Kathryn Hoban

Legislative Aide - Michigan Senate, National Society of Collegiate Scholars

This conversation is closed.

Do you think that monogamy is a function of biology/evolution or of society?

While the contract of marriage is indubitably a social construct, monogamy itself is also practiced in several other species. What ideas do you think monogamy bases itself in? Why is polygamy generally frowned upon? What biological and sociological advantages/disadvantages do each of these have?

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    Sep 24 2011: I believe that physical intimacy (sex) is potentially the deepest mutual expression of love that is humanly possible. This requires that two people become fully open and vulnerable to each other. This is only possible in the context of a lifelong commitment. It is inconceivable that one could do this with more than one person.

    Sex without commitment puts a floor under openness and vulnerability. We must at least partially close our hearts to pretend intimacy that is not open to the depths of one’s being. The result is genital and mental sex that bypasses the heart.

    Our culture promotes and endorses heartless sex. It emphasizes pleasure without fulfillment. (Some sex therapists even recommend having fantasies of being with another partner during “intimacy.”) When the heart is closing, fulfillment cannot be reached. It is an elusive fantasy that can only be temporarily satisfied with illusion of attraction, performance, or whatever someone is trying to sell you.

    I believe that monogamy is both a choice and part of our nature because love is at the core of who we are and love must be chosen. I believe that we become our best selves when we love and that commitment to full intimacy with another nurtures a growing and deepening love that ultimately extends to all others. The only limits to love are human decisions that close our hearts. The decision to have sex without commitment to love is one of these.

    The advantage of monogamy is that it allows us to become fully ourselves and fully human in an atmosphere of love. The disadvantage is that it involves a lot of work, and pain as well as a continuing decision to transcend self-centeredness. The advantage (?) of polygamy (multiple partners) is that it makes us better consumers and closing our hearts allows us to do things we would otherwise not. The disadvantage is that closing our hearts diminishes who we are and what we can become.
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      Sep 24 2011: Hi Bob,

      I'm sure you will get a lot of Thumbs Up for your post; and, while I understand the sentiment and, within a certain, limited context, agree with it, I find it does not coincide with my own experience.

      In general, I find we elevate sex unnecessarily. We romanticize it excessively. Or we demonize it exceedingly.

      Sex is just sex.

      Our subjective experience of it is, in many ways, unrelated to the act itself; it is a reflection of our inner state.

      So, yes, the experience can be sublime, transcendent, even "divine," or it can be not so great. Even horrible.

      In my experience "the deepest mutual expression of love that is humanly possible" is not limited to a sexual union.

      It is possible to experience mutual expressions of love, that are equally "deep" (and deeper) in any number of ways: Talking for example; or caring for an elderly parent; the devotional connection to a teacher or Deity; and so on.

      This is not to negate your assertions or your experience, only to add that there are many ways (in my experience) to experience profound intimacy and love.


      QUOTE: "The advantage (?) of polygamy (multiple partners) is that it makes us better consumers and closing our hearts allows us to do things we would otherwise not. The disadvantage is that closing our hearts diminishes who we are and what we can become."

      This statement I disagree with completely. Yes, it is true from within the romanticized view you have espoused in the early part of your post but, I imagine, it is possible to experience deep connections of love and intimacy with multiple partners, especially if one lives in a culture where that lifestyle is not demonized. Again, the possibility of the experience is a reflection of an internal state, it is not contingent on external circumstance.
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        Sep 24 2011: Hi Thomas, I have a few sincere questions.
        Having read 'Sex at Dawn" and having had a good education in neuroscience, I am aware of the research that contradicts my way of life. In most things, I am not inclined to impose my world view on others because I know that I am just gathering evidence and trying to steer my own life and decisions and I know I have a small window of two eyes and one mind with which to guess at the way the world works.
        So can I ask you, how do you make this world view you are expressing work? Does one ever truly feel safe, loved, special? Does one ever get married? If so, how does one broach the conversation that expresses, yes I think you are pretty special but if some other chick comes along that is better than you are, I reserve the right to indulge my inclinations. Does one use protection from STDs forever? Does one ever have children?
        If you have a wife, how does she feel when you come home from a wild night of passion with some one you preferred to her? What is that first conversation after like? Are you ever jealous if she comes home for breakfast smelling of another man?
        Please note. I am sincere in my questions. It is so alien to what my heart needs that I almost cannot imagine it. (and yes, I know conditioning, but I am very lovingly conditioned!)
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          Sep 24 2011: Short answer.

          It's all a choice. Live up to reasonable expectations. And don't do anything that will hurt anyone.

          The key is choice. We do not have to be slaves to our biology or to our emotions.

          I'll give a longer answer later.
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          Sep 24 2011: Hi Debra,
          I remember seeing an interview with a tribesman in the Amazon forest. He had two wives and was asked how he experienced this.
          He said he loved both but was not happy with it, it was that much work. They asked his first wife how she felt. She said to love the other wife of her husband but that if he was with her, it hurts a lot. She said to be unhappy.
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          Sep 25 2011: Hi Debra,

          I still feel a little rushed but will try to answer some of your questions.

          The first one is about my "worldview" ... very often what I talk about is not a reflection of my worldview. I intentionally do not share my worldview with many people ... I find no need to and I know others already have a worldview they are (usually) happy with (and, if not, at least, defensive of.)

          What I do share is information, insights, and sometimes opinions. Then people can use the input or not.

          I am married and I understand my wife does not "look as deeply into things" as I do. I also understand she has a reasonable expectation that I will act in a "particular" manner. I am happy to conform to her expectations, as I understand them, whether she articulates them or not.

          I never get jealous. Infidelity is not a deal-breaker for me (I do not expect my wife to share my opinion.) I have two deal-breakers: one is consistent and intentional unkindness (the other one is not relevant to the discussion.)

          No one can make you feel safe. You have to do that alone.

          Dos that answer some of your questions?

          Have I left any out?

          Do you have other questions?
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        Sep 24 2011: Hi Tom, I was hoping for challenges on this topic. I have thought about and worked with it for a long time and welcome the opportunity to clarify my thinking.

        You wrote “Sex is just sex.”

        It is just sex if that is how we view it. Sex can also be a highly vulnerable state where we let go of all internal fears and restrictions and open fully to another. These are mutually exclusive. Experiencing “sex as sex” takes one in the opposite direction of vulnerability and openness toward more self-centered desire and satisfaction. In my experience of working with couples on this issue, I have found that vulnerability deepens intimacy. People who have been more promiscuous seem to require much more work to be able to do that. They often conclude they “have fallen out of love” and seek another partner to satisfy their needs.

        This led me to speculate that one must close his/her heart and become more self-centered in order to have sex outside of commitment. This has been confirmed by reports of people I have worked with who learn to move in the direction of vulnerability and openness in their relationship. True intimacy involves fully embracing and letting go to the other. There is nothing casual about it.

