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Depending on who you ask, monogamy is either essential to a successful marriage or it is unrealistic and sets couples up for failure.
In this video, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, psychologist Chris Ryan, former Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman, and psychotherapist Esther Perel discuss the science and culture of monogamy, the role it plays in making or breaking relationships, and whether or not humans evolved to have one partner at a time.
“The bottom line is, for millions of years, there were some reproductive payoffs not only to forming a pair bond but also to adultery,” says Fisher, “leaving each one of us with a tremendous drive to fall in love and pair up, but also some susceptibility to cheating on the side.”
Read Helen Fisher’s latest book “Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray” at https://amzn.to/2VGpJ3W
HELEN FISHER: Monogamy is natural. Adultery is natural too. Neither are part of the supernatural. But I don’t think people really understand monogamy. Mono means one, and gamy means spouse, one spouse. Polygyny, poly means many, gyny means women, many women. We are an animal that forms pair bonds. We are basically mono-gamous, monogamous. We’re also adulterous, I think we’ve evolved what I call a dual human reproductive strategy, and we tend to be an animal that, a creature that forms a pair bond for a period of time, breaks that pair bond and forms a new pair bond. Serial monogamy and clandestine adultery. I think we’ve evolved these three distinctly different brain systems for mating and reproduction: sex drive, feelings of intense romantic love, and feelings of deep attachment. They’re often connected to each other. You can fall in love with somebody, drives up the dopamine system, triggers the testosterone system and all of a sudden they’re the sexiest person in the whole world. But they’re not always well-connected, you can lie in bed at night and feel deep attachment for one person, and then swing wildly into feelings of intense romantic love for somebody else, and then swing wildly into feeling the sex drive for somebody who you’ve barely ever met. Which made me wonder whether millions of years ago there was something adaptive about having a partnership with one person and raising your babies and having extra relationships with other people. And it’s actually relatively easy to explain—dial back a billion years, you got a man who has got a wife, a partnership and two children, and he occasionally goes over the hill and sleeps with another woman and has two children, extra children with her. He’s doubled the amount of DNA he has spread into the next generation. Those children will live and pass on whatever it is in him, some of the genetics, some of the brain circuitry to be predisposed to adultery. But why would a woman be adulterous? A lot of people think that they’re not as adulterous, but every time there’s a man sleeping around, he’s generally sleeping around with a woman, so you got to explain women too. What would a woman have gotten if she’s had a partner a million years ago and two children, she slips over the hill and has sex with another man. Well, she’ll get extra goods and resources, extra meat, extra protection. If her husband gets injured and dies, one of these extra lovers might come in and help her with her children, even think some of those children are his. It’s an insurance policy, and she may even have an extra child and create more genetic variety in her lineage. So the bottom line is for millions of years, there were some reproductive payoffs, not only to forming a pair bond, but also to adultery, leaving each one of us with a tremendous drive to fall in love and pair up, but also some susceptibility to cheating on the side.
CHRISTOPHER RYAN: We are designed by evolution to be titillated by erotic novelty, males and females. Given that evolutionary design, it’s completely predictable that 10 years of the same thing, whether it’s the same music or the same food or the same sex partner, is going to lead to resentment, discomfort, whatever. It’s going to lead to a diminishment of passion, certainly. So we start with that, and then we add to that, the notion that we’re taught that that shouldn’t happen, that if it does happen, there’s something wrong with you or something wrong with your relationship. And so people aren’t expecting that to happen. And so they interpret that diminishment of passion as a failure. It’s not your fault, it’s not your partner’s fault, it’s the…
Read the full transcript at https://bigthink.com/videos/is-monogamy-natural-evolution