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Preferences in Polyamory vs Monogamy in Men and Women

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Personal Interest

I engaged in a conversation recently that began with a fleeting mention about how, for the sake of my own emotional stability, I wish that monogamy was the natural course of action for human mating strategy.

 

This is a lot like the well-beaten "why do men cheat?" question, but less one-sided, less political/societal, and more biological.

Personally, I am a very all-in, committed type. Once I'm in, I don't think about or look at anyone other than my significant other, because I don't want to or feel the need to. It's like everyone else becomes less attractive. I have always been this way.

Being a generally heterosexual woman, I'm sure anyone could imagine that it's difficult for me to come across a man that works this way.

I'm no man-hating feminist, but it's definitely frustrating when I'm giving my all, and in the back of my mind, I'm constantly reminded that I will most likely never find a partner that invests the way that I do.

Prior Research

I've seen quite a few articles on the mental health, marital success, etc. of people in polygamous relationships1, and I've seen some on the struggle to accept polyamory in our monogamy-encouraging society2/3/4, but neither of those things are really what I'm looking for.

 

I found it funny that I came across articles regarding the acceptance of polyamory, and getting past the way our monogamous society looks down on infidelity, when in it's been shown that an overwhelming percentage of people have accepted the idea that their partners will probably cheat at least once.6/8 There are even programs geared towards accepting and forgiving infidelity.5

 

Further Research

I'm looking for any peer-reviewed literature on these subjects, and subjects like these, regarding human mating strategies:

1) The pros and cons of polyamory

2) The pros and cons of monogamy

3) What mating strategies are humans evolving towards?

4) Are there significance differences in mating strategy preferences in men vs women?7

 

 

 

I've left some things out, but this is just a quick post to get thoughts flowing.

 

 

 

Articles

1. Al-Krenawi, A., Graham, J.R. 2006. A comparison of family functioning, life and marital satisfaction, and mental health of women in polygamous and monogamous marriages. Int J Soc Psychiatry. 52(1): 5-17.

2. Sheff, E. 2005. Polyamorous Women, Sexual Subjectivity and Power. Jour of Contemp Ethnography. 34(3): 251-283.

3. Emens, E.F. 2004. Monogamy's Law: Compulsory Monogamy and Polyamorous Existence. New York Univ Review of Law & Soc Change. 29: 277.

4. Barker, M. 2004. This is my partner, and this is my... partner's partner: Constructing a polyamorous identity in a monogamous world. Jour of Constructivist Psych. 18(1): 75-88.

5. Olmstead, S.B., Blick, R.W., Mills, L.I. 2009. Helping Couples Work Toward the Forgiveness of Marital Infidelity: Therapists' Perspectives. The American Jour of Fam Therapy. 37(1): 48-66.

6. McLendon, P.C. 2009. The Relationship Between Past Infidelity and Acceptance of Infidelity in Others. (http://clearinghouse.missouriwestern.edu/manuscripts/217.php)

7. Cann, A., Magnum, G.L., Wells, M. 2001. Distress in response to relationship infidelity: The roles of gender and attitudes about relationships. Jour of Sex Research. 38(3): 185-190.

8. Sharpe, D.I., Walters, A.S., Goren, M.J. 2013. Effect of Cheating Experience on Attitudes toward Infidelity. Sexuality & Culture. 17: 643-658.

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I don't think it is a given that males are so predisposed to polyamory. Sexual dimorphism in humans is relatively mild, reminiscent more of a mating strategy where the majority of individuals are monogamous with occasional infidelity. On a personal note, I wouldn't let your frustrations get to you, there are plenty of loyal men out there, I actually tend to have similar view of the situation, finding that many women are disloyal.

 

The answers to your questions really depend upon what aspect of these mating strategies you are looking at. Whether it be the psychological/sociological or the evolutionary advantage, because the pros/cons will differ in each aspect and also differ based on whether we are viewing it from the male or female perspective.