        I acknowledge that this is an idealized (and probably pretty rare) state and believe that it takes many years to get there because trust and commitment deepen through testing over time. The reason I state that it is potentially "the deepest mutual expression of love that is humanly possible" is because the time and effort required to fully know, understand and appreciate one other person over many years provides a depth that does not seem possible in any other way. There are many beautiful expressions of love but caring for an elderly parent does not require the vulnerability and openness that is possible in intimate love.
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          Sep 24 2011: Hi Bob,

          I don't have a lot of time but (so another short answer.)

          I don't think it takes time to be vulnerable. It might take time for us to build up the courage to be vulnerable. I think we limit ourselves when we think true intimacy is rare.

          I thought about my earlier answer and realized I had left out "the most important bit" ... love oneself ... be true to oneself ... be vulnerable to oneself ... and the rest is easy.
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          Sep 24 2011: Hi Bob
          There's a lot to all that you bring about. To my view there are also things left out.
          That what sex means to someone has much to do with how it was initiated. In every step one takes the first encounter models/shapes all further experience/desire of the kind.
          To get things right from the start the so called primitive people had rites for initiation developed.
          In modern life this fails and the way people go about sex therefore can differ enormously.

          So things can be different for different people but also their possibilities. I myself was married for 30 years so I understand a little of what you explained. My ex wife has become part of me that can never fade. Yet that part of union isn’t about sex, though this can play a big role in it and make it more satisfying. I may not see her for a year but when I see her it is as if a day is past. The same with another woman I lived many years with. We are still our closest friends although she lived in the meanwhile with someone else. So love and sex is maybe not that much interconnected as you think.

          The possibility to integrate sex in daily life on satisfactory manner has to be learned which isn’t the case with everyone. My parents are long gone from this world so they may laugh about it now but after their marriage they had to be told that if they would be granted a baby from the Lord praying was a good thing but not the only thing that was required of them.

          And so there is a time for everything: learn to speak if you are 2 years of age, going to school at seven, discovering your sexuality at 26 as in this case is much too late.

          To keep it short these are some things to consider.
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          Sep 25 2011: Hi Bob,

          Perhaps I am misunderstanding your position (no pun intended) but you seem to be saying that "the deepest mutual expression of love that is humanly possible" is possible only through sex.

          And you also seem to be assuming that true (deepest) intimacy, vulnerability, openness, and love are possible only with a single person.

          I do not share these beliefs. I understand them and they are consistent with the Western romantic ideal of love. And, yes, true intimacy, vulnerability, openness, and love can be experienced in a romantic and monogamous union. (I know, I have experienced them - am experiencing them now.)

          But to assume true intimacy, vulnerability, openness, and love are NOT (as) available in any other human interaction runs counter to my experience, understanding and observation.

          I have witnessed people who live polygamous lifestyles (for example in Kenya and Ethiopia) display the same love and respect to multiple partners that we see in the best monogamous unions.

          And I have seen and experienced profound intimacy in non-romantic, platonic relationships.

          In a culture where we are conditioned to believe we can love only "one" person; where fidelity is seen as a virtue, and infidelity is seen as a betrayal of the highest order, anyone who engages in such behaviour will be deeply affected by social expectation. They will essentially be "unable" to fully experience intimacy, vulnerability, openness, and love, not because they cannot (are unable to) but because they are afraid to. Culture does not sanction such behaviour. To be fully open and honest would be to expose oneself to our greatest social fear - being ostracized.

          People who are unencumbered by the need to conform to such mores (because they're absent or because they have achieved individuation) will not suffer from the same inhibitions.

          Beyond that: My more important point is that "the deepest mutual expression of love that is humanly possible" does not require sex as a medium of expression.
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        Sep 25 2011: Thomas,

        I am not saying that deep human intimacy is not possible without sex. That would be absurd.

        My point is that one must at least partially close his or her heart in order to be sexually intimate with more than one person. The potential for depth of trust which is required for full vulnerability is developed over time though the process of knowing, understanding, and resolving issues and conflicts that arise with one person. Trying to do this with more than one person dilutes and complicates the process.

        Deepening trust allows deepening openness and vulnerability which makes it possible to reach deeper levels of intimacy. I believe the highest and most profound function of sex is to develop that intimacy and that we diminish that potential when we view it as simply a vehicle for pleasure or marketing.

        Promiscuous people I have worked with consistently have problems with intimacy and approach sex from a self-centered perspective. Sex becomes a mental act that bypasses the heart completely. When people start to open their hearts and become vulnerable with one person, they have little interest in developing other relationships (although there still may be isolated bouts of brief hormonal attraction that last only moments when not pursued).

        I can’t imagine any benefit in attempting to reach deeper levels of intimacy with more than one person. It would be like trying to pursue two full time careers. It could only diminish and complicate both.
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          Sep 25 2011: Hi Bob,

          Thanks for the clarification.

          I have no problems with any of the things you are saying. I have a problem with the way you interweave them.

          It's like you are taking a natural function, like eating and sleeping, both of which are wonderful, and somehow saying that our working relationships are dependent on how we do them and who we do them with.

          Clearly, this makes no sense and yet, when we change "eating and sleeping" with "sex" and we change "working relationships" with "intimate relationships," we think that it does.

          The assumption that we MUST "close our heart" to have sex with more than one person is a "cultural artifact." And while some of us choose to operate within this value system (and so make it "true") many of us do not (and so make it "not true.")

          It is neither true or not true: It is a choice. One I respect no matter which choice one makes.

          The symptoms (problems) you deal with (promiscuity) might be best treated with the "prescription" of monogamy and intimacy but I suggest the disease has nothing to do with the issues we are discussing here. That aspirin relieves a headache does not mean we should all take aspirin.

          But again, my main point has nothing to do with sex. My main point is: "the deepest mutual expression of love that is humanly possible" does not require sex as a medium of expression.
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        Sep 25 2011: Thomas, I believe that people must close their hearts at least partially in order to act in ways that are potentially harmful to others.

        I believe our nature and the purpose of life is to become fully ourselves, to fully develop our personal resources to their full potential.

        I believe love lies at the core of human nature. Humans are able to develop their full potential in an atmosphere of love. Love provides the impetus for reproduction and is required for survival in infancy. Children who do not experience consistent love tend to experience a lot of dysfunction as adults.

        I define love as a commitment that another person become fully him or herself and reach their full potential.

        The deepest love is possible with one other person because of the time, effort, and work required to know and understand him or her.

        Sexual union is an expression of love for another person.

        Sexual union without love is a self-centered focus on one’s own pleasure and ego.

        Self-centered focus on ego and one’s own needs and wants is the opposite of love. self-centeredness, defensiveness, fear, greed, and ego all require one to close one’s heart.

