Final Exam 1-The Myth of Monogamy

This research topic submitted by Klein, Lynch ( ) on 5/4/98 .

In our study, we hypothesized that monogamy, and the social relations it implies, are social constructions, and that there is no particular marriage pattern or set of sexual relations that are biologically innate to the human species. In order to support or disprove this hypothesis we researched non-monogamous marriage patterns and the difference in sexual relations and regulation in matriarchal versus patriarchal societies. We also distributed a survey on loyalty in sexual relationships to 50 college students. We feel our research adequately supported our hypothesis that monogamy is a social construct.

From culture to culture, the patterns of human mating and marriage take on many different forms. The age at which one marries, who one marries, and where the married couple decides to live are all dictated differently by each culture¹s traditions and laws. A society¹s definition of romance and commitment and accepted forms of sexuality all vary according to kinship patterns and marriage systems. In our own society, the traditional view of romantic love and commitment is between one man and one woman. Heterosexual monogamy is the only legal form of marriage. Other societies recognize polyandry (one wife and multiple husbands) or polygamy (one husband and multiple wives) as their legal or dominant form of marriage. Also, a number of communal cultures have been created in which there is no formal marriage recognized. The acceptance of different sexual expressions and relationships also varies from culture to culture, including attitudes towards masturbation, pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, and homosexuality. Various alternative forms of sexual relationships have even emerged within our own culture which subvert the ideology of monogamy.
We, as citizens of a monogamous culture, are often taught that monogamy is ³natural² and that all other forms of sexual relations are wrong. But it is clear that humans are capable of maintaining a variety of different mating patterns. It would seem, from this, that no particular pattern is innate to our species. We hypothesize that monogamy, and the values of sexuality it implies, is a socialized institution, and that there is no particular marriage structure that is innate to the human species.
In order to discuss different forms of marriage structures we must first ask why humans form stable-mated relationships at all. There are a number of different theories which address this question from an evolutionary standpoint. The first of these is the ³division of labor theory² in which female-male bonding originated to enable women and men to share the products of their divided labor. When we look at this in relation to other species, we see that it is flawed. Few other species have a division of labor, but many bird species and some mammals have female-male bonding anyway. Another theory is that of ³sexual competition². This theory proposes that because females were sexual year-round, bonding developed to reduce male competition for them. This is also flawed because it assumes that mate choice always relies on the male¹s aggressive display, when in actuality, females do not always choose the most aggressive male. It also does not explain why males would be so competitive when females were plentiful. A third theory is that of ³dependency.² This theory takes into account that human offspring have a long period of dependency in which it would be beneficial to have both parents providing food, shelter and protection. It explains marriage as a way to insure parental investment for these needy offspring. Again, this can be refuted on the grounds that birds have very short periods of dependency but often form male-female bonds. A final theory, which seems the most likely, is that of ³interference.² It proposes that ³natural selection should favor female-male bonding if the mother¹s feeding requirements interfere with her baby tending.² (Pasternak, p.81) This theory seems to fit with the bonding patterns of other species - those with interference, like birds who have to leave the nest to feed, have bonding, those which do not have problems with interference, like primates whose babies can cling to them, do not usually have bonding.
Thus we have a justification of why male-female bonding may have developed, but no explanation of why bonding patterns - monogamy, polygamy, polyandry - vary from culture to culture. It seems that certain types of marriage would prove more advantageous and beneficial to a population depending on other characteristics of their culture, such as economics, sex ratio, property rights, and tradition. This can be elucidated by discussion of three particular cultures¹ marriage systems in relation to these characteristics.
In India, the Junsar Bawar people practice fraternal polyandry in which the eldest in a group of brothers marries a woman. Upon his marriage, all of his brothers become legally married to the woman. This can be seen as an economically practical marriage unit for the property-sharing joint households of the Junsar Bawar. Another community, which rebelled against established economic and social mores, was a group of nineteenth century European Jews. They developed communes called kibbutzim and defined a system of marriage which subverted tradition. They practiced open partnerships and raised children communally in hopes of avoiding the economic and sexual exploitation they saw in traditional marriages. A third society, the Irigwe of Nigeria, have a tradition of polygamous marriage. They practice a unique form of ³woman marriage² in which one woman takes another as a legal wife to gain property rights and to have her children carry on her name and wealth. (Leibowitz) These three societies are examples of some of the myriad variations which exist in marriage patterns. This discussion of other cultures¹ definitions of marriage sheds new light on the monogamous romantic ideal that is perpetuated in our culture.
Within American society, there exists relationships which pose an alternative to this traditional romantic ideal. Such relationships are included in the notion of transmarital sexuality: ³..any sexual activity which aids and abets the transformation of the institutional superstructure and/or the interpersonal infrastructure of traditional marriage in a way which allows greater relative interpersonal autonomy and independence and fosters a greater capacity for intimacy and sociability²(Smith). These relationships may involve committment to one or more persons, however, the difference lies in the non-monogamy. One example of such a relationship is an ³open marriage². The relationship allows equal freedom for both partners which is believed to be an opportunity for growth individually as well as together. A ³closed marriage², otherwise known as patriarchy¹s traditional form of marriage, is viewed through transmarital sexuality to be possessive and exploitive. Open marriages attempt to obliterate the unrealistic expectations of closed marriage in our society. Another alternative to the monogamous marriage is ³group marriage². Such a relationship is more complex and calls for a flexibility of commitment amongst partners. Each of the three or more participants is pair-bonded with at least two others. Swinging is yet another form of alternative commitment. ³Swingers² include two or more pair-bonded couples who mutually decide to switch sexual partners or engage in group sex. The existence of such relationships further encouraged us to question whether human species are innately monogamous. Those who participate in these alternative relationships would agree with the biologist Richard Alexander who stated: ³Lifelong monogamous devotion is just not natural -- not for women even, and emphatically not for men²(Wright 130).
Due to the sociobiological nature of our inquiry, we were interested in whether there were mammals related to us who practiced monogamy. We found that tamarins, a rare of breed of monkey, offered a model of monogamy, which is unusual in animal species. The University of Wisconsin conducted a study which focused on male tamarins and their long-term bonds with their mates. They were found to provide half the care for their young. When mates were separated from each other, each mate would produce long calls to the other and behave aggressively to their new partner, suggesting an intense loyalty. Also, the male tamarins would identify with their mate biologically throughout the pregnancy. Males would produce more of the hormone prolactin before, during and after the birth of their infant. Prolactin allows females to produce milk in their mammary glands. In addition, males¹ prolactin levels rise the more they provide caregiving. These and other findings within the study prove tamarins to be an excellent role model for American ³family values².
As we were researching, we discovered another way to interpret marriage patterns was according to their division into matrilineal or patrilineal decent systems. The following paragraph from Sex, Gender and Kinship depicts the significance of this division:

