Paternalism, marriage, monogamy aren’t natural

polyamoryMarriages based on couples falling in love and voluntarily choosing to be bound to one another is not an ancient tradition.  In fact, it’s relatively new  and  lifetime marriage is quickly going the way of the dodo. Yet, religious radicals proclaim that paternalism, monogamy and marriage are species norms and part of a noble tradition. No so.

Historically marriage in some regions amounted to a patriarch of one family negotiating and eventually handing over his chattel (daughter, and a dowry) to the son of a patriarch of another family with whom he had negotiated the “settlement”.  Look deeper still and we find the traditional practice in these regions was an older man being gifted with a “child bride” in marriage. In other regions, marriage amounted to stealing a woman from another tribe.

Look farther  and discover diversity. According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, of the 1231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous, 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and 4 had (polyandry one woman having multiple husbands). At the same time, even within societies which allow polygyny, the actual practice of polgyny occurs relatively rarely. There are exceptions: in Senegal, for example, nearly 47 percent of marriages are multiple.

Paternalism is the root of the sexual double standard

In ancient societies there was  no question who your mother was, but who your father was remained a  guessing game until DNA testing  was developed.  When we carefully explore the monogamous model we uncover  that it all revolves around paternity, power and position.

In ancient societies who your father was as well as his power and position in society was where his offspring drew their social position from. And using Paris Hilton as a present day example that hasn’t changed much, has it?

Without doubt  it is women who have been historically expected to remain monogamous so the paternity, power and position model could not be upended. Using the European example virile and powerful men were expected to have at least one mistress but were likewise expected to maintain the family “honor”.

Monogamy is rooted in paternalism

Monogamy is  a paternalistic social power, position and money construct that has been used for millenniums the world over to keep women and children “in line”, to insure that elders were cared for, and to insure that the will of patriarchs with regard to disposition of their estate following their demise continued beyond the grave.

Paternalism is the root of the sexual double standard. Those who are members of and who support paternalistic organizations are loathe to look the evidence.  The traditional marriage they refer to is one wherein old men possessed of power and position were gifted with child brides of friends and/or business associates and/or even family members  by other  men in positions of power in the same or other regions and countries for the purposes of establishing alliances.

As the monogamous model revolves around paternity, power and position, in some areas, the “Laird” (Lord) traditionally possessed the right to deflower all virgins before they were and sent off to their husbands.

Given the societal constructs and the fact that women had no say when it came to who their father or male relatives would choose to marry them off to, and in fact, that this is still the case for many women, when I hear anyone professing that marriage has always been a model of a man and a woman in love agreeing to spend their lives together, I laugh out loud. The tradition, which still endures in some locations amounted to one old man handing off a child bride to another old man.

There is no indication that monogamy is “natural” or “normal” among youth.  The indication is the opposite. Polygamy during youth appears to be the species “norm” and probably always has been. Multiple pairings insured that the gene pool was large and the species was robust. Pragmatically speaking the societal and religious solution to unwanted and uncared for children and unwanted and uncared for elders was monogamy.

Today we are bearing witness to:
(1) both male and female youth being polygamous;
(2) in the case of females, monogamy becomes increasingly more attractive as pregnancy occurs or is likely to occur;
(3) in the case of both males and females, monogamy becomes more attractive with age;
(4) serial monogamy has become the status quo in our society, as 6 of every 10 marriages end within a decade of registration, and on average common law relationships only last a few years longer.

Conservative estimates are that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will have an extramarital affair. These figures are even more significant when we consider the total number of marriages involved, since it’s unlikely that all the men and women having affairs happen to be married to each other. If even half of the women having affairs (or 20 percent) are married to men included in the 60 percent having affairs, then at least one partner will have an affair in approximately 80 percent of all marriages. With this many marriages affected, it’s unreasonable to think affairs are due to the failures and shortcomings of individual husbands or wives. — The Monogamy Myth by Peggy Vaughan

Monogamy going the way of the dodo

Monogamy, which is really no more than a useful social convention, will not survive. It has rarely been honored in practice; soon, it will vanish even as an ideal. I do not believe that society will return to polygamy. Instead, we will move toward a radically new conception of sentimental and love relationships. Nothing forbids a person from being in love with a few people at the same time. Society rejects this possibility today primarily for economic reasons—to maintain an orderly transmission of property—and because monogamy protects women against male excesses.

