The Myth of Monogamy: Are Humans Naturally Monogamous or Polygamous?This is a featured page

For the longest time, man has been trying to answer this question “What sets us apart from animals?” Is it the size of our brain, the length of our limbs, or the linguistic abilities that distinguish man from animals? Researchers have speculated that the smooth and spiny phallic member of man, tells them apart from animals. The penises of several mammals contain “horny papillae” (hardened bumps or spikes), which leads to the shortening of the male’s climax during sexual intercourse. On the other hand, the absence of bumps or spikes in the human penis has led to longer lasting sex between man and woman, in turn creating more intimate relationships, which end up in love and marriage.

Marriage customs and mating strategies, therefore, make man unique from the other species in the world. However, even within the various groups of people, these practices differ. Man tends to internalize the rules of the society we in, so “doing right” becomes its own reward. There are several forms of mating and marriage systems that different societies in the world adopt. These include monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, polygyny and even promiscuity. Polygamy, as a practice, may be abhorred and disregarded by most modern societies. The West's Encyclopedia of American Law defines Polygamy as “the offense of willfully and knowingly having more than one wife or husband at the same time. The offense of willfully and knowingly entering into asecondmarriage while validly married to another individual is bigamy.” Though polygamy has been practiced for centuries, it has been eliminated in most modern societies.

Despite this practice being considered as unlawful in most societies, contrary to beliefs of the human race, monogamy is not as prevalent as members of the Western world might assume. According to a worldwide ethnographic survey of 849 human societies conducted by George P. Murdock in his ethnographic atlas, only 16 percent of the societies surveyed demonstrated monogamous customs. In fact, the practice of polygamy is widespread and normative in most African societies, and the Tiwis of Northern Australia (aborigines). There are several reasons why polygamy is inherently practised in such societies:

· A man’s wealth is measured as being directly proportionate to the number of wives and children he has
· The more wives a man has, the more political alliances he creates
· A bigger family ensures the rapid growth of cultivation in agricultural land
· Women may feel safer in a larger household
· Women are given time to rest before bearing another child for her husband
· Access to resources is monopolized
· Economic rewards are received in exchange for having sexual relationships

In fact, certain anthropologists may go on to explain the various cultural dimensions and dynamics that are embedded in marriage customs such as Power distance, Individualism - collectivism, Masculinity-femininity and Uncertainty avoidance (Hofstede,1991). One however needs to understand that the practices in the different societies were constructed as a means to ensure continuity and inclusiveness within its people, to survive amidst their social circumstances and environment.


Goodale, J.C. (1962) “Marriage Contracts among the Tiwi”.EthnologyVol. 1, No. 4University of Pittsburgh- Of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education. (pp. 452-466)
"Polygamy."West's Encyclopedia of American Law. on November 1, 2012) from
Scheidel, W. (2008). “Monogamy and Polygyny in Greece, Rome and world history”. Version 1.0. Princeton/ Stanford Working Papers in Classics. pp. 2-13
Zeitzen, M.K. (2008) “Polygamy: A Cross- Cultural Analysis.” Berg. (pp. 1-20)

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