As the question states, got curious and I was wondering if monogamy is an innate human behaviour or is it because of how we built society (religion, traditions, etc.)?

Let's say we go back in time, would we see humans settling down with a single partner at a time and caring for their children as a couple for life or would they reproduce with several leaving the mothers with their children?


  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Jul 11 '17 at 7:11
  • $\begingroup$ Please see this meta post for a discussion on why this question was closed. $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Jul 11 '17 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ Not at all... Humans are traditionally a warrior territorial tribal culture, that fight, that catch slaves as trophies, slaves are generally recorded in all human cultures, from roman, greek, north america, south american, papuan, african, oriental, chinese, vikings, slavery was the norm, as soon as the culture was a warrior culture... The female slaves did work for the owners, and they probably weren't nuns!!! I saw a papuan on TV say: my second wife, i ate the husband and buried his leg. the second one, I just ate the brain because i was not hungry and buried the rest. he had 3 wives. $\endgroup$ Jul 11 '17 at 19:51
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ How in the heck is this opinion-based? The are arguments on human monogamousness based on the differences in physiology between humans and other apes (whose sexual behaviour is known, and probably stems from biology rather than cultural expectations). There may be other arguments. Whether someone accepts any of those arguments is different, but then humans are very good at denying things they don't like, regardless of the subject. Even a possible lack of consensus doesn't make something opinion-based: "we don't know for sure but here's what we do know" is a valuable answer too. $\endgroup$
    – ilkkachu
    Jul 12 '17 at 9:28
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @ilkkachu Quickly gain 2899 reputation and vote to reopen! $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Jul 12 '17 at 16:49

Humans are believed to be mostly serial monogamists with a noticeable components of secret cheating. Serial monogamy means most will have a single partner at a time but will likely have several partners throughout their life, there is however an under current (~15%) of hidden cheating in most studied populations. Also I say mostly becasue human behavior is plastic and nearly every possible combination exists, albeit in small numbers. Males do have a stronger tendency to seek multiple partners at the same time, which makes biological sense.
like many social species you really have several mating strategies coexisting, often in the same head. Our large brains allow for more flexible approach to strategies.

In other animals exclusive (one mate forever) monogamy is exceptionally, almost breathtakingly rare, (not counting animals that only ever mate once). The Azara's night monkey is one of the few that has been backed by genetic research. Almost every monogamous species ever studied either has some rate of cheating, or is serial monogamous.

  • 21
    $\begingroup$ Unlike other species humans also have an incredible ability to resist and skew objective studies of their behavior (from reality TV wannabes to lawsuits to crimes against humanity trials) so be mindful of how any such data has been collected. $\endgroup$ Jul 10 '17 at 1:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Data collected from the Ache hunter gatherer tribe suggests that humans were somewhat promiscuous even when it could not be kept hidden. Relative testes size, which for humans are intermediate between highly promiscuous chimpanzees and the gorillas with their single sire harems, would tend to confirm an intermediate level of promiscuity. The Ache data suggest that a moderate level of promiscuity was adaptive, with survival to adulthood maximized at about two potential fathers per child due to the significant chance of fathers dying from violence before their children reached adulthood. $\endgroup$
    – Warren Dew
    Jul 10 '17 at 4:17
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Answer would be improved by contextualising monogamy with an example of a species that is actually monogamous. I remember seeing a documentary which mentioned a species of lizard which pair for life, and walk side by side for the rest of their lives until one dies. But maybe it was just a dream I had when I fell asleep watching a nature program... point is, we often think we're "monogamous" but biologically speaking there are many species which actually pair for life and put our romantic efforts to shame. $\endgroup$ Jul 10 '17 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ I claim that humans have only one partner at a time only because they are too lazy to prove others that they do not live wrong if they choose to have several partners at once. Unless a date lasted for a few hours in prehistoric times. $\endgroup$
    – rus9384
    Jan 24 '19 at 7:19

The easy answer is simply, no.

The longer answer is that it depends on whatever cultural norms that are practiced in a given area at a certain time.

Often powerful men in history had multiple lovers, but had arranged marriages. Like wise open relationships were very normal in the 60's and 70's of the 20th century. Also polygamous relationships are practiced in certain religions today.

While in modern times, especially in the west, we seem to tend toward the monogamous relationships, it seems to be more dependent on culture rather than biology.

