General Question

Discobitch's avatar

Is the desire for fidelity in a relationship culturally conditioned?

Asked by Discobitch (522points) September 28th, 2010

I’m just curious…

Perceived cryptopolygamy (texting to another boy/girl behind the partner’s back, ...) is too common to simply say that monogamy is the natural state and that anything else is a deviation.

The thing is: the “cheating” often is emotional, and not sexual in nature. So the Christian American rants of sexual decadence might as well stop here.

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24 Answers

BoBo1946's avatar

Well, if you have good intentions, it’s not a problem. And, if you give into the situation, and realize you shouldn’t…no harm done. None of us are perfect. Well, maybe Chaz!

Oh, culturally conditioned…to some extent. But, each person has to make those decisions and accept the consequences. I guess without saying.

MissAnthrope's avatar

From what I understand, the answer to your question is yes.

There is and has long been a benefit from engaging in a long-term partnership of at least perceived monogamy, but there are many other biological benefits to be had from polygamy. Monogamy is basically a social construct.

There are various cultures in the world that practice polygamy, polygyny, and polyandry as an accepted social norm. (each link has a section listing the cultures engaged in these practices)

janbb's avatar

My old friend and erstwhile Jelly dpworkin would answer this question from an evolutionary standpoint and say there is a value to the species in extra-pair copulation. I’m not sure whether that applies to extra-pair texting as well, however.

Discobitch's avatar

Several questions arise:

The first one is the obvious: what benefits are to be had from polygamy, and in which society-form could these benefits be born?

The second one is: what society-forms could permit polygamy? I’m not talking Saudi parvenu camel drivers having 100+ wives, but a monogamy form in which people could have several relationships simultaneously, males and females.
How would a society like that arise, look, progress?

And the third one:

I’m one of the biggest opponents of the “respeck their culture!!1” mode of thought I know, and due to the following reasons:
Birds are not to be kept in cages, and if one stabs the eyes out of a newborn child, it might have a happy life, but it will never experience a sunset, a butterfly or a pretty smile.
Some cultures do exactly that: they stab eyes out.
They prevent experiences, visions, thoughts.
I’m not going to do the rather childish rants of looking down upon others, instead I’ll ask:

Is the socially conditioned monogamy an eye-stabber? Do we miss out certain emotional experiences by living like this?
For a comparison (yes, I will have to look down upon a culture to make one): a Saudi female engaged in a forced marriage and kept at home will have a much lower probability to know love in all its facets.

(of course, an ugly person will have the same problem, but the “emotional socialism” question is quite wide and can be brought up if someone’s interested)

MissAnthrope's avatar

The first and most important benefit from a biological/evolutionary standpoint is genetic diversity. Spreading and mixing genes is the best ticket to a healthy, stable population. Not to mention, new combinations allow for the progression of a species’ evolution. If a population is genetically alike, it is too easy for an outside event to wipe out the whole population. For example, if every member of a species has thin fur and long legs, that species is going to be hit really hard if there’s a freakish cold spell. But if a few members have thicker fur and shorter legs, they’ll have a better chance of carrying through until the weather warms back up.

Polygamy is more prevalent in less industrialized societies, especially ones where the majority of people live rurally. The benefit, when all is boiled down, is that you have the chance to make more babies. In third world or pre-industrial societies, the death rate is much higher, life expectancy is lower, so you want to be pumping out as many new people as possible. Keep in mind that, in order for a population to grow, parents must produce at least three offspring that live to reproductive age. Two to replace the parents, and one extra for a +1 population count. If a society is going to survive, much less flourish, there is a real necessity to reproduce.

If you’re interested in knowing more about how this comes into play culturally, click on the links I included in my above post – you will see examples of cultures that practice, or used to practice, polygamy/polygyny/polyandry (and a brief discussion about each).

MissAnthrope's avatar

Oh, and you’ll note that polygyny (having multiple female partners) is far more common than polyandry (having multiple male partners) and has always been this way. The reason for this is, again, the benefit of having lots of babies. There is a reproductive bottleneck whenever a female becomes pregnant, so if it’s one woman and five guys, the woman gets pregnant, and that’s the end of reproduction for 9 months. On the other hand, five women and one guy means possible pregnancy x5 and the reproductive bottleneck is 5x wider.

Discobitch's avatar

You have interesting remarks. I’m involved with metal and wheels, so the elegant, fragile nature of biological systems is mostly unexplored terrain for me.