        Sexual intimacy is a process of deepening love as each partner becomes fully themselves through openness and vulnerability to each other made possible through deepening trust and understanding. Opening our heart to another is the nature of sexual intimacy.

        The only way to have sexual contact with another without the potential for deepening intimacy is to at least partially close one’s heart.
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          Sep 25 2011: Oh, There's more! (I responded to your earlier post before I saw this one.)

          You certainly have a well thought out stance on love and sex.

          Imagine you lost your penis. Would you be unable to express love? Would you be less able to express love?

          Now, take everything that you wrote, and substitute the word "look" (as in "look at") or "talk" for the word "sex." Would it still be "true?"

          (I say if we understand true intimacy, you could put "eat ice cream" in place of the word "sex" and what you say would still be true. It is not about the sex.)


          QUOTE: "The deepest love is possible with one other person because of the time, effort, and work required to know and understand him or her."

          If we were to embrace virtually any "spiritual" worldview this is simply not true. In fact, from within many spiritual disciplines to love "one another" as we love ourselves is the "deepest love possible." To love "God" is the deepest love possible, and so on.

          Words, and how we use them, are important.

          I say: The deepest love possible is for oneself. For life. (Not for "another.")

          With that as a foundation (and I suggest that takes much more work than an "external" relationship ever will) THEN we are in a position to have deep, meaningful relationships with anyone (not "just" one.)

          [Do not allow your mind to make the "logical" next step by trying to reconcile what I have said with the "ideal" of monogamy. They are not mutually exclusive concepts. I am not arguing against monogamy.]
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        Sep 25 2011: Good morning Thomas!
        I was certainly not suggesting you were imposing your world view upon me, I was sort of meaning that as mine tends to be the traditional one, I was not imposing it on anyone else.

        To your point about safety, there is a sense of emotional safety and it can be created in a trusting relationship. There also physical safety and a sexual partner can help increase that safety dramatically. To my mind there are dramatically higher risks of STDs and of physical danger with multiple partners. There is the additional risk within a marriage when there are people in the wings so to speak.

        You have avoided mentioning the hormones and the physiology of bonding. Sexual activity works to dramatically create bonding with a partner that is considered 'worthy". Of course, if one has decided that only personal gratification is involved, the other becomes more of an object and one is less likely to bond. This is precisely my concern from your response to Bob. It sounds like the Any Rand theory of intercourse. Me, my , mine does not allow for the other person to be fully and completely the beloved.

        I am really big on honesty. I could have handled my X saying to me," look, I have given it all I had, we had a good run but now I find that I need something different or more." It would have hurt tremendously but I can understand that we could have run out of steam. What I do not think is just is that I was putting my whole trust in not only him but I was building my life and our future on the assumptions that we had mutually agreed upon- that I faithfully abided by. I had no plan B because we had agreed to live together 'until death do us part'. If the rules were going to change we needed to renegotiate them rather than just pull the rug out from under the other person. This is what worries me when you say your wife doesn't think this deeply. I bet my X never really counted on bonding hormones with the girl who was younger than our kids. She became human to him.
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          Sep 25 2011: Hi Debra,

          No I didn't think you felt I was imposing a world view (nor did I think you were.)

          I agree with what you say about physical safety; I was referring more to "emotional" safety: We must provide that for ourselves (for example, by knowing we can make decisions that will ensure our own physical, and emotional, safety.)

          Yes, "hormones" are powerful motivators. But to subject "love" and "intimacy" to the whims of my pineal gland is more control than I am willing to relinquish. Again, my point is not about "intercourse" or "sex" - it is about a more fundamental foundation upon which a richer and deeper intimacy is possible.

          I agree "renegotiating" is an important process and one we would do well to practice more than we do.

          There is no need to worry for my wife. My position is she will never have to "renegotiate"(unless she wants to.) No matter what I "feel," I will not "change my mind" (unless she engages in one of my two "deal-breakers" - and she knows what both of them are.)

          As I have said in other conversations: for me it is about choice. It is not about hormones, or a romantic ideal of what love is. It is not about "a feeling." Feelings come and go. I don't care what "love" is. I care about what choices I make. If the feeling some people call "love" were to vanish from my relationship, with anyone, it would not affect the choices I have made (or would make.) As I said, (when it comes to this thing we call love) we do not have to be slaves of our biology or of our emotions. That last one is really, really hard for some people to understand (this is not the first time I've had a conversation like this!) [And I'm not hinting you will have a hard time. I'm just reporting what has happened in the past.]
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        Sep 25 2011: Both Frans and Thomas have raised interesting points that require thoughtful responses. Unfortunately this discussion expires in a few days and I have a full schedule. If I am not able to respond before the end date, I will try to send each of you an email.

        Your input has been helpful and I appreciate it.
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          Sep 25 2011: I have to echo Bob's appreciation for Frans and Thomas and their input into this question. I can't express sincerely enough how wonderful it is for me to be able to ask questions of and get answers from people who see the world far differently than I do. I always go back to Kipling's story (I think it was Kipling) of the blind men and the elephant. I always wonder what part of the elephant you are sensing that I can't see.
  • Sep 22 2011: Kathryn
    The rational side of me can look at evidence (like Thomas below), or studies in sociology or anthropology and definitively say it is somewhat, by some means both a biological and a societal construct. I wish I could make that sentence more ambivalent. Yes we have constructed the mores and cultural patterns surrounding monogamy. Because our society frowns on polygamy, we think it evil.

    On the other hand there is something in me that says differently. It says we are monogamous because somehow in us rings a truth about loving and being committed to someone. Whether that ringing is the beat of another heart, a gut level feeling of commitment, or a feeling that our otherness has found the other, we want that kind of relationship.

    So then the thinking rational side has its opposite in the touchy feely one.

    I do know this. I understand what monogamy is and have practiced it. Divorce has sundered marriages but I know both sides of monogamy. I will not rail against polygamy, but will staunchly defend monogamy.

    As I look at the woman I love, I know my faithfulness to her is more than just DNA, societal evolution or her heartbeat. It is based on her and who she is in my being.
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      Sep 22 2011: How well put! Indeed it's so much more than a definition by science, psychology or whatever. :)
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      Sep 22 2011: AAAWWWWW SWEET Michael...thanks for sharing that:>)

      I don't percieve polygamy to be evil. I've seen interviews with people (usually one man two women) living in a polygamous relationship, and they all seem content with the arrangement. If adults are choosing that life style and are raising healthy, content children, I don't see a problem with it.

      I do not see any benefits in the relationships for members in the FLDS Church, where relationships are dictated, force is used to keep people in the group, rape, sexual abuses and other physical abuses aparently are rampant. These forced relationships, sometimes have 10 - 20 wives and hundreds of children who are abused and misused. I object to the circumstances of these polygamous relationships.

