In today’s society, the concept of a polygamous relationship is virtually unheard of. Sure, people are more than willing to sleep around when they are younger, but the general moral census still remains that this is not “proper” behavior. Perhaps more significant than this, when someone is getting ready to settle down, it is never with a harem, but rather with “the one.” While most individuals might accept that this is perfectly desirable, some question the original motivation for society’s decision to move in this direction. In fact, they question whether it was always the case.
Some researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada are looking into the history of humankind and are raising the question of whether or not monogamous relationships have always been the norm. According to their hypothesis, what people consider to be normal today may not have been tens of thousands of years ago during the development of civilization. In fact, they propose that hunter-gatherer societies were more inclined to lean towards polygamy, mostly because it made evolutionary sense. Being without a set home, these people could easily die to all manner of natural causes, so spreading their seed far and wide was the best course of action. Somewhere along the line, something changed this, and the researchers believe they know what that something is.
According to the working hypothesis, the main reason this change is likely to have occurred is due to the rise of STIs (sexually transmitted infections). Today, these infections are still a public health concern, but back then they could be crippling to the growth of a budding society. Realizing that indiscriminate sex could contribute to the spread of these infections, people at that time might have looked towards monogamy as the best solution. In this way, they began teaching it as the only way and effectively worked to discourage a practice that could wipe out their communities.
Of course, as you go to click that “share” button and let all of your Facebook friends know about this interesting find, it is important that you finish reading. Remember back to your science class about all those terms that you didn’t feel were important to remember? Well, it seems today that two of those terms -theory and hypothesis, are often not understood and false information spreads accordingly. Keep in mind this concept is still in the hypothesis phase, which means there is no real evidence that STIs actually existed like this in the early agricultural societies. In other words, don’t go around claiming you now know why monogamy has taken over and start praising the good news of polygamy, unless you’re into that. We don’t care either way.
Still, this hypothesis does go along with the premise of natural selection and many other early evolutionary theories. As the hypothesis points out, early humans did want to mate as much as possible to “spread their seed” and give the species the best chance of survival. It would make sense that something pushed them towards living a monogamous lifestyle, and whose to say that infections aren’t the reason? On the other hand, the very concept of infections would have been virtually inconceivable for these early civilizations, so it may be a bit far-fetched.