We all know females have issues with sex that are, according to Credible Sources™ caused by the fact that a female has to carry kids and has to choose partners very carefully.
Has that also implanted itself into emotional needs of a female?

Blueroses's avatar

Are we females biologically drawn to the best genetic partners? Dogs have the glandular sex response of locking onto their partner, ensuring that their sperm has a good chance of “taking”. Cats may have a litter from multiple paternities.
Humans are conditioned socially. It was not uncommon to ascribe an out of wedlock pregnancy “to the gods”, the notion of the virgin birth, as women became more subject to their mates. A cultural shift with locked down societies (agriculture) from the nomadic “preserve the species”.

MissAnthrope's avatar

Absolutely! Obviously, if you asked 100 women what they were looking for in a partner, you’d get a wide variety of answers. From a biological standpoint, there are physical ideals in a partner that we notice subconsciously (for example, and it goes way deeper than this, men are most attracted to women with a diamond face shape, women are most attracted to men whose upper back and shoulders form a kind of inverted triangle shape). There are various other physical cues which we take in subconsciously, from proportion to symmetry, to hair and skin, etc.

Basically, our brains quietly process ‘ideal mate’ characteristics. As I said, there is a long tradition of monogamy because it was a really good solution to meet human needs at the time. The female is generally weaker and less muscular, so there would always be a male around to protect her and her offspring. Physically, men and women have diverted and evolved to fill our own particular social and biological niches. There was a need for someone to care for children and the elder members of the society, as well as a need for someone to protect the settlement and be strong enough to go out and hunt.

Over time, society has worked itself to fit basic human needs. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first hominids didn’t have as much of a sexual dichotomy, because I feel like we’ve evolved physically to be how we are nearly completely out of the roles we’ve assigned each other.

I remember reading a couple of interesting studies years ago, at the height of the whole ‘is monogamy in our nature or not’ debate. What’s fascinating to me is what our bodies do without our control or knowledge. This study posits that the shape of the human penis has actually evolved to be a sperm displacement device (“the penis may have evolved to compete with sperm from other males by displacing rival semen from the cervical end of the vagina prior to ejaculation”).

Another study (which I can’t find, only references to it) found that when men spend more than 3 days away from their partners (when their partners could get the opportunity to mate with other males), the number of sperm cells per similar sperm volumes rises sharply.

These things, along with studying chimpanzees and other primates, would make it seem like we have evolved in response to polygamy, not monogamy.

Great article on Sex at Dawn: Why monogamy goes against our nature

Blueroses's avatar

@MissAnthrope Fascinating links. I’d heard the penis shape theory before, and oh, boy! Am I attracted to men with the zoot suit bodies much as I’m attracted to women with (real) curves Our species futures, right? Are we now, in this automated society, free to dispel the bonds of protection vs. nurturing? As we do away with our societal needs, will we all become bisexual? Judging our partners by their individual attractive merits rather than their abilities to perform life-giving/life-saving tasks?

Blackberry's avatar

I’m going with yes, you actually reminded me to research this. If we were actually monogamous, we would choose our mate much earlier in life. People divorce for trivial things like snoring…...I hear from people all the time: they want love to make them feel better, they want someone there for them, they want their kid to have a father etc. Who really has a sole purpose of finding a lifelong mate who doesn’t have internal issue within themselves?

“Of the roughly 5,000 species of mammals, only 3 to 5 percent are known to form lifelong pair bonds. This select group includes beavers, otters, wolves, some bats and foxes and a few hoofed animals.

And even the creatures that do pair and mate for life occasionally have flings on the side and some, like the wolf, waste little time finding a new mate if their old one dies or can no longer sexually perform.”

MissAnthrope's avatar

One of my favorite things is to ponder is the human species from a zoological point of view because I find it endlessly fascinating. I’m a biologist, but sociology, psychology, and anthropology are all totally my cup of tea. This sort of thing is one of my passions and something I research for fun, so I hope no one minds my rambling on about it. :)

@Blueroses – I like that you ask that because I’ve thought a lot about it. I feel like humans have made such technological leaps and bounds in a very short period of time and evolution hasn’t caught up yet. Biologically, we really aren’t that different from the people thousands of years ago. I do think that, with the internet and that it is common now for women to work and be independent, how people select mates is changing. In terms of Western culture, women have a lot more control than they did. With the internet, we are exposed to people we likely would never have ever met otherwise. I think this lends to increased tolerance as there is a free flow of ideas and exposure to different types of people. As people interact more and more with each other online, there has developed a population which has an appreciation for their first impression of someone to be who they are rather than have it be looks-based.