      Another thing I learned from Carolyn Jessop's book, is that when/if the children have serious illnesses, the fathers often refuse to acknowledge them as their children, and the state pays their medical bills. So, while the state becomes responsible for medical care (apparantly this happens often), the children cannot be taken out of the environment that is causing a lot of mental and physical illnesses. It is not poligamy that I am against, but rather, the misuse of a concept to control masses of women and children in an abusive way.
      • Sep 22 2011: Colleen
        I think when we consider polygamy we have to look at the totality of it, the FLDS (and other) versions of it, against polygamous societies, whole cultures where that sort of marriage relationship exists.

        Abuse, wherever it is found, monogamous or polygamous has to be decried.
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          Sep 22 2011: I agree Michael, that when looking at ANYTHING we need to look at all the information.
          I think we are on the same page with the belief that abuse and violation of rights is not acceptable.
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      Sep 22 2011: Hi Michael,

      There are the underlying mechanisms and then there are (as you say) the "mores and cultural patterns" that we build "on top" of them. As a complete entity, we are affected by all of it. And our subjective experience "convinces" us of the veridicality of our position. So, being a product of the "Western World," many of us see the world as you do (note the thumbs up, the affirmative replies, the gender of the respondents, and so on.)

      There is no reason for this to not be so - I am not suggesting it is "wrong" - it's just a reflection of the effects of "nature and nurture" on a particularly large set of human beings (that would be us.)

      The romantic ideal, which is a one of the mores and cultural patterns you mention, is very appealing, and obviously an efficient "meme." It may ride out the rest of human history, with us in tow, so to speak. Or we might create a new meme that serves us better (I have nothing in mind.)

      It is interesting to note that the romantic ideal is a very new addition to our behavioural repertoire. It was not a dominant part of our cultural world for the vast majority of our history.

      Will it last?

      The romantic in us will swoon, breath a deep sigh and assert, Yes, yes, it will last ... until the sun falls from the sky, IT will last.

      Nature and memetics might have other plans. But we see through our eyes and we don't live long enough to know what will happen "in the future."
  • Sep 21 2011: Haha! It reminds me this old study about the testicle/body size ratio in mammals. Elephants are monogamous and their testicle/body ratio is very low. For chimpanzees, it's very high and they are VERY polygamous. And apparently, as human beings, we are closer to chimpanzees.

    Now I totally forgot where I read that, I just remember I had a good laugh. If I find it, I'll edit this and add it.

    Now, I prefer life to be as simple as possible. A relationship with one women is already complicated, I don't want to imagine what it would be with 2 or 3!
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      Sep 22 2011: Mr Kebabsoup,

      If memory serves (and I am not sure it does) your data may have come from a book called "The Naked Ape" by Desmond Morris. It was written in 1967 or thereabouts. (I thought it was the ratio between the sizes of (primate) males and the females that correlated with the practice of monogamy ... but it was a long time ago that I read about the topic. Based on the correlation, humans, I believe, would be expected to be mildly polygamous.)
      • Sep 22 2011: Mhh. The Naked Ape? The title is pretty funny, I'll have to have a look at that book!
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      Sep 22 2011: I read a report of the same study in a more current book called Sex at Dawn (I forget the authors). This book dealt extensively with the topic of this question. It considered human sexuality from the time of the hunter gatherers on. It reviewed cultural conditioning, anthropological studies and current sex research.

      My sons actually recommended it to me to help me get over the end of my long term marriage.The book challenged the idea of monogamy vigorously. It reviewed so much literature that spoke especially of how women are conditioned to negate their sexuality. I came away from it somewhat shaken and more aware of the forces that have shaped my point of view.

      In Canada, however, we have Canada Geese who mate for life. I have always believed I was just like them. The end of my marriage through infidelity almost killed me. I spent almost 30 years loving someone with whom I had five children and I thought I would die as his wife. Now, a couple years later, I can even see some wisdom in our seeking separate lives but I was happiliy utterly faithful for 3 decades and will be again with my new love.
      • Sep 22 2011: Oh yeah! I remember now, it was in an article about that book that I first heard about the study!

        And thank you sharing your story with us. It's encouraging to see that you were able to overcome that hardship in your life, and were not discouraged by this awful experience to trust somebody again. I guess there's a bit of masochism in love, blindly trusting another human being, it's so irrational. But that's also part of what makes love beautiful.
  • Sep 27 2011: @Thomas and Bob and anyone else still working through this.

    While maybe agreeing with some of what you both said (ok, maybe more Bob than Thomas), I want to strike out in a slightly different direction.

    The concept of the “beloved” as a receiver of my commitment is something to explore. The beloved concept for me goes beyond romantic love, to a level of saying of all the loves, this one is most superior. I believe monogamy is based in that sort of commitment. The beloved is one for who all else fades in comparison.

    Thomas you are going to say “western romantic worldview” again. But it isn’t really. This concept goes deep into many cultures. It crisscrosses time. This is not a western construct, but a human construct. My study of worldview and values has shown to me that there are, across cultures, some ideas that fit. The human construct of monogamous relations does base itself on this concept of commitment.

    It is a choice but not a mere choice. Choice is used a times to mean whim. It is a choice I make to seek the beloved, but not a whimsical choice, but a decisive one.

    Bob, I understand your studies and understand what you say about deep relationship being bonded by sexual encounter. But behind the sexual encounter, with the beloved, there is a sense that sex completes, not causes the monogamous bond.

    Thomas you continue to say things like “sex is sex,” as if it were merely a biological function and had no other concomitant results. Seeing sex like that I think is to use it as an individual tool of power. There is power in the sexual encounter and to use it as only a way to fulfill biological “needs” is to use it as a tool of domination, by either male or female.

    The beloved and dedication to that beloved should be at least the most common thing that makes sexual sense and binds people into relationships.
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      Sep 28 2011: Hi Michael,

      The idea of the "beloved" is an interesting one; and, as you say, not particularly Western.

      However, your interpretation of beloved is decidedly Western.

      We tend to add our current values to ancient, or different cultures much like a new oak veneer on an old pine cabinet. This is normal.

      However, if you look at the idea of the "beloved" in many cultures, the beloved may not even be a woman (if we are looking at it from a male's perspective) or a man ((if we are looking at it from a female's perspective.)

      The beloved might not even be human.

      The beloved is often a teacher, perhaps a guru, and the teacher is the object of love and devotion. In this particular guise, it is often said the attachment to the beloved is the last attachment to fall away.

      These kinds of concepts have virtually no traction (meaning) within our conventional romantic (and, yes, Western) view of love and romance. Which is why we add our own meanings to them. We say, "This is like ... [something familiar to us.]"

