There’s a pervasive notion that monogamous relationships are the end-all-be-all – the default pact in human couplings that keep the fabric of society from being torn apart. But growing numbers of scientists believe monogamy is not our biological default; and may not even represent the best road to happiness.
According to IEET readers, what were the most stimulating stories of 2014? This month we’re answering that question by posting a countdown of the top 31 articles published this year on our blog (out of more than 1,000), based on how many total hits each one received.
The following piece was first published here on Mar 30, 2014, and is the #8 most viewed of the year.
Nearly all mammalian species demonstrate sexual promiscuity. Even mate-for-life prairie voles, the animal kingdom's poster child of monogamous relationships produce pups from different fathers twenty percent of the time. Moreover, say historians, for humans, promiscuous behavior is not new at all.
Anthropologists have uncovered clues to how our Paleolithic ancestors lived. Before the advent of agriculture, humans faced a short, brutal lifespan. Some survived to age 50, but most died young or at birth with average life expectancy in the 30-to-40 range.
With such a short lifespan, ancestral children were likely to experiment with sex by age six. Most couples lived in temporary relationships, and being unfaithful was common for these cave dwellers.
When our forbears found themselves in an unhappy situation, they simply walked away and found another cave. Scientists believe that hunter-gatherers had sex mostly for fun, not just to reproduce.
Rutgers University researcher Helen Fisher has written five books on the future of human sex, love, and relationships, and she believes that marriage has changed more in the last 100 years than the previous 10,000, and it could change more in the next 20 years than it did in the past 100!
A robot partner would be the perfect mate, never showing boredom or being inattentive, Levy says. You will always be the focus and centerpiece of their existence and you never need worry about their being unfaithful or going astray, because loyalty and being faithful will be embedded into their programming.
Our concept of infidelity is also changing. Some married couples agree that it's OK to have brief sexual encounters when they travel separately; others sustain long-term adulterous relationships with their spouse' approval. Moreover, recent studies have shown that relationships like these with less pressure on 'being faithful' are more stress-free for both participants, leading to happier lives.
Internet dating wields its impact on relationships too. Matching people with great partners is getting so efficient, and the process so enjoyable, that marriage itself may one day become obsolete.
As we wind through the 21st Century, new relationships will challenge many of our traditions and social policies. Houston futurist Sandy Burchsted, who recently spoke at a World Future Society conference, believes that in the future, most people will marry at least four times and experience extramarital affairs with little public censure. Marriage will be considered an evolutionary process, not a one-time-only event.
It may be time to rethink monogamy, especially given the way that the world has politicized the concept of marriage. As prairie voles aren't "pure as the driven snow," there is also no biological evidence to suggest that human beings are naturally monogamous. We may be culturally and socially encouraged to be faithful, but it is unclear how much that sway really has over our biology.
Some believe a monogamous relationship is the best way to achieve happiness; but many experts say not so fast. Researchers found that non-monogamous relationships reported higher levels of satisfaction and intimacy, and less jealousy than experienced by monogamous pairings.
Today, we live in a sea of technologies that reshape our lives. To bond is human and drives to fall in love are embedded in our nature. With new sex and romance aids, such as Viagra and estrogen replacement, and science providing us with longer healthier lifespans, we have the opportunity to create a more fulfilling partnership than at any other time in history. Welcome to the future!
Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.
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