From Darwin to Eternity

Evolutionary moral psychology.

Are People "Naturally" Polygamous?

Western civilization is both fascinated and repelled by the idea that a man could have more than one wife at a time. In the USA, polygamy-themed shows like Big Love and Sister Wives have attracted much attention, as has the trial of polygamist Warren Jeffs. Read More

Neat article. I think I know

Neat article. I think I know the answer to the question you posed at the end, but I'll keep schtum for now. ;)

To anyone who doesn't see how polygyny falls naturally out of human nature, here's a simple thought experiment:

Lined up are ten men and across from them are ten women. It's time for them to hook up with each other.

What's gonna happen?

Ideal outcome: All of the men and all of the women get to pair up just as they wanted. Everybody's happy. Nobody is left heartbroken and alone.

Actual outcome: The men and women vary in attractiveness, and do not match up equally. George McStud is tall, handsome, charming, and oozes confidence, whereas Dilbert McNerd is scrawny, timid, and creepy. The rest of the men lie somewhere in between. The women may range from Milla Jovovich on one end, to Tubbs Tattsyrup on the other.

Technically, all that the ten women need from George is a few minutes of thrusting followed by a grunt, and his manly seed has done its job: ten knocked up women who, all else being equal, will all be unavailable for other men as mates because they'll be busy for the next three or four years nursing their studly children (probably in George's harem).

Milla, on the other hand, does not benefit by sleeping with more than one man. Only one man can impregnate her. Once Milla gets knocked up, the other nine guys have to mark her off the list; she'll be busy with someone else's kid (George's) for the next three or four years. But: George isn't necessarily out of the race.

There are now ten guys competing for nine girls. Then George, the rogue, gets another girl knocked up, and that's eight girls left.

And then seven. And then six.

And so on.

The competition for mates is a "zero-sum game".

The top guys get the girls, while the rest of them fight for the scraps.

The 40% solution

Indeed, genetic studies show that, since the inception of human existence, only 40% of male humans have managed to reproduce; whereas, 80% of all females have reproduced.

well see I view polygamy's

well see I view polygamy's merits completly differently then just mating. A man with much wealth, and the women willing, A man can chose many wives for many needs with many different traits. He may chose one wife(the most attractive) to have children with. He may chose another( a nerdy more homely wife) due to her bussiness/organizing abilities. Since these men can support a large family, they are able to see past mere beauty and give each women depending on their strenghs a place in the marriage.

I don't understand why such

I don't understand why such logic should apply to men only. Women can also choose one man for his physical attractiveness and sexual abilities to provide her with sexual pleasure and another one, nerdier, for organizing, etc.

Trade off between genes and resources

There's definitely truth to the fact that the top men monopolize the women.

But for women it's a trade off between top genes, and access to resources.

If the three hottest girls (in the example) are already with George McStud, they all share his resources. The fourth girl might now choose for the second hottest guy in return for a hundred percent of his resources. Not the top genes, but a lot more economic power.

Another, second, factor: 'lesser' men banding together against the alpha to redistribute the girls. Pretty much how we have monogamous societies now.

Wouldn't we otherwise see all the women with the number one guy of the world. Instead of with the top 40% back in the prehistoric day?

I am a woman and felt quite

I am a woman and felt quite offended when I read you saying that women find it onerous to have sex with multiple men whereas men find it pleasing to have sex with multiple women. Men generally can't have sex after they orgasm or at least they have to wait some time, whereas women can orgasm various times and they still desire more sex. This fact supports the argument that women, naturally, are more promiscuous and are more prone to polygamous relationship with many men. It almost seems that in your article you are implying that women are less sexual than men. I think such way of thinking is derived from the fact that society didn't respect women's sexuality and their sexual desires for a long time. Even judging from my personal experience, there were very few men who were more sexual than me as a woman. However, your point about higher possibility to have more children in one-man-many-women setting does make sense, even though I think that polygamous society makes much more sense, where both females and males can have sex with many various partners. We also should keep in mind that society and technology influence us in the way that it is not necessary anymore to have many children -- quite on the contrary, the planet is overpopulated. This changes our psychology as well as possibly instincts.

How many children have you

How many children have you had? If you aren't rearing any offspring, then your theories of reproduction based on personal experience are valueless.