      I see your point about "choice" being akin to a whim.

      I am using the word differently. Choice, in the manner I use it, is essentially the opposite of whim.

      Whim, in my definition, is a reaction to a feeling.

      Choice is a statement: Here I will stand and no whim, no feeling shall move me.*

      * And not because of a "feeling" like "love;" not because of an ideal like romanticism; not because of cultural conditioning; No!

      "Here I stand because I say so."

      That is choice.
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    Sep 23 2011: I do not think the desire for monogamy is primarly the fuction of biology/evolution or science.
    I believe that God exsists in a trinitarian union between Father,Son and Spirit-sharing one divine essence. The Father loves the son, the son loves the father and the divine expression of that love is transposed between the 3 by the spririt wich creates an unceasing divine union . I think that a husband and wife were intended to mirror or reflect this process by "Holy Martimony" The 2 shall become one. Thus the 2 become one body and mind and the love betwen them is the tie of their union (the spirit)- Marriage for me (when I do get married ) is an expression of worship and admirationon, of the character the holiness and esscence of the trinity. (side note) please do not attack my opinion I will talk about it further but again I do not want to argue it and it is only an idea wich is what we are all sharing.) :) :)
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      Sep 23 2011: Hi Jacob,

      You have a well thought out opinion. And one that is consistent with a particular worldview (Christianity.)

      How do you think the non-Christian population would fare under such a view?

      I live in China and, for the most part, that outlook will not fly.

      Outside of the Christian worldview, what influences, if any, do you think support monogamy?


      Also, a heads up, people with your particular outlook are "more likely" to get divorced than the less religious (I don't know why ... but you can google the research.) My guess is that the couple's assumptions are so high, they are hard to live up too and, as a result, the marriage crumbles under the weight of expectations.

      I think it would be relatively easy to ameliorate this tendency with couple's counselling (before marriage.)
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        Sep 23 2011: Hey Thomas. Good questions!Quote "How do you think the non-Christian population would fare under such a view?"Ha, well I imagine this is foolishness to anyone who doesn't believe in the Christian God or has a different world view. So I wouldn't nor should any other Christians expect anyone to view marriage in this way.Like I said, this is my interpretation based on my belief it does not matter to me how anyone else veiws marriage I may not agree but I support all views- gay marriage- polygamy -you name it. To each his own. It is not anyones responsibily to go around trying to moralize people based on dogma. Quote:Outside of the Christian worldview, what influences, if any, do you think support monogamy?Moralism. (that doesnt make much sense to me) And a jealous lover. Thats about it.
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        Sep 23 2011: Also as a sidenote: If there is no ultimate purpose for marriage other than to procreate or to just be with someone you care about then anything goes. The only reason polygamy or monogamy would make any diference at all is if there is a "moral framework" wich they are to be governed by.
        • Sep 23 2011: Jacob,
          It is my understanding that you see the act of marriage as a reflection of God's nature and character. Very well. I see it as a reflection of man's nature and character. Therefore, 'the reason polygamy or monogamy make a difference' is because they highlight certain traits about us as animals and our underlying physiological demands and preferences. By studying the data relevant to this topic, we learn more about ourselves.

          "...then anything goes."
          What do you mean?

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    Sep 22 2011: It is sort of logical given everyone's need for sex, if one guy gets 4 girls when will I get mine?

    It is a disadvantage to our species in general to be polygamous, less diversity of genes ya know.
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      Sep 22 2011: Christopher you made me laugh right out loud! You have such a way of seeing through things!
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        Sep 23 2011: It's the truth! Imagine a civilization of people (as we know them) where more than half the men don't fulfill their sex need. What crime we'd have!
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          Sep 23 2011: ha ha of course! The best way to keep male competition at its lowest point is to share the female ressources with equity. There's one for everyone, no need to fight, right?

          This is brilliant. I only wish it was the actual explanation, it'd be a funnier world to live in out there.
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    Sep 21 2011: 1. What is monogamy? For me it's a CHOICE. Function is something implemented in a certain kind of species and this is definitely not the case with us humans. Thanks for free will and the power of having a choice.

    2. Why is polygamy frowned upon? Probably because we have jealousy and envy? Yeah well, then again we have dignity and self-respect. That should lead us in the right direction!

    3. Advantages: having more experience sexually.
    Disadvantages: all STDs.
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      Sep 22 2011: Well if well prepared STDs are not disadvantage, rather that the need of that caution or preparedness can be a disadvantage.
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        Sep 22 2011: How many of us truly practice preparation? I don't believe there are that many. Anyway you are totally right about STDs being no disadvantage if we are precautious but still I find it a bit dull if you're in a loving, commited relationship to use protection and yet one is never safe from cheating. But that's just what I think.
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          Sep 22 2011: Agree what you told about the dullness as well as risk in cheating.
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      Sep 23 2011: QUOTE: "For me [monogamy is] a CHOICE.

      That's pretty much the whole discussion, right there.

      We have the ability to override our biological imperatives (if we didn't, we could not have invented birth control.)

      We have this amazing brain, and we can use it to "choose" (within reason.)

      So, absolutely, monogamy is a choice.

      So is polygamy.
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        Sep 23 2011: Hi Thomas,

        The heading is about monogamy being a 'function' and I don't believe it's a 'function' but more of a 'choice' - a conscious decision that we make which is based on what we believe in and how we feel about our partner in life. A 'function' for me is something we have implemented by default in us so that we can be alive and our body function properly and that's just the need for sex and reproduction (whether it's going to be with just one or multiple partners is already a choice for me).
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          Sep 23 2011: Hi Silvia,

          English is a funny language. In this case the word "function" means something more like "outcome" or "a result of [something.]"

          Something like this:

          Do you think that monogamy is a result of biology/evolution or of society?


          Do you think that monogamy is the outcome of biology/evolution or of society?

          Or something along those lines.
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        Sep 23 2011: Hi again Thomas,
        English is tricky and that's why I love it! As for the questions in particular I relate more to 'outcome'. And for the answer that would be: society!
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      Sep 23 2011: STD's are the least important disadvantage if you take, several mother in laws that you will have to accept by polygamy, into account..
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    Sep 28 2011: why the sudden urge to know?
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    Sep 28 2011: Michael M wrote “But behind the sexual encounter, with the beloved, there is a sense that sex completes, not causes the monogamous bond.” (Also responding to Thomas and Frans through my thumbs up for Michael’s post)

    Physical intimacy is a process of deepening awareness of the beloved’s person - body, mind, emotion, and soul. These cannot be separated as love deepens through reaffirmed commitment under challenging conditions, a more profound understanding of the other, and shared values, goals, work and pleasure over years.