Edited by chadn737

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Obviously, biologically, the cost of reproduction is greater, from the female perspective. I feel like many of the pros/cons from the female side stem from that fact. And most of the pros/cons for males probably stem from the fact that polyamory is a much more effective way to increase your fitness than monogamy.

 

Anyway, I'm looking for advantages and disadvantages primarily in the evolutionary/biological category, but any category is good, really. I'm just gathering knowledge, at the moment. Attempting to better understand how we're hardwired.

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At first glance, polyamory seems advantageous to the male, unless it some how impacts the survival of the offspring. If a male ensures increased survival of the offspring by divesting more time and attention to them, then this can be as successful a strategy as polyamory. Of course, we also have to take into consideration female choice as well. There is an alternative possibility where the female can have her cake and eat it too....cuckoldry. Here the female mates with a male that genetically may be of greater fitness, but takes advantage of the weaker male who may divest more time into raising the young. I'll have to look up some references later tonight, but on this subject, I would actually recommend Matt Ridley's The Red Queen. In particular chapters 6 and 7 are a very broad overview of exactly what you are looking for.

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I believe one of the articles I cited has a bit about cuckoldry.

I'll definitely check out those chapters when I can get my hands on them. Thank you!

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There is a lot of literature on that topic, but one that I remember off the top of my head is one that discusses models under which seeking additional mates is beneficial (Evolution. 2013 Oct;67(10):2838-48. doi: 10.1111/evo.12163. Epub 2013 Jun 12.).

 

One thing to note is that 3) does not make sense as populations do not evolve towards something in the general sense. There are certain situations such as mate availability and other factors that favor one strategy over another, but this may change as circumstances are different. I would also be careful to extrapolate general strategies to individuals as chadn737 pointed out. And it should also be noted that there is much more going on in relationships on the psychological as well as biochemical level (including with hormones such as oxytocin) as such general evolutionary models can cope.

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The idea that resonated with me is that it depends entirely on intended outcome, and different outcomes have different evolutionary benefits. In the polygamous approach, you get greater diversity in your offspring so they are less likely to all die off from some disease or illness. They are more likely to have adaptations that suit a particular environment. However, with monogamy the priority tends to be quality parenting and focused rearing of offspring (quality over quantity). That too has enormous evolutionary value.

 

It might help also to consider examples of polygamy and monogamy in the animal kingdom. IMO, this helps set some context for behaviors from us humans, and helps one realize that perhaps it should not be treated as such an enormous personal insult when a partner is acts on those powerful biological urges that have been reinforced for millions of years... especially since only about 5% of animals are monogamous. Monogamy is the exception, not the rule.

 

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/love-for-life-animals-mostly-monogamous/

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Well, not as a personal insult, but I would be careful to derive personal behavior from these generalized strategies. In many systems (from animal down to bacteria) there is an ongoing battle between "cheater" and "cooperators" and child rearing does fall into these categories somewhat. While absolute monogamy is rare as a species trait, individuals can fall into either category depending on immediate circumstances. These strategies are generally fluid and not fixed. And then there are of course modern societal effects that shake things up a bit.

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The idea that resonated with me is that it depends entirely on intended outcome, and different outcomes have different evolutionary benefits. In the polygamous approach, you get greater diversity in your offspring so they are less likely to all die off from some disease or illness. They are more likely to have adaptations that suit a particular environment. However, with monogamy the priority tends to be quality parenting and focused rearing of offspring (quality over quantity). That too has enormous evolutionary value.

 

It might help also to consider examples of polygamy and monogamy in the animal kingdom. IMO, this helps set some context for behaviors from us humans, and helps one realize that perhaps it should not be treated as such an enormous personal insult when a partner is acts on those powerful biological urges that have been reinforced for millions of years... especially since only about 5% of animals are monogamous. Monogamy is the exception, not the rule.

 

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/love-for-life-animals-mostly-monogamous/

 

That will really depend on whether you mean "greater diversity" at the population level or specifically in the context of ones own offspring. In the former, my first guess is that monogamy would generate greater diversity, as each generation would be the product of multiple males, versus a select few. The calculations and modeling would have to be done however to see if my hunch is correct.

