It started with an assertion from Mr. P: “It is primal nature of humans to desire multiple sexual partners. Sleeping around is natural”.
I was listening to him explaining all this over a plate of hot crispy waffles served with two soft, generous scoops of ice cream. Pistachio with caramel and honeycomb. He spoke an earful whilst I scoop confectionary casually into my mouth, considering the things that he said.
What P believed was that sex was as natural as eating, drinking, breathing. He also believed that it is equally normal to have multiple sexual partners. Lecturing with a spoon in the air, P tells us that “Monogamy is a modern, man-made invention. Did you know that in many cultures throughout history, polygamy was perfectly normal and accepted as a healthy means of raising a family.”
He is not wrong.
Take Japan for example. Until 1945, polygamy was legal. Multiple wives, children by one father and their relatives are regarded as one family. In ancient Japan, nobility married up to 5 wives whilst the commoner takes 2 to 3 (Quora). In some villages, workers who lived in and subsisted on their labor in one village were regarded as also a “family” (Gallichan).
Then there is polyandry; the female equivalent of taking on multiple husbands. According to a report from The Atlantic, there are roughly two dozen societies on the Tibetan plateau in which polyandry exists as a recognised form of mating.
Swinger groups exist on the internet and partners go out in search of sexual fulfilment either together or hunt their separate ways.
P then points us to the theories that make good argument for sexual libertarians. He points to the brain’s architectural need to fulfil a “spreading of the seed”, and that having multiple partners is an “evolutionary fulfilment”.
“You will not be able to stop yourself from being unfaithful. Looking at someone with desire is also infidelity, wanting to sleep with someone is also unfaithful. So is liking someone and wanting to hang around them, so fidelity and faithfulness are impossible, artificial and it is a waste of time and effort to suppress it” he said, spoons flailing, ice cream droplets flying around.
Unfortunately for P, I was in an argumentative mood that day and after consuming all his assertions I felt that it was simply not digestible. Something in my heart and stomach just did not agree with what he said.
I accept that sex is as natural as eating, drinking and breathing. But to fulfil a natural desire is one thing and to abuse that natural desire is another. Eating to stay alive is one thing, to take the act of eating into a sensual, pleasure seeking endeavour is another altogether. Eating to stay alive, eating for pleasure and turning into a ravenous glutton are various degrees of a concept of eating.
To learn of where the line is and how we may cross it, requires an observation on the other truisms of human nature.
The first, most obvious hurdle to cross is this: Humans are prone to sexual jealousy. A man may want to sleep with several partners but the minute you ask him if he minds his wife/girlfriend doing it he will give you an affirmative “no way in hell”. Either that or he’ll tell you that she can, just don’t let him find out. This feeling of sexual jealousy is just as natural as the desire for sexual fulfilment.
The second problem to consider is what we call in philosophy “naturalistic fallacy”, that is you do not take what something “is” and derive the conclusion that it “ought” to be. For example; just because a woman can give birth, doesn’t mean that she ought to give birth.
Just because there were societies and cultures that practice polygamy, doesn’t make polygamy right. Moreover many of these are feudalistic, patriarchal societies where the male figure is dominant and many of these ancient policies are created from a man’s point of view, establishing him as authority and a legitimate source of ethics.
Third, but quite likely not the last bit of argument available to this debate, is conscience. Whatever religion you practice, whatever the source of your morality, there is this very curious, very real phenomenon called conscience. In the Book of Romans, it is explained that the law is “written in your hearts”. We have the law codified into our being and law students will know this: along with law comes an obligation to comply and also the threat of sanction. We have a deep feeling to comply with our consciences and the need to punish ourselves when we don’t.
It is not uncommon for cheating partners to feel a need to confess and seek punishment from their partners. They know that they cannot live under guilt. At this point, I don’t have statistics available but I do not think you will find it hard to agree that guilt has the power to cause people to take their own lives. That’s how powerful a conscience is and no matter how much reasoning, convincing and social norming attempts there are, it remains that internal judgement exists.
From these arguments, one can draw the conclusion that sexual infidelity and polygamy is equally unnatural. It is as manmade and artificial as faithfulness and monogamy is.
Cheating is stressful business; you need strategising, lying and covering of tracks. Even amongst swinging couples, there needs to be agreement and consensus otherwise disaster will ensue. Even in the swinging culture, if one departs from a set of agreed norms, it is still considered cheating and the same miserable feelings will surface.
To say that monogamy is artificial and polygamy is natural, is wrong. Both are guilty either way.
Whether you want to or not, hey – that’s your choice my friend and I’d rather not know what you do with that choice 😉