Are We Naturally Monogamous?

I’ve heard it most of my life: Women are naturally monogamous, but men aren’t. Drawing on the evolutionary concept, females are motivated to stick to one guy — the father of her children — to provide for and protect her family. But males are instinctively driven to “spread their seed” to increase their chances of offspring.

So we expect women to want to find that One True Love, while we expect men to try to hit up as many women as possible — at least until he settles down with his One True Love. After he has “sowed his wild oats.”

Here’s always been my problem with that: I know too many exceptions.

For instance, me.

To be honest, I don’t think I’m naturally monogamous. If I wasn’t for my knowledge in this area, my faith in God’s design for intimacy, and my contrasting experiences of promiscuity and marital bliss . . . well, let’s just say that left to my own devices, I might have been jumping from bed to bed. I had to tamp down my temptation to engage multiple partners and grow into the far better plan God set down in His Word.

There are plenty of women like me, and there are also plenty of men who hanker for that one woman they can cling to. You can easily hear it in so many amazing love songs written by men. Exceptions abound!

Now I’m not talking about the choices we make, but our natural bent.

Our natural bents can be positive or negative in many areas, but just because we feel something instinctively doesn’t mean it’s good. “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). I don’t think I’m naturally monogamous, but I do think monogamy is absolutely, wonderfully the way to go.

Albatrosses

Albatrosses — who mate for life.
Photo credit: JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons

Indeed, when I agreed with God on his plan for sexuality, He blessed me in ways I still can’t fathom. Truly, my husband is now the only man I sexually desire. I no longer want to hop here and here, because I’ve experienced the far better course of intimacy in a covenant marriage.

Which is why I think the whole “I’m not naturally monogamous” theory is a cop-out.

Humans don’t fit perfectly into those black-and-white categories like animals — either hook up merely to reproduce or mate for life. I think we have a little of both desires in us: the desire to experience attraction with more than one person and the desire to connect our heart with one single person on this big populated planet. Those desires struggle in us to varying degrees, depending on our predisposition, personality, environment, experiences, etc. But what matters in the end is choice.

Unlike those animals with a section in the Wikipedia article for “mating habits,” we choose our approach to sex and relationships. And we can choose to recognize, nurture, and satisfy that desire to be with a single person from now and for the rest of our lives.

The benefits of monogamy are huge, and they include better sex.

Experts say you get really great at something when you’ve put in 10,000 hours of practice. For instance, that piano player who can totally rock a Mozart or Vivaldi or Chopin tune. But imagine that you kept changing his instrument — piano, violin, percussion, trombone, etc. Would he be immediately as good at playing those other instruments? Not likely. In a covenant marriage, you get a lifetime to learn love with your particular partner, to try many different things, and to perfect your lovemaking. You can become quite the maestro!

Focus on the mate you chose. Invest yourself fully in this One True Love. Even if your original, natural bent felt a little more Don Juan than Romeo. Monogamous, covenant marriage, and awesome sex within, is God’s beautiful design, and the payoff is worth the investment.

15 thoughts on “Are We Naturally Monogamous?

  1. Eric Dingler

    I for one like the 10,000 hour analogy about changing instruments compared to partners. Great! Probably going to use that one if you don’t mind.

  2. Steve Stamm

    One way to think about this is that the whole human experience, from a spiritual perspective, is about rising above what your body is naturally inclined to do. Your composition, a soul (spirit) which is attached to a body (animal), is constantly at odds with itself. My view is that men are designed with the inclination to have several sexual partners. You have, I think, talked about Polygamy in the past. I think this is the responsible manifestation of this inclination. Polygamous marriages are however less than ideal and demonstrate a lack of spiritual strength and judgment when bringing ones body under subjection.