Edited by chadn737

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Both of those are great points. I was referring to diversity in the offspring, not the population as a whole, but I also quite like the game theory caveat about categories being fluid and depending on immediate needs and circumstances.

 

I also need to apologize for the sloppy unfocused phrasing in my previous post. I got distracted with an exploding diaper and didn't edit it very well and post quality was... well... crappy as a result.

Edited by iNow

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From the ageing/longevity point of view, I and some people in my group believe that as technology progresses, we will tend to move away from monogamy/procreation and become more polyamorous (non-procreative). See here for some general ideas:

 

http://cadelllast.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/last-c-2014-radical-life-extension-and-the-end-of-biological-reproduction1.pdf

 

 

http://hplusmagazine.com/2013/11/26/sexuality-evolution-and-the-abolition-of-aging/.

 

This refers to the Point number 3 of the OP

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Both of those are great points. I was referring to diversity in the offspring, not the population as a whole, but I also quite like the game theory caveat about categories being fluid and depending on immediate needs and circumstances.

 

I also need to apologize for the sloppy unfocused phrasing in my previous post. I got distracted with an exploding diaper and didn't edit it very well and post quality was... well... crappy as a result.

Eh, if that would be an enforced standard I would not be allowed to post here.

For example if I had been paying attention I would have specified that evolutionary strategies often do not translate well into individual behavior (I just put it in kind of vaguely) and that circumstances will strongly affect actual behavior. For example, from a generalized standpoint the female has the advantage of knowing that the children she supports are actually hers. As such the male should have interest in establishing sexual monopoly over his partner to ensure that the children he supports are actually his, while spreading around his genes. This is essentially only possible if the male contributes to child support in a crucial way (or by physical domination in some species). However, in situations in which females have a higher sanction potential the game changes (depending on resource use, cuckolding could be considered one example)..

 

In humans the first case is reflected in many (most?) patriarchal societies which often sanction and judge female promiscuity more than male. The sanctions against or enabling promiscuous behavior are often societal ones. However with empowering of women the outcome can be quite different.

The Mosou of China for example are a deeply matriarchal society in which children all belong to the maternal line. Husbands (or equivalents) can be invited by a woman, but technically they still belong to the maternal family. The woman has the right to change partners, but the male remain visitors. The bonds are therefore not fixed but are solely based on mutual affection and have been termed walking marriages. Interestingly the majority of relationships are long-term and monogamous.

 

One of the reasons is that in apes sexuality is not exclusively tied to reproduction but has a strong social context. And with the use of contraception there is even a bigger disconnect.

 

Darn, I am pretty sure this is ranty again..

 

OK attempt at short version even if there are evolutionary advantages to certain types of behavior over generations and in certain populations, if you cheat on your partner you are still an asshole, and are likely to be subjected to social sanctions (which may in turn affect fitness, if you want to go full circle).

Coffee time.

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A recent video I watched reminded me of this thread.

 

Are any Animals Truly Monogamous?

 

 

 

References available in the About video section after clicking Show More.

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There has been some actual research on human female mating and sexual behaviors, recently, and among the findings are that women are attracted to different genetic as well as societal types at different stages of their reproductive cycles (both monthly and over child-raising time scales), that women become less intensely and sexually attracted to partner men after a while regardless of their level of "committment", that women tend to be aroused by visual sexual stimuli involving strangers of a wider variety than men, that arousal as measured by physiological response is much more often not acknowledged or even recognized by women than men (at least in modern Western societies), that women have a greater capacity than men to enjoy, not merely handle, multiple simultaneous sexual partners, and so forth.

 

The net picture that seems to be emerging is of three to seven year episodes of serial monogamy or possibly female grouping/coupling as the basis of childraising, derived from or punctuated by episodes of outbreeding with mulitple partners chosen for their genetic distance or some proxy of it, the whole embedded in a context of sexual reward for young men on an essentially tribal or locally promiscuous basis predicated on their contribution to the tribal welfare.

 

Or as the wisest of us observed long ago: "Kissin' don't last. Cookin' do."

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