I don't have any kids, my

I don't have any kids, my PERSONAL experience is only based on the fact that I slept with approx. 110 men. However, when I write my opinion on this topic I am trying to be objective and don't regard my experience as ultimate (because, you're right, it's personal).

For example, in my previous comment, the point about women' s sexual desire not wearing off after orgasm and consequent ability to orgasm in succession is an objective fact (not only derived from my personal experience).

Your comment doesn't really make sense anyway because the article in the first place is not backed up by any research, it is only a theory and therefore is not scientific. However, another research (Harvard, by Sarah Hrdy) shows that women might be as polygamous as men. In this study they also reveal a biological reason for women to want many sex partners: for example, in animal world female species can guarantee more protection for their kids by mating with many males, "tricking" all the males they mated with into believe the kids are theirs.

Furthermore, Darwin's theory fitted nicely into British middle class society at the time but not as much with Tahitian and pre-European Native American societies in which the entire community cared for children, and both women and men were polygamous. Research also says that those women were more orgasmic than those of the modern society (in our contemporary society approx. 30% of women do not experience orgasm during intercourse, which is a quite scaring percentage. To make things even worse well over 80% of women in their 20s regularly masturbate and orgasm, which makes it also logical why other statistical data shows that 40% of women prefer masturbation over sex. I think these few data are a good sign that there's something not working well in terms of how society treats women's sexuality in our society).

But most important, how can it be natural that one gender is polygamous and the other is not? Where would men manage to get their partners when all women were monogamous?

You wrote: "how can it be

You wrote: "how can it be natural that one gender is polygamous and the other is not?"

It fits everyday observations and experiences -- multiple women are attracted to a few men. While men, in general, are attracted to anyone that's available to them.

A woman can have a lot of sex partners -- but where are they afterwards? Whereas, women in general want a relationship.

Men only want a relationship with a woman that sticks around and can be trusted, otherwise he just wants sex and then moves on.

How many of your 110 men would want to share you in a committed relationship?


Interesting article

I liked this article. However I think power should play a role in this. Men are more naturally conquerers than women. I also believe they are more competitive (although I can't prove this). Everyone knows men are more visual and women more emotional. So I think the more power a man gains, the more women he wants not really so much to do with winning hearts or reproducing, but because other men will envy that man and therefore he is ahead in the game. Women on the other hand get emotionally attached to one man and are much more likely to share someone than breaking the bond completely. Why do women have affairs with powerful men and accept that the man will never leave his wife yet remains in the relationship? She also finds it attractive that a powerful man is attractive to her.

I have always held that when a man walks past a beautiful woman he thinks: 'I want her.' but when a woman walks pat an attractive man she thinks: 'I want him to want me.'

I know I am really generalising here but I think there is at least some truth in what I think and OBVIOUSLY not all people fall into these categories.

I don't think it follows that

I don't think it follows that women would rather share than leave. Yes, women get emotionally attached, but they also initiate the majority of the divorces. Most women upon learning her man has been unfaithful will get her ducks in a row and THEN leave.

The bottom line for polygamy,

The bottom line for polygamy, in general, is ownership. Ownership is also the problem.

In a Polyamorous group, everyone wins.

The each male and female contributes their particular skills and value. Older women aren't kicked to the curb, beta males don't have to go live on misfit island, children are raised with multiple resources, Beta women don't need to marry looser men because some alpha female took all the cool guys (polyandry), etc, etc.

The problem started when we began owning each other.


Well, this is subjective.

Well, this is subjective. Ownership is only a problem if you view it as such. For my significant other and I, sexual ownership is hugely erotic. So sharing would be decidedly a zero-win situation to people like us.

Birds Again

We see plenty of bird species that are also 'monogamous' but yet cheat on each other plenty of the time. A female will take a mate who can provide resources for her offspring and mate with him, but she will also sneak off when given a chance to mate with a superior male who will not necessarily provide for her. This is a combination that works well for the offspring as they get superior genes and the better parenting that results in a higher chance of survival. As humans seem to incorporate all forms of sexuality throughout the animal kingdom, we see this as well.

Yes, that's why guys are

Yes, that's why guys are afraid of being cuckolded and want to see the paternity test!

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Michael Price, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the psychology department at Brunel University, West London. He is also the co-director at the Centre for Culture and Evolutionary Psychology.


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