The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People

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9780716740049: The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People

Monogamy may be the rule, but it's not the practice - not even for animals.

Using the same DNA fingerprinting technology used in the courtroom, biologists have now been able to trace parenthood in animals for the first time with certainty. The results have been astonishing: Even among those species previously thought to be monogamous, cheating on your mate is common--for both sexes.

In The Myth of Monogamy, David Barash and Judith Eve Lipton describe how this new research shows that there is simply no question whether sexual desire for multiple partners is "natural." It is. Similarly, there is no question of monogamy being "natural." It isn’t.

Armed with this evidence, scientists have also been able to explain such important questions as why animals (including humans) cheat; why the myth of monogamy was created in the first place; how men and women were sucked into the monogamy hoax; who stands to gain the most by perpetuating the myth of monogamy; and how big of a role procreation plays in the desire to have several sex partners. Finally, The Myth of Monogamy explores the implications of these dramatic new findings for humans, in terms of relationships, parenting, aggression, and more.

A provocative new study of an emotionally charged issue, The Myth of Monogamy illuminates a part of our natural make-up that is as fascinating as it is frustrating.

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Review:

Shattering deeply held beliefs about sexual relationships in humans and other animals, The Myth of Monogamy is a much needed treatment of a sensitive issue. Written by the husband and wife team of behavioral scientist David P. Barash and psychiatrist Judith Eve Lipton, it glows with wit and warmth even as it explores decades of research undermining traditional precepts of mating rituals. Evidence from genetic testing has been devastating to those seeking monogamy in the animal kingdom; even many birds, long prized as examples of fidelity, turn out to have a high incidence of extra-pair couplings. Furthermore, now that researchers have turned their attention to female sexual behavior, they are finding more and more examples of aggressive adultery-seeking in "the fairer sex." Writing about humans in the context of parental involvement, the authors find complexity and humor:

Baby people are more like baby birds than baby mammals. To be sure, newborn cats and dogs are helpless, but this helplessness doesn't last for long. By contrast, infant Homo sapiens remain helpless for months ... and then they become helpless toddlers! Who in turn graduate to being virtually helpless youngsters. (And then? Clueless adolescents.) So there may be some payoff to women in being mated to a monogamous man, after all.

Careful to separate scientific description from moral prescription, Barash and Lipton still poke a little fun at our conceptions of monogamy and other kinds of relationships as "natural" or "unnatural." Shoring themselves up against the inevitable charges that their reporting will weaken the institution of marriage, they make sure to note that monogamy works well for most of those who desire it and that one of our uniquely human traits is our ability to overcome biology in some instances. If, as some claim, monogamy has been a tool used by men to assert property rights over women, then perhaps one day The Myth of Monogamy will be seen as a milestone for women's liberation. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

David P. Barash holds a Ph.D. in zoology and is currently professor of psychology at the University of Washington, Seattle. He has written more than a dozen books, including Making Sense of Sex with Judith Lipton, Ideas of Human Nature, and The Mammal in the Mirror, as well as popular articles in Playboy, Psychology Today, and the New York Times.

Judith Eve Lipton, M.D. is a psychiatrist who has received many honors, including Fellowship in the American Psychiatric Association. She has practiced psychiatry since 1980, currently specializing in women's issues. Drs. Barash and Lipton have been married since 1977. Together, they have produced two wonderful children, and four books.

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