    Physical love (the tem “sex” has to many other connotations to be used clearly here) is both a metaphor and a vehicle for this process. The body is a physical manifestation of a person and we cannot get more personal than through intimate touch. That why rape is the worst form of torture (both for perpetrator and victim) and why I believe that casual sex (casual intimacy is an oxymoron) requires one to at least partially close his or her heart.

    I don’t think there is any concept in this world more misunderstood than love and intimacy. Changing that could have profound implications for every part of our lives. Parents with this deepening love would likely raise children who feel fully and completely loved and don’t exhibit the defensiveness or compensatory mechanisms that cause so much suffering in our world at this time.
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    Sep 24 2011: As I stated in an earlier answer to this question, I was utterly faithful during an almost 30 year marriage. That is not to say that there was never a temptation however. I remember once going into a doctor's office to make a professional call. I had been there before and he was a wonderful doctor. As a pharmaceutical rep at that time, I had a chance to see many doctors and this one was exceptionally caring to his patients, was extremely intelligent and had a very courtly manner. He was not what I would have considered my type or particularly attractive. As I waited for him to take a break and speak with me, I watched him care tenderly for an aged woman. I did not have one thought in my head about him - I was just observing. As he approached and greeted me, I went to speak with him and was suddenly tongue tied. I felt weak in the knees and just could not form a proper sentence. I felt my pupils dilate and my heart pound. I tried once more to speak, had a sudden realization of what I was experiencing and I turned and walked out of the office. At that moment he was the most attractive man in the world. My body said go. My mind said NO.

    Monogamy starts where temptation starts. Was I attracted to him? Yes, but I am a creature of intelligence and caring. I had a husband who then loved me and I had children who counted on the foundation for their lives that was our relationship and marriage. I walked out of that office and never went back because I figured the best way to beat temptation- especially one that clobbers you like that - is to get as far away from it as possible. Monogamy is a decision- a decision to honour vows, to not treat someone you promised to care for shabbily and a decision to think of the consequences of your actions.
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    Sep 23 2011: Also I want to thank you for answering and asking your questions with such respect. Though you may disagree with me.
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    Sep 23 2011: Kathryn,
    Since you mention other species in your question, I thought I'd offer some context from my work as an animal biologist.
    1) Long-term pair-bonding is relatively rare among animals, including other mammals and primates. Short associations between males and females are relatively common. Polygyny is also relatively common.
    2) Monogamy tends to be associated with certain types of environments, and can last for a short time or a long time. The same is true for other mating systems. There are some maths to describe the variation, though that's not how I tend to think of things myself. (Yawn!)

    When it comes to complex behaviors, perhaps especially social behaviors, I have found that either/or explanations can't get me very far in terms of understanding what I see out in the world. With biology and culture it's always at least "Both." We cannot eliminate either.

    Thanks for starting this dialogue.
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    Sep 22 2011: Interesting topic Kathryn,
    I agree that marriage is a social/religious construct, and when it was instituted, the average life span was about 30 years? Assuming people married at 20, it was not unreasonable to believe that they might stay together for the next 10 years...until death. With the life span as it is now, we could be in a marital relationship with someone for a very long time.

    I went to the 50th anniversary party for friends last week, and it gives my heart joy to see them together...still in love:>) They constantly respect, support and encourage each other, and they are always smiling:>) Even though they have faced some major life challenges...cancer...major heart attack/surgery...body part replacements and various sport injuries, they are ALWAYS loving and supportive of each other. I have other friends like this, so it definetely is possible to maintain a loving monogamous relationship for many years:>)

    I recently read "Escape", an autobiographical account of Carolyn Jessop and her upbringing in a polygamist sect. It was really horrifying, and in my perception, the FLDS Church (Fundamentalist Church of Jeasus Christ of Latter Day Saints) was formed simply to control people. In addition to the teachings, which are controlling, the physical boundaries created by the "fathers" of the organization prevent members from leaving. For example, they manage to get male members appointed or elected to positions of authority (police, sherriffs, etc.) in the area of the community. If someone escapes, there is no one to go to...the authority figures simply return them to the community. If, by any chance a woman or child is able to connect with social services/child protection agency, the "authorites" simply testify against the complainant, and return them to the community. This is only one example of the control, that is unbelievable.

    Carolyn Jessop has testified in court cases where several members of the FLDS were convicted of sexual assault and child abuse.
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    Sep 22 2011: Totally agree with mr. kebabsoup on how complicated it would be with more than one women I am already exhausted while trying to write on it. For me this sex thing is a bit over exaggerated by people through out history. It is not so ''everything'' in our lives but somehow we act like as it is the only meaning of our survival. I am not saying sexless life is good or I dont like women etc.. But seeing people sacrificing so many things just for sex(especially men) doesn't make sense at all.

    Oh by the way my wife is ok with polygamy if I can land down Brazillian Top model Adriana Lima any of you have her number?
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    Sep 22 2011: Monogamy has everything to do with culture and little with biology
    There are cultures where a man has several women and also those where a woman has several men.
    Those cultures are shaped by the conditions of the environment.
    The aim of sexual bonds is reproduction and if there's little energy to scrape from the environment it takes more men to do so. If there's an abundance of food a man can provide for more women.
    Monogamy became preferred as humans settled and started to possess land, houses and other properties. To protect that property for their own offspring and to avoid quarrels about ownership of wives or airs it was better to have just one wife. With some cultures and back in the past even more the estate belongs to the woman that inherited it from her mother. In the past it was often common practice that marriage was a contract over property end succession and had little to do to whom one gave his or her love.
    So all variations are possible but the overall demeanor over all times and places is to care for and take responsibility for the other parent of your offspring.
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    Sep 22 2011: Do you think that monogamy is a function of biology/evolution or of society?


    But mostly society. I doubt we would be monogamous if we stilled lived on the savannah. And many cultures have eschewed monogamy. Some still do (Islam, etc.)

    In China, where I live, both "monogamy" and "polygamy" are practiced simultaneously. Leave it to the Chinese to unify opposites.

    Businessmen are married and have children. They also have multiple partners many of whom also have children. (There are exceptions but it is a vey, very common practice.)

    But only the marriage is "acknowledged."

    Whatever we accept as a "healthy" part of our society will work. It is not the practice that is good or bad it is our attitude towards the practice.

    "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." - William Shakespeare

    I prefer monogamy. Polygamy does not bother me.
  • Sep 28 2011: Thomas
    Since this conversation is about to close I did want to make one more set of comments about your ideas.

    You try to screen my perspective by saying it is just the romantic worldview, but it really isnt just that. Worldview is the complex set of cultural stories, praxis, symbols and answers to questions like “Who are we?” and “Where are we”. When you speak about “the western romantic” viewpoint that concept is actually derived from the world view as a mental model of reality. That mental model then forms attitudes, beliefs and eventually individual actions and institutions. What is interesting however, and directly to my point, is that even in differing worldviews, that same mental model of reality shows up. Yes, as you say, oftimes as “comittment” to other things or people, rather than the beloved. But yet in so many cultures it is still a long-term dedication to the beloved that is spouse. The beloved mental model as I propose yes does have roots in western worldview, but it also exists in other worldviews. Therefore it is not something is culturally bound, but unbound.

