Draft 2 The Monogamy Myth

This research topic submitted by Kendra Klein and Moira Lynch (lynchmk@miavx1.miamioh.edu) on 2/26/98.

Across the world, human mating takes a variety of different forms such as: polyandry, polygyny and monogamy. In our society, monogamy prevails. In fact, it is the only legal form of marriage. Our society’s traditional romantic view of commitment has been depicted as love between one man and one woman. Within our own culture, however, various alternate forms of relationships have arisen. Due to the dominance of different marital relationships in other cultures than our own and the existence of non-monogamous relationship trends within our own culture, we hypothesize that monogamy is a socialized institution as opposed to a biological trait.

We began our research through library resources, such as books on monogamy of human and non-human species, information from the Internet and readings from class texts. We sifted through the material and compared authors’ and researchers’ ideas to formulate the above hypothesis. This hypothesis is based on information we gathered concerning the existence of non-monogamous societies and alternative trends within our own traditionally monogamous society.

Within our society alternative relationships have manifested, posing a shift from the traditional to the companionate forms of commitment;. These alternatives comprise what is defined as transmarital sexuality: the transforming of the traditional notion of marriage. Some relations within this transforming, however, are non-committal. The relationships vary from such partnerships as group and open marriage to “swinging” (swinging includes the swapping of sexual partners, thus there is no sexual commitment). Those who participate in the “other” forms of commitment believe that the freedom these types of relations exude strengthens individual growth. The possession of each partner included in closed marriages is viewed as an unrealistic expectation and exploitive. These relationships are trends within our society, a result of the sexual liberation within the 60’s. The individual’s choice to become involved in a non-monogamous relationship is socially imposed as it is a social trend. Other cultures, however, accept a variance in the traditional union of marriage, as the dominant form of commitment.

Every marital institution is made viable by humans’ capacity for loyalty and commitment, but there are a number of other factors affecting the stability of marriage: economics, sex ratio, religion, and tradition. In relation to these influences, the marriage unit is very flexible. For example, Christianity’s insistence on monogamy was subverted by other religious groups, like the celibate Shakers and polygynous Mormons. Similarly, during the early 1900’s in Israel, kibbutzes were formed in opposition to the dominant practice of monogamy. They created egalitarian, open marriages in order to counter the perceived power imbalance within traditional monogamous relationships. In other societies, non-monogamous marriages are not a means of subversion, but are the norm. Among the Irigwe of West Africa, a woman “husband” may take a woman wife in marriage in order to gain individualized property rights - a purely economic reason. (Leibowitz, 140) In India, the Junsar Bawar practice fraternal polyandry, in which only the eldest brother of a family is allowed to marry. His wife then becomes the “wife” of each of his brothers. Cross-culturally, there are widely distinctive definitions of what constitutes a marriage unit.

We also researched occurrences of monogamous relationships within other animal species. Interestingly, we found biological evidence supporting the existence of monogamy within a number of species, in particular, tamarins, a rare monkey species found in northern Colombia. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin proved that male and female tamarins enjoy long-term bonds as mates and parents. When monogamous couples were separated from one another, the mates made long calls to their absent “spouses” and showed aggression toward their new partners. Researchers also found that male tamarins produce more of the hormone prolactin before, during and after birth of an infant. In addition, males’ prolactin levels were found to rise as they acquired more caregiving experience. These findings led researchers to believe that the tamarins value mate fidelity, monogamy and parental care.

Our research thus far appears to adequately support our hypothesis. The variance in commitment cross-culturally and the tendency within our own society to rebel against the monogamous norm, have begun the basis for our study. We would like to narrow our research from a global perspective to a focus on relationship patterns within our own country.

We propose to further our research by examining the rates of divorce within our country in relation to its legality, the ease with which it can be obtained and the religious stances on the issue. We hope to see a positive correlation between the relaxation of these social controls and the divorce rate. This would support our hypothesis that monogamy is socially imposed. We plan to conduct a survey among our peers discussing knowledge of divorce rates, individuals’ experience with divorce and awareness of non-monogamous traditions within other societies. We also plan to ask about individuals’ opinions on the nature of human loyalty. We are curious about humans’ tendency and desire to commit to one or more persons regardless of social constructions. Through the survey and further research we hope to determine whether loyalty is inherent to the human species.

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