was pretty clear that none of them can be expected to be easy. I think jealousy begets more jealousy when we heed it (i.e. when we avoid what triggers it) as opposed to looking at it and teasing out of it what we are actually afraid of. All I know is that all my life nothing has caused me more pain that being determined to avoid whatever causes me pain, if that makes sense. There is a lot of literature out there on how to work with jealousy and envy constructively

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Thedr9wningman June 20, 2012 at 10:44 am

Capitalism+private property+agriculture=monogamy+inequality+depression
Does socialism + sharing + nomadic = sexual freedom + more equality +(for lack of better terminology) enlightenment & a non-worried life?

The connections you present are momentous!

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David June 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm

I think it’s important not to reduce this all to math. Math is about certainties.

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Karen J October 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Kinda-sorta-more-or-less ~ Yes, Thedr9wningman.

How’s that for pulling the question back out of the Math construct, David?

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Gab June 20, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Hi David, very interesting article… even more interesting were the comments… I love to talk about sex… somehow there is always some polemic involved in it, smile. What I would like to add to this pool of opinions, is that it seems to me that you touched many different topics not exactly related to your hypothesis. For example… are you talking about sex? love? or social practicalities of how and why we have constructed our behavioral rules in society? All this topics are far more complex than a mix between impulses, economical factors and “who is my son”. I understand that you want to push us to think and question what seems to be established as the one and only truth. The story about the children reminds me the innocent believe that the “communist system” actually works.

What I believe for a long time, is that our behavior is mainly driven by pleasure… which means that if whatever we do suits us somehow… then, we will keep on doing it, as crazy as it might appear to others. And in that I include all sort of so call “negative” feelings… like pain, self defeat, anger, etc… we are survival animals… and in that we have not change much. Some of us adapt faster than others… and each has a different way of finding a path through life… I enjoy your swinging between one extreme and another… although I am sure you believe more in grey areas…

What are you questioning exactly?
Our willingness to follow the “norm”? The norm itself?
The believes behind our behaviours?

Sometimes my ego wants to believe I am an animal… because it suits me; what can I do?! Other times my ego feels more above all mundane stuff, in a spiritual level… which again suits me; Oh, when you find that feeling you will understand! My ego can be self-centered; I am free to do whatever I want!

monogamy, polygamy, survival, children of the tribe… different colors…

Could one prove by any means that one color is better than another?

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David June 20, 2012 at 6:01 pm

I’m not trying to argue for a particular camp here. There’s nothing black and white about this. The point is really just to re-examine anything we’ve taken for granted. There are all kinds of things I’ve taken for granted, and one of them is that serial monogamy is the only healthy, mature way to cultivate relationships. Does that answer your question?

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Gab June 25, 2012 at 8:24 am

I love to challenge things we take for granted, I totally agree with you… I guess, what I meant by “black and white” was extremely well explained by Sophistry. It had to do more about the arguments you chose to present more than the subject itself… I do understand your point. :-)

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U June 21, 2012 at 8:14 am

Congrats, no one’s been able to sum up all my ideas on monogamy so completely, AND with historical backing!
I wish it was still like this. I feel like I’ve always kind of held this idea in me where… I wouldn’t care if my partner expressed interest in someone else. I wouldn’t care if they wanted to sleep with someone else. If they asked me, if they told me, if they were HONEST with me, I don’t see why any of this is a big problem.
Jealousy is… completely foreign to me. I can’t imagine telling my partner he wasn’t allowed to think someone else is attractive, (because I do that all the time!! Loudly! and my partner would often agree with me) It’s been like this since I first discovered my own sexuality.
I feel like the ideal relationship would be one where I could just… sleep with all my friends, and we could all form our own family.
Perhaps I’m more in line with my native ancestors than most people.

Thanks for the article, it was a great read.

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David June 21, 2012 at 9:17 pm

I think fear is natural and jealousy is a particular group of fears relating to what you might lose if a particular person does something. I think the normal kind of jealousy we see and experience in relationships is highly conditioned in us, and that it is not instinctual. We are told all our lives what a partner ought to do and not do, and violations of those expectations trigger the the fear of loss in us, which manifests itself as jealousy.

I think you are an anomaly in that you don’t feel jealousy in polyamory forums most people say they do feel jealousy, or at least they did at first.

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Mac June 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm

This article is full of unfounded, down right incorrect logic. It is merely an attempt to justify an immoral act. And I don’t mean immoral by religious standards, but “cause of society’s breakdown” immoral.

Your first point that humans are highest on the food chain because of our ability to be social is incorrect. It is our ability to think that sets us apart. Yes, our ability to be social is important but it’s more importantly our ability to think. You compared us to chimps and their social structure. Why aren’t they as successful as we are? They can’t think logically.

Also you have no back up research to back up some of your ridiculous claims. They idea that society would flourish we just boned whomever and no one cared who had who’s kids is bogus. First of all, we’d be daring on incest because the second generation would not know who they were actually related to. Second, the idea of ‘everyone sharing’ is called communism. We tried that. It didn’t work. Russia collapsed. The monogamous US surpassed them.

Also look at the black community in the US, more specifically the urban black community. They have a VERY high single mother rate. The father’s go around screwing who they feel like with little regard for ‘staying true.’ The best comparison we have for studying the effects of your idea. It’s well documented that there are way more black men than white men in prisons but what is often not mentioned is the amount of black men that grew up in single parents households. It’s the fatherless men (regardless of race) that find themselves committing crimes and destroying society.

You make plenty of claims that are unfounded in any logic and in fact 100% incorrect. I’m not mad at all. I just pity the way your brain tries to find logic.

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David June 21, 2012 at 9:10 pm

lol

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Mac June 21, 2012 at 9:59 pm

If you are willing to post your opinions online you must also be willing to back up your opinions from those who oppose.

You must be able to entertain that you are incorrect regardless of whether or not you are.

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David June 22, 2012 at 7:04 am

Nope, I don’t. Anybody can post their opinion online freely, and nobody is required to entertain hysterical responses from people blaming the blacks and the commies.

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James June 21, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Hi David,

Another good post. Like reading it even if I do not agree with everything.

Hate to be pedantic, but wasn’t Hobbes arguing that stuff THREE and a half centuries ago?

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David June 21, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Yes, and it may not have been a bad argument at the time. It’s relevant because the “nasty, brutish and short” model refuses to die in popular culture, even though biologists seem to have left it behind a long time ago.

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James June 22, 2012 at 5:17 pm

From your post: “A century and a half later Hobbes is still revered for his smarts…”

Should it not read “Three and a half centuries later…”

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David June 23, 2012 at 11:40 am

Yes it should, thanks James

Don June 21, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Thinking about this further, I would argue that having multiple sexual partners has been programmed into man from the beginning – to spread his seed to ensure the survival of the species. This could compare to the ‘flight or fight’ response man has when confronted with danger. They are instinctual responses to ensure our survival, yet in today’s age are not necessarily practical.

Fight or Flight is practical when confronted by a bear. Not practical when speaking in front of large groups of people or having a discussion with an enemy. Some people adapt to these situations better than others.

Having sex with multiple women is practical to ensure our genes survive. Not as practical when trying to progress a career, family, or other endeavors. Some people adapt to monogamy better than others.

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David June 22, 2012 at 7:19 am

>Having sex with multiple women is practical to ensure our genes survive.

Having multiple partners may be practical for other reasons, depending on the people involved. I went over them in my last response so I won’t do it again, but don’t assume that non-monogamous people are simple following every impulse. In my experience they are generally a lot more thoughtful and careful about relationships than people in monogamous ones.

>Not as practical when trying to progress a career, family, or other endeavors.

This is quite a sweeping statement. As opposed to non-monogamy, there is quite a bit of evidence that monogamy is not practical for many or even most people. Most marriages end in divorce, most long-term relationships include infidelity. This is well-known to cause great harm to careers, families and other endeavors.

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Steve the Man June 21, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Studies of DNA show that our ancestors come from twice as many women as men. So this means at least 50% of men were culled from the gene pool from each generation. In a polygamous culture, women are free to go to the highest percentile men, and those few men would have sex with most of them. Perhaps this is part of the reason many modern day cultures treat polygamous women harshly. Men want their fair share. The creation of agriculture and monogamy evens things out so that most men get at least one woman, instead of a few men getting most of the women.

Did at least 50% of prehistoric men go without much sex, if any? I can’t see that making for a happy tribe. If that was the situation, most men who fantasise about a polygamous society probably wouldn’t like it in reality.

Another scenario – we could have all been having a lot of sex, but then when ovulation came around the women could have chosen the men who they fancied the most, and these men would have fathered children of multiple women.

Maybe women can shed light on how it would have been for men back then?

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David June 22, 2012 at 7:08 am

I know there was a much-shared NYT article that quoted a psychologist who said females have had more descendants than men, because men were more likely to engage in activities that would get them killed. Much of the disparity he was referring to would have occurred after the advent of agriculture, when war and seafaring became prominent realities for human life. I’m not sure where you got this 50% number. Can you source it?

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Steve the Man June 22, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Here is an article that may bring into question any scientific study

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/12/13/101213fa_fact_lehrer

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lenore June 22, 2012 at 8:56 pm
Steve the Man June 22, 2012 at 2:29 am

As for the repression of women’s sexuality, I see women playing a significant part. Women clearly see it worse to be labelled a slut by another woman than by a man. For women, I think monogamy comes down to logistics. With the advent of agriculture and money, men owned land (or had a job) and accumulated enough resources to support one woman (and a family). Women couldn’t share a man because resources were too limited. This meant men were in shorter supply. One man for each woman pretty much. There was also no more close knit tribe to share the responsibility of looking after children. So now, when a woman sleeps with multiple men, she is in effect, reducing the supply of men that other women can choose from.

Ummm… I wonder if all this repression is responsible for women’s orgasm problems? They can’t have sex with the best men anymore, so they simply don’t get turned on very much? That’s a pretty depressing idea for men. Most of us simply aren’t good enough? Oh joy.