    “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (I Corinthians 9:27)
    “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (I Peter 2:11)

    1. J Post author

      I totally get this battle you describe, Steve, but I am concerned that we Christians have created a false dichotomy between our soul and body. God created both and wants both to honor him. Of course, we have flesh-based temptations and struggles — those are well-described in many New Testament passages — but the body is also capable of glorifying God in many ways. Thus, we are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30) — not just the spirit side of us.

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Steve Stamm

    Good point. You are correct that some Christians think of the body as evil and the spirit as good. This idea is akin to the heretical ideas of Gnostic Docetism. I didn’t want to imply that at all. King David’s comment that we are fearfully and wonderfully made along with God’s declaration that everything he made was ‘very good’ settles that issue. – Thanks for your fantastic blog!

    1. J Post author

      Fabulous! Then we agree on that. 🙂 I liked the scriptures you cited too. Blessings!

  4. Tracy

    Hi Steve,
    I just wanted to ask what you meant by “designed” to have more than one partner. Maybe you meant tempted? I don’t want to jump to conclusions on your meaning, but I believe if God designed man to have more than one partner he would have given him two or more wives instead of only Eve. Also the Bible says two shall become one flesh. The practice of polygamy was not God’s design for man nor man for polygamy. Also, some men may be tempted to lose their temper, murder, steal, etc. this is not God’s design. Although I can see you clearly support monogamous marriage, I feel like you might be confusing temptation with design.

    1. Steve Stamm

      Hi Tracy,

      You are correct that I support monogamous marriage as the best and highest ideal for marriage.

      I guess ‘designed’ may have been too strong a word. What I intended to convey was that there are certain realities in the physical world that in some instances make polygamy a necessity. God recognizes these realities when he commands the practice of Levirate marriage in Deuteronomy 25:5-6. God also regulates the practice of polygamy in the Old Testament so that wives do not fall victim to its abuses.

      The truth is that the practice of polygamy is apparently one of those arrangements that are lawful but not profitable. (1 Corinthians 6:12). Paul tells Timothy and Titus that an Elder must be the husband of one wife. The reason for this is that having two wives is somewhat intemperate and possibly shows a failure to control ones passions.

      I know this view will not be well received by many today but before reacting, take a look at Ezekiel 23 (This chapter is very graphic so beware.). God represents himself as a polygamous husband married to two sisters. Where else does God attribute, even metaphorically, actions to himself that are inherently immoral? Another point in this argument is that when King David sins with Bathsheba, Nathan the prophet comes to him with a message from God: 2 Samuel 12 “7bThus says the Lord God of Israel… 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms.” Did God cause David to sin by giving him all those wives? Of course he didn’t.

      It’s difficult for me, absent any direct condemnation of polygamy in the Bible, to condemn what God has not condemned. Although he was against polygamy in general Martin Luther famously wrote: “I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter.”

      This is an issue that we will be dealing with in the Church in the very near future as laws against polygamy fall in the wake of Same Sex Marriage legalization.

      Steve

      1. Tracy

        Thank you for responding Steve. I am very happy that you are strict in your use of scripture to condemn or justify an action. I wish more who claim to follow Christ held that conviction! The scriptures and examples you listed were from the Old Testament; which can teach us many lessons, but commands and freedoms(?better term) we are not bound or loosed by unless repeated in the New Testament (many are). Hebrews 8:7-13. vs 7 says “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should have been sought no place for the second.”
        Luke 16:18 says “Whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away committeth adultery.” This verse says if a man even divorces his wife and marries another woman he’s committing adultery! Of course we know other passages such as Matthew 5:32 that say if she’s been sexually unfaithful, that is the one exception God recognizes. In the Old Testament, God not only allowed divorce for other reasons, but even commanded them to put away their Cananite wives. So we cannot look to all principles of Old Law marriage in the same way we can most other principles. (Btw Adam and Eve were created before God gave Moses the law.) Acts 17:30 says that those times, were “times of ignorance,” and God “winked at” them. He closed his eyes to certain downfalls and injustices of the time. -Tracy

        1. Steve Stamm

          Tracy,

          Thanks for your kind words.

