Faithful or bound by society?

By Paulo Coelho

Dear readers,

recently I came upon an article from the NYT in which faithfulness is exposed as an outwright fantasy in the animal world.
In this article by Natalie Angier, biologists and psychologists explain that social monogamy is very rarely accompanied by sexual, or genetic, monogamy in virtually all species. Moreover studies have shown that there are also species that “pay for sex”, male shrike provisioning their “mistresses” with more gifts than the ones given to their mate while male macaques that spent time picking parasites from an adult female’s hide systematically expect compensation in the form of copulation.
Yet, one thing remain: jealousy and possessiveness don’t disappear since very often females are violently attacked by males if they copulate with other males…

Here are some parts of the article by Natalie Angier The New York Times ( Tuesday, March 25, 2008)

Sexual promiscuity is rampant throughout nature, and true faithfulness a fond fantasy. Oh, there are plenty of animals in which males and females team up to raise young, as we do, that form “pair bonds” of impressive endurance and apparent mutual affection, spending hours reaffirming their partnership by snuggling together like prairie voles or singing hooty, doo-wop love songs like gibbons, or dancing goofily like blue-footed boobies.

Yet as biologists have discovered through the application of DNA paternity tests to the offspring of these bonded pairs, social monogamy is very rarely accompanied by sexual, or genetic, monogamy. Assay the kids in a given brood, whether of birds, voles, lesser apes, foxes or any other pair-bonding species, and anywhere from 10 to 70 percent will prove to have been sired by somebody other than the resident male.

As David Barash, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle, put it with Cole Porter flair: Infants have their infancy; adults, adultery. Barash, who wrote “The Myth of Monogamy” with his psychiatrist-wife, Judith Eve Lipton, cited a scene from the movie “Heartburn” in which a Nora Ephronesque character complains to her father about her husband’s philanderings and the father quips that if she’d wanted fidelity, she should have married a swan. Fat lot of good that would have done her, Barash said: we now know that swans can cheat, too. Instead, the heroine might have considered union with Diplozoon paradoxum, a flatworm that lives in gills of freshwater fish. “Males and females meet each other as adolescents, and their bodies literally fuse together, whereupon they remain faithful until death,” Barash said. “That’s the only species I know of in which there seems to be 100 percent monogamy.” And where the only hearts burned belong to the unlucky host fish.

Even the “oldest profession” that figured so prominently in Spitzer’s demise is old news. Nonhuman beings have been shown to pay for sex, too. A male shrike provisions his mate with so-called nuptial gifts: rodents, lizards, small birds or large insects that he impales on sticks. But when the male shrike hankers after extracurricular sex, he will offer a would-be mistress an even bigger kebab than the ones he gives to his wife — for the richer the offering, the researchers found, the greater the chance that the female will agree to a fly-by-night fling.

Significantly, males adjust their grooming behavior in a distinctly economic fashion, paying a higher or lower price depending on the availability and quality of the merchandise and competition from other buyers.

Commonplace though adultery may be, and as avidly as animals engage in it when given the opportunity, nobody seems to approve of it in others, and humans are hardly the only species that will rise up in outrage against wantonness real or perceived. Most female baboons have lost half an ear here, a swatch of pelt there, to the jealous fury of their much larger and toothier mates.

Please feel free to comment in this subject. But don’t put the blame on science!

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Comments

  1. Amanda Brossy says:

    Someone alerted me to the fact that my comment on monogamy is floating around in cyberspace and can be googled under my name. Quite a shock! I went in to check it – and found your comment in reply. Probably too late now, but herewith my response as a woman. [Although, I don’t claim to reflect the average, I am part of the human race!]

    I don’t think monogamy is the problem for women that it is for men. If there are female “hunters” out there, I haven’t met ‘em. None of the women I know are comfortable with departing from the monogamy principle – for all it’s a trade or search for unfulfilled needs.

    If we were still living in a predominantly “moral” society, I’d consider your comment on acceptance more valid. Personally, I think Rupert Sheldrake hit the nail on the head. His premise is that evolution is effected through the female species (having both X & Y chromosomes), females are biologically programmed to that end. It would make sense that males, being biologically programmed only to procreate would have a harder time with monogamy, surely? (He was referring to humans, BTW).

    Let me hasten to add, however, that I’m talking basic biology – our animal nature – and think it a dangerous mistake to overlook the existence of the human soul. There are many males out there who claim to be looking for “the one and only” – unless it’s just the currency for fulfillment of the biological urges, of course.

  2. Soraya says:

    There ARE animal species that mate for life, they just are in the minority; and they just don't “grab” the headlines, and we are all about glaring, exploding headlines these days. Who wants to subscribe to the minority view, which is usually marginalized as, well, the minority? I say, whatever floats your boat, but be open and honest about the depth and clarity of your waters. As for myself, count me in the outliers: give me rare over common any day.

  3. aleko says:

    Mirela, what this article and you are proposing is a new kind of love, and what if a person has never confronted love like that before. Although it must be just fine giving and sharing love and care in which ever way couples see fit. If I was a woman, to know that the man I love is willing to give of his possessions to me, for my love and for my support, I would feel very special and loved.
    Being a man, I know that what I would give her, would be all out of love, as I want to keep her in my life. And I love her so much that had I had the money, I would even give her one million dollars to be with her again and see her beautiful face and soul.

  4. Mirela Baron says:

    Well,because we are NOT ANIMALS, we have the oportunitys to Transport through WORDS our own special and individual DEALS betwin the CUPLES.And if THIS DEALS are in agreement based from the begining on HONESTY and FAIRNESS, before anything happend,IT NEEDS only the COURAGE to have a DIALOG about IT!
    …and what happend after …depends only of GOD and the Capacity of BOTH players.

    But it is allthough a CONFRONTATION, and withoght it ,we said it allready ,NO POSIBILITY of GROWTH and keeping the COSMOS IN MOTION!

    May God help us in all CONFRONTATIONES!(I think ..this will say a warrior).I can’t stop to laugh…!

    Love you my dear PAULO!

    LOVE,
    Mirela(the woman in elevator)

  5. Lily says:

    This is an interesting article. I think Mr. Coelho is right, monogamy is an illusion not always present in long term relationships. But seems that partners like to give the illusion of monogamy to each other as they can’t face the truth.
    Yet when someone is ‘In love’ I agree with aleko that one stays faithful regardless, as it almost becomes humanly impossible to be with someone other than the lover.
    love
    lily

  6. to aleko says:

    humans are not animals? Then what are we? Plants?

  7. aleko says:

    human is not an animal, the other differences comes from this, it is hard to find loved one, but as u find u stay faithful, it is just core of real love. it is not imposed that u stay faithful, this is natural.

  8. Soraya says:

    There ARE animal species that mate for life, they just are in the minority; and they just don’t “grab” the headlines, and we are all about glaring, exploding headlines these days. Who wants to subscribe to the minority view, which is usually marginalized as, well, the minority? I say, whatever floats your boat, but be open and honest about the depth and clarity of your waters. As for myself, count me in the outliers: give me rare over common any day.

  9. Amanda Brossy says:

    Someone recently commented (unverified) that monogamy has never really been practiced by the human race. In the olden days, said she, women died in childbirth or diseases, men died of overwork or diseases, etc. so that marriages rarely lasted beyond seven to ten years, anyway…

    It leands a whole new slant to the words “until death us do part…”

  10. M says:

    I wonder why there are no comments on this, maybe because, though this is happening in everybody’s life, people are not ready to accept this yet.

    I feel its true to the core. But as monogamy is a myth to male species, it can be a myth for female species too, only not accepted.