We often hear natural male polygamy and female monogamy being referred to in the context of scientific fact. This myth, which has no biological foundation at all, was thought up by men back in the day of patriarchy and continues to be supported by men for obvious reasons. No species whose breeding strategy differs among its male and female representatives can ever survive! Nature has no examples of a species in which the males are polygamous and the females monogamous or vice verse. Either both sexes are polygamous or both are monogamous. Contrary to widespread assumptions, all ‘harem-forming’ species are totally polygamous i.e. polygamy is evident in both the males and the females. When a lioness is on heat, she will mate with any other male in the absence of the harem leader. The opposite example can be seen among wolves, swans and some other animals, where both male and female are monogamous.
The human species is decidedly polygamous. In modern society, both men and women tend to have more than 5 sexual partners throughout their lifetime and more than 40% have children with different sexual partners. Biologically speaking, men and women are completely equal and have similar rights to gene preservation.
Throughout the history of humankind, we as a species have adopted various types of mating systems depending on environmental and demographic circumstances: polygyny, polyandry, polyamory, monogamy. It should be noted that in every circumstance both men and women stuck to the same mating system and were equally maximising their chances of gene preservation.
The immediate question that comes to mind is how we ended up with a prevalence of monogamous marriage? The answer is simple. Monogamous marriage maximises the chances of gene preservation for both men and women in civilised society.
Humans are the most advanced social animals with the largest brain size in relation to the body. Our babies are born relatively undeveloped and weak compared to other mammals and require the longest fostering period (among all animals) before they are mature enough to take care of themselves and pass on their own genes.
With the development of civilisation and the increasing complexity of society, the fostering period we give our children has also grown. If previously 12-14 year-olds were working or protecting their tribe on an equal footing with their parents, nowadays maturity and independence come in a young person’s early 20s upon graduation from university.
Monogamous marriage maximises a child’s chances to successfully reach the necessary maturity and level of social development required to find a partner and pass on their genes to the next generation.
It should, however, be noted, that monogamous marriage in its strictest sense is a very rare occasion among both humans and animals. In reality, the majority of partners stick to social monogamy while remaining sexually polygamous, both in males and females equally.
Some may claim that men are more prone to adultery than women, but every sexual relationship a man develops outside of marriage usually involves an equally ‘adulterous’ woman.
Translated from Russian original by Joanna Dobson