Despite becoming more popular, ethical non-monogamy still has a bad reputation for many people. I’ve heard the old saying, “She wants her cake and eat it too” far too many times. It’s not necessarily about that. Non-monogamy is an alternative lifestyle, one entered into by rational choice of both parties, and can be very fulfilling. I believe that, at least for me, the desire for this type of relationship stems from a basic evolutionary imperative leftover from our ancient chimpanzee ancestors.
The most fundamental drive that guides all living things, whether plant or animal, is survival of the species. By this I mean that at our core, humans are programmed to help the human species survive as a whole. Dogs ensure dogs survive, pine trees are concerned with survival of pine trees, and so on. This is not a rational choice – it is not a value judgement, decision, or a social construct. It is an uncontrollable, primal urge.
There are many examples of this phenomenon. Worker honey bees die after they sting a perceived threat – they sacrifice themselves for the good of the hive. Vampire bats will regurgitate food and share it with roost mates who are weak from hunger. And there are many species – including humans – whose mothers are willing to sacrifice themselves for the safety of their offspring.
The way a species survives over time is through meeting biological needs, reproduction, and adaptation. The former refers to basics like food, water, and air, while the latter means the ability to persist through changing conditions (ie: an ice age, or a dwindling food source, etc). Reproduction is both a biological and a social phenomenon; it requires some basic level of social cooperation to be successful, and operates biomechanically. In nature, females are most often attracted to those males who have the physical traits considered desirable for survival of the species. For example, if a woman has a choice between two mates, one who is sick with many different inherited ailments, and the other who appears healthy and physically fit, her primal attraction will favour the latter. Her base instinct will be to produce offspring with the greatest chances for survival.
Having said all of the above, humans have evolved significantly since our ancient ancestors diverged from chimpanzees. We are larger, smarter, and stronger. We are capable of understanding abstract concepts, using logic to make rational decisions, cooperating on a large scale, to feel a wide array of emotions, and to manipulate our environment. For the most part, we don’t answer to our primal urges anymore. Reproduction has become much more of a social concept done through careful mate selection based on emotions (love), economic status (money), and social status (arranged marriages).
Essentially, we have evolved to the point of being able to use reason over biological urges.
It is my theory that those who prefer non-monogamous situations do so because of the above mentioned primal biological imperative. It’s not that they cannot control the urge to copulate, it’s that they feel that animalistic urge more keenly than others. They choose primary partners based on love, common interests, and mutual respect; they choose casual sex partners who provoke a primal urge to reproduce – what I call “sexual chemistry.”
Even though these casual couplings rarely involve reproduction, they are driven by the fundamental urge to try. They may know their casual partner is not the best candidate for helping to raise offspring, for any number of reasons, but the primal urge for genetic superiority is very powerful.
Obviously this is just my personal theory. There could be dozens, if not hundreds, of other factors that lead someone to non-monogamy. Perhaps they are nymphomaniacs, have very unusual fetishes that their partner does not share, are genuinely afraid of monogamy, or get bored easily. No single reason is more or less valid than another.
The key point here is that when a couple makes a rational decision to engage in non-monogamy, no one else has the right to judge them. For many, it’s just part of their nature and is as unchangeable as homosexuality, skin colour, or favourite food. It may not be the standard lifestyle that most people embrace but if it doesn’t affect you then why does it matter? As always, what two consenting adults decide in the privacy of their bedroom is nobody else’s business.