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ As a personal comment. If we were evolved to be monogamous it seems rather conflicting that we can be sexually attracted to other people besides our current partner. $\endgroup$ Jul 9 '17 at 23:59
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Mating partners die sometimes, and quite frequently in the past. Bonding so strongly that you don't find another attractive makes no sense. $\endgroup$
    – frеdsbend
    Jul 10 '17 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ @fredsbend: But many, if not most, humans actually act on those attractions without waiting for the death of the current partner. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jul 12 '17 at 5:00
  • $\begingroup$ @James 1) That has nothing to do with the original assertion in Jeppe's comment. 2) "Many" and "most" are not words I'd use to describe 15% of the population. $\endgroup$
    – frеdsbend
    Jul 12 '17 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ @fredsbend my original comment was mostly focused on the cases were sexual attraction occur despite the partner being within a few meters. However if that increases the chance of passing on our genes, it is hardly surprising that we feel that way. From a simplified perspective; males being opportunistic while females seek stability and safety, would make good sense based on the hunter/gatherer theory. Males would then seek to pass on their genes as often as possible, while females would prioritize the safety of children by pursuing relationships with the males supplying food most often. $\endgroup$ Jul 12 '17 at 16:10

I just read a book on the Evolution of Sex and one of the questions was why primates have lost the estrous cycle. The thought was that the sexual desire of the female anytime rather then periodically tends to keep the male "at Home" ensuring survival of the female and offspring. This implies that males are genetically engineered for monogamy but since females can survive now without a male (as opposed to those living in a cave) some males at least in younger years practice polygamy as do females.


No, they are not.

Polygyny, polyandry and group marriage are, or have been, practiced in various cultures. Polyamory and other forms of non-monogamy are practiced. There are estimates that four to five percent of Americans are involved in consensual non-monogamy (despite social pressure for monogamy).

A sizeable portion of what the porn industry is creating revolves around the subject of threesomes, group sex, cheating, cuckoldry etc. etc., so quite apparently there is a market for that. It turns people on, be that for the thrill of "breaking the taboo" or some underlying desire. (Excuse me for not posting a link to back this up. Use your favourite bookmark.)

There is nothing to indicate that non-monogamy in any of its forms is "unnatural" to humans. Tabooed in some cultures and / or religions, but not unnatural.

...over much of human prehistory, polygyny was the rule rather than the exception...

This paper puts that shift at about 18,000ya -- roughly the same time that agriculture became common, but much too recent to claim that Homo Sapiens as a species is now "naturally" monogamous.

It is rather something that developed culturally:

...an analysis of foragers in the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample reveals that male provisioning does affect the mating system. Societies with higher male contribution to subsistence are more monogamous.

On page 147 of "The myth of monogamy. Fidelity and infidelity in animals and people" (ISBN 0-7167-4004-4), David P. Barash concludes that about 80% of human societies lived polygynous before they came into contact with the "Western" culture.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The question is about a general characterization of the species. You've posted examples of exceptions, not generalizations. That's cherry picking, a logical fallacy. $\endgroup$
    – frеdsbend
    Jul 10 '17 at 20:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @fredsbend: At which percentage of current population living non-monogamous, or historic records of non-monogamy, do these so-called "exceptions" suffice in your eyes to indicate that we as a species are not "naturally" monogamous? It's a cultural / religious taboo, mostly. $\endgroup$
    – DevSolar
    Jul 10 '17 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ @fredsbend: FWIW, lifting from WP, three representative studies in the USA found that "about 10–15% of women and 20–25% of men engage in extramarital sex". There are more numbers in there. That's a pretty large number of "exceptions" to uphold a claim that humans were "naturally" a monogamous species. (Be very aware when crossing the line where you're calling non-monogamous people "unnatural".) $\endgroup$
    – DevSolar
    Jul 10 '17 at 20:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @fredsbend: I take "natural"/"innate" behaviour to mean "freak cases nonwithstanding". Tigers are natural carnivores. Horses are natural flight animals. Swans are naturally monogamous. Humans sometimes are, sometimes aren't monogamous, so saying they are "naturally" so is just false, and marginalizing a sizeable portion of the population. Also, you seem to confuse this with a discussion forum. Post a dissenting answer and downvote mine, if you like, but I woukd wellcome if you could get off my back about this. $\endgroup$
    – DevSolar
    Jul 12 '17 at 5:57
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @fredsbend: If humans were "naturally" monogamous, the first person anyone has sex with would be the only one (barring death &c) (Like some fish, where the male embeds himself in the female.) But (per CDC statistics: cdc.gov/nchs/nsfg/key_statistics/n.htm ) the average is 4-6. When you consider that many people either don't have the practical option of having multiple, frequent sex partners, or choose not to do so for religious/cultural reasons, the conclusion is that the majority aren't monogamous by nature. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jul 12 '17 at 18:51

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.