Big Question: Are humans meant to be monogamous?

While it may seem sometimes like we're hard wired for one mate and one mate only, does that assertion really hold up to scrutiny? The answer may depend on which lens you choose to look through. Curiosity contributor Susan Sherwood considered the question through several lenses.

Are humans meant to be monogamous? Maybe! It depends on the measure used. What about monogamy in genetic terms? In 2010, researchers using genomic data studied several ancient populations and found that, while humans had been primarily monogamous, there were definite tendencies toward polygamy. What about in biological terms? Among all mammals -- even primates -- humans are the only ones who are generally monogamous both genetically (producing offspring) and socially (non-sexual interactions).

What about monogamy looked at through the lens of anthropology? Throughout world history, most societies allowed polygamy. The earliest appearance of culturally induced monogamy appears to have been in ancient Greece and Rome.

How about a contemporary approach: How faithful are husbands and wives today? A 2006 National Science Foundation study reported on American behavior since 1972. Approximately 10 percent of married people admitted to cheating each year. However, overall lifetime cheating rates are rising for both sexes. When married people aged 60 or older were surveyed, 28 percent of men admitted to having been unfaithful at some point during their marriage; 15 years ago, it was 20 percent. The corresponding numbers for women are 15 percent currently and 5 percent 15 years ago.

So there currently seems to be a slow decline in monogamy. Why? It hasn't become less socially desirable: The majority of Americans still consider infidelity wrong. One factor may be digital media: The availability of Internet porn has changed sexual attitudes, and there is instant access to other potential cheating partners through cell phones, e-mail, instant messages and on-line social media sites. Stepping out can be less than a step away.

On a related note, after seeing how monogamy has taken it on the chin a bit, it's interesting to wonder how family life has changed over the years. Martha Stewart talks about that in the video below.

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