Polyamory is all the rage these days. Defined as “the practice of participating simultaneously in more than one serious romantic/sexual relationship”, the buzzword has taken on a life of its own acting as the catalyst for new podcasts, books, and an entire movement.
As a monogamous female busy planning her future wedding, I’m fascinated. As it turns out, monogamy has only been the societal norm for the past 1,000 years.
We’ve all been brought up searching for the “one,” but what if we’re really searching for a two or three?
Polyamory and Our Biology
Contrary to popular belief, monogamy isn’t in our blood. As it turns out, 80% of early human societies were polyamorous, often sharing partners as a community.
Moreover, only 3% of all mammals share one partner and from an evolutionary perspective, this makes perfect sense: While females have a limited amount of eggs, males have a potentially limitless sperm supply, meaning they are more inclined to seek out more partners to produce as many offspring as possible.
Male mammals also play less of a physical role after a baby’s birth. Whereas a mother must stay with the helpless child to produce milk and nutrients, there are no vital incentives for a father to stick around in most cases.
This is not to imply that polyamory incites uncommitted relationships or flaky parents, but to serve as more of an explanation as to why we may be biologically inclined to seek out more than one partner.
However, it’s important to note that sex is no longer just about mating. In fact, humans are one of the few animals that do not have a mating season.
Whereas most other animals have sex during a confined period of the year, we don’t have a set time table making us more inclined to engage in sex for the physical, mental, and emotional benefits outside of reproduction.
It seems that most of us aren’t monogamous by definition: Even if we end up with one long-term partner for the majority of our lives, most of us will have had previous romantic and sexual pursuits.
Likewise, during a committed monogamous relationship, it’s normal to find others attractive or develop a crush, even if you don’t intend on acting on it.
Most of us clearly have the desire to at least engage with more than one partner during our lifetime. So, why is polyamory still somewhat taboo?
The Creation of Monogamy
The theories surrounding monogamy are all heavily debated, but here are a couple of possible takes on why sociologists believe we embraced monogamy:
1. Sexually Transmitted Diseases
One of the most common theories surrounding the creation of monogamy is the spread of STDs. As groups began to grow larger, so did the risk of contamination. It made sense for humans to have sex with fewer people in order to survive, especially without the aid of modern medicine to prevent transmission and infection.
2. Brain Size
As humans began to hunt and eat meat, it is believed that our brains began to increase rapidly in size. Extra brain matter requires a higher level of energy, which causes humans to hunt, mainly males, on a more regular basis. However, this process is less reliable than say, foraging for nuts and berries.
It may have been easier for males to pair up with one partner than to provide meat for multiple. Since males are now providing vital nutrients after the birth of their offspring, they are more likely to stick around with their original partner out of convenience.
3. The Development of Agriculture
Similarly to the STD theory, the development of agriculture in relation to monogamy revolves around our creation of more centralized groups.
As food supplies became more streamlined and communities became larger, there was greater incentive to stay with one partner to prevent the transmission of diseases. That being said, it’s possible these early communities induced a level of social pressure to stay monogamous for survival.
Whether or not the social pressure to be monogamous was introduced during the agricultural revolution is definitively unknown, but it’s clear that it’s a huge part of our society today.
One of the earliest marriages occurred right around 2300 B.C in Mesopotamia, and we’ve carried on the practice ever since. Obviously, the meaning of marriage has changed drastically over time, but there’s no doubting that this institution has helped reinforce some of the social pressure to remain monogamous.
It’s important to note, however, that marriage does not necessarily imply monogamy or vice versa.
Why I’m Still Monogamous
So if monogamy is unnatural, why would I still pursue it? To be honest, I’m sure my social conditioning has worked wonders, and I’m most likely just parroting the stories I was told by the previous generation.
However, in a personal sense, I really admire human’s unique ability to see value in delayed gratification. While I may from time to time have an innate desire to pursue someone I find attractive outside of my relationship, I find beauty in the challenge of that struggle, and these urges, for me, make our one-on-one bond that much more valuable.
Still, I don’t look down upon polyamorous communities. After all, if it’s with consenting adults who are working to communicate their boundaries effectively, there’s no logical reason for me to be upset.
We are far past the days where proper contraception wasn’t available. As in any healthy relationship, it seems polyamorous couples (or throuples) take great care in their sexual health and communicating appropriately.
In general, I think that most people align polyamory with swingers or people who engage in sex regularly with varied groups of peoples. While I believe this can sometimes be the case, most polyamorous relationships seem to lend themselves to a more committed relationship structure, focusing on long-term connection with an added person or two.
It seems that regardless of how many people are involved, most of us have a deep desire to develop deep connections with people around us.
While I know polyamory isn’t for me, if no one is getting hurt, it’s none of my business. Love as you please!