But these rationales are dissolving in the face of powerful new trends. The insatiable demand for transparency, fueled by democracy and the free market, is placing the private lives of public men and women under greater scrutiny. The reality of multiple lives and partners will become more apparent, and society’s hypocrisy will be revealed. The continued rise of individual freedom will permanently change sexual mores, as it has most other realms. — Monogamy by Jacques Attali

Monogamy, marriage and womens’ issues

Women since the dawn of time have had to cope with the predispositions of men. Women tend to be more risk-averse than men because they usually live with men who accept risk and even seek it out. Women tend to be less confident than men because they usually live with men who are overconfident. Because of this balancing effect, better decisions might be made if men and women were making them together. — Good Riddance by Valerie Hudson

Here we are in 2009 and women still aren’t equal to men. Listen closely and you will hear religious women, who uphold the patriarchy trumpet about their “freedom” and “equality”. This is despite the fact women still do not have the right to mind their own reproductive affairs and make their decisions in privacy with their doctors in America.

Indeed the big daddy state and corporate kings have assured that the paternity, power and position model continues.  Not surprisingly the pharmaceutical corporations which  are an intrinsic part of the paternalistic model are pre-occupied with making sure the old guys can still get it up.


  1. This is brilliant TT! I read twice so I could get (relatively more) accurate understanding. As an “anarchist” I totally understand and accept the ideas you have described in your post. Yes, marriage, monogamy are all pragmatic systems “invented” at certain time in history, and manipulate by powerful sides for the benefits of their own. It might did some good for a certain period of time, but as time passes, situation changes, these systems also need to be changed.
    The paternalism in China has been most powerful societal system for thousands years. If, women were suffered the most from paternalism in the West, in China, it was (still is) children who suffered the most from such “moral invention”.
    Thanks for sharing such enlightening ideas!

    • Dear Yun Yi,
      I wish everyone could “see” what’s in front of us and behind us. The very fabric of history is a clear record of paternalism, power and politics that have controlled and directed the lives of women and their children from cradle to grave seemingly since time immemorial. Worse still so many women have been co-opted that they are blind and cannot see.

  2. Manogamy is a choice and a cultural tradition or simple belief system people grow up with. Sadly, the stats on at least on partner having an affair in approximately 80% of all marriages is true.

    Jerry and I shared ideas, thoughts and religious beliefs prior to even considering dating. On our second date, he proposed and we are happily married, friends, and support each step we take in the path of life. You have to love and respect yourself enough to be able to give faith, hope, and love to another individual. It is through that respect, trust, truthfulness and mutual attraction that we have been able to survive in this world with chronic illnesses.

    I remember when my boys were in middle school, so many of their friends enjoyed visiting and spending time with us because we were a family unit (two parents). Sadly, their parents were separated or divorced and those children missed out on the relationships family’s have together.

    I for one, believe in Monogamy and hope this tradition lives on for many generations to come.

    I enjoyed reading your post.
    .-= Viviana´s last blog ..My motivational voice came out! =-.

  3. Well-written argument explaining the cultural statistics of monogamy versus polygamous relationships and also how monogamy relates to the the paternalistic power hierarchy that remains in place today. It is true that as women gained financial and political independence, that what conservatives see as the break-down of family values is actually just the breakdown of a patriarchal values. Granted, this process is painfully slow and patriarchal power relationships remain the norm even today. Perhaps, we will never see true equality between men and women until the total breakdown of the Judeo-Christian vice-grip on Western cultures.

    • I sincerely hope we see the breakdown of patriarchal values expedited and replaced with humanitarian values. I truly wish to see full equality for women actualized and an end to the traditionalist rubbish, we hear from those who seem so determined to cling to their phony baloney revisionist history.

      P.S. Your new blog on your won domain rocks! Congrats!

    • I’m weird with words and painting too . Some days I have lots that add up to nothing. Other days I can’t find any but have marvelous pictures on the backs of my eyelids that I can’t paint.