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David June 22, 2012 at 7:11 am

Hmm…. would like to see a woman’s response to this.

In my experience women are as sexual as men.

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Steve the Man June 22, 2012 at 5:18 pm

I guess you’re an alpha male then :)

If anything that would be an alpha male reality.

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David June 23, 2012 at 11:37 am

What? Why do you say that?

U June 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm

David, this is the typical response from a “nice guy”… someone who does not have the necessary interpersonal skills in order to secure a relationship and blames women and “alpha males” for his inability to do so.

If you want to learn more about this subject just google the “nice guy” myth. This subject has been talked to death, but somehow it keeps popping up.

Steve the Man June 23, 2012 at 5:01 pm

There’s been research, albeit with primates, that females have more orgasms with higher ranking males. The greater the disparity of rank between female and male, the more likely it is for the female to orgasm during sex.

But I don’t think we can conclude anything from that one piece of research (on primates).

U June 22, 2012 at 12:21 pm

oh god. I don’t really know how to respond to this question.
I’m just going to preface this by saying that this is a generalization. Obviously, not all men are like this, but there are many, many reasons why women have orgasm problems, and none of them have to do with the man not being rich enough.
I don’t really think you understand what it’s like to live in an environment where an open display of sexuality is subject to shame. Men just don’t live in that environment the same way women do.
The worst thing you can call a woman is a slut, whore or bitch according to western society. A lot of people would simply call me those things for fun or just “joking around” in middle school and during high school and that was supposed to be acceptable because they were “just joking”. Girls who have many boyfriends or who are openly sexual are considered trash, while boys who do the same are praised. When my mother found some porn of mine in 9th grade (it was literature-porn, not even videos or pictures) she told me I was filthy and disgusting.
Women who have no sexuality are “good girls.” Women who do have a sexuality are “bad girls.” Because of this, many men think women don’t watch porn, that they don’t masturbate, and that they don’t have a strong sexual drive at all, or at least LESS of one than a man does. Not all men, but enough to be problematic.
There are a lot of historical reasons for this that I won’t go into, but a lot of it is based on this system where, as a woman, your sexual interest should be for your man and your man only (look at the covers of beauty magazines, and you’ll see what I mean. “50 ways to please your man!” “10 hot moves that he’ll love!”)
Women can’t hide from our sexuality. We DO like sex, we like it as much as men do, but when all this shame adds up, a lot of it from conditioning during your younger years, it’s no WONDER that women are uncomfortable during sex, that they don’t know what to do, what feels good, what turns them on, and ultimately how to achieve orgasm with a partner.
Our entire lives we’ve been discouraged from exploring our sexuality or having sex if wanted to be a “good girl”. When it finally comes time TO have sex, we don’t know what the hell to do or how to have a healthy sexual relationship.
Plus the issue of porn and the way porn portrays sex, but I’m not going to go into that. This comment is already too long.

I don’t know any other way to explain it. But I hope you do take my words to heart and that you look at women’s relationship with sex a little different from now on.

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Gab June 25, 2012 at 5:30 am

I like your comment “U”… I also believe that to a great extend women sexuality is usually refer as a complex one, not only because of the well known mess with hormones through the month but also for our dysfunctional and contradictory upbringing. In my personal opinion the story about “nice guys and alpha men” depend a lot on the age bracket and our personal history.

and just for the record… I also had problems with a mother that perceive sex as something that had almost a practical function only in married couples and not as a part of the well being of a human being, whether that person is in a relationship or not . I can only expect that the beauty of humans is that we have the capacity of evolving and change, to create new and better generations.

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A June 22, 2012 at 11:56 am

David, you wrote: “The point is really just to re-examine anything we’ve taken for granted. There are all kinds of things I’ve taken for granted, and one of them is that serial monogamy is the only healthy, mature way to cultivate relationships.” OK, but then, where do we go from there?
I was brought up with the belief that the only acceptable option was to have one partner, end of story. Life has taught me otherwise. Now I believe humans are not meant to be monogamous and that if you have only one partner you miss the chance of living many beautiful things, of making deep, intense connections with other human beings – the kind that make you vibrate and feel alive, if you know what I mean.
Ideally, I would like to have one “main” partner I live and have children with, and then have “side stories”. We have talked about this with my current partner, but neither of us knows how to handle this. How to handle the guilt of “cheating” on the other and the jealousy of seeing the other cheating. (Even if it is not cheating if you’re allowed to do it.)
This is the cause of much suffering for me. So if anyone has advice, feel free.

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Don June 22, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Try and use the correct head. The one between your ears instead of the one between your legs.

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A June 24, 2012 at 4:37 am

Try to be less insulting.
What matters to me is the deep connection I make with another human being, not sex.

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David June 24, 2012 at 9:58 am

There are a lot of people who live like you say you want to. Read “Opening Up” by Tristan Taormino, and google “polyamory forums” and you’ll find a ton of people to help you figure it out.

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A June 25, 2012 at 7:07 am

Thank you David. For this piece of advice, and for writing this blog :)

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Karen J July 6, 2012 at 11:11 am

“There are all kinds of things I’ve taken for granted, and one of them is that serial monogamy is the only healthy, mature way to cultivate relationships.” OK, but then, where do we go from there?”

Who knows ‘where do we go from there?’ – Who cares? – Let’s go! This is ALL ABOUT an Exploration, and there’s no way to determine in advance what one is going to Discover!

Love this post, David, and the fascinating comments, too!
thanks for putting it out in such an intelligent community!

Bright Blessings, and stay comfortable ~
That’s the whole purpose of this post, as David has explained several times already… to get us to re-examine our assumptions and expectations!
Not to try to come to some agreement, are ‘acceptable alternative – just to see and feel where our personal limits are, and possibly where they came from.

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Karen J July 6, 2012 at 11:13 am

That comment got re-ordered somehow, in the sending – take 2 to follow.

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Karen J July 6, 2012 at 11:15 am

“There are all kinds of things I’ve taken for granted, and one of them is that serial monogamy is the only healthy, mature way to cultivate relationships.” OK, but then, where do we go from there?”

Who knows ‘where do we go from there?’ – Who cares? – Let’s go! This is ALL ABOUT an Exploration, and there’s no way to determine in advance what one is going to Discover!

