… Science and Sex

What does science have to say about sex?  If we indeed are simply an advanced primate, then we should act like primates, which means sex, sex, and more sex… with many different partners… with no restraints.  However, something counter-intuitive is happening in the world of science.  Many researchers are arriving at an unexpected conclusion: Monogamy.

1) The Roots of Monogamy

The roots of monogamous coupling — lie somewhere in our distant evolutionary past, but scientists disagree on how it first evolved. A new study says we should thank two key players: weak males with inferior fighting chops and the females who opted to be faithful to them. These mating strategies may “have triggered a key step in the very long process of the evolution of the family,” said study author Sergey Gavrilets, a biomathematician at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “Without it, we wouldn’t have the modern family.”  (LA Times, May 28, 2012)

2) Physiology of Monogamy  

Why is it so hard to be faithful? Helen Fisher, Ph.D., an anthropologist at Rutgers University, the author of Why We Love, believes that the human body has three separate amorous systems, each ruled by a distinct group of brain chemicals.

  1. One system elicits lust, which gets you hot for any stranger with a passing resemblance to Owen Wilson and encourages you to do your part to keep Homo sapiens in business.
  2. Another chemical cocktail encourages romantic love, focusing your attention on Mr. Right, not just Mr. Right Now.
  3. The third (and in some ways most complex) chemical system fosters attachment. It’s the one that helps keep you and your beloved together for the long haul.

But if brain chemicals are working to help us stay faithful, why can monogamy feel so much like hard work? … the chemicals that promote long-term commitment aren’t foolproof. It’s not that they aren’t powerful, scientists say. It’s just that they don’t cancel out love’s other two biochemical systems. That’s why you can simultaneously feel a warm sense of attachment to your spouse — and feverish lust for your cute new coworker.  (Women’s Health Mar 5, 2012)

3)  History of Monogamy

There’s evidence of one-man-one-woman institutions as far back as Hammurabi’s Code; it seems the practice was further codified in ancient Greece and Rome. But even then, the human commitment to fidelity had its limits: Formal concubines were frowned upon, but slaves of either sex were fair game for extramarital affairs. The historian Walter Scheidel describes this Greco-Roman practice as polygynous monogamy—a kind of halfsy moral stance on promiscuity. Today’s Judeo-Christian culture has not shed this propensity to cheat. (If there weren’t any hanky-panky, we wouldn’t need the seventh commandment.)  (Slate, Oct. 2012)

4)   Oxytocin  May Keep Men Monogamous  

A new study in the Nov. 14 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience showed that men in relationships that were given the hormone oxytocin were more likely to want to stay farther away from an unknown woman they found attractive, compared to single men given the hormone or men that took a placebo…. Oxytocin is a hormone that’s secreted from the pituitary gland … Now, researchers are saying it may help people stay in monogamous relationships.

“Previous animal research in prairie voles identified oxytocin as major key for monogamous fidelity in animals,” Dr. Rene Hurlemann, a psychiatrist University of Bonn in Bonn, Germany, said in a press release. “Here, we provide the first evidence that oxytocin may have a similar role for humans.”

Paul Zak, founding director of Claremont Graduate University’s Center for Neuroeconomics Studies … oxytocin makes people more empathetic, more observant of social cues and more willing to adjust their behavior. It also showed that humans, unlike animals, have evolved to accept being committed…. “The finding that one’s relationship status affects how oxytocin affects the brain provides some evidence that our brains evolved to form long-term romantic relationships,” Zak said. “Hugh Hefner is the exception, not the role model for men.”   (from CBS News Nov 2012)

5) Why monogamy is natural.  The Washington Post.

Creationists and evolutionists don’t agree on much, but they both believe that monogamy is the most “natural” form of reproduction for the human species. This seems counterintuitive. Yes, the Bible … describes the rampant polygamy of Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon and other titans of the faith. Yes, nesting birds, voles, and a few other animals are monogamous, but most mammals reproduce with one dominant male controlling a large harem of females. Polygamy seems “natural,” monogamy “supernatural.”

pair-bonded-492x640Yet, for the past millennium, Christians and post-Christian liberals alike… all agreed that God created humans to reproduce by becoming “two in one flesh,” not three or four. And modern evolutionary scientists … have concluded the same: that pair-bonding [monogamy] is part of the “deep structure” of human reproduction that humans have evolved as their best strategy for survival and success. Both traditional theorists and modern scientists point to four facts of human nature that commend monogamy.

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