In an attempt to shed light on just how normal polyamory can be, CBS recently released a mini documentary titled “Speaking Frankly: Non-monogamy.” It features people involved in various types of non-monogamous relationships as well as experts in favor of this lifestyle, including an anthropologist and sexuality professor.
This effort to normalize non-monogamy is nothing new. Earlier this year, Dave Rubin of “The Rubin Report” interviewed evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, who discussed the ever-expanding, ever-perplexing socially left theories of human relationships and sexuality.
Miller boldly declared that our medical and technological advancements have rendered monogamy unnecessary. The frequent claim is that, as a species, we’re not made for monogamy, and that’s why many couples find it so difficult to remain faithful and happy.
For people who attempt the monogamous lifestyle and then decide, as Miller puts it, “This is not working. I need something different, better, more open, whatever,” sexual experimentation with outside parties just might be the solution. Certainly, it might seem that way if monogamy has become monotonous. But the truth is that polyamory does more harm than good to our bodies, emotional stability, and society at large.
Physiologically, Monogamy Makes More Sense
While we do possess a number of characteristics common among monogamous creatures, we are not as strictly monogamous as, for example, swans, which refuse to mate with a second partner even if their first one dies.
Humans do, however, establish whole family relationships, which isn’t particularly common among mammals. Another mammal that does prioritize family bonds is the prairie vole. These critters are also extremely monogamous, mating with only one vole for life, preferring each other’s company over outsiders, and even going to extreme measures to avoid voles of the opposite sex.
A close relative of the prairie vole is the montane vole, which lives a far more polyamorous lifestyle. Interestingly, the physiological makeup of montane voles and prairie voles is almost identical, with a few exceptions. One of their differences is the montane vole’s lack of neural receptors for oxytocin and vasopressin.
Both humans and prairie voles secrete these hormones during sex. The hormones also spike during childbirth and breastfeeding, two other activities during which emotional bonds are established. The presence of these receptors is one indication that humans are meant to forge sentimental bonds with their sexual partners as opposed to simply enjoying one another for pleasure and then going separate ways. By nature, polyamory leads to repeatedly creating and then cutting sexual ties, which compromises a person’s capacity for intimacy.
Dr. Gregory Popcak explains a condition known as defensive attachment, which scientists have identified. People who have experienced numerous failed sexual relationships may begin to experience numbness in the presence of those with whom they’re sexually intimate. Feelings of passion and emotional closeness with someone can eventually become unattainable.
Maybe some polyamorists would say this is exactly what they’re aiming for: To numb themselves to the emotions that accompany intercourse in order to experience it solely for the sake of physical pleasure. As noble as that goal is (not), it’s impossible to attain without some undesirable side affects, since a strong correlation exists between multiple sexual partners and rates of anxiety, depression, and addiction.
As a species, we’re pretty terrible at throwing our bodies into something without emerging emotionally unaffected. Physiologically, we’re wired for intimacy of both our bodies and minds, and try as we might, we can’t divorce the two. The more partners a person has, the less intimate sex tends to become for them over time.
Furthermore, the reproductive cycle of human females provides a clue as to why we’re more fit for monogamy. Jane Goodall, the famous primatologist and anthropologist, noted that among chimpanzees — which are not monogamous— a female is only sexually active when she’s in heat. Once that time terminates, however, her sexual availability does as well, leaving any partnership she’s established to dwindle and eventually disappear.
For humans, though, women’s continuous ability to connect sexually with a partner allows them to nurture a stronger bond, essentially holding them together whether she’s fertile or not.
Monogamy Offers Societal Advantages
Those who support polyamory often claim monogamy is simply an unnecessary social construct. “Monogamous, heterosexual family is a thoroughly modern invention,” Peter Sigal, a professor of history and sexuality, declares on the CBS documentary. “It wasn’t the primary way of thinking about relationships before the modern period.”
This may be true, but it definitely does not render monogamy unnecessary. After all, there are plenty of “modern inventions,” such as education, that we wouldn’t dream of doing away with since their benefits to society are irrefutable. Unfortunately, knowledge of the social benefits of monogamy is less sought out, possibly because it’s easier either to blindly applaud or to become an all-out polyamorist and assume the lifestyle is equally as sound as monogamy.
But despite monogamy being primarily a cultural construct, it’s responsible for our advanced accomplishments as a civilization. Societies where polygamy is practiced see far more warfare as well as spikes of emotional dissatisfaction with marriage and life in general.
What’s interesting about arguments in favor of polyamory is their frequent reference to the unrestricted sexual relationships among primates. Bonobos and chimpanzees, the closest non-extinct relatives to humans, from an evolutionary standpoint, are a highly promiscuous, non-monogamous species, so why should humans repress their sexual urges through monogamy? The weakness in this postulation is that bonobos and chimpanzees are still bonobos and chimpanzees. Human beings, however, thanks to the advantages of pair bonding, have progressed markedly further than any other primates.
In no other species do males work together as effectively and efficiently as human beings. This is one of our distinct capacities that separates us from the animal kingdom and makes us human.
When relationship boundaries exist and are respected through self-control, synergy is more possible, and advancements take place for civilization. To reject our self-control, overstep boundaries, and indulge carelessly in our sexual appetites is to take an evolutionary step backward.
Medical Advancements Don’t Make Casual Sex Truly Safe
It’s true that we’ve done a decent job of minimizing the likelihood of conception and disease-swapping via sex. According to Miller, since we now have “contraception, safer sex, and STI testing … paternity testing … [and] a lot of other technologies … that can solve some of the same issues that monogamy used to solve,” monogamy isn’t as advantageous.
Ironically, even though we’re at the height of scientific and medical progress, STDs are at an all-time high. Sure, slipping on a condom might reduce the chance of contracting one, but by no means does it eliminate the risk since a plethora of sexually transmitted infections are spread through skin-to-skin contact. When a couple opens their relationship to outsiders, they’re also opening themselves up to the probability of contracting an STD, unless they’re rigorous about screening each one of their partners repeatedly.
Polyamory Gets Old
The myth of polyamory is that as long as all parties are completely transparent, it works out in everyone’s favor. Reality paints a slightly different picture.
Once sex ceases to be about intimacy and commitment between two people, it inevitably becomes performance-based. From there, it’s only a matter of time before someone strikes up a stronger sexual chemistry with one person over another, and then jealousy and heartbreak ensue. The lifestyle is a continuous cycle of making and breaking physical and emotional attachments.
Older polyamorists, those who have been at the lifestyle for decades, claim to grow weary of the constant conversations about dating and jealousy. Of course, monogamous couples may grow weary of one another and their circumstances as well, but the beauty of monogamy is that in building a relationship, each partner can devote themselves wholly to one another. Doing so through acts of love and generosity leads to greater happiness in marriage.
With such a high divorce rate and plenty of dissatisfaction among intact marriages, it makes sense that more and more people are setting their sights on options other than monogamy. Indeed, a faithful, long-term marriage may not be the ideal life path for some people. But the claim that a lifetime littered with miscellaneous sexual partners is equally as advantageous for the individual, family, and society as monogamous marriage is ludicrous.