I was listening to a podcast earlier when the host asked a very interesting question: Is monogamy a natural occurrence in humans, or is it cultural?
Monogamy is defined as the practice of being married to one partner. Here in the West, the societal norm is to fall in love with one person, get married, start a family, and live happily ever after. But that “happily ever after” has turned into a flawed concept since 50% of all marriages end in divorce or separation. And according to the National Institute of Health, infidelity is one of the top-cited reasons for divorce.
About 45-50% of married women and 50-60% of married men cheat on their spouses, infidelity in the United States accounts for 20-40% of all divorces, 42% of divorcees reported having more than one affair, and a Gallup poll reported that more than 62% of partners said they would file for divorce if they found out their spouse was having an affair. So the questions become, what is our issue? As a society, are we that undisciplined? Is it unnatural for us to be faithful to one person? And if so, what is the solution?
This led me to the concept of polygamy.
In social anthropology, polygamy is the practice of marriage to more than one spouse. Human polygamy consists of three forms:
- Polygyny – one man having multiple wives.
- Polyandry – one woman having multiple husbands.
- Group marriages – a combination of polygyny and polyandry, where a family has multiple husbands and wives at the same time.
George Peter Murdock’s The Ethnographic Atlas Codebook recorded the marital composition of 1231 societies, between 1960-1980, and found that 186 were monogamous, 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had frequent polygyny, and seven had polyandry. But even with this data, polygamous relationships are still not as common throughout the world. Taking on more than one wife, in particular, requires a considerable amount of resources that the vast majority of men don’t have. As for the factors that influence polygyny, New World Encyclopedia advised the following:
- A long postpartum sex taboo: in some societies, particularly tropical regions, a woman may refrain from sexual activity to preserve her milk to nurse her infant. This leads her partner to seek sexual pleasure elsewhere.
- An imbalance in the ratio of men to women: societies with a high male mortality rate have higher rates of polygyny.
- Men marrying later in life also increases the rate of polygyny.
In regards to the law, secular countries with large Jewish and Christian populations refuse to give polygamous marriages official recognition. This lifestyle is mostly practiced amongst Muslims in Africa, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Sharia (Islamic law) is common in Muslim countries and it states that a man can only marry as many wives that he can afford to care for properly, with four being the total. Many countries in Africa and India are influenced by Sharia, and although Africa has multiple cultural and religious influences, this law reflects its diversity.
Now that we have an idea of its history, can polygamy solve the infidelity issue here in the West? In my opinion, it can. The excitement behind cheating (not that I would know anything about it) is centered around living a double life and hiding your lover from your spouse. Well, if you bring that lover to the forefront and make them an official family member, won’t that make things easier?
When it comes to my community, polygamy has become a trending topic. It’s no secret that there is a ratio imbalance between available Black men and Black women, and this union would solve a communal problem if done properly. The Pan-African Alliance argued that polygamy is beneficial for family units, particularly those headed by single mothers; it increases learning opportunities for the family; it reduces expenses; it can create and bring a community together; it can also heal our collective consciousness.
With the dysfunction in our society, particularly with our families, I’m open to hearing anything at this point. I do agree that these unions require a certain amount of resources, so well-established men and women should be leading this conversation. And having a sexual variety should not be the focal point either. If that’s the case, there’s no need to be married.
But that’s another conversation for another day.
Until Next Time…
Applebury, G. (n.d.). Rates of Divorce for Adultery and Infidelity. Retrieved February 5, 2020, from https://divorce.lovetoknow.com/Rates_of_Divorce_for_Adultery_and_Infidelity
Malik, A. (n.d.). 5 Reasons Why Black Polygamy Is Trending Today. Retrieved February 5, 2020, from https://www.panafricanalliance.com/polygamy/
DIVORCE STATISTICS: OVER 115 STUDIES, FACTS AND RATES FOR 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved February 5, 2020, from https://www.wf-lawyers.com/divorce-statistics-and-facts/
History Of Polygamy. (2015, September 30). Retrieved February 5, 2020, from https://www.polygamy.com/articles/24411273/history-of-polygamy
Polygamy In Africa. (2015, September 30). Retrieved February 5, 2020, from https://www.polygamy.com/articles/89746509/polygamy-in-africa
Polygamy. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/polygamy. Accessed 5 Feb. 2020.
3 Comments Add yours
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The issue is that Westerners misuse the tradition of polygamy to portray it as a concept where one person has multiple lovers. Traditional polygamy equates first and foremost to wealth, in Africa a man that considers taking a second wife is a sign of wealth. It means that he is rich enough to pay another dowry and financially provide for a second family. And most of the time the reason behind it is that the first wife/wives can’t/doesn’t want children anymore and they didn’t have any boy.
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Great point. Here in the West, polygamy discussions are oversexualized and juvenile at times. I’ve always looked at it from a communal standpoint, so it is a great way to build families. But wealthy men should be leading the conversation, in my opinion.
And I didn’t know that the first wife not desiring anymore children was a factor. Thank you for sharing.