Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Monogamy: It's Not For Everyone

A recent study found that about one in five adults in monogamous relationships, or 22 percent, have cheated on their current partner. The rate is even higher among married men. And nearly half of people admit to being unfaithful at some point in their lives. The rate among pro athletes, rock stars, and politicians (while not specifically included in this study) is believed to be just over 99 percent. All kidding aside why do people cheat? Or perhaps the more appropriate question is why don’t they?

From a purely physiological standpoint monogamy isn’t encoded in our DNA. You might find a handful of scientists who would argue with this statement but the numbers don’t lie. Just 3% of the over 4,000 species of mammals are known to form lifelong pair bonds. Given that the worldwide divorce is just over 50% (and as high as 68% in some countries) Homo sapiens are not even included in this percentage. Taking it a step further strict monogamy is essentially inexistent across all species. Gibbons apes, wolves, coyotes, beavers, otters, and bats are a sampling of mammals that are known to mate for life, but it’s well documented that they all dally sexually with multiple partners. People often think that birds (eagles, swans, doves, pigeons, etc.) are a faithful and devoted species to their life mates. While they do indeed “mate for life” in the social sense of the term, they rarely stay sexually faithful. About 90% of the 9700 bird species pair, mate, and raise chicks together. Male birds, however, often raise the offspring of other male birds unknowingly. DNA testing reveals that the social-pair male did not father, 10, 20, and sometimes even 40 percent of the chicks they’re raising (those little sluts). On an interesting side note black vultures discourage infidelity within their species by attacking any other nearby vulture caught philandering (Tiger Woods is damn lucky he’s not a black vulture). Hell, you have to go all the way to the depths of the ocean to find a creature who’s purely monogamous. It’s the tiny male anglerfish (which is about one tenth the size of the female). He bites his chosen mate and hangs on for dear life until his skin fuses to hers and their bodies grow together (raise your hand if this sounds like an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend you’ve had in the past). Once the male anglerfish is fused to the female he gets his food through a common blood supply and essentially becomes a sperm producing organ (actually doesn’t sound like too bad of a life, albeit a short one for the male). One other animal that is thought to be strictly monogamous is the prairie vole. A male vole will mate exclusively with the first female he loses his virginity to (thank god humans aren’t like voles). Far from trying to woo other females, a mated male vole will actually attack them (Eldrick tried using this excuse on Elin – “But sweetheart, I wasn’t having sex with those dirty whores, I was attacking them with my penis so they’d stay away from me” – that was right before she reached for his golf bag).

The few animals that do mate for life have been studied by scientists to find the biological basis of fidelity. While not all experts agree this rare behavior seems to be determined by high levels of certain brain neurotransmitters. One of these, dopamine, is also implicated in drug addiction in humans. Oh great I can already see where this is going. Pro athletes are going to start blaming their ‘sex addictions’ on the neurotransmitters in their brains (“But honey, it wasn’t my fault – the dopamine in my brain made me bang with all those skanks”).
Genetically and scientifically speaking then the conclusion seems pretty clear – monogamy isn’t natural. Human beings and other species (with a few very rare exceptions) simply were not meant to be with just one partner. Our natural urge to reproduce and propagate the population with our DNA makes it impossible to stick with just one person for our entire lives. This conclusion is logical, factual and indisputable. Let the wild sex orgies commence…

Or not. You see the one thing I have yet to factor into the equation is a human convention called love. For once you find that special someone whom you wish to spend the rest of your life with, science is turned completely on its head. Allow me to use my own life as an example. Before I met my wife I was a philandering jack-ass just like everybody else. The goal may not have been propagation but it was most certainly copulation. But then I met my ‘pair mate’ and everything changed in an instant. She became the good to my bad, the right to my wrong, the light to my dark, and man did I fall quick. We literally moved in together after dating for all of three weeks and the last 15 years have been… pure monogamous magic. Have we had our ups and downs over the years (especially once kids entered the mix)? Sure. Do I still occasionally find other women attractive? Sometimes. Would I ever cheat on the beautiful creature who’s given me a better life than I ever thought possible and probably never deserved in the first place? Not in a million years. And there you have it – true love trumps science seven days a week.

So before you start comparing yourself to an animal that eats its own shit as an excuse for your infidelity (insert pro athlete’s name here), just remember that you always have a choice and it’s on you alone to make the right one.

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