Why Monogamy Matters


I always considered monogamy a little bit restrictive — one person for life seemed narrow, although a more accurate definition means one partner at a time. Recently I have been thinking about how important monogamy was to Western Civilization and how central it is to the Judeo-Christian tradition, far more central to Western Civilization than “free speech” or “freedom of religion”, neither of which really existed at the beginning of Western Civ.

Monogamy being patriarchal seems counter-intuitive — aren’t men motivated to stray and find new partners, the same as women are? Yep, men are motivated to do so, but cultural monogamy discourages average people from doing so. So the patriarchy is restricting the behavior of men and women for the benefit of the collective. But why would monogamy be better for the collective?

Here is why successful societies encourage monogamy, or why monogamy tended to produce successful societies in the last 20K years:

  1. Monogamy generally means that men have greater confidence that they are the real father of their children which means they are more likely to invest in raising their children.

  2. Monogamy generally means more males in the population have partners. Those males at the top still have more access to females, but less access than they would in a polygamous or female dominated culture. If more males have partners, two things happen:

a. A greater variety of genes get translated to future generations, and this also means less potential for inbreeding.

b. The males in the society are more invested in the society, therefore working harder on a daily basis and putting in more effort to defend the civilization from outside threats. If, on the other hand, there were too many males in the society that did not have sexual partners, they would mutiny, challenge higher status males for power creating instability, or leave the society.

With sexual liberation, where to a large extent monogamy is less “culturally enforced”, we see a lot less partnering and a lot more men in society without partners (and women too). Free women tend to be more motivated to mate with higher status men, than men are to mate with higher status women. I would hypothesize that patriarchal societies primarily exist to curb (or counteract) the natural female instinct to mate “up”, so that more men in the society have partners and thus have more stake in the society. The vast vast majority of successful human societies have been patriarchal, and I would argue that the above reasons were why they were successful.

You will find some interesting info about monogamy (or lack thereof) in Islamic societies here: https://qr.ae/TWTnUF

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