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What Is Monogamy?

Having one partner at a time is a popular cultural norm in many societies.
Social monogamy involves forming a connection with someone to share resources.
In true sexual monogamy, people only have sex with one other person.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 13 December 2014
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Monogamy is a practice characterized by only having a single partner at any given time, in contrast with polygamy, where people may have multiple partners. This practice takes a number of different forms in the human and animal world and in the early 2000s, some significant scientific studies changed the way people thought about monogamy. Among humans, having only one partner is generally believed to be preferable and desirable, although there are some communities where this is not necessarily the norm.

In true sexual monogamy, people only have sex with one other person. This may be for life, or it may be in the form of serial relationships, with people moving through a series of sexually exclusive relationships. Having only one sexual partner is believed to be an important part of marriage in many cultures, and having sexual relationships with people outside a marriage can be grounds for divorce or the breakup of a relationship.

Social monogamy involves forming a connection with someone to share resources, engage in sexual activity, and raise children together. It often involves sexual exclusivity as well, but this is not always the case. Social monogamy isn't exclusive to humans; many bird species previously believed to be sexually monogamous have since been revealed as socially monogamous. They form attachments with mates, but may have sex with other birds. In some cases, they even bear young with these outside partners.

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There are various biological and social advantages to only having one partner for some species that play a role in determining whether species as a whole opt for monogamous relationships or other types of arrangements. Genetics also appears to play a role. In species with a long history of monogamy, genes appear to code for rewards for organisms that form lasting and exclusive bonds with just one other organism. In these organisms, neurotransmitters that stimulate the reward areas of the brain are emitted during interactions, especially close physical ones, with monogamous partners.

Historically, the belief that people should only have one sexual partner at a time has played an important role in many human societies. It is common for rules of inheritance to follow patrimonial lineage and in many cultures monogamy among women in particular was deemed of great importance so that men could be assured that the children in their marriages were their own. The valuing of monogamy also contributed to the social attitudes that surround marriage and other types of human relationships. Humans also appear to be among the species that have some genetic predisposition to monogamy.

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literally45
Post 5

@ZipLine-- Islam is often cited as one of those faiths that you mentioned. Islam does allow a man to have multiple wives (up to four to be exact), but we must clarify that the religion doesn't encourage this. In fact, the holy book of the Muslims -- the Qur'an -- advises men to avoid this arrangement if they want to be just individuals.

A man is allowed to take multiple wives only if he can and will treat each wife equally in all ways. But at the same time, Islam suggests that this is not possible, as one will always be favored above others. So polygamy is not encouraged but it is not a sin either if a man chooses to do it.

Most Muslims I know are monogamous. They only have one wife and have no intention of taking another.

discographer
Post 4

@Lostnfound-- I agree with you. No matter what people say, I don't believe that anyone would really want to share their partner with someone else. I think that we humans are instinctively very strict about this and we become upset and jealous if we have to share our loved one's attention and affection with others. We'd be kidding ourselves if we think otherwise.

ZipLine
Post 3

Recently, I hear more and more people say that polygamy is natural for humans. It's interesting to learn that our genetic disposition is more inclined towards monogamy.

I'm personally not sure which I believe. It's possible to take different sides on this based on cultural, religions and personal opinions. Some faiths for example, allow polygamy and some even encourage it. It's a very complex topic overall.

Lostnfound
Post 2

@Grivusangel -- One headache at a time is enough! I jest. i love my husband and I can't imagine being as compatible with anyone else. I know myself well enough to know if we were not monogamous, I'd be comparing myself to every woman he met -- mostly unfavorably.

I just think for humans in general, monogamy is the better choice for most of us. Some people can handle multiple partners. I can't, and neither can most people I know. We might look, but we understand the heartache that can come if you pursue a non-monogamous relationship. Monogamous relationships fail too, but at least you're only failing with one person at a time -- not two or three -- or more.

Grivusangel
Post 1

I have a friend who is a proponent of polyamory. She and her boyfriend broke up after dating for two years because he couldn't cope with that lifestyle -- for her or for himself. She made friends with a woman who was also into that lifestyle and the boyfriend agreed to try allowing the woman to move in.

He told me he lived with it for about six months, but just couldn't deal with it. He talked to his girlfriend and she wouldn't agree to asking the woman to leave, so he left. The other woman left shortly thereafter and my friend hasn't had a stable relationship since then.

If I didn't already believe monogamy was a really good thing, that would have convinced me. None of these people have strong religious beliefs, and they're all very open, sexually. But they were damaged. I've heard of people making it work, but I still stand for monogamy.

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