          Actually, the point I was making was based on God’s nature which does not change (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8) The point was that he would not picture himself doing something immoral regardless of which covenant he is dealing with at the time. If you want an example in the New Testament look at Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. Most modern readers believe that the ten virgins are bridesmaids but the text clearly says that they represent the Kingdom of God which is the Church, the BRIDE of Christ. It is difficult to see, if polygamy is inherently immoral, why Jesus would feature himself in a parable marrying five virgins at the same time!

          One theological point I thought I’d mention. It was the Old Law, not the Old Testament (the book) that was nailed to the cross. Remember that the early church used the Old Testament like we use the New Testament. We just have to be careful how we use it remembering that we are not under law but are under grace.

          Lots of folks try to mix thinking about polygamy with Jesus’ teaching on divorce but you really cannot do that. We are not talking about divorcing anyone. Instead, we are talking about not divorcing and while married to a first wife marrying another. Thus, any teaching on divorce has nothing to say about the issue. Wouldn’t you agree?

          People also sometimes appeal to God’s creation of Eve for Adam as proof that monogamy is the plan but when Jesus appeals to the beginning he is talking about divorce not plural marriage. In other words, God put them together and he expects them to stay together. Just because God gave Adam one wife doesn’t really say anything about polygamy because the same God gave David hundreds of wives and that had nothing to do with the Old Law.

          The reason all this is important is that we will shortly be faced with dealing with it when people involved in these marriages convert to Christianity. If what God really cares about is the oath that these husbands took to live with their wives as wives and we tell them that they have to divorce all of them except the first wife in order to become Christians and we are wrong, then we are guilty of violating both Galatians 1:8 and God’s declaration that he hates divorce. I bet you and I can agree that this is a situation that we do not want to risk being in! – Steve

          1. J Post author

            I’m not going to get deep into this debate, because there’s a lot here and that’s not really the focus I want to pursue. But I believe the Bible’s clear that the ideal is one man + one woman.

          2. Tracy

            In the parable Jesus was not picturing himself as marrying five women, and refusing to marry five more because they were late. He did liken the kingdom of God to ten virgins, but did not make the analogy that it was the bride is Christ in this passage. (He made this analogy elsewhere, with no evidence the 2 analogies are related, example, he also likened it to a singular mustard seed in other passages) They were part of the wedding party and we’re not allowed to be part of the feast. This was to show that some in His Kingdom will be ready when he comes back to earth, and some won’t.

            We definitely have to use scripture that talks about divorce and adultery when it comes to polygamy. Because it illustrates the fact that a man MUST be faithful to his spouse, even if he’s married to the other woman! Just because he marries the other woman, does not negate the adultery.

            Unfortunately, I fear you may be right about the legalization, and all the hurt that could come from that! This is why John the Baptist was beheaded. Read Mark 6: 16-29. Herod married his brother’s wife, and John told him he wasn’t allowed to have her anymore. Just because they were married did not mean it was ok to continue the relationship. Yes God does hate divorce, but does allow it in the case of adultery.

  5. Tad

    I think the reason men or women seek out multiple partners is because deep down we crave intimacy on a spiritual level, and when one person doesn’t fulfill that, we want to seek out another. That is where hard work and faith come in – First, to realize that true spiritual intimacy comes only from God, and second that if we find the person God has planned to be in our lives, and we enter into marriage determined to make intimacy work with that person and with JUST that person, we find that deep need filled by both Christ and our spouse, and thus have no need for other sexual partners.

  6. Paul Byerly

    I would probably be monogamous, even if I did not see other options as sin.

    The whole idea of trying to explain everything by evolutionary benefit is pretty wacked. Even many who are all about evolution think it has been taken to extremes.

  7. Steve Stamm

    I agree with J when she says of marriage; “the ideal is one man + one woman.” Paul make this abundantly clear in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6. Thank you for such a great blog your words have helped me in the past months more than you could know. – Steve

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