Stories & Reflections
Recently I read an interesting polemic article in the American newspaper New York Times (25/03/2008). Written by Natalie Angier, the text is based on the research of prominent biologists and psychologists concerning monogamy. The conclusion that they reach is impressive: conjugal infidelity is present throughout the animal kingdom.
And that’s not all: studies have shown that certain species “pay” for sex, while others reward their “lovers” with presents and affection. To complete the picture, jealousy and machismo are also to be found there: females are violently attacked if they copulate with another partner.
Of course we are not animals, but the similarities mentioned above are very revealing. Some of the more interesting parts of the article are worth transcribing.
1] Many species are raised from a very tender age to marry someone chosen by the family. They fly and play together, they sing and dance together. In other words, they are raised to impress the community with proof that they were born for one another.
2] Nevertheless, social monogamy is rarely accompanied by sexual monogamy. DNA tests carried out on monkeys, birds and wild animals, when their descendency is examined in the light of modern science, show that between 10% and 70% of the offspring was fathered by someone other than the resident male.
3] Professor David Barash of the University of Washington in Seattle states that: “in the infantile world, infancy. In the adult world, adultery”. For a long time, swans were believed to be a model of fidelity. Through such DNA tests, it has been concluded that not even swans are immune to temptation.
4] The only completely monogamous species is an amoeba – Diplozoon Paradoxum – which is found in organisms of certain fish. Barash explains: “male and female meet while still young, and their bodies literally merge as one. From then on, they are faithful until death do them part”. In this case, death coincides with that of the fish that shelters them.
5] The “oldest profession in the world”, as prostitution is known, is also present in the animal kingdom. It is common to find males that shower their females with presents: rodents, caterpillars and insects. But when the same male decides to have, shall we say, an extracurricular affair, the lover receives better presents than the companion.
6] The law of competition also applies to the animal world: if supply is great, the price comes down. However, if there is a shortage of females, they become objects of desire that deserve the best and most sophisticated rewards.
I have transcribed in this column the result of research conducted by scientists and psychologists specialized in studying animals. All of us can – and should – have our own opinion with respect to monogamy. We can all say that we are a highly evolved species, which is absolutely true. The only thing that we can’t do is to blame science for showing results that often contradict our way of thinking!