That’s the whole purpose of this post, as David has explained several times already… to get us to re-examine our assumptions and expectations!
Not to try to come to some agreement, or ‘acceptable alternative – just to see and feel where our personal limits are, and possibly where they came from.
~~~
Love this post, David, and the fascinating comments, too!
thanks for putting it out in such an intelligent community!

Bright Blessings, and stay comfortable ~

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lenore June 22, 2012 at 9:11 pm

a wise man once said, ” Talk is cheap.
Essential to Raptitude is the idea of experimentation. Concepts and insights can be useful and encouraging, but it is the application of those ideas that effect big improvements in one’s life. It can be very revealing (and fun) to try on a new habit or technique for a week or two (or four), and observe the results.”
would LOVE to read a blog about the experience of group sex…

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Sophistry June 24, 2012 at 2:15 am

Wonderful article! My thoughts here are also partially in response to the back-and-forth comments regarding personal experiences with & beliefs toward monogamy and non-monogamy.

I think the whole discussion of non-monogamy/polyamory is a necessary reaction to a set of societal standards that mandate a narrow range of sexual and romantic relationships. The assertions about what is expected and “normal” are certainly accurate and, of course, troubling for so many people that fail to fit those standards or do not desire them. However, it may be more fair to approach the topic on a plane that holds all sexual and romantic desires as equally valid in their own context. Asserting that humans are not “meant” for monogamy is taking a step in the direction of the cultural standards which you are resisting. I understand that this argument comes from an evolutionary standpoint and is not meant to assert a new sexual right and wrong. But all it takes to create an exclusionary sexual hierarchy (like the one we have now) is a set of principles dictating good sex/bad sex.

Today, our culture certainly takes monogamy for granted as an unavoidable facet of our human nature. You can (and are) making the same argument for non-monogamy. And yet despite these notions of biological predisposition, some people truly desire monogamy while others truly lean toward polyamory. Some people only want impersonal sexual interactions, yet others yearn for romantic intimacy sans sex of any kind. And some people desire no sex or romantic intimacy at all. These individual desires and tendencies can change by the day, month, or year(s), and they can also remain immutable for a lifetime.

The emotional anguish that people may experience in a monogamous relationship can be due to cultural standards with which one does not identify. Yet it can also be due to the failure of one partner to match the true desires of another. This can happen in any type of relationship, monogamous or not. Simply blaming that pain on the type of relationship is invalidating and not necessarily accurate in context of the situation. The best thing anyone can do is to know his/her/themself completely when it comes to sexual and romantic relationships, and to use that knowledge to inform their experiences and decisions. Evaluating one’s personal emotions and choices in the context of a vague, exclusionary sexual culture has its obvious shortcomings. There is no one mode of sexuality/romance that is the least painful, most efficient, or superior because all of those qualities are entirely subjective and governed by a person’s own desires. Expected monogamy can be just as troubling to a polyamorous person as infidelity can be to a monogamous person. Consider that when making generalizations about those types of relationships.

I strongly believe that arguments and investigations surrounding our evolutionary relationship with sex are extremely important and insightful. I simply feel they should be made with an inclusive understanding of human sexuality… Lest they invalidate the desires of others in the quest to validate their own.

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David June 24, 2012 at 10:13 am

>I think the whole discussion of non-monogamy/polyamory is a necessary reaction to a set of societal standards that mandate a narrow range of sexual and romantic relationships.

Yes, and this is what I have tried to do in this article — to question how we take monogamy for granted, and explain perhaps why we do. The idea is to explain where we are and take a second look at it, not to prescribe what we ought to do from here, beyond reflecting on why we do what we do.

The discussions in the comments follow many different threads beyond the scope of the article, and I am doing a lot of defending of non-monogamy. I don’t believe I said anywhere that non-monogamy works and that monogamy doesn’t, or that humans should be non-monogamous. I have said several times that I am non pro-non-monogamy and anti-monogamy. I am arguing for reflection and open-mindedness. I have also acknowledged that whether a relationship works depends on the people involved and not the structure of the relationship.

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Gab June 25, 2012 at 5:45 am

Smile… I perceive that you opened a pandora’s box, and in a way, an article feels always a bit short to explore such a complex matter, but I love your blog so , pleaaaaseeee keep on stirring the …. hehheehehe.

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kitschculture June 24, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Wow, do you have a blog? If so, I would definitely read it. Also, will you marry me?

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kitschculture June 24, 2012 at 5:57 pm

One interesting thing that I’m super surprised no one has brought up about polyamory – STDs. I do agree with you Dave about human nature leading us to desire multiple partners and many relationships, but there’s at least one good reason to keep those from becoming sexual. I would feel incredibly guilty if I gave my spouse an STD.

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David June 27, 2012 at 7:32 am

Use condoms?

Polyamory does not necessarily mean a lot of sex partners.

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Lauren June 26, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Great article! I love questioning the “norm” and investigating why it is we so strongly convince ourselves that any other way of living is “bad”. It definitely brings up more issues than just sex. I especially love the idea of love not being finite… that is so true! We have convinced ourselves that we can only truly love one other and that our lives must revolve around finding the one person that we can have that with. Why not open that up to finding love of different forms with many people throughout our lives? I am so appreciative of the one person that I do have that intense connection with, and I would never think he loved me less if he found another woman attractive. I think jealously is about a personal lack of self esteem, and possessiveness. I know he loves me for who I am, and I will still feel that no matter who else he has the natural urge to sleep with. ;) What is most important are the issues surrounding monogamy such as trust and loyalty… and dealing with those core issues would create a far healthier relationship (even if you choose to stay monogamous… it’s good to know why!). Rather than “society says it’s the right thing to do”, it should be a choice based on the deeper issues of who you are as a team journeying through this life together. Excellent article and the comments were definitely a fun read. ;)

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David June 27, 2012 at 7:36 am

>What is most important are the issues surrounding monogamy such as trust and loyalty… and dealing with those core issues would create a far healthier relationship (even if you choose to stay monogamous… it’s good to know why!).

Yes, exactly, thank you. I have never said polyamory is better than monogamy, but I will say that open discussion and upfrontness about feelings is better than hiding or denying those feelings. Polyamorous people know this kind of communication is a must for their arrangements to work. That level of frankness about feelings and desires might not naturally arise in monogamous relationships. I have been encouraged to hide or downplay them, in my experience, and I know I am not alone there.

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anthony June 26, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Whilst i see great value in discussing this subject, and getting a better understanding of who we really are, the premise that “how we once were informs us and therefore past practices or ways of being in some way have more intergity” This somewhat worries me, within this premise are we letting go of advances we have made in how we life ? for instance we may also acknowledge that agesism is an artificial imposition on us, and that the need for minimum ages for consenting sex between children and adults it not valad, it may be considerered as natural for a 50 year old man to want to have sex with a sexually mature 11 year old girl? So do these laws need to change maybe they do ? Perhaps we would all take a dump or a pee in the street when we felt we needed to, that’s natural reponse , we may aknowlege that violence even murder was a natural part of our community and our ways of being, a natural instinct and therefore OK. when hungry takinfood or resourses via force from those who are weaker would be OK that’s natural too ? Whilst we have left the past behind and much of what it had too offer us and far far too quickly we are also evolving our consciousness at the same time and that may and has lead to changes in the ways we live. Harking back to the past in a sentimantal way like this, where we lived in a continuous orgy may sound quite attractive but it would also perhaps come with a dimishing of quality of life as well ?

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David June 27, 2012 at 7:30 am

>“how we once were informs us and therefore past practices or ways of being in some way have more intergity”

Who said that?

You are inferring a lot that I didn’t say here. This post was meant simply to scrutinize the claim that humans are naturally monogamous, as well as scrutinize its corollary: that monogamy is necessarily more honorable or healthy than non-monogamy.

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Kylie June 28, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Gosh David, what a brilliant post. I am totally fascinated by this subject and the ideas you explore in this are completely compelling. From a felt-sense monogamy does not feel most natural to me. Although those constructed ideas of monogamy and also the way women are supposed to experience their sexuality (though there have been some great gains in recent times) are deeply ingrained. But I feel less freakish knowing that really smart, thoughtful people are asking the same questions.

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Danny June 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Hi David!
This is a thought provoking article. This has challenged a lot of concepts i had about relationships. However i have a question . Irrespective of whatever views you have on relationships and set aside all the problems that can crop up in monogamous or non- monogamous relationship , which one would do you think suits you or which one do you prefer – ra single partner or multiple partners?

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Tobi July 2, 2012 at 10:40 pm

This brings up a question…

If we’re really meant to just have all these different partners, why does it hurt so much when the person you just had sex with goes and has sex with someone else? Why do women’s brains flood with bonding chemicals for the male she just had sex with if she’s meant to go out and have sex with whoever else she wants and see that man go off and do the same thing? Why does jealousy over this sort of thing exist if it’s only natural?

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David July 3, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Well what our ancestors probably did doesn’t necessarily determine what we ought to do. What we ought to do depends on what works for us. I’m suggesting that the typical model of monogamy with its socially-acceptable jealousy might not work for a lot of people, even though culture often has us thinking it’s the only real option. Much of the time of the awful feelings that come with a partner being with someone else are because they come with lying and a betrayal of expectations about what a relationship ought to be.

Feelings of fear and insecurity are natural, and some fears are going to be related to mates and relationships. I wouldn’t say jealousy is unnatural. But our culture definitely has a large role in what we think we’re supposed to feel in different situations.

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Angela July 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Adding my two cents into the fountain already overflowing with coin.

This is such a great article. It makes me wonder if, no matter what, this kind of thing is always going to be in the background of the world. I may be stating the obvious, but I think people would be so much happier if they were allowed the sex they want with the people they want (consenting, of course).

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eclecticdeb July 10, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Such an articulate post. Unfortunately it seems (to me) that it’s just a very intelligent way to justify sleeping around, and makes you appear to be a very typical young man.

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David July 15, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Yes, it is unfortunate that you think I would bother justifying my choices to judgmental strangers in the internet.

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Poppy July 11, 2012 at 9:20 am

