Are Women Naturally Monogamous?

Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary biology, was skeptical of evolutionary psychology, which sees women as monogamous and men as polygamous, due to genetics. Let’s take a closer look.

Children have the best shot at surviving if their mothers mate with only one man, who sticks around to provide support and resources. Thus, women prefer men who are older and richer. Moms put a lot into their kids because they have a small number of eggs compared with the millions of sperm that men produce. So says evolutionary psychology.

On the other hand, men will have more children (and reproduce their genes) if they are promiscuous, because of their large sperm count.

This premise seems to contradict the prior point that children are more likely to survive if their fathers are around to support them. Maybe more survive than don’t. Or perhaps it’s a survival of the fittest worldview: Babies who can survive without resources improve the gene pool?

The bigger dilemma: How do men manage to enjoy many partners when women are monogamous?

Men also value beauty above all else because attractiveness indicates health and an ability to reproduce. Oddly, supermodels are the most sought-out, yet they’re often so thin that they no longer menstruate. And I hadn’t known that so-called unattractive women were infertile. But never mind.

Returning to Darwin’s concern – and it doesn’t take a genius like him to make this observation – while evolutionary psychology had fit nicely with British middle-class behavior, where women sought resources and men sought beauty, Darwin pointed out that the theory did not fit with the British upper class. There, men were more concerned with wealth than good looks.

Other cultures don’t fit the theory so well, either.

Gauguin’s infatuation with Tahiti likely came in part from the women’s desire for many sex partners (prior to European influence).

Meanwhile, Europeans who were among the first to arrive in the Americas were shocked by similar behavior among the native women.

In these Tahitian and Native American societies, the entire community cared for children, and property passed through women, so men’s resources weren’t an issue. These women weren’t called sluts, either.

Once Europeans transformed these cultures, things quickly turned around. 

It appears that social structures and culture trump biology in explaining women’s monogamy.

There is more to discuss, but I’ll leave that for later.

For now I must ask: Are evolutionary psychologists unfamiliar with this information, or do they simply ignore it because the theory so well justifies a status quo in which women are told to stay monogamous, but understand men’s need for many partners.

After all, it’s in men’s genes – or was that jeans?

Georgia Platts

Lips, Hilary M. Sex and Gender, 4th Edition. Mayfield. 2001


4 Responses

  1. Look to the rest of the animal world for the answer: we can either look to the the rooster for example which the farmer keeps one in the pen to service all the hens and decide females like to have it that way – or rely on Beavers which mate for life, and will only take on a new mate if the first one dies, but it’s practically impossible to find an animal species that’s completely monogamous. Therefore I believe customs dictate as Georgia sugested how women are to behave.

  2. Thanks Bettyjean,

    I’m on the monogomous side myself. But I get really irritated by double standards that reward men for having sex, but punish women. That is one of the implications of evolutionary psychology.

    • Oh I totally agree, its always the women who get the raw end of the deal except for the black widow spider and the preying mantis who uses the males for what she needs him for then disposes of him– or does she eat him and use him as a source of nourishment thereby getting every last bit of use she can out of him?

      Sorry that did make me sound a bit hateful didn’t it?

      That is my way of saying the animal kindom shows us that some females could make an argument for only needing the male to procreate and nothing else.

      After all man uses the female as a incubator for his offspring ase in many of these backward cultures.

      Further – only females can reproduce! Albeit they can only reproduce other females without the male chromosome but females can survive and reproduce therefore what will man say about that?

  3. I agree, many female birds and mammals all sleep with different mates. Yet the focus is always on the male being polygamous. Which quickly becomes a male pop culture excuse for poor behavior. If a new and better mate comes along the female will leave and cheat. Why human women should all be like this, it’s nature after all, right? I agree this social psychology and patriarcial society going back eons is putting ideas in our head about male and females sexuality and it needs to stop!

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