The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People. By Authors David P. Barash, Ph.D. & Judith Eve Lipton, M.D.

December 4, 2002

The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People. By Authors David P. Barash, Ph.D. & Judith Eve Lipton, M.D.

One of my interests is science and I have, for years, subscribed to Scientific American magazine. One of its ongoing sections is dedicated to reviewing newly released science-related books and a couple of years ago (it takes me a while to get through my yet-to-read list) I bought a book on the magazine’s recommendation with the above-mentioned title. Although not everyone shares my penchant for things scientific, I will venture to assert that the vast majority of homo sapiens share my interest in examining human sexuality and, as such, this book would appeal to many readers. The authors, one a zoologist and the other a psychiatrist, combine their scientific knowledge and superb writing abilities to take the reader on a journey of sexual discovery from an extremely novel perspective.

As the title suggests, the work examines monogamy, or the lack thereof, across species in an attempt to better understand human sexual and social practices. Monogamy can be divided into two types: sexual monogamy, or mating exclusivity; & social monogamy, or a social system in which the reproductive arrangement appears to involve one male and one female. The reader will also be introduced to numerous other sexual and social arrangements, such as: polygamy which is a mating pattern wherein a single individual mates with more than one individual of the opposite sex; polygyny which is a mating pattern wherein a single male mates with more than one female; and polyandry which is a mating pattern wherein a single female mates with more than one male. Much of the book examines the sexual practices and characteristics of different species of animals, birds and insects; teaching the reader about sexual bimaturism, sexual cannibalism, sexual dimorphorism, sexual jealousy and many other fascinating topics.

I consider myself to be fairly well-read, however, I must admit that many of the examples of insect and animal sexuality had me shaking my head in incredulity. Take, for example, traumatic insemination used by the bedbug: “the males simply pierce the body of their mate/victim [with their penis], injecting sperm that then travel through the blood, collecting in the gonads and achieving fertilization”. A more incredible version of traumatic insemination occurs amongst the males of the cave bat bug: “:males attack other males, injecting sperm as well as seminal fluid directly into the victim’s body cavity, which is pierced by the attacker’s sharp penis. The male recipients metabolize the seminal fluid, thereby gaining some calories from the transaction. But some surviving sperm also migrate to the recipient’s testes. If and when the victim copulates with a female cave bat bug, he will therefore transfer some of the sperm of his attacker, who gets paternity by proxy”. More widely known are cases of females literally eating their male sexual partners immediately after (or even sometimes during) copulation”?some species of spider and the praying mantis are examples.

The book is full of strange and wondrous sexual properties and tactics and it reads more like a fascinating literary novel than a scientific treatise. Being a book based in science, the Myth of Monogamy is written from the perspective of evolutionary biology, genetics and the like. For one such as me, who needs proof as opposed to faith, the scientific standards used by the authors, and those of the studies they quote, give their theories credibility. Of course, the question that automatically came to my mind was “are human beings naturally monogamous”? The answer is in the book (according to the authors’ observations) but I won’t ruin the ending of a good story for you”?to find out, you’ll have to acquire and read the Myth of Monogamy.

Wayne E. Benedict is a Locomotive Engineer at BC Rail and President of the Canadian Union of Transportation Employees Local 1. He is working toward his Bachelor of Administration in Industrial Relations and Human Resources at Athabasca University.