At first when I started to read this I thought another restless male justifying his urges with that old argument about natural instincts to spread their seed blah blah. I find that so boring and it infers to me that men are not capable of being able to think and reason. Then as I usually really like your stuff I decided to read it again the next day, an then the next! I have mostly been in monogamous relationships and the closeness and comfortableness suits my nature pretty well but this article gave me food for thought. Having recently ended my marriage (ironically partly due to infidelity) and nervously reentered the dating scene, this article was an insight me. I’d never given other options serious thought but I can feel a small shift in my view, a bit of my mind opening up. Thanks for that.

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David July 15, 2012 at 3:16 pm

What’s odd to me is how many people seem to think that I would need to write an enormous diatribe just to feel more secure about my own choices in my personal life. This article is not about me. I’m glad you did finally get the point here though that the more judgmental ones have missed: monogamy is presented to all of us as the only way to have relationships, and there aren’t a lot of good reasons to take that for granted. We can all learn so much by re-examining the status quo in every area of our lives.

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Ali Levine July 14, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Everyone wants to break free of what society has drilled in our heads, what they don’t realize is nobody sincerely wants that by breaking away from society they break away from everyone around them leaving them isolated and alone.

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Manijeh July 15, 2012 at 1:50 pm

It was a really good article,can I translate it in Farsi and publish it on internet? Than you
Manijeh

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David July 15, 2012 at 3:08 pm

You can translate and republish it if you like as long as you credit me as the original author and you link to the original article.

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CM July 15, 2012 at 2:58 pm

I laughed at many points in your article – it’s informative. For example, I didn’t know that Hobbes was the problem…

My only objection is this… to fuck – for whose pleasure – remains the question.

“Karezza” – in between sex standard and sex as tantra – focuses on the women’s fulfillment. Do it properly and you will have more sex than you could ever want. Simple, right?!

Most women are bored to death of the semen spillers. So I hope that you will delve into “quality control” in your next article :)

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David July 15, 2012 at 3:10 pm

I think mutual pleasure is obviously the point. I don’t know much about Karezza. Generally when I want to learn to do something better I read books and try things.

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Granite July 16, 2012 at 6:39 am

Practice, my man. Practice makes perfect!

You have to explore and experiment. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Make mistakes and learn from them. Then practice what works best.

btw this fits with promiscuity. Multiple partners helps the learning curve as well as ensuring genetic diversity and better offspring…

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Burner July 16, 2012 at 6:46 am

Thought it interesting that you cited the development of agrarian society as being the seminal factor in the replacement of promiscuity with monogamy, as a consequence of the development of the concept of ownership and the accumulation of wealth (originally, food hoarding). This ties the whole sexual mores discussion into the broader discussion of economic society and the pathological greed of the oligarchs. Ownership, power, sex, money. What a wonderful world we live in!

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Boo July 16, 2012 at 9:21 am

‎”The only ape that demonstrates clearly monogamous behavior is the gibbon, a highly anti-social creature that lives in small nuclear families, estranged from other gibbons by their enormous territories. They have infrequent sex and do not appear to do it for fun.”

Is it perhaps wildly subjective, and serving his conclusion, to declare that this nuclear family is anti-social, and that the large territory equals estrangement? And, “do not appear to do it for fun.”!! He certainly did away with those gibbons, an inconvenient element to his narrative.

In any event, people often equate us to animals insofar as it serves their desired conclusions. An old gambit. Apples n oranges.

And, when convenient, he’ll cite differences, “What other species grieves so helplessly for so long when they lose a relative or companion?” Etc…
…………..
Indeed, we’re the self-conscious species, and thus more aware of imminent demise. We’re complicated, for better or for worse. We tend to fear.

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Maxim July 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm

some people still think at the level of monkeys nowadays

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Gregory Alan Elliott July 17, 2012 at 8:54 am

Thanks for a wonderful post David. And believe it or not, I read through most of the comments, most of which are also good observations… And Burner’s post a few posts back, seems like words from a frustrated anarchist who wants our world set up in his/her specific way. Not going to happen. As you mentioned David, change comes fast sometimes, but I believe it only comes “when change is ready”. What can we all do about anything? Not much. But discussion and debate is better than nothing. So keep up these lovely informative challenging posts, and suggest readers also read the comments AND comment as well. I’m pasting one of your comments from above as I think it’s worth repeating:

“Clearly there are both respectful and disrespectful ways to conduct yourself in any kind of relationship. A “serious negotiation of terms” is something most polyamorous couples do, to avoid surprises and make sure everyone is on the same page before anything happens with anyone else. It represents an unusually frank level of communication that just strikes me as much healthier than keeping things to ourselves so as not to rock the boat.”

I’d suggest ALL relationships should begin with a “serious negotiation of terms”… AND we should revisit them on a regular basis for any necessary renegotiation. People like to pretend they’re so busy with “life” that they don’t have time for these kind of relationship discussions… This is just an excuse to avoid their true feelings and needs. Most people are emotionally and mentally lazy. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with others.

“Honesty is the best poetry.” ~ Gregory Alan Elliott

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Catherine July 22, 2012 at 10:17 pm

The idea of monogomy is more than just being possessive and chained to one person sexually. Being committed to one person can include so much more. Trusting another human being that is committed to protecting that union at all costs and growing together in that relationship gives a couple the confidence to know that there is another human being that they can trust with there every being.

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Aja St Clair July 25, 2012 at 1:38 am

Confessional #1: I am a woman.
#2. I am an atheist.
#3. I am in a polyamorous relationship – husband and boyfriend for 6 and 13 years, respectively.
#4. I write erotic fiction and I perform webcam shows.
#5. I am overweight/BBW/curvy/rubenesque/voluptuous/cushy *giggles*

1+2+3+4+5 = I am not loved by the masses. However, I am lucky enough to be loved by the minors and myself. I have often been asked “How can you love two men?” to which I respond “How can you love your two children.” I apologize that my parents did not teach me how to love only one, to love my G/god, and to be a “good girl.” I wonder if anything can be said to the fact that my parents are still married after 30 years together. No…I don’t apologize. I love who I am. A friend the other day compared me to a character from Futurama – Hedonism Bot – “I apologize…for nothing!” That is me to a tee.

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Whoever July 26, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Copied from Osho.

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NotForgotten July 27, 2012 at 3:30 pm

I’ll not disagree with any couple that decides jointly that more then one partner is permissible. I believe all have the right to live their life as they choose as long as other are not harmed.
However if there is an open agreement and/or even a implied common belief that fidelity is expected. Then it is the most humiliating and degrading thing to find out that was you thought were special and held that placed and activity in her/his heart only for you because you. Then publicly and or privately it is divulged that almost anyone who asks can get their turn. I’ll part with money and food and if agreed my lover, but the emotional toll from lack of respect diverts me from the absence of pain.

Once an optimistic extrovert now I am almost incapable of social behavior.
Sober anyway. Off the soapbox.
Sorry…
:)

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Michael July 28, 2012 at 4:28 pm

David, I am sick so my writing is a bit fuzzy. I also have concerns about the theory you use. Most evolutionary theory more or less is saying the same thing as you did, but the humyn experience is complex and we are not living in the same context as our ancestors. The reality that we have been doing our kinks all along, even if we hid it does not yield well to a fierce eglatarian argument, instead it goes to show that sharing or not sharing our wives with the public is not essential and that desire is contextual. Furthermore anal sex and machine sex is not something that have biological basis for. It might help us understand the root of how we get off and how we objective an sexual act, but does not yield well to eglatrian or promiscuous arguments, since the main argument is actually procreation and group emotional bonding and pleasure are interwoven and the sexual unit is not the nuclear unit but the tribe. The collective self is probably more the Self than the ego is anyways.
For those in monogamous relationships, nonmonogamy sounds glamorous and like the repression in the 50s, might create heightened tension and increase desire. If the collective approval of desire increases does not mean that our collective fulfillment will increase. Outside of monogamy exist too many possibilities to communicate the role of commitment or fulfillment, the reasons why people form these connections or what success or failure means. It is very possible for someone to find that these relational models do not bring a sense of selfworth or bonding. Its more likely that random hookups lead to relationships. I am a soft lamarkian, in so far as I believe the narratives we tell, those which are alive in culture, actually reside within our body memories, since our bodies do store memories (I would not leave this to the entric nervous system). So, the narratives of maleness or femaleness and the role this is supposed to have for our lives becomes very real when we date someone, even if we fuck other people, we want someone to generally perform this role, usually the persyn we fuck is sorta obligated. even if this is not overt ownership it functions as if.

i usually see these arguments addressed to female promiscuity and their autonomy being away from patriarchy (as expressed generally by any male sexuality?). Women who take testosterone (or male identified whatever bodied) have increased sex drive. Men have ten times the testosterone as wimmin. It is possible that the emotional bonding through the medium of sensuality is the driving force of female sexuality. This could be why stereotypically wimmin are more interested in the romance of dating than just the sex and why men are more emotionally disconnected from the circumstances of sex. maybe? Testosterone increases the visual sense and decreases the ability to smell.

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eben July 30, 2012 at 1:13 am

fear is love turned upside down…..
love fermented is jealousy…all these are just distortions of love….

and sex, like food, is the oldest impression in our consciousness …..so…

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Poma August 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm

This is very interesting and most of it are things that I’ve learned while at college and mused to myself. Before I go on I am a big supporter for monogamy. However, I do believe in a person’s ability to choose for their self what kind of life they want to live, and I believe that happiness is not a simply single solution that is a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. I feel that humans, if allowed to, can be a very diverse mixed bag of tendencies and differ with how each goes about handling them. I do agree that humans are not inherently monogamous, but we are also not inherently a lot of things that we are now. The thing is that humans are adaptable. I believe it is part of nature to cede to nurture. Everything in me is totally against a relationship that is not monogamous even though I am human and I too have urges to have sex with a lot of people. I don’t think monogamy is the round hole and humans the square peg, because humans are fluid, they can change and stick to that change if it’s what they truly want. Monogamy love is no small feat as we all know, loving one other person completely for who they are as a separate human with their own will and independence is the scariest part, but fear again is not always the rational way of approaching things today. But, if people find that they can make things work in life by not being monogamous then I don’t see what is wrong with letting them do it, but it simply is not something that I wish to be myself.

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Pete Noge August 23, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Great post, David! I really enjoyed your writing style and the facts you mentioned! People should know how things were so they will stop acting so stiffly towards sex. There is nothing wrong with enjoying it, if that is inside the limits, of course.

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michael platania August 30, 2012 at 10:04 pm

