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Monogamy is the custom or condition of having only one mate. The word monogamy comes from the Greek word monos, which means one or alone, and the Greek word gamos, which means marriage or union. It literally means being married to one person. People currently apply the term monogamy to both married and unmarried couples.


Varieties of Monogamy

Main article: Varieties of Monogamy

Recent discoveries have led biologists to talk about three types of monogamy: social monogamy, sexual monogamy, and genetic monogamy. Social monogamy refers to two people who live together, have sex with one another, and cooperate in acquiring basic resources such as food, clothes, and money. Sexual monogamy refers to two people who remain sexually exclusive with one another and have no outside sex partners. Genetic monogamy refers to the fact that two partners only have offspring with one another. All the offspring raised by the pair are genetically related to each partner. The distinction between social monogamy, sexual monogamy, and genetic monogamy are important in the modern understanding of monogamy.

Incidence of Monogamy

Main article: Incidence of Monogamy

A large majority of human beings around the world enter socially monogamous relationships at some point in their lives. Most people who enter socially monogamous relationships remain sexually monogamous for the duration of the relationship. However, the amount of sexual monogamy varies across cultures, and women tend to be more sexually monogamous than men. Genetic monogamy also varies across cultures but is generally high overall.

Value of Monogamy

Main article: Value of Monogamy

People disagree strongly about the value of monogamy. For example, some people believe monogamous marriage oppresses women and burdens people with unrealistic expectations of lifelong sexual monogamy. Monogamy from this perspective promotes sexism and leads to needless suffering. Other people believe monogamy promotes women's equality and provides a context to deepen trust and intimacy. Monogamy from this perspective provides a foundation for social progress and offers people more secure relationships. A thorough discussion of the different ways people view monogamy would require many articles. This article simply presents a few examples of criticism and defense to make readers aware that people do not view monogamy in the same way.

Psychology of Monogamy

Psychological studies of monogamous relationships have usually focused on marriages. This article deals with three important topics in the psychology of monogamous relationships. First, satisfaction usually declines during the first years of marriage. The decline in satisfaction may represent normal rebound, emotional erosion, and/or motivational erosion. Second, although some people question the duration of marriage as a worthwhile goal, most people expect their marriages to last a long time. Studies of couples in laboratories and studies of people in long-lasting marriages have identified several factors that contribute to the duration of monogamous relationships. Third, attachment, the need for physical and emotional closeness, plays an important role in many aspects of monogamous relationships. Psychologists and neuroscientists have devoted much research to understanding the processes of attachment.

Evolution of Monogamy

Main article: Evolution of Monogamy

The evolution of monogamy in human beings remains highly speculative. Researchers have attempted to draw inferences about the evolution of monogamy from comparisons with closely related species, from sexual dimorphism in hominid fossils, and from relative testis size. The evidence raises the possibility that early human ancestors were not monogamous. However, the evidence remains so problematic and controversial that firm conclusions cannot be drawn.


Mating System

Main article: Animal sexuality

Monogamy is one of several mating systems observed in animals. The amount of social monogamy in animals varies across taxa, with over 90 percent of birds engaging in social monogamy but only 3 percent of mammals engaging in social monogamy. The amount of sexual monogamy appears quite rare in the animal kingdom. It is becoming clear that even animals that are socially monogamous engage in extra-pair copulations.[1]

Evolution in Animals

Main article: Evolution of Monogamy

Socially monogamous species are scattered throughout the animal kingdom. A few insects are socially monogamous; a few fish are socially monogamous; a lot of birds are socially monogamous; and a few mammals are socially monogamous. These species did not inherit social monogamy from a common ancestor. Instead, social monogamy has evolved independently in different species.


  • Korotayev, Andrey (2004). World Religions and Social Evolution of the Old World Oikumene Civilizations: A Cross-cultural Perspective, First Edition, Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0-7734-6310-0.

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