    Frankly I feel your “choice” of monogamy model is also one of the western mental models. It may have appeared later on the scene, but it is still quite prevalent in popular culture. Basically there is a competition between that model and others out there, including the idea of the beloved. But your model is no more unique or free from worldview ideas than mine is.

    That brings me back to choice. I know you want to separate your use of the word from whim. However, it seems to me that placing isolated self as the center of choice is so tied to later western rationalist thought. “I think therefore I have sex?” There is decision involved in comittment to the beloved, not just “I choose.” Decision moves the self in this case to be for the other, not about the other.

    Time is literally running out and I must close. Kathryn, thank you for a great question.
  • Sep 27 2011: To start with, I'd strongly recommend a wonderful book from the 80's called "Sex in History", by Reay Tannahill. She covers the history of sexuality through many different cultures extremely thoroughly, with a massive bibliography at the end. One of the primary topics that gets covered is polygamy/monogamy and variations between them.
  • Sep 25 2011: Monogamy is definatly something society came up with. It's mans basic drive to bred and bred and carry on the line just like in the animal kingdom. Also explains why there is so much infidelity.
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    Sep 25 2011: And some research published in that most respected of scientific journals, "Cosmopolitan:"*

    " ... a new study out of the University of Rochester has further reaffirmed our belief in marriage and its benefits. According to researchers, getting hitched [married] is good for your heart and being in an LTR [long-term relationship] can keep it ticking [beating] longer than if you were single.

    "There's a catch, though. It's not enough to just be married; you have to be happily married to reap the health benefits. (Well, at least women do. Men, on the other hand, live longer and have healthier hearts than their single counterparts even if they're in crappy [bad] relationships.) "While unhappy marriages provide virtually no survival bonus for women, satisfying unions increase a woman's survival rate almost fourfold ... "


    For those of you not familiar with "Cosmopolitan," it is NOT a scientific journal - it is a "lifestyle" magazine for women and is known for it's somewhat superficial approach to ... "things." For example, "The Stupid Things Men Say" and "Eight Things Guys Notice About You Instantly" and "Hot Fashion and Beauty News" ....
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      Sep 25 2011: Thomas, darling! From science journals to Cosmo!? Did you check for that disco suit yet?
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        Sep 25 2011: I believe a liberal education is important.

        [I did check and, alas, there were no white suits.]
  • Sep 24 2011: continued:

    So why the societal pressure for monogamy? In most of Europe this was probably due to the Christian church. Other parts of the world were not dominated by the Christian church, and those societies had different views of polygamy. Buddhism is offically neutral on the subject. Hinduism permitted polygamy under limited circumstances. But Islam permits polygamy, so polygamy is permitted under the laws of many Islamic countries. Here's a list from Wikipedia of countries that permit polygamy under civil or common law:

    Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, CAR, Comoros, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Myanmar, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, UAE, Western Sahara, Yemen, Zambia, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, Lesotho, Liberia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe
  • Sep 24 2011: My reading indicates that humans are naturally slightly polygamous. You can easily observe evidence that tends to support this. In mammalian species that are polygamous the males are larger than the females. This is because larger males tend to defeat the smaller males and thereby win the females. The genes of the larger males are passed down to their offspring, and since the larger males have more offspring their genes tend to predominate in the gene pool. In humans the males are somewhat larger than the females, so this lends credence to the "slightly polygamous" theory. Much stronger supporting evidence is available from DNA studies.

    But despite the fact that our genetic heritage is somewhat biased toward polygamy, monogamy prevails in most modern societies. This must be due to societal pressure. Why this is so is puzzling.

    At first you might think that this is a result of a trend toward egalitarian principles. All men are created equal, and all women are created equal, and since they arrive in this world in approximately equal numbers then everyone should mate with just one of the other sex. (We can assume that male and female homosexuals exist in comparable numbers, so the number of male heterosexuals approximately equals the number of female heterosexuals.) But monogamy was the rule long before men were considered equal to each other, and very much before women were considered equal to men. Consider Henry the Eighth. He was considerably "more equal" than his subjects, yet he could have just one wife at a time. In fact he had to rid himself of his current wife before he could have another (five times), despite the fact that he was King of England.
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      Sep 26 2011: QUOTE: "...despite the fact that our genetic heritage is somewhat biased toward polygamy, monogamy prevails in most modern societies. This must be due to societal pressure. Why this is so is puzzling."

      Imagine you are little skinny guy and you are just a bit smarter than a big brawny guy.

      Now imagine you make up a story that there is an imaginary being who is BIGGER than the big brawny guy, and this BIGGER guy will punish the big brawny guy if he persists in beating up the little skinny guy and taking all the women for himself.

      Imagine the little skinny guy's delight when the big brawny guy actually believes him and says, okay, you can have one of the "babes" and I won't pound you to a pulp. [Other little skinny guys quickly learn to tell the tale!]

      Quicker than you can say "Darwin's Socks," smart, little skinny guys' DNA takes up more space in the gene pool and, on some levels, has an advantage over the big brawny guy's DNA (it's less violent, say.)

      Little skinny guys now have genes AND memes working their case. Good deal!

      Repeat this for about 10,000 generations and you might get ... what we've got.

      [But it's just a theory.]
  • Sep 24 2011: Hi Kathryn,
    With respect to you. Why is marriage a " social construct, monogamy " ?? Umm, what does that mean? " itself is also practiced in several other species" ?? Again, with respect, are you referring to the human? I am still new here, I am confused about your question. Your question should be broke down into, about 5 questions? You must be taking a course in debate? (yes?) It would be an excellent debate topic!!! Does all that make sense?
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    Sep 23 2011: @Seth I didn't mean to imply that I don't view marriage as part of mans nature and character . Only not as an animal but as a spiritual being.Would you say that from a naturalist point of veiw the only purpose of polgamy or monagmy is procreation? I suppose if that were the case polgamy would be the more prudent choice.Monogamy would really have no practical purpose from a strictly biological point of veiw?What I meant by "anyhting goes" Is that I fail to see any practical benefits from monogamy if it is not governed under some sort of moral framework. I think it may be..
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    Sep 23 2011: The key is to live a monogamous life with just a little polygamy once in a while. This works a lot better than the other way around.
    • Sep 23 2011: "The key is to live a monogamous life with just a little polygamy once in a while."

      *nods in amusement*

      "This works a lot better than the other way around."