A great post. You make me want to be part of the “good old days” of hunter gatherer tribes.

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R September 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm

This article sits a little awkwardly with me as the historical, sociological and scientific fact are very general and lack full references or a critical reflection. It was certainly thought provoking and as someone who believes that liberalism must be societies ideal and indicative of true human advancement and evolutionary success, I sort of expected to agree with you from the start. But, then I thought that although I think it is great that people should be able to enjoy lots of fun guilt free sex, if we are not built for monogamy then why is it so devastating for most people when their sexual partner is not? Just wondered what you thought.

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Laura September 12, 2012 at 10:50 am

David, you just made sense of everything I’ve been thinking about re: marriage, child rearing, monogamy, and love for the past 5 years, since my son was born. I just found your blog today through a link from reddit. This article is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. Thank you for being the first person to shed light on this for me.

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Karl September 12, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Great article!
I caught one error in the text: “The notion of ownership had become became crucial for the first time.” Feel free to delete this comment, if you like.

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dsusetyo September 18, 2012 at 4:26 am

I think f*ck*ng is one thing and how we do that is one other thing.

I mean f*ck*ng is one of human basic needs as well as food and cloth and place to live. More to that, it is there as a means to keep our generation exist over time. And as being civilized creature who are equipped with feeling, emotion and reasoning, its part of the way where we can form a bond as a family and later on to community, locally then worldwide. Human being as being civilized creature do not just fuck! they made a rule that only those who are responsible and entering a marriage could “legally” fuck. This what differ us from other “animal”. This is where the difference between free-sex and responsible-sex. So although F*ck*ng is a basic need, it needs to be regulated.

And you are right about the tendency of polygamous. Basically man wants to have sex with every woman they like, and may be woman have the same perception. But again it need to be regulated because if not then we are just the same with those animal, or even worse.

So far I know no religion allows polygamy, except Islam, but limited to four. I don’t know why?

I hope this answer the question why we f*ck!

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Rick Sam October 7, 2012 at 7:04 am

Well i definitely agree with you about the old civilization but let me ask you this
If you loved a girl and she loves you back more but oneday if she f*cks another guy infront of you or you find her doing that , how would you feel , when i ask this , try to be in the situation ?
I don’t think many people will like their or her girl doing that

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Erik October 8, 2012 at 12:25 am

Most memorable part of Sex at Dawn when he says that chimps have humongous testicles, too big for any monogamous creature. Why have such big testicles if we were only supposed to have sex with one person. Ugh the social norms DISGUST me!

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Connor October 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Hey David, thanks for the great post. I found this through a link from Christopher Ryan. It’s inspired me to write a post about a need to discuss ‘the way forward’ as it were, since we obviously can’t go back to those hunter-gatherer ways, but also can’t sustain the current monogamy model. Cheers to you for the well written piece and the lively conversation.

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rob October 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Rick Sam
I take it from your comment that you’ve never read s*x at dawn and have never spoken with, or been involved yourself with the Swinging/alternative lifestyle; either as a swinging couple or as a single guy?
I’m not chastising you, or dragging you down but just trying to put this in perspective.
It would be like trying to explain the game of American Football to somebody, who has never seen a football game.
As an illustration of how this might work. John Madden will be our coach and explain the basics of football a complete football novice. You (Rick Sam) will be the guy who has never seen a football game.
JM – Ok, 11 men line up on a line of scrimmage on the football field.
RS – what’s a football field? is like a Cornfield because I saw Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner?
JM – No, no that’s baseball.
RS – so the football field is like the cornfield in Field of Dreams.
JM – forget that.
RS – done
JM – 11 line up against each other and the the offense can move until the ball is hiked.
RS – how can 11 men line up against each other, isn’t that an odd number?
JM – no, no – each side has 11 men; 11 on the offensive side and 11 on the defensive side.
RS – so, 22 men line up against each other.
JM – I guess
RS – is hiking the ball like hiking your shorts?
JM – no, no. the quarterback stands behind the center and sticks his hands under the center’s crotch.
RS – did he buy him dinner first?
JM – who, what?
RS – this quarterback guy. Sticking your hands underneath another guys crotch seems kind of intimate.

If Rick Sam had seen a football game, or slightly educated himself about Football. John Maddens explanation of football would not have been such a difficult concept to grasp. Much like if Rick Sam had read S*X at Dawn, Rick would have understood where David and Raptitude article was coming from.

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dsynfolt October 13, 2012 at 7:04 am

Great article, well written and long enough to be informative. I think you have discounted the female propensity for shiny, sparkley trinkets and ignored the motivations for agriculture prompted by alcohol. Fire may also have played role in initiating monogamish biological changes that modern civilisation’s socialisation could have later reinforced environmentally. I don’t think that just the pressures you have mentioned could have been strong enough to prompt such counter-intuitive changes, but combined with the ones I have contributed there may be enough confusing pressure and environmental distortion to result in the almost absolute indoctrination we see in different societies and cultures today.

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Ben October 15, 2012 at 4:31 am

How many infidelities could be avoided if we all talked freely about sex? Why does sex have such dirty-connotation? Why don’t we all talk freely about sex? Why don’t we celebrate sex?

Unless we really understand the sex god, people will never heal and our families will forever carry pain… and the ancestral pattern shall repeat. Every generation is granted the power to heal something in its family legacy.

http://www.facebook.com/benbelenus

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Ariana Saraha October 18, 2012 at 3:43 am

For months after reading “Sex at Dawn,” I wondered: so what do we do now? I mean, it doesn’t seem likely we’ll go back to small hunter-gatherer nomadic societies… (unless there’s a truly tremendous shake-down). And then just the other night a friend enlightened me: it’s not black and white, there aren’t only two options (agricultural, possession/property based, competitive societies vs. hunter gatherer, nomadic, shared culture). Indeed, there are infinite shades of possibility. Take, for example, the permaculture idea of well-designed, self-sustaining, multi-season, plentiful food forests. I think it’s possible that if we actually allow ourselves, – in this period of tremendous upheaval and change – to unleash human creativity, we might find a multitude of interesting and honorful solutions to some age-old problems. And yes, this spectrum of possibility and creativity certainly applies to sex and intimacy! …okay, it’s late ~ I’d love to continue to express my thoughts on the subject, but I believe I’m a little sleepy and loopy… G’night, and thanks for expressing your thoughts and sharing your passion for consciousness!

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David October 20, 2012 at 7:53 am

Going back to the way things were — however they were — is not possible now. I think it’s always going to amount to each of us as individuals trying different ways of living our personal lives. We can try on different values and different lifestyles, and do whatever works best for us in today’s world.

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Danno October 18, 2012 at 6:56 pm

“The only ape that demonstrates clearly monogamous behavior is the gibbon, a highly anti-social creature that lives in small nuclear families, estranged from other gibbons by their enormous territories. They have infrequent sex and do not appear to do it for fun.”

Some people behave the same way.

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Angie November 8, 2012 at 5:26 am

this is unbelievably well written. thank you.

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Jay November 13, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Something to be considered is covetousness. Even the base animals experience this to some degree. It is a variation of the survival instinct I believe. With human thought augmenting it, it becomes a much more dangerous and intricate entity. To conclude that prehistoric humans didn’t conflict with each other until they were able to accumulate large quantities of “wealth” is to underestimate the definition of “wealth”. Merely because they may have been far apart and there was plenty of resources is a product of that simplification that doesn’t hold up. Firstly, anyone who has had to survive in a wild environment with nothing but ancient “tech” learns very quickly that it takes an enormous amount of time and energy just providing for ones own personal needs on a daily basis. A random meeting of two individual humans would certainly contain the very real possibility that one or both would see great potential, even if transitory, in robbing/killing the other for their “wealth” i.e., another or better spear, or bow, or sling or bowl or hide or bedding or shelter or meal or woman etc.

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Kim Lianne November 20, 2012 at 8:13 am

Hey stranger :)
Thanks for a well written article on what is without a doubt a rather spicy topic. I’m glad you challenged me to read the book and to continue to ask the hard questions. I see relationships in a new light and though the examination is tough, it’s been illuminating. It’s been rewarding to explore the roots of inequality and to see the connections where I did not recognize them before. The concept of ownership and the jealousy it inspires is a familiar theme I want to rise above. It is my intention to keep my mind and heart open to love in all its forms every day. <3
*hug*

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Ana December 2, 2012 at 8:20 am

Knew it! I’ve always thought the same way and so glad to see so many people share the same thoughts. If more people could understand these basic facts, there’d probably be a lot less domestic abuse and and rape. Plus, better relationships. Thanks always for sharing your thoughts and knowledge!^^

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Bhawna December 4, 2012 at 4:55 am

Its one of the best, most holistic, and objective piece of thoughts I have come across in longest of time.

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Sophia December 17, 2012 at 7:29 am

I tried monogamy for a while, just couldn’t make it work. Somehow polyamory (open relationships) is the only thing that makes sense to me. I don’t vibe with the viewpoint that monogamy and polyamory are equally valid* or that polyamory is an “orientation” like a sexual orientation could be. I think that monogamy is a logical error, or selfishness at best. I don’t see any reason in the entire world why strict monogamy (as opposed to having one partner only because of time restraints or because you haven’t found anyone etc) makes sense except as a crutch for possessiveness issues.

Sometimes I see two people not being able to get together because of monogamy and I feel moved to say, “monogamy sucks”. Some people take offense at that. To me it’s just how it is. Monogamy stops love from flourishing except in the most rigid, constricted way. I hate it when walls are created between people for the sake of this. For what? For coddling someone’s fragile sense of security in their loveability?

We can do better than this.

*Note: valid in this case meaning sensible or logical or grounded; all choices whether sensible or not are “valid” in the sense that you have free will and dignity and that should be respected, however.

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Ante January 7, 2013 at 6:51 pm

i liked your post very much since you try to read a process in chaotic human behavior… the reactions of your readers prove a lot about our evolutionary patterns which our thoughts and attachments display in time… this may sound trapped in logic as all scientific behaviour is but ain’t it possible that the increase of monogamy – which i think has existed at all times – is just a function of population density deeply rooted in fears rising just the same… some try to calm these with the accompanying feeling of security and others seek otherwise to feel alive… to me (wo)man is still a beast hoping for relief from being near to each other… one way – the material or fetish which turns people into objects – or the other – the wild and untameable loving to roam freely and sharing this out-of-body experience with all their sometimes brutally and destructive heart… the call of the animals we have been

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Ante January 7, 2013 at 7:47 pm

