Are Women Meant To Be Monogamous?
I hear this question a lot, in reference to men. The famous quatrain goes:
Man is polygamous
Although often misattributed to Dorothy Parker, it seems that philosopher William James was the originator of this pleasant little diddy. Women seem to be more monogamous, don't they? They espouse a higher value towards monogamy, and endorse it more often. Evolutionary researchers such as David Buss and others argue over whether male and female jealousy is different, and why. They suggest that women get jealous over emotional infidelity and the thought that they might lose their husband as a caregiver and resource-provider, but don't really care about mere sexual infidelity, as any child that results would be the other woman's responsibility to raise. In contrast, such research suggests that males don't really react much to female emotional infidelity, but react strongly to the possibility of sexual infidelity by a female partner, given the risk of cuckoldry, and chance of investing resources in a child not genetically related to you.
But, are women really all that monogamous? I've talked already about the rising rates of female infidelity. I'm often asked by people if humans are meant to be monogamous. And especially if men are. I'm not asked as often about women, because there is an assumption that women are somehow above those issues, and that monogamy is more natural for them. I'm not so sure about that.
First, I will offer the caveat that female sexuality seems to be far more variable on an individual nature than is male sexuality. Secondly, I will acknowledge that there is much more to learn about female sexuality. A lot of what we know is that there is a lot we don't know, and much more to learn. Male sexuality seems to be more two-dimensional, while female sexuality is simply much more complex, beyond three-dimensional. More like a tesseract perhaps. Or one of those Mobius Strip loops where you think you're going along fine, and all of a sudden find you have no idea where you are or how you got there.
Female sexual biology seems to trend away from monogamy in several interesting ways. One way is in the female orgasm itself. Blogger Christopher Ryan touches on a piece of this. The female orgasm does many things, as nature doesn't seem to like things that have a single purpose. It feels great, and encourages women to have sex. But what else does it do? It also gives a woman's body some level of control over which male impregnates her. One of the things that occurs during female orgasm is that the cervical channels are cleared somewhat, opening the door so to speak, for new sperm to get to the womb. Women are much more orgasmic when they have sex with someone other than their primary partner. They are also much more orgasmic when having sex with a man of high genetic value, who shows traits of facial symmetry, and testosterone, which indicates a strong immune system. This preferentially nonmonogamous orgasmic response increases the likelihood of fertilization by this other male lover.
The infamous female ejaculation also seems to play a role here. Female ejaculation has a controversial history, but if one accepts the current research and real-world evidence that it does occur, one wonders what it's for? Well, when female ejaculation occurs (and it seems to be possible in around 40% of women), it often occurs slightly before the female orgasm. The fluids that gush during this event momentarily change the ph balance of the vagina. What happens then? Any sperm already present (say, from a husband) in the vagina are weakened or killed. Then, the woman orgasms, clearing her cervical channels, and her vagina's ph balance returns to normal. The field is laid, such that the next sperm to enter the woman's vagina stands the greatest chance for fertilization. And, women are more orgasmic, more likely to be sexually unfaithful, and more likely to be attracted to these genetically high value males, when they are ovulating and are fertile.
It doesn't stop there. When the woman returns home, she often waits to have sex with her husband. Research suggests she waits an average of twenty-four hours. Women surveyed on this indicate it is about respect for their husband, trying not to get caught, and other reasons. But, biologically? If the woman is fertile, and if her body potentially conceived with this other lover, waiting to have sex with her husband gives that fertilized ovum (or her lover's sperm) the best chance possible for implantation to occur, to protect that developing ovum.
I'm not suggesting that women can't be monogamous, any more than I would suggest that a man can't choose to be sexually faithful. And lets be clear none of these mechanism described above are conscious. But, I think our assumptions that men are polygamous and women monogamous, by nature, are based upon behavioral assumptions and interpretations. Women might not be any more monogamous than men, they are just much more subtle about it. Can you think of a rhyme for polyandrous? If so, let me know. Can we correct James' quatrain?