The Evolutionary Benefits of Promiscuity

capuchin monkey

Capuchin monkeys will seek out mating opportunities in the early stages of their pregnancy, presumably to confuse males about paternity.

Western society is a bit odd when it comes to mating. Its members are expected to be sexually monogamous, while elsewhere in the world and the animal kingdom, females get it on with multiple males. It turns out that there are huge benefits to soliciting sex from multiple males.

Female langurs from India, saddle-backed tamarins, bonobos, and Capuchin monkeys are just a few primate species where females actively seek out sex with multiple males. Scientists theorize that the females mate with multiple males to blur paternity and therefore secure additional resources and safety for their offspring. It also boosts the amount of white blood cells, improving immune systems and decreases the chances of inbreeding. Though I suspect the monkeys may just like it….

Horny Humans

It turns out, humans are more like the polyandrous monkeys than anthropologists were willing to admit. There are 53 human societies with informal polyandry – where women have simultaneous sexual relationships with more than one man. From Slate.com:

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Promiscuity pays with more males contributing resources toward the rearing of children.

Western societal sexual norms are slowly changing as women gain financial independence – one of the key environmental factors that support multiple mating. Infidelity is rising among 20-somethings, despite research showing a hardening of views toward adultery. Other environmental factors that lead to women having multiple sexual partners are a scarcity of men and high levels of male unemployment. Interestingly enough, all three of these factors are currently in play in American society, where more women are going to college and earning degrees than men, women have fared better in the economic downturn than men, and there are more single, college-educated women than like men.

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America’s first blended family – the Brady Bunch

Traditionally polyandrous societies have systems that accept two fathers for a child – something we’re increasingly seeing in today’s society with blended families and step parents.

What Will the Future Look Like, Sexually?

However, a couple scientific studies, if translatable to human society, could show the downside to increased promiscuity. When promiscuity increases, cooperation within a species go down (birds) and male aggression toward females goes up (chimpanzees). Are we seeing some of this already in modern American society with increasing partisanship and sexual violence toward women?

It appears American society is undergoing a radical shift with too many variables to count – though it is extremely interesting to see how culture and environmental factors combine to affect human sexuality.

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They’re doing it for the offspring. Obviously.

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