now subjected to a matrix of make-believe starting with your own his-story… escaping it in total would mean an out-of-society experience where all meaning deteriorates and you are hunted down with hurting fears of those who seek to have and to hold re-establishing their confidence in emotional isolation or solitude – whatever name you want to put on monogamy – …which in turn let’s you concentrate on the modes of reproduction instead before your nervous system makes you mad with meaninglessness… so we have our ways to stay and still get away with the illusions of sexual freedom… because love allows everything for it knows the much darker paths of the unfulfilled mind… released to a maximum experience we feel when mind already has given up on soul… for hunger is as it always was… insatiable ;)

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Laura January 21, 2013 at 12:58 pm

This post and many of the comments remind me of how destructive false dichotomies can be. One such false dichotomy for me is the idea that attachment and release are necessarily at odds. In my own experience and beliefs they are not so much opposed as complementary; health lies in the balance no matter what we’re talking about: things, people, ideas.

My image of a good parent is of someone who has a deep and abiding attachment to a child and through whose strength, wisdom, and restraint that attachment is enabling rather than limiting. Such balance is what I would seek in any relationship. I realize that this is an endlessly complex act, for in relationships we are faced with finding balance not only within our ever-changing selves but between the self and the other, with each relationship among many.

I’ve known people who suffered from over-attachments. I am someone who, through some combination of nature and nurture, character and experience, has never been able to form meaningful personal attachments. Perhaps more than many, I recognize the isolation and suffering that can arise from their absence.

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Kait Copenspire January 21, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Thank you for writing an intelligent and compelling article that makes a positive case for polyamory. I have been trying to write something like this for a while, to explain my lifestyle, and the motivations behind it.

When I tried to be monogamous over the last 10 years, I always felt trapped and like I had to lie. Now being open and honest with my partner has lead to a deeper and more complete love that I wouldn’t trade the world for. I wish that everyone had the luxury of being comfortable with their true feelings and could express them to the people they love.

Good work.

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Mat January 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Great read. I can’t stand the word normal when applied to humans or behavior, everyone is different. I am russian and in that language that word “nenormalniy”, which is literally translated to “not normal”, is used as “crazy”.

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alphabetty January 29, 2013 at 10:59 pm

David I thought you raised some good points, but I also really thought Vilx- made some wonderful points as well. I was surprised you so vehemently replied to his/her points attempting to utterly reject his/ her arguments. having read a few of your other entries I see you are guilty of something you harshly criticized (sticking to your beliefs and rejecting all contradictory evidence). You are not as insightful or wise as YOU set out and so i’m done with your blog.

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David January 30, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Uh, ok. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with disagreement. Would a wiser person agree with everyone who contradicts him? I have reasons for what I believe, and I gave them, and I didn’t hear any convincing reasons for changing my beliefs this time. Obviously I didn’t always have this stance on this issue — I changed my mind to my current beliefs because they made more sense than the old ones did.

But I guess this is goodbye anyway. Goodbye.

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Dave X Robb February 14, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Another really great post — thanks.

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Mark February 17, 2013 at 9:47 pm

An interesting read. I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments above yet, so something similar may have been said, but I want to add a few points:

1. I believe that the marriage contract which was instituted by religion was quite a revolutionary concept in a positive way. The contracted was instituted in order to give rights to women. If you actually look at what is involved in the contract (in Judaism), a male has certain obligations to his wife. She has to be fed and clothed before himself and he needs to fulfill her sexually (and not the other way around). This was revolutionary in a time where society was male dominated and men could make claim to any women. Now with this contract if they wanted to take a wife they now had to commit to certain obligations.

2. You also say that the reason for monogamy was that landowners would know who their children were so that they could inherit their possessions. but it’s likely that these land owners would have had many of their own women in anycase, so in a sense this would not be monogamy, it would be monogamy for each woman but not for men. The marriage contract therefore was all the more important for women in a male dominant society.

3. Divorce rates today are very high, but in the past when we have had monogamous relationships they have been much lower. This leads me to believe it’s not marriage that is failing us, but rather society and our values that are changing and can not support the idea of committing to one other person any more. We are so obsessed with sex and fulfilling our own desires and inclinations which is what makes people want to have sex with so many other partners. Just look at the obesity rate in the US if you want proof of our need to fulfill our inclinations. Monogamy is about commitment and creating a long lasting emotional relationship with a loved one, not simply fulfilling our own physical pleasure, which is what today’s society is leading us towards.

4. Studies show that married people tend to be happier & to live longer.

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Dmigod February 18, 2013 at 11:05 am

I also remember reading evidence that evolution supports polygamy.

In tests it was shown that monogamy actually makes a species weaker in terms of immunity and life expectancy. So maybe, by making monogamy the norm we are going against nature and it is bound to kill us all?

On a second thought this maybe what nature intends for us, like theres too many humans on this planet right now and we are smart enough to fight various kinds of tools in nature’s arsenal for population control.

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marija February 19, 2013 at 7:53 am

even tough i agree with some aspects of text, i would completely disagree with some implications. one of points of disagreement is that i believe that consumerism nowadays can easily be widened to sexual behavior, and i can’t see anything progressive in that.

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Ann February 23, 2013 at 4:25 pm

In theory, I agree with much of what you have said. But in practice, perhaps due to socialization, it is much more difficult to live out. At least for me. I admit to having been attracted to more than one person at a time but I have never followed through with the attractions, mainly because I know if it were my partner engaging in multiple relationships I would be emotionally devastated. I admit that this may be my own insecurity but I know that I am not alone in that category. I think that the fear of rejection goes along with the fear of loss. The thought of caring for someone deeply and them sleeping with someone else leads to spiraling fear that the person you care for will like the new person better leaving you alone and rejected. That is hard to recover from. Additionally, as a female living in a society where females are mainly valued for how they look, it is even more difficult to recover because not everyone can retain their physical attractiveness as they age. I think it would be great to live in a society where people are free to love, however that may manifest itself, but I am not convinced it would work were it to be actualized.

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Prashanth February 27, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Similar views have been espoused in the ebook sex3.0!

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Darth Maul March 17, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Does it justify polygamy in Islam that allow a man marry at most 4 girls?

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bgefokfy April 9, 2013 at 10:44 pm

これは、ベストことができる好ましいすべてはこの地球上。

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len April 10, 2013 at 1:07 pm

funny, but i came to around the same conclusion albeit by other means.
it was somewhat related to what i refer to as “there is more grey than there is black or white”, namely that there need be no definite right or wrong.from whatever knowledge i took from quantum mechanics ( little,i admit),i have digressed and found myself doubtful of what makes right right,if not a subjective one.it just is a matter of perception, brought through by culture and your limits to being open.about the later,sadly many of us can’t seem to even handle most truths being uncertain,let alone other ideas.

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ben April 14, 2013 at 7:38 am

that was the trippiest article ive read in a long time. never thought of things like that before. Great read!

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ABC April 18, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Great job… and a truly great article
Thanks God… someone thinks like me…. For years I was thinking of writing an article like this which sums up my thoughts and ideas. But every time I sat down I felt its futile because hardly anybody would be able to appreciate it. I have been saying the same things and have only found resistance.

I would like to add the sexual deprivation is also the cause of many of the crimes, wars and the general “competition” we find ourselves forced in each day. Think on an island completely inhabited by either only females or males. Do you think anyone on the island will feel a need to fight for power, hoard up money and spend it on expensive brands?

I just wished I lived in a time and place where people didn’t believe in strangling one of their most fundamental and primitive need.

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Engin May 6, 2013 at 1:35 am

I didn’t read all of that but I will say this: Sex is one of the most overrated things in this world. It doesn’t feel good at all. What’s the deal with the fact that sexual organs are the same as urination organs? Oh, also don’t start me on the ugliness of the sexual organs! Just look at the weird shape of penis, and try not to vomit at the nastiness of the vagina.

I also believe that people who value sex so much ar among the dumbest people on Earth. Me? I have abandoned sex a while ago. I am an extremely intelligent person who values more important things in life.

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Engin May 6, 2013 at 1:35 am

I didn’t read all of that but I will say this: Sex is one of the most overrated things in this world. It doesn’t feel good at all. What’s the deal with the fact that sexual organs are the same as urination organs? Oh, also don’t start me on the ugliness of the sexual organs! Just look at the weird shape of penis, and try not to vomit at the nastiness of the vagina.

I also believe that people who value sex so much ar among the dumbest people on Earth. Me? I have abandoned sex a while ago. I am a pretty smart person who values more important things in life.

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sex kontakter May 13, 2013 at 9:08 pm

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Her kan dere arrangere sextreff og utveksle preferanser før dere møtes, på denne måten er dere
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Ingenting er forpliktende her på knull kontakt og
alt du trenger er en pc og internett.

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David Hernandez June 17, 2013 at 7:59 am

Love between two people that is deep and centered on a commitment to be together with each other forever, does not preclude the reality that you can love more than one person. It simply means that your love for this one person is strong enough to negate the need to love more than one person or to have the intimate connection with more than one person that is what sex is all about. Doesn’t seem that complicated to me. Dave

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Icanhaspornhub June 27, 2013 at 2:59 am

I apologize if some, or all, of my thoughts about this have been addressed. I do however strongly doubt anybody will probably end up reading this anyways as it’s so far down the list of comments that I guess I’m really just writing for my own ego. Damn I love me.

First off, I think there are majorly useful insights to be had from this article. However, it addresses things with a sort of middle of the road complexity and suffers somewhat from comparing apples to oranges. I do however realize that this is not a dissertation (I can barely spell the word let alone write one) and so it’s incompleteness should really not be a point of contention for letting it’s ‘smartness’ go unaddressed.

The ‘middle of the road complexity’ I speak of comes out of the fact that ,yes, it does address anthropological social structures in nomadic groups in a way that doesn’t overwhelm somebody with minutia but let’s them see a through a useful paradigm. But it does gloss over things in an attempt to reach a conclusion of an idealized world (at least in regards to sex) that probably never existed. Here’s why, cuz ain’t no man exactly like some other man, man. We unfortunately are not created equal. And this is the second most problematic thing that creates such conflict in humanity. The first is that everyone is corrupt. Period.

