Shapiro’s FSEM Polygamy Essay

Humans have lived in forager societies, which were nearly 100% polygamous (Crippen pers. comm.), for most of history.  Incidentally, in the rise of modern nation states many societies have banned bigamy in favor of monogamy.  Monogamy is the cultural norm, but this was imposed artificially.  Humans have always been, and still are polygamous.  The existence of sexual dimorphism, the theory of natural selection, and concept of parental investment support this assertion.

            Sexual dimorphism is the first signal that polygamy is a natural human behavior.  Many species in the animal kingdom are sexually dimorphic and also polygamous, indicating a causal relationship.  Theoretically, the more dimorphic a species is, the more polygamous it is.  There are slight differences between human males and females, such as: body size, formation of face, and sexual reproductive organs.  These slight differences suggest that humans are also slightly polygamous (Diamond, 1992).  By slightly polygamous, we can be specifically say that males or females rarely ever acquire more than two to three mating partners.  Although, there have been rumors of some elite individuals in history who have maintained harems consisting of more than three partners.

            Sexual preferences form in the process of sexual selection because they contribute to reproductive success (Rhodes, 2006).  Polygamy, especially for males, is logical within this context, and also consistent with Darwin’s theory of natural selection.  In human societies, the richest and most powerful males often acquire multiple wives (Diamond, 1992). The reason for this is that the more partners that males acquire, the more copies of their genes they can get into the next generation.  The former motivation, as well as the fact that males don’t have to invest as much parentally as females, drives men to acquire as many mating partners as possible.

            With the exception of the rare polyandrous societies where females acquire multiple husbands (Crippen pers. comm.), females are more selective about whom they mate with and also don’t acquire as many mates as males do.  One reason is because females have higher parental investment, and therefore need sufficient access to resources in order to raise offspring.  Another reason is because females need to select mates with the good genes so the chances that their offspring will survive are enhanced.  However, there is evidence that females are of a polygamous nature too.  Havlicek et al (2005) makes the hypothesis that females have evolved a sense based on body odor, to distinguish genetically superior males from docile males.  With this knowledge, females subconsciously seek out dominant males to mate with, even while in long term relationships with docile males, who are in this case being manipulated and used for their tendency to have higher parental investment than dominant males (Havlicek et al, 2005).  This mating strategy is not commonly found in contemporary societies, but may have played a major role in the ancestral environment given its obvious reproductive advantages.

            Monogamy is obviously not natural for humans.  More than anything, monogamy has been a practical way for governments to institute equality.  Ironically, it has created more problems than it has solved for the domestic lives of citizens.  Human ancestors set the polygamous precedent, and even though society has told us to stop, humans have not let go of their polygamous ways.  The default sexual preference of humans is still polygamy.


Cited Sources


Rhodes, G.  2006.  The evolutionary psychology of facial beauty.  Ann Rev Psych.  57: 199-226.


Diamond, Jared. The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. New York, New York: HarperCollins, 1992. Print.


Havlicek, J., Roberts, S.C., and Fleg, J.  2005.  Women’s preference for dominant male odour: effects of menstrual cycle and relationship status.  Biol. Letters.  1: 256-259.


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