  4. Great article as usual, and full of valuable insights and undeniable facts. Monogamy will probably last in some measure because for some people it’s the easiest solution. I know it has been for me. I don’t think monogamy is brainwashing, it’s a choice. It’s legitimate, but there should be other choices as well. I think lack of respect and approval for other choices besides monogamy is the problem, and not monogamy..
    .-= Nothing profound´s last blog .. =-.

  5. That was kind of mean there at the end, Timethief…

    Old guys need loving too… :-)

    But I agree.

    Monogamy is just brainwashing… just programming… like many of our beliefs are.

    They may have served a useful purpose (or maybe not), but for conscious people who aren’t interested in living up to external standards… they are just another stumbling block on the road to True Freedom.

    Freedom of Mind!

    I doubt En Vogue knew the half of it when they said “Free your mind, and the rest will follow”…

    Besides… monogamy is no fun ;-)

    keep smiling,

    .-= Find yourself with a smile…´s last blog ..At Last… Learn How To Build Concentration Right Now! =-.

  6. I must agree with you. Most people think they need the other to complete theirselves. It’s wrong. We must be happy with ourselves and the most important thing: we need to love ourselves before we jump in any relationship. I know women from my age that they can’t not go to a good restaurante alone or even traveling abroad. It makes me sick.
    .-= nogueira´s last blog ..VAMOS TORCER POR FERNANDO GABEIRA – O RIO MERECE =-.

  7. You’re absolutely right! None of the things that you’ve mentioned are natural to human beings. It’s almost like we were born with a “nature” that is predisposed to not only be sexually promiscuous, but to lie, cheat, steal, and kill…I would think that through our “evolution” man would’ve somehow grown beyond it by now, but…short of that, the next best thing is to rationalize it by calling it freedom as they did back in the sexual revolution of the sixties. Or maybe to blame our society for fostering these anti-social “behaviors” in people because we believe people are basically good…Interesting read, you write very well!
    .-= Jeff Brown´s last blog ..A Life Sentence =-.

    • It’s amazing how we can grow up assuming that paternalism, monogamy and marriage are “natural” to our species when they most certainly aren’t. They are culturally inculcated traditions and that most certainly does not mean they are “natural”.

  8. This is eye opening, although I’ve long wondered at the lack of evidence to support the paternalistic, monogamous marriage arrangement being the norm that society makes it out to be too. Having said that, I’m afraid I’m also a hopeless romantic and do enjoy the idea of me and wifey being together for life. She does too.

    Perhaps the point I take away from your insightful article is to go into any relationship with your eyes wide open. Just because an official slip of paper says it’s a marriage… well, that doesn’t necessarily make it so. And if two people decide to partner for life through a church wedding, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are blindly and uncritically following convention. However people enter into relationships, they need to go into it equally and with the utmost transparency. Easier said than done though, as the statistics on divorce testify. I certainly hope Cass and I don’t become another, for I fear we both will have lost something very special that day.
    .-= Tony Single´s last blog ..How Pole Dancing Was Made =-.

    • My husband and I are devoted to each other and have always been open and honest with each other. Our relationship was built on a foundation of respect, trust, truthfulness and mutual attraction and that proved to be the correct mix of “soil” for our love to grow in. We threw convention out the window over 30 years ago when we chose to live together prior to marriage and to take a 16 week long marriage preparation course that was excellent. Together we have examined these issues and grown even closer when we did. Our relationship is an exclusive and monogamous one and when we are asked for advice today we say don’t even consider entering a marriage with a person whom you do not consider to be your very best friend.

      • I can heartily agree with that. That’s how Cass and I got started too. We were best friends first, and then love gradually bloomed from there, deepening that bond of friendship. I couldn’t have put it better myself. :)
        .-= Tony Single´s last blog ..Into the Red Planet =-.

  9. While not agreeing with all the conclusions, the central thesis is coherently and convincingly presented. There are so many ramifications to these notions that they could fill an encyclopedia of discussions. Thanks for shining light on this, which has always been an area of vital interest of mine as well.

    • Thank you so much for your patience while waiting for me to reply. These issues are important ones and when people toss around the word “natural” and allege it’s synonymous with “traditional” it annoys me. I believe what’s important is being truthful.

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