      *nods in dismay*

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    Sep 22 2011: How one should perceive or define monogamy in human. Does it only mean married to one partner and be sexually active with in themselves? What about some one married to one person whole life but had other secret sexual partners different times. What it should labeled as monogamy or polygamy? Or that should be just labeled as monogamous but unfaithful?

    Asking arose as it seems from some posts (with all respect to those views) defining monogamy only being married to one person.

    Animal kingdom has both examples. In case of human it's a result of societal evolution embedded in cultural ground in terms marriage only, but practice I doubt it's extent ........
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    Sep 22 2011: If we look at the "biology" side of it - in isolation - there is a pretty good argument we were "designed" to be, more or less, monogamous for about eighteen months to three years or so. That is how long the sight of our partner will act as a trigger for phenylethelamine and other neuromodulators that we interpret as "love."

    Eighteen months to three years is about how long it takes a human couple to reproduce and for the mother, and infant, to become reasonably independent.
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      Sep 22 2011: THE NEW MARRIAGE VOW:
      I will love honor and obey you for the next eighteen months to three years, or until my phenylethelamine and other neuromodulators are no longer triggered:>)
    • Sep 22 2011: Thomas,
      Does the research indicate whether a second or third pregnancy might result in the 'love cycle' to be re-initiated? (you can answer or just provide a link to the pertinent data and I can look myself - I know you are probably busy)

      I can see long-term interests being a sort of 'neurological algorithmic loop' that two people get caught in, with childbirth and other events serving as triggers to begin the neuro-emotive cycle once again.

      Your thoughts?

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        Sep 22 2011: Hi Seth,

        Longer-term relationships trigger another set of neuromodulators, oxytocin and others, they engender bonding, feelings of wellbeing and so on. They are produced in particularly large quantities in females during birth and breast feeding.

        So, you can see, from "the neuromodulators" point of view, the important bond is between the mother and child. The male's neuromodulators are more likely to motivate him to seek out other forms of stimulation (a different female.)

        Of course, there are lots of mitigating factors. Perhaps the main one being our cerebral cortex. But the underlying biological adaptations are ... compelling, to say the least.

        [See excerpt from Richard A Depue, Jeannine V Morrone-Strupinsky (2005) copied in separate window]
        • Sep 23 2011: Thomas,
          The conversations one joins such a forum to engage in are the exact ones which lose their potential due to limitation of expression in such a forum.

          The 'longer-term relationships' which 'engender bonding..' are not what I had in mind, though I do think that the observation (the complexity of which grows with the number of children) is valuable. The dynamic I am describing is something like -

          Man meets woman. They begin a relationship and enter the roughly three year neurological cycle you describe. Upon the completion (the cessation of specific hormone, neuromodulators distribution), both man and woman enter the 'on the prowl' stage - looking to, as you put it, 'seek out other forms of stimulation.' But being as though the human personality and character are not stagnant and are subject to change along with our interests, both man and woman after due process come to realize they are attracted to one another once more. A 'rekindling' of the romance.' They then re-enter the cycle with the same 'affiliation.'

          This is not to say that they continue to repeat the cycle indefinitely, but this could account for people's experiences where they 'loved' (which may not even be a factor in this conversation - a point which needs to be mentioned) someone for an extended period of time but then fell out of 'love.'

          It seems to me it would be easier (metabolically and neurologically speaking) to retain an established affiliation than to engineer a new one. This could not only explain the phenomenon I describe above, but also the observed dynamic of someone leaving one partner for an extended period of time and forming a new bond only to re-connect later with the former lover. Metabolically speaking - is it not easier, i.e. preferable, to limit your affiliations? If so, I feel we must say that the neurological disposition, while not forbidding polygamy, does seem to curtail the extent of it.

          Will comment further tomorrow.

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        Sep 22 2011: Excerpt from Abstract of:

        A neurobehavioral model of affiliative bonding: implications for conceptualizing a human trait of affiliation by Richard A Depue, Jeannine V Morrone-Strupinsky (2005)

        Appetitive and consummatory reward processes are mediated independently by the activity of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA)-nucleus accumbens shell (NAS) pathway and the central corticolimbic projections of the u-opiate system of the medial basal arcuate nucleus, respectively, although these two projection systems functionally interact across time. We next explicate the manner in which DA and glutamate interact in both the VTA and NAS to form incentive-encoded contextual memory ensembles that are predictive of reward derived from affiliative objects. Affiliative stimuli, in particular, are incorporated within contextual ensembles predictive of affiliative reward via: (a) the binding of affiliative stimuli in the rostral circuit of the medial extended amygdala and subsequent transmission to the NAS shell; (b) affiliative stimulus-induced opiate potentiation of DA processes in the VTA and NAS; and (c) permissive or facilitatory effects of gonadal steroids, oxytocin (in interaction with DA), and vasopressin on (i) sensory, perceptual, and attentional processing of affiliative stimuli and (ii) formation of social memories. Among these various processes, we propose that the capacity to experience affiliative reward via opiate functioning has a disproportionate weight in determining individual differences in affiliation. We delineate sources of these individual differences, and provide the first human data that support an association between opiate functioning and variation in trait affiliation.
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          Sep 23 2011: Oh, Oh, Thomas! ............You sweet talker, you!
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          Sep 23 2011: May I say in short that the man keeps coming back for his wife for she gives him her favors for free as long as he performs his duties? He's hooked.
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        Sep 23 2011: I know, Debra, in my younger days, those lines worked wonders at the local club.

        [No, wait! I think I might be mistaking my memories of John Travolta movies for reality. Let me check my closet for a white disco-suit ... I'll get back to you.]
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        Sep 23 2011: Hi Frans,

        There is a lot of truth to that but, remember, this socially sanctioned notion of "giving favours" is not a part of our biological heritage. It is social. To voluntarily "Give" and "Receive" are not biologically viable concepts (because they imply voluntary withholding.) The neutral word "Do" (pun intended) might be more appropriate.

        The point being, before we established complex societies, we did not give and receive favours, we just did what we needed to do - with whomever we could do it - in order to perpetuate our DNA.
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      Sep 22 2011: I'll be serious now...I simply could not resist that last comment:>)

      I'm interested in the answer to your question too Seth...it's a good one. My observations of people living happily in very long term relationships, is that they are constantly "triggering" themselves and each other, it often manifests as playfulness, and it seems like they keep the neuro-emotive cycle triggered all the time. Biologically, psychologically possible?
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        Sep 22 2011: QUOTE: "...Biologically, psychologically possible?"

        Definitely possible. Just different modulators and different stimuli.

        I prefer the "long-term" modulators myself. But it seems to be a personal preference. Some like the fiery passion of "romantic" love; some prefer the slower burning, long-term approach. Of course "culture" has opinions (which are somewhat contradictory - in "literature" it's all about passion - in "the real world" it's all about social stability.)