You wanna know why capitalism is so much better than communism? Ha, trick question, it isn’t. Nor is the opposite true or for that matter. Nor is any other social structure better than another. Frankly, they’re all quite fantabulous. Perfect in fact. Here’s the problem, we aren’t. What happens when you introduce an imperfect element into a perfect system? That’s exactly right captain genius! You get an imperfect system. And in the case of any societal structure we can create, with are most fanciest of thinking caps on, it will ultimately still be an inevitable failure; because it’ll still be crawling with ‘imperfect elements’ all over the place. Why is this relevant? Because it’s not necessary to know all the ways things could breakdown just that they will; including, but not limited too, sex.

So now that we have introduced inequality and corruption into our wonderful tribe scenario let’s take a second look:

(The names, dates, and places have been changed to protect the innocent)

Once upon a beautiful day two babies were born. And what a wonderful day it was since it was the day that Jim was born. You see Jim is a very fine specimen and grows up to be the best hunter the tribe has ever scene. Coincidentally, Bob is born on the very same day. Bob is not a fine specimen. Although he does survive childhood and makes it to adulthood, Bob is the worst hunter the tribe has ever scene. He’s also a troll. Now Bob and Jim both like Gina (actually everyone likes Gina) but Gina only likes Jim. Big surprise. In fact Jim likes Gina so much that an unofficial rule is made that if you aren’t Jim you don’t touch Gina. Gina is okay with this cuz Jim is, well, Jim. No one in the tribe likes this but Jim brings home so much bacon, literally, that it’s hard to argue with the guy. Plus Gina won’t put out for anyone else and besides it’s just one woman and there are plenty of others to go around. However, Bob forces himself on Gina one night (which I’m pretty sure would still be rape) and the next day Jim and Bob fight to the death. Jim wins. But now there’s unrest cuz of Jim’s murderous selfishness. So now a meeting is called and Jim is cast out of the group; but he’s got enough pull that several men and women, including Gina, leave with him. The rest of the tribe is extremely pissed that Jim formed his own party of tribe members and didn’t just go. Now there’s bad blood between the groups. The tribes go there separate ways but eventually after years pass they run across each others paths. Taunting and cruelty lead to battle. Jim’s tribe being smaller is eventually overcome by larger numbers and is completely destroyed. However they managed to lay a mortal blow to the remaining tribe as so many of it’s hunters are now either dead or wounded and winter is near. The group will not be able feed most of it’s members through the winter. T-Rex eats the rest of them. Shut up it’s my story!

This story revolves around sex but the reality is it could just as easily be about anything else. The 2 things that will always underpin any scenario like this is the fact of corruption and inequality. These are just as assured as death and taxes. And this is just one of a million scenarios that could play out (your write I totally should write for Game of Thrones)

I don’t think that there is anything that is inherently wrong with sharing something like sex among a large group of people. But pretty much anything that can be shared can also be exposed to rejection, abuse, misuse, jealousy, hoarding, greed, etc. etc.

Additionally, This post sort of compares apples to oranges. You can’t work from a context where everyone shares pretty much everything and then extract one element of that unconditional sharing and then to stick it into a society that practically shares nothing. This, I think, points to the poorly focused direction of this article. Sure I’m all for non-monogomy but the reality is we should also reference the fact that you and I don’t have 150 people that our lives are intimately fused with. And we don’t share much of anything else. We donate, we pay taxes, we hold bake sales but these are ways of buying into more of a faceless community than names and faces we can even say ‘hi’ to, let alone fuck.

I can think of more things to address but realistically I feel the shear amount of what I’ve already written is ample evidence of how much of a life that I don’t have. And that’s really all I wanted you to know.

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Erik July 9, 2013 at 3:15 pm

I think it’s much harder for Homo sapiens to have the sex lives of bonobos than it is for them to live monogamously. Modern man has emotional needs that bonobos apparently do not. There’s no reason to suspect that the earlier members of our species had emotional needs that were any different. Perhaps the “easiest” way for our species to live is serial monogamy, so I suspect that that is most likely how prehistorical members of our species lived. However, I’m quite sure that looking at how bonobos or chimps live is much less useful for answering the question than does looking at how modern humans live.

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elisabeth crokaerts July 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm

well done, outstanding article.. brave and to the point. i think you are right in what you write, it is impossible not to cheat someone as our mind wanders all the time and we can’t impossibly be obsessed our whole life 24 hours a day by one person…it is better to accept this reality. it would take away a lot of tensions if we share more, hide and hoard less.
I love nomadic life and believe it is better for the earth and human kind to live in that way. if we could become all so wise that we could let go of our greed then there would be more place for love in relationships with many. ofcourse it is not an easy subject, i will reflect on it, thank you very much for your article.

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tunamonkeyrock September 6, 2013 at 6:03 am

so glad you share your insights on this blog. as your awareness increases it’s easy to be isolated if you have few amongst you who want to share in that awareness. finding this blog, amongst other resources, has improved my quality of life.

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gjb September 8, 2013 at 8:51 pm

The evidence that human’s were not monogamous or not serially monogamous is questionable at best. I’m a huge evolutionary psychology fan, but it has real limitation. The fact that most apes aren’t monogamous means nothing.

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David Cain September 8, 2013 at 9:36 pm

>The fact that most apes aren’t monogamous means nothing.

Hmm. I’m not sure why you say that. If monogamy is something that’s rare in the animal kingdom, particularly among the animals most similar to humans, that seems relevant to me.

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Novak September 9, 2013 at 4:48 am

By all means, people should avoid monogamy. As much people as possible should have sex with multiple partners, as openly as possible.

Why?

Speaking as an inhabintant of a former communist state I can say that culture of sharing makes all people equal – equal in poverty (Except those people who are running the whole show, of course. They take higher standard of living for themselves as it’s available to the mases).

Common (state) ownership of means of production should in theory get people to care more for the businesses that they work for, because the ownership hasn’t been assigned to a single person. In theory the owners of factories were the citizens. So, because they were working in their own factories (to earn for themselves, not to accumulate wealth for The Man), they should work better and prosperity should abound.

Except that it didn’t work. USSR went bankupt and fell apart. Yugoslavia ended up in civil war and fell apart. The basic problem is that in conditions like these everyone prefers leaving the “improving prosperity” part to others. It is in everyone’s interest to minimize his actual effort (while presenting to others as if he/she is making an effort). To reduce expectations and gain popularity, people even obstuct and supress those people who are more enterprising (except in urgently prioritized industries, like nuclear weapons and space racing).

So if free sex becomes the norm and we get again to the conditions that men won’t know for sufficient number of children whose they are, the children will be treated worse. Every man will prefer that other potential fathers do as much as possible and he avoids contributing actual effort as much as possible. Of course they will try to not neglect children too much (so that genes will still survive), but everyone will err on the side of doing less.

For the current state of peopling of the Earth, this is a good thing. In this condition, population will fall, because children won’t grow up into people, willing to work hard to maintain the complex Western civilization (they will prefer to enjoy sex instead of work on improving the chances of children who might or might not be theirs). Capitalism will crumble (yay!). And industrial agriculture with it. And capacity to feed growing population with it. Well, for the people, this won’t be so good thing.

In last centuries, we went from 1 to 7 billion people in the world (and counting). Majority of this icrease is in time where monogamy is prevalent in the world (not to mention technology and industry, spurred by capitalism), so culturally enforced monogamy looks correlated with massive population growth.

The problem is where would we put all the people that would be born if this trend continued. Of course there’s a lot of empty space on the planet, but how would you like to live crowded as in India or China?

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patmuk September 9, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Wow, interesting article.
A nice theory of how the needs made society monogam.
I would argue that monogamy, especially nowadays, is fair for woman.
Getting a child is really hard work – from being pregnant to raising it up. Naturally a woman is doing that, which limits her from carring financially for herself – not only is the time limited in which she could earn money, she is in the beginning physically handicapped as well.
So, having a partner is essential to support her fairly and share the time+money costs. The lesser other partner this partner has the more he is willing to support. The opposite does not help – if a woman has several partner the child is still of only one of them. Naturally, in doubt, they would all care about their other partners and avoid sharing the burden.

Why a man would share the burden at all?
It is the same motivation, why initially a man would inherent his wealth to only his true children. The urge to reproduce oneself, or whatever. If there would be no need for a man to have children they would never have carred what happens to their belongings once they die.
So, monogamy is a kind of win-win relationship, where sharing the load of the woman is the price payed for having a true successor.
However, this need might only come after a certain age, and if the joy of sex with multiple partner is more important only accidents might change the situation.

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Luís September 9, 2013 at 8:39 pm

This is good. First of all I don’t believe in “love”. Because if love exists, this means I’ve been in love a dozen times. There are just too many atractive people in this world for me to become exclusive. I don’t share this opinion with all my girfriends, but I tell this to all my friends and most of the times when I meet new girls. This doesn’t mean that I am allways cheating on my girlfriends, but when I have an oportunity with a girl to which I feel atraction and desire, and I’m certain that my girlfriend is never going to know, I just do it. the only reason I don’t have sex with more women is because I’m a little bit OCD about being clean and free of deseases, I’m terrified of catching STD’s.

About matrimonial commitment, I just know that I’m never gonna get married. I think it’s against male nature to commit to someone for the rest of your life. I think that more and more it’s going to become an obsolete tradition, it doesn’t make sense in the modern times. Whenever I see someone getting married I just think: “Poor fuckers, they don’t know what they are getting into…”

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Patrick September 11, 2013 at 11:24 am

My experience with monogamy as a man hasn’t been very positive. I am attracted to different people all the time, but can’t act on it, so porn is a big outlet. If porn weren’t available, it might have been prostitution, which would be much more problematic in the context of monogamy. If you look at the popularity of porn for both genders, I know I am not alone in this.

On the other hand, I have benefited greatly from monogamy at the same time in the economic sphere. I made a choice that when I married, that my partner would be economically successful and devoted to work. In this choice I believe I’m more aligned with with women have typically chosen when evaluating mates. I actually think of women as prospective partners primarily from an economic standpoint, coequal with that is “are they kind”, and only secondarily from physical attraction. My priority in relationship was escape from poverty and freedom from drudgery as I received little help from my family and desired to have a life with some luxuries and have the privilege of privacy and some isolation. Let me clarify that both of us work and make similar salaries so I wasn’t asking something from someone else what I wasn’t willing to contribute.

Isn’t it true that socializing is easy and finding time to be alone in your own space more difficult in this world? In my relationship, I also declined to have children and made this a prerequisite before I was married. From what I understand and experience, the world is overpopulated and suffering from resource deprivation already. On top of that I don’t have a have a desire to have children so it’s a moot point.