I also find that women are more forgiving on the ‘looks’ issue than men. Women are much more likely to ‘date down’ than men are, because from what I’ve observed, guys correlate their mate’s attractiveness with status. (generalization) So, I think women are still choosing mates they consider to be suitable more based on personality traits (i.e. loyal, good provider, stable) than physical ones, and with guys, it’s the opposite. Even so, I know there are a lot of women out there that really like the feeling of being with a strong, capable man that will take care of and defend them if need be.

That’s really just the macro view, though, before I get skewered for leaving out loads of details.. Honestly, there are tons of factors in play when it comes to mate selection these days, the psychology behind that is also pretty interesting. You add in the human brain, and there’s no end to the complexity.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Yes I believe the desire for fidelity is culturally conditioned.

Yes I believe sexting is emotional cheating.

Yes I believe most people, religious or not have no idea how dangerous the slippery slope is from sexting, chatting, web-camming, emailing is for people in vulnerable relationships.

Blueroses's avatar

@Neizvestnaya that’s interesting because I’m in a relationship with someone I met online. I am single and not unattractive and he is gorgeous. We’ve been in constant contact for 6 months (please spare me any comments about i-relations not being “real”. I know. And am constantly dealing with that.) We both agree that given our geographical distance, it would be silly to expect fidelity, but I still get happy feelings when he says he loves me.
We are attracted by our mutual misanthropy, our desire to see humor in every situation, our feeling of belonging that we were previously excluded from knowing. I love him more than I’ve loved anyone in my life. Yet, we are not exclusive. How could we be?
Point, in relevance to OP, is… I can play the devil’s advocate but I want this boy to love only me. I’m a hypocrite.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

@Blueroses: Internet relationships are great while they last and as long as you don’t see your love object flirting online with other onliners then all goes pretty well (I know) but what do you think will happen when a live date asks you about yourself and wants to have a relationship with you? What will you do with your online lover? How will try to explain to your face-to-face buddy that your heart is feeling real “in love”? What will be your response if they ask you to choose?

Blueroses's avatar

@Neizvestnaya that’s a very good point. I guess you just have to trust “love” when you find it. If I were to fall in love with someone new, (or he, if he found “it”) we would have to let go of our online love and accept that. At the very least, we know we are capable of love now. So to the OP question? I’m still open to what comes my way. And if you ask me if I’m conditioned to love… yep. I am.

loser's avatar

I think it’s something naturally inherent within us. Either you can share of you can’t.

mattbrowne's avatar

Not really, I think. Culture only has a small influence, because instincts and deeper emotions are quite universal. Most women in polygamous relationships do experience emotions of anger, jealousy and pain, but in some cultures these women are totally powerless and treated as objects like cattle or gemstones. Valuable possessions of men.

The desire of infidelity isn’t much of a problem for men in these countries. They can either get another wife or have extramarital affairs which isn’t their fault really because the women who seduced these poor fellows deserve all the blame. And if not, there are probably not enough female witnesses required by sharia law.

So cultures are more about rules in societies than about human desires.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@mattbrowne I don’t think we can claim jealousy is a universal emotion.

lapilofu's avatar

@mattbrowne Most women in monogamous relationships also experience those emotions. Men too.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – So, do you think there are cultures where no one experiences the emotion of jealousy?

@lapilofu – Of course. My point was culture is more about rules than about desires.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@mattbrowne I don’t know, I don’t know every culture but I think the notion of these very specific emotions or when one is to be jealous and when one is not to be jealous can be completely foreign as a concept to some cultures – it’s a very Western notion.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – Do you believe that none of the human emotions are universal? Like anger, fear, joy, disgust, mourning, surprise, contempt?

Some psychology distinguish between emotions and feelings, saying that the latter involve both the limbic brain and the neocortex. The latter would include envy, guilt, hate, pride, and gratitude for example. This would mean we can learn not to feel envy or guilt. Jealousy might fall into this category.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@mattbrowne I believe that I can not know whether they are or aren’t even if I was to spend the rest of my life on that quest. And ‘might’ isn’t good enough for me. Nor is ‘some psychology’.

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