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The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People Paperback – May 1, 2002
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“A highly readable, light-hearted survey of monogamy and its variations across the animal kingdom.” ―Nature
“Gripping from start to finish, solid in its science, and literary in its flair . . .” ―David M. Buss, Ph.D., professor of psychology, University of Texas
“A smart, intriguing, witty, non-sexist, provocative yet careful book about the realities . . . 'infidelity.'” ―Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D.
About the Author
David P. Barash, Ph.D., is a zoologist and is currently professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Making Sense of Sex, co-authored by Judith Lipton.
Judith Eve Lipton, M.D., a psychiatrist specializing in women's issues, is the recipient of many honors, including a fellowship in the American Psychiatric Association.
Married since 1977, Barash and Lipton live in Redmond, Washington.
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In reading this, individuals who have faced, or who are currently facing, a partner involved in 'extra-pair copulation' (and are experiencing all of the feelings that may accompany it which have been instilled within us from our society) may be ultimately dealing with some sensitive responses including:
1) Rejecting the data outright, no matter how strong the inferences may be, because if they accept the data they may:
2) Be racked with guilt over the fact that, while their partner did indeed break a promise (spoken or societally implied), the promise was (most likely) made in ignorance of the biological imperatives at work within their body and mind. Even more, the guilt may deepen as they realize that the relationship did not have to end over sex and that maybe "if we both had only known that we were entering into an agreement contrary to human instincts (like celibacy for most human beings), maybe we both would have responded differently and the friendship that we had would not have ended…" However, even with such regret, perhaps this information could:
3) Allow the offended partner a deeper level of understanding of themselves and others, thusly aiding them in bestowing forgiveness towards the one who committed the infraction of breaking a promise nature never intended them to make. Such forgiveness may not perfectly fix the relationship, but it may allow for a deeper healing for both parties.
All in all, this work has the ability to soothe or pain depending upon the reader's attachment to monogamy as a moral concept; if they believe that monogamy is the 'right' thing to do (or a categorical imperative), they will probably reject the empirical data found within. However, if they are even slightly open to the possibility that monogamy might not be as virtuous as we are socially influenced to believe, then perhaps it will allow for healing, or at the very least a deeper understanding of the world around them.
The key question about this book is the relevance of sexual behavior among all other animals to us. The behavior of animals is all "natural" and has evolved to ensure the reproduction of the species. Of course, humans are too natural creatures, but we, with our immense brains, have an immense capacity for learning and establishing highly complex social systems with all kinds of enforcement mechanisms, both subtle and direct. Certainly, in Western societies, marriage and monogamy are the only socially permitted relationships, regardless of any biological inclinations for multiple partners.
While the authors find that monogamy is, for the most part, a myth, they actually do not advocate a turn from monogamy for Western cultures, recognizing the immense gains of societies under that system. On the other hand, adultery becomes somewhat more understandable. They do not make any suggestions concerning how open, non-monogamous Western societies could or would work. Overall, the book is rather tedious and repetitious and ultimately disappoints if for no other reason than its misleading title.
This book is an examination of the sexual practices of a wide variety of species of animals, including humans. The book concludes that there are significant evolutionary advantages to non-monogamous sexual relationships and there seem to be very clear bodily adaptations that evolved because of this. These points are just not arguable in good faith.
The book doesn't draw any conclusions about the "naturalness" of monogomy except that it is rare, because that discussion is metaphysics at best; the religious among us use "natural" as a proxy for "our interpretation of gods will" or "how we think society ought to be". We live in a dangerous age where people are willing to deny the truth as it suits them. We have a duty as rational beings to accept objective truth no matter how unpalatable.
I think the book is a very good read if you're at all interested in the topic. I did not however find the writing style very interesting, and I had trouble keeping track of the many many types of animals discussed and their various traits. I also felt the conclusion was far too apologetic towards current societal beliefs and a bit simple minded. Nevertheless, a good read if you're interested in the subject.