Why is monogamy still the norm

Monogamy is just an invention

It's late, the blood alcohol level is high, the woman is beautiful. Flirt, smooch, sex. Not really a problem if Max weren't married. His wife is unaware of the occasional trips her husband makes to other beds. The other women mean nothing to Max, he just lets his instinct off the leash every now and then. "I know it's natural. But it's also wrong."

"By nature people are not monogamous," says teacher, couple and sex therapist Gertrud Wolf. About a third of her clients are sitting in front of her because one of the partners has cheated on her. Even though sexual fidelity is very important to most couples. "I often have to deal with people who have always said that they would never cheat and that they couldn't forgive their partner for that either. And then they sit in front of me very confused because they cheated after all."

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Many - especially young people - wonder whether monogamy is the only sensible form of relationship. While for some it represents the only true concept for a relationship, others consider it outdated and prophesy - like the world-famous sexologist Volkmar Sigusch - its imminent demise. "Monogamy is a human cultural achievement, an invention," says Gertrud Wolf. "But one that makes sense."

Two forms of sexuality

In her scientific book "Construction of the Adult" Wolf describes two forms of sexuality that often get in each other's way. The original form of sexuality is a mere bodily need. It's not about closeness or intimacy, but about satisfying the drive. Max knows that. Rebecca too. The now 30-year-old says that she experimented a lot when she was in her early 20s. She went to swinger clubs, had many exciting experiences and really enjoyed the excitement.

In contrast, there is sex that creates closeness. Wolf calls this "sexuality as a form of culture". For Wolf, monogamy plays a central role here because it strengthens the bond between two adults. "We cannot go arbitrarily broadly if we want to go deeper," explains Wolf, why sexual loyalty within a partnership makes perfect sense - at least if you want a deep, trusting relationship.

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Oxytocin makes sex more

Max is always drunk when he goes to bed with strange women. More than once he doesn't sleep with it either, because intimacy and closeness are actually the last thing he's after. Perhaps in this way it blocks the path of oxytocin, the binding hormone that is released during orgasm. It is the same hormone that floods mothers while breastfeeding their child and enormously strengthens the mother-child bond. Sex, as drive-driven as it was initially motivated, therefore always harbors the risk that we want more from the other.

People who live in a monogamous partnership try to cope with this danger by simply forbidding themselves to have sex outside of the relationship. Rebecca has also arrived in a monogamous relationship after her eventful past. She describes her boyfriend as rather conservative, and he does not share her willingness to experiment. "I don't miss being unable to have other men. But sometimes I miss the excitement."

Rebecca hopes that her boyfriend will at some point also long for more freedom and at least get their sex life out of the bedroom, which for Rebecca feels like a cozy cage. But what if this wish is not fulfilled? Another third of Gertrud Wolf's clients come to her because their sexual needs seem incompatible. It is also the point at which the sexual stimuli of others fall on fertile ground and the affair no longer seems so absurd.

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Monogamy is not a dogma

How this situation is to be solved cannot be answered across the board for all couples, says Wolf. Sometimes it makes perfect sense to open up the relationship for a while and give up sexual exclusivity. Just like Kathrin and her boyfriend. You have decided that sex with others should no longer be forbidden. It is an experiment that Kathrin is aware of the risks. "For me, this open relationship doesn't mean that I can do what I want." On the contrary. Because there is no longer a ban that sets the limits, she has to take responsibility herself and weigh what she wants to expect of herself and her partnership.

An affair is also an opening of the relationship, but with the difference that the other has not consented, says Wolf. "Whether an affair or an open relationship, all of this can lead to crises in the partnership. But these crises in turn can lead to the partnership developing."

"Monogamy is neither the only meaningful relationship concept, nor has monogamy failed," says Wolf. Which form of relationship makes sense for a couple can change again and again and must be decided very individually. "Of course, sexuality is something very personal," says Wolf. In a partnership, however, it is no longer an individual thing, but becomes a matter of negotiation.

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    Rockhopper penguins

    Rockhopper penguins remain true to each other even when the partners are several thousand kilometers apart: researchers were able to provide evidence using tiny transmitters. Seven out of ten couples found each other again after a long separation and brooded together.

  • 6 birds that are (almost) loyal for a lifetime

    Blue tits

    Around 90 percent of all bird species live socially monogamous, but at most ten percent of them are really chaste. Blue tit females, for example, like to leave their nest and their husbands asleep early in the morning for a quickie.

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    Mute swans bind themselves for a lifetime. But even with the bird, which is regarded as a model of loyalty, the females often slip on the side. By the way, that's good for genetic diversity. This will ensure that all eggs are fertilized.

  • 6 birds that are (almost) loyal for a lifetime


    Swans belong to the geese family. Almost all geese are socially monogamous. In contrast to the swans, who take care of building the nest together, only the females do this with the geese. Both of them take care of the chicks - but do they really descend from their father?

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    Most parrot and parakeet species live in huge flocks because this offers the birds protection from predators. Nevertheless, monogamous couples almost always form within the flock, and they do so for a lifetime.

  • 6 birds that are (almost) loyal for a lifetime


    Storks are probably really predominantly monogamous, if only because of their nesting behavior. The male usually flies ahead and prepares the nest. Only then does the female come from the south. Because there are usually not that many storks in one place, cheating should be difficult.

    Author: Fabian Schmidt