³Sons, as in all patrilineal societies, belong to the kin
groups of their father. For these reasons, men may feel
it important to establish paternity and they attempt to do
so by strictly controlling the sexuality of women. However,
societies that emphasize the mother in kinship (matrilineal
societies) have no comparable problem.² (Leibowitz, p.27)

The theory is that patriarchal societies would be more likely to restrict women¹s sexuality because of the importance for the father to assure his line of decent and to perpetuate his wealth and property to the rightful heir. In matriarchal societies, paternity is not an issue because males often invest their time and energy into their sister¹s, or another relative¹s, children.
Patriarchy can be equated with ³sexism² in that it includes one sex dominating another. The patriarchal family can be considered ³the crucial condition in imposing reproductive sexual identity² (Coward 7). The system in which we live has come into question due to the debate over the history of individuals¹ sexuality. Many wonder whether sexual relations were constructed by patriarchal standards. One of the criticisms of our society is the question as to why sexuality, sexual relations, sexual division, etc. are all put together under concepts such as: ³the family², ³the household², ³reproduction², implying a distinct categorization of one¹s own sexual identity; namely, women.
Bachofen suggests that a phase of primitive promiscuity explains the history of the ³mother-right². ³Only the impossibility of knowing with certainty would have prevented men from establishing their Śrights¹ to their genetic offspring²(Coward 34). Bachofen believes the era of the ³mother-right² to be the origin of culture due to the mother¹s natural link to her offspring, symbolizing a sort of ³truth². In Ancient Society, Lewis Henry Morgan discusses a primitive society in which prohibitive families survived more than inbred families. He then explains that with the increasing existence of more prohibitive relations, the monogamous family emerged. The idea of private property also coincided with the onset of monogamy. Stricter monogamy and private property ownership worked together since the inheritance of the property was decidedly the children of the owner. Therefore, ³...the father took the most logical means at his disposal to guarantee that his property was inherited by his genetic offspring..²(Coward 40). The imposition of monogamy and the rulings concerning property were all considered by Morgan to be clear examples of social organization.
These ideas are echoed by Peter Knauss in The Persistence of Patriarchy. He conducted studies of Algeria¹s culture - it¹s matriarchal past and current patriarchal practices. He cited the main influence of patriarchy was the Islamic tradition which replaced polyandrous practices with polygynous ones. In pre-Islamic society, ³physical paternity was generally considered unimportant.² (Knauss, p.14) Under this system, he notes that women¹s sexuality was much more free. Today a woman not covering herself with a veil is considered loose and immoral, and she is ³making herself¹ more susceptible to rape. Today, a woman ³owes her husband² fidelity, and can be punished by death for adulterous acts. In pre-Islamic times, women often initiated and broke off sexual liaisons with men, and could be married to more than one man simultaneously. They possessed much more sexual self-determination, and even had the right to dismiss their husbands; a right not enjoyed by present Algerian women. Knauss¹ research also supported the idea that patriarchal lineage and the development of property rights are closely linked:

