Belfast Telegraph

Birds don't do it, bees don't do it, but monogamy suits us just fine

By Robert McNeill

It's an odd word, monogamy, with its subconscious implications of monotonous game. But we all play it, right? Apart from anything else, it's less hassle than the alternative. And it causes less hurt.

Why the alternative hurts is easy to explain in terms of romance, but difficult in terms of cold-hearted biology. Furrow-browed folk agonise frequently over whether it's a natural state.

Various animal species are adduced, and we're told about monogamous swans, lesbian seagulls, and so forth. Some species, though, just go nuts.

The cute, wee dunnocks in my garden look like butter wouldn't melt in their beaks, even if they ate dairy foods.

But, apparently, they're into threesomes and, every spring, can be seen chasing each other round the shrubbery, like avian equivalents of The Benny Hill Show.

It's deeply disappointing. I thought about withdrawing their food as punishment. But, if there's one thing I've learned about wildlife, it's that they can't put two and two together. Though the dunnocks seem adept at putting two and one together.

Top boffins in Englandshire and New Zealand teamed up to study monogamy, and concluded that humans adopted the practice to protect their children from being killed by other males.

Men, eh? If you think they're bad now, you should have seen them in the Stone Age. Still, at least eventually they opted to stay with the mother to protect their own sprogs from their fellows.

This resulted in a sharing of childcare, which in turn nurtured our complex brains. Such a sharing of duties underwent change during the Sexist Era, which was pretty dumb.

However, the practice has now swung to the other extreme, with men devoting everything to the family. This results in a reduction of wider social interaction and a concomitant shrinking of the brain.

I should stress these are my findings and not those of the boffins from England and New Zealand, who still have some catching up to do in this regard.

Meanwhile, other boffins, at the University of California, Los Angeles, cast doubt on the whole idea of sex addiction, which most of us already reckoned was just an excuse deployed by the less discriminating to justify their excesses.

That story was coupled with the problems of New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, who can't help sexting other women who are not, on closer inspection, his wife.

Monogamy is an essential qualification for electoral candidates, and failure to heed its demands has ruined many a political career.

However, there are positive reasons for monogamy, as well. As someone pointed out online, it makes it cheaper to get a mortgage (though someone else added: but more expensive when you have to give half the house away six years later).

Today, when we no longer dine on our young, we stay monogamous out of fine concepts such as love, loyalty and stability.

The practice also stops fights breaking out all over the place. This week, another study, by the University of Missouri, revealed that testosterone levels drop when men interact with a friend's wife.

Evolution decreed this because men who betrayed their friends' trust endangered their entire communities.

That's all terrifically scientific, making us feel like hapless automatons at the mercy of evolution. There's some truth in that.

But it's not the whole story. Sometimes we just do stuff like monogamy because it feels right and we like it. Unless you're a dunnock, of course.

Belfast Telegraph


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