All of this information is somewhat paradoxical and I turn it over in my mind frequently to see if anything has changed. I love my partner, and we are close on many levels. I can only say that my true nature is not monogamous. I have made a trade off that I’m acutely aware of. I think there must be another way to live, but I haven’t found it and from what I observe in others, neither have they. It seems to me that open sexuality you lose the economic and privacy benefits I obtain from it. We are all making compromises in one way or another. If I could live a life without compromise I’m not sure it would balance out any better than this one. I am relatively content with the compromises because I can’t see how another path where I chose more sexual liberation, for instance, over security and privacy would have benefited me more.

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Patrick September 11, 2013 at 11:50 am

Another thing that came to mind from my previous comment. After achieving a degree of economic success and freedom that I have, it’s easy to attract women or men if I just wanted to have sex with them. But they aren’t really attracted to me, they are attracted to the balance I live in and obtained from prioritizing economics and privacy. I know this because most of them weren’t attracted to me “on the way out”. I say “out” rather than up because what I actually valued is the detachment provided by having a small degree of wealth. I would probably hate a tribal communal life. The thing is, I now only value sexiness in the context of “wholistic success” as well. I see physically attractive people all the time, but I immediately look for how much freedom they have economically and what their devotion is to privacy and detachment (and of course, “are they kind”). I have yet to see it line up in a package that would ever tempt me to leave my own space. There are some comments around about the tribal life not being that idyllic. To me communal living sounds miserable. Maybe the sex was more satisfying, but I doubt it since you could never escape the entanglement of all those relationships. It leaves us with a conundrum though… we still have the attraction to many. It just doesn’t seem to fit who we are now. Maybe we should evolve out of it or in a different way to redirect this energy?

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Ben September 11, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Hi! Nice article, and I’m with you. I wish some of your claims about “the way things were back then” were backed by citations, but I know that’s nontrivial in this format.

Just one nitpick:

“Certainly [monogamy is] prescribed non-negotiably in the Bible and other religious texts.”

Not really true. See for example, this, and especially the “Main Article” links under some of the religions, especially Christianity:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygamy#Contemporary_religious_attitudes_to_polygamy

Of course, most religious texts offer passages that support any position at all…

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Amrita September 15, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Hi David. Came across your blog & writings today. A friend posted the article ‘What others leave for you to keep’ on FB. Read that, was impressed and hence found my way to your blog. And surprise! clicked on this title. I come from one of the most repressive societies of the world. People may argue that India isn’t more repressive than say Saudi Arabia. But hey, they do what they do openly. But we? We like to look ‘cultured’ and ‘educated’ and ‘progressive’ and are supremely uncultured, illiterate & regressive when it comes to how we treat our women, our animals, our environment and each other. So, yes we are one of the most repressive. Point is, I totally loved this piece, and completely agree with this view. It feels simple and logical and fun, so it must be true. Keep writing my friend!

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sat September 20, 2013 at 10:40 am

Your points were really good. And you write really well

Let me ask you this…and I actually mean it without malice or anything negative

You talk about being in relationships where you were not supposed to express that you found other women attractive

Would you, in all honesty, feel alright with your partner showing you that she found another guy attractive? Again–I am really asking. I am trying to learn about some of these things.
I am a woman and I have been in one relationship with a guy. He would comment on the attractiveness of other women. Not frequently, infact, really not a lot. But I didn’t like it. Not that he found other women attractive, I understand that. I found other men attractive. But for me, it seemed unkind and thoughtless and the fact that I was supposed to accept this as sharing seemed, at best, silly and at worst, damagingly destructive. At the time, I would never have talked about another guy’s attractiveness because I know it would not make him feel good. I understood that he would suck it up, but I didn’t think he should have to. It wasn’t overly important to me to share my thoughts on how attractive other men were with him. However, I was willing to consider that perhaps it was a hangup on my part. And so I loosened, I figured “ok it isn’t so thoughtless of him to talk about other women. And again really–it was rare”

But then, I once casually mentioned a guy’s attractiveness. I had forgotten all about this and I had just been less on guard, I guess. And—he felt really bad. He admitted that he felt a little bad but I knew him well enough to know, no–he felt bad.

So that’s my question to you—if you feel that the women in your life were should be fine with you acknowledging other women’s attractiveness, does the same apply to you? Again–I am really asking. Not–attacking or anything

You write really well by the way. I came here because of your 40hr work week article. It was so so well written.

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john September 20, 2013 at 10:35 pm

*compiled.

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Karese Warfield September 23, 2013 at 11:27 pm

As the author pointed out, there is little biological purpose for monogamy I suppose, however it serves a number of valid cultural purposes which enable our species to survive… If you’re aiming to challenge a cultural norm, approaching with a clear bias is rather ridiculous too. Both positions ought to be thoroughly investigated including validation wherever necessary along with criticism to gander my respect academically speaking. A superior (i.e. talking down to supporters of the other POV) presentation of your point of view reduces the number of individuals willing to listen not to mention the fact that is just distasteful & rude.

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Deborah Pease- Bell October 9, 2013 at 7:26 am

Even the Bible instructs us to f*ck alot stopping only long enough to pray. God is very cool!

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Rob October 9, 2013 at 9:20 am

Well there sure is a lot of talk on multiplying and begatting and stuff. But 2 things to remember: It was a man’s world in the Bible. The men were able to fling it about a bit, but not the women. Second point; as far as the Bible is concerned, the men paid dearly for flinging it around, just look at the life of Jacob, or Abraham, or David, who all had more than the one standard wife at any given time. I’m certain, by looking at their lives, that given a second chance, they’d choose a monogamous lifestyle any day of the week….maybe even celibacy. Oh no, they couldn’t do that…God told them they HAD to go out and multiply.

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Jenny May Forsyth October 30, 2013 at 9:11 am

Hi David,

I love reading your blog – I especially like this article and have quoted it in a blog post of mine: here t’is… http://salonducybermuse.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/the-rules-of-engagement/

Comments are welcome!

Namaste, Jenny

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Paul B. November 6, 2013 at 10:02 am

An interesting read. I love Anthropology….it’s one of those “it never gets boring” -kinda things for me. But what does get boring, though, are people who get stuck in “that other country does it right”, “that other tribe does it right”, “that other state does it right”, “those people used to do it right” –mode and “we suck so-badly-today-how-can-we-possibly-live-with-ourselves?”—-is the only possible outcome that can bubble up from that. Admittedly, nearly each and every construct that comprises ANY CIVILIZATION can be be pasteurized down to the role economics played in creating that construct……I’ll concede that. For a long time, in Western culture, monogamy “made sense” (on many levels, at least). Monogamy has always felt very natural to me. I did copy one little bit below:

“This was the beginning of a culture of sexual inequality and repression that we are still, sadly, used to. Even in progressive societies, women who want to have many sexual partners are often regarded as sluts, by both sexes. Men don’t face the same scrutiny.”

You’re right on some levels, but not on all. Men can AND OFTEN DO face a great deal of disdain by certain members of society for being “sluts”. They might not be reviled as openly as some women have had to suffer through, but many men dont get off scott free.

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Digitalasylum November 13, 2013 at 5:25 am

I really enjoy your rantings and views on Raptitude, but on something like this, when you are dealing with scientific matters (i.e why we procreate, and specifically the mating rituals and practices of our ancestors) I would like citations of research, scientific data, or at least a statement saying how you came to the given conclusions. (even if it just states that this is your own hypothesis, based merely on your opinion)

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Digitalasylum November 13, 2013 at 5:25 am

I really enjoy your rantings and views on Raptitude, but on something like this, when you are dealing with scientific matters (i.e why we procreate, and specifically the mating rituals and practices of our ancestors) I would like citations of research, scientific data, or at least a statement saying how you came to the given conclusions. (even if it just states that this is your own hypothesis, based merely on your opinion)

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Digitalasylum November 13, 2013 at 5:29 am

I apologize for the multiple postings, it was accidental.

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Aurolyn Luykx December 2, 2013 at 7:13 pm

I too loved “Sex at Dawn” — and even taught it to my students — until I read Ann Saxon’s rebuttal, “Sex at Dusk”, which is as rigorous as it is readable. She tears apart Ryan and Jetha’s shoddy scholarship by showing how much of it misleading, taken out of context, or just plain wrong. Read it and you’ll quickly see how R & J just don’t really get how natural selection works — some of their whoppers are so obvious (after Saxon points them out) that I can’t believe that I fell for them, being a reasonably scientifically literate person.

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Ramon Soto December 8, 2013 at 11:02 am

5. Everyone likes somebody who gets to the point quickly. < this is number 5 out of 88 Important truths you've learned about life….right? So with that said, I'll get to the point right away by saying that the reason we f*ck is because is part of been human being, simple and because is sooooo f*cking good!! ;-)

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Jade December 23, 2013 at 8:42 am

This article is very interesting and it would be even better with some references.

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Tom December 23, 2013 at 9:53 am

Great article.

This all seems, and has done for some time, pretty blatant to me. But I have real difficulty explaining this to people.

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Adriana February 3, 2014 at 12:01 pm

The only reason I find convenient to be monogamous today is due to STD’s…

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Jen February 22, 2014 at 11:33 am

Very interesting read. When I first started reading it I had no idea that it would touch upon something so personal to me. I have a very difficult time embracing monogamy. It is so hard for me to understand the restricting of relationships…as though we can choose the attraction or the emotions that we feel for someone. Sure I can ‘choose’ to restrict relationships…feelings…connections…even my sexual orientation. But that does not feel normal to me. It hurts my soul. It makes me sad to know that I cannot love and care for someone, that I cannot express that love or attraction because society would frown upon it.

I do understand why people choose to be monogamous. It is a societal norm and it helps people avoid uncomfortable emotions…it limits jealousy, it can lower insecurities, it avoids the anxiety of contracting an STD, it calms the fear of heartbreak. But I also think that it can increase dishonesty, limit open communication and ultimately can backfire when people do not understand how to live in a world where love and attraction is not something we can control. It can breed guilt and it can distroy the relationships its suppose to be protecting.

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Ashley April 12, 2014 at 6:02 pm

I agree with what you’re saying. I think “true love” (whatever that means) is being with someone because you choose to be together, not because you feel like you have to, and certainly not because some BS legal contract says you must. Don’t cling. Don’t be selfish. Don’t hold people back from experiencing whatever it is they want to experience.

I understand all of that.

BUT.

Personally, I could never be in an open relationship. I really wish I could. I think in a lot of ways it’s the most “evolved” way to be.

But even though I rationally understand all of this, and even though I know she and I will be attracted to other people, it would freakin’ kill me if she was getting it on with somebody else. It would absolutely break my heart. But if that’s what she wanted, I’d tell her to go ahead and do it, just don’t expect me to be there when she comes back.

So even though I 100% agree with what this article insinuates, I still could never be in an open relationship. Interesting read.

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