³Regulations of unions between men and women
first became important, Nikki Keddie noted, when
private property became important to a society as a
consequence of the growth of cities; at that point, the
males wanted succession to be concretized and regulated.²
(Knauss, p.15)

With this research as our background, we hoped to further explore the dichotomy of matriarchal and patriarchal societies and the sexual attitudes they impose on men and women.
In order to conduct our research, we utilized various books, information from the Internet and readings from class texts. For the first half of our research, we focused primarily on monogamy of human and non-human species as well as non-monogamous societies. Wright¹s The Moral Animal encouraged us to examine monogamy as a possible institution imposed by a patriarchal society such as our own. We discovered through our research that non-monogamous societies existed and continue to exist (although rare) and thus, we decided to explore and question our own society¹s traditional standard of monogamy as a form of marriage. Our research within American society provided us with significant findings pertaining to non-monogamous relationships (i.e. swingers). The existence of such relationships encouraged us to question whether monogamy was innate in our species. We created a poster outlining two major challenges to the notion of monogamy as a biological trait within humans. We discussed both polyandrous and polygynous societies, including a graph which highlighted the number of such societies in the world today. In addition, we provided information concerning the various alternatives to monogamous relationships practiced in American society (all of which were not legal forms of marriage). We also discussed the Tamarins, a rare breed of monkey, who proved to be a species which enjoyed long-term bonds with their mates.
During the second half of our research, we focused on differences between matriarchal and patriarchal societies. More specifically, we decided to examine the oppression and control of women¹s sexuality within a patriarchy. We researched various resources which discussed primitive matriarchal societies and the arrival of patriarchy as a means to control property and lineage. We also gathered information about matriarchies as the most natural form of society based on evidence of the ³mother-right². In order to test the attitude within our own patriarchal society, we created a survey which asked questions pertaining to the issue of loyalty. Our goal was to gain a sense of male and female views of both sex¹s tendencies in terms of loyalty within a relationship. We included questions about terminology applied to disloyal women, comfortability with sexuality, and feelings after a partner has cheated, in an attempt to understand what effect a patriarchal system has on women¹s sexuality. We distributed the survey to 25 males and 25 females within a Philosophy class and a Women Studies class. All recipients were students and of college-age. We intended to focus our results on the different answers between males and females. When our results were tallied we used the Statview 4.5 to create Summary Tables, producing Chi Square and P-Values. We then used the CA- Cricket Graph III to graph our findings. In order to provide a clear model, we converted our numerical data to percentages and employed a bar graph displaying the differing factors within each question.

The survey we conducted focused on male and female views of loyalty in relationships within our society. Out of the nine questions asked, two were not quantitative and asked the recipient to provide additional comments. Upon entering our data into Statview 4.5, we discovered that there were no questions on our survey that produced data resulting in significant p-values. Thus we accepted our null hypothesis - that there would be no significant difference between the answers of males and females. The data which was the closest to a significant p-value was that of Question 1. The chi-square p-value was .068, implying a distinct difference between male and female answers. Although the answers between the two sexes were different, both said they knew of more husbands who had been disloyal to their partners, likewise, with Question 2, both said they knew of more boyfriends who had been disloyal to their partners. The significance of this will be explained in the Discussion section.
Questions 5 and 7 had results which could not be quantified in a graph. We received 42 different terms in response to Question 5 -³Do you know of any terms that are applied to men who cheat on their partners? (Male-oriented equivalents of slut or whore) They are as follows:
(terms not preceded by a number were written only once)

