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  • Jane Goodwitt

Human Nature Love Advice: Ask Jane Goodwitt

Dear Jane,

I’m a woman on the verge of turning 30, have a guy I’ve been going with for over a year now, who is wanting to get “serious,” but that sounds almost like a disease to me—“You have a serious” condition!” I know I’m at the age I’m supposed to want to settle down and have kids and all, and I like/love this guy enough, but I don’t know if monogamy is for me. I don’t know what is “natural” for human beings if you want to know the truth. Isn’t monogamy something that just got sprung on us by religious authorities and has nothin

g to do with the way we really are? The idea of getting married to one person you will have sex with your whole life, and no one else, seems terrifying to me. But the alternative does as well. UGH.



Dear Patty,

Well, you’ve hit on something here. What is “natural” for human beings is a very tricky question that doesn’t have one single answer, as the history of human sexual relations is mess of contradictions. If you look at evolutionary psychology (the discipline that says the genes of our ancestors largely affect our behavior and motivations today) then you’ll want to examine chimpanzee behavior as a window into how our common ancestor lived. Chimps, and their close relatives, the Bonobos, are promiscuous (but with wildly different sexual inclinations). Gorillas, our next closest relations, have a harem with one male escorting multiple females. Anthropologists find that around 85% of cultures around the world historically allowed for a man to have multiple wives (polygamy), but nowadays only about 2% practice such an arrangement. Yet, it is still legal in 58 countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East. Polyandry, where a woman has multiple husbands is very rare and only found in a few isolated cultures around the world. All that said, there is no doubt we come from some very free-spirited hominid primates when it comes to sex—meaning promiscuous—but somewhere along the way (as early as 4 million years ago to possibly only 1.5 million) as we became homo erectus we moved toward pair-bonding and serial monogamy (having one mate at a time). By the time we became homo sapiens pair-bonding was most likely established. But this does mean that pair-bonding eliminated older promiscuous tendencies, as extramarital affairs occur today in 20% (or more) of marriages, both for women and men (with men slightly higher). All this goes to relieve you of guilt for not desiring monogamy (from a biological perspective), as having multiple partners is certainly part of our primate past (and for many our present), even though pair-bonding is the dominant behavior. But shouldn’t an adult human being be able to do what she wants? But then do we always know what we want? Hmmm. Probably not. The subconscious calls most of the shots, not the conscious brain. We’re prone to being conflicted. But doing something you don’t feel like doing is not going to work, so I’d suggest following your instincts on this. Whatever they are now, chances are they will change again in the future, and maybe many times over the course of your life. If you want to stay with your current partner, but still want to see others, talk it out and see where things land. Eventually, something will settle for you one way or the other. Honesty is not a bad policy when it comes to matters of the heart. Right? And yes, when it comes to love and sex, what’s natural is a “whole lotta stuff going on,” from way back to the beginning until now.


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