13 asshole 2 mac philanderer male whore
12 player 2 jerk male pig skank
9 bastard 2 cheat fool slimeball
5 pimp swine dirt dick stringer
3 fucker jerk tramp lesh
2 bitch letch bum closet whore
2 gigalo tomcat boy slut active
2 mimbo dickhead dick promiscuous
2 dog lucky prick thinks with wrong head
2 stud home wrecker cheap sob can¹t keep it in his pants

- one female commented: ³There are none. They are always seen as heroes or something. Only girls are looked down upon.²

In response to Question 7 - ³Growing up do you feel that you were taught to feel comfortable with your sexuality?² 78% of both men and women reported feeling comfortable, while 32% of both did not. When asked ³Please explain what made you feel this way:² we received answers such as

male: (no) ³I mean to say that I wasn¹t taught anything and instead I have had to figure things out for myself. However, it¹s easily seen that society suppresses sexuality in general.²
male: (yes) ³An openness in my family that encouraged discussion of it while developing.²
female (no) ³Being a girl sex was seen to be saved until marriage - boys won¹t have respect, etc.
female: (yes) ³My parents were always very open and taught me everything and always answered my questions. Very understanding. No shame.

Most answers focused on whether or not there was open discussion between the respondent and their parents. If there was open discussion, they reported feeling comfortable. One female mentioned that her religion had played a part in her feelings:

female: (no) ³Grew up Catholic. Parents never ever said anything to me about sex - except be careful not to get raped. Once in 3rd grade I asked how gay males had sex and I got yelled at - so I figured talking about sex (especially gay sex) wasn¹t to be had.

Critique of Questions
Although there existed a difference between male and female answers to Question 1, ³husband² was the most chosen answer from both sexes. The same results were found within Question 2. ³Boyfriend² was the predominant answer for both sexes. This implies that men are known to be more disloyal than women in committed relationships.
Question 3 proved to be problematic because it was directed to the recipient in a rather personal tone. Both men and women responded ³no² significantly more than they responded ³yes². This appeared to suggest that people did not apply such terminology to their everyday spoken language. We intended to receive answers in a more general sense, thus, the question should have been less personalized.
Question 5 appeared to suggest primarily negative answers and our responses provided such. Our goal, however, was to obtain more positive answers in order to point out that terminology applied to males who cheat tends to possess a more positive connotation. We should have asked the recipients to list their answers in both positive and negative categories.
We hypothesized before obtaining our results, that more women would respond ³no² to Question 7. We believed that fewer women would have been taught to feel comfortable in a society which tends to control and oppress women as sexual beings. We discovered, however, that women responded ³yes² twice as much as responding ³no². In fact, men and women had identical responses for this question. Our hypothesis that there would be a significant difference between men and women was therefore proven wrong. As the women cited, this was due to open communication in their home.
In Question 9, we predicted that more women would choose ³shame² as their answer as a result of a trend of women¹s sexual oppression in our society.
We also predicted that men would not choose ³shame² as a significant response. Our results showed us that women felt more vengeance than shame, whereas, men felt more shame than women and approximately the same amount of revenge. Again, our hypothesis about the social constructions of our society were proven wrong.


After analyzing and interpreting the results from our survey, we discovered that the main comparison between males and females in a patriarchal society did not aid us in obtaining the information we desired. We created the survey in an attempt to compare views within our society and those of a matriarchal society. Unfortunately, we had to limit our questions to the subject of patriarchy so that the recipients would be able to respond accurately. Thus, our comparison did not focus on the differences between matriarchies and patriarchies, but rather the differing opinions of males and females within our own society.
The primary goal of our survey was to portray the oppression and control of women¹s sexuality imposed by a patriarchal society. Comparing male and female students¹ answers within a rather homogenous locale did not give us an adequate representation of our societal values. A broader distribution and a possible range in ages would have produced more significant and applicable results.
Overall, we feel our outside research strongly supported our hypothesis. The existence of numerous other forms of marriage which are natural to, and dominant in, other cultures and the existence of alternatives to committed relationships in our own society,

Next Article
Previous Article
Return to the Topic Menu

Here is a list of responses that have been posted to this Study...

Important: Press the Browser Reload button to view the latest contribution.

Respond to this Proposal!

IMPORTANT: For each Research Response, make sure the title of the response is different than previous titles shown above!

Response Title:

Optional: For Further Info on this Topic, Check out this WWW Site:
Response Text:

Article complete. Click HERE to return to the Research Menu.