These days, in light of the rising AIDS infection rate and other sexually transmitted diseases, most people have at least a basic knowledge about monogamy and safe sex. But, just to make sure, it is probably a good idea to do a quick overview of the basics. Monogamy refers to the practice of having sex with only one partner. You do not need to be married to be monogamous. Many single people are in committed monogamous relationships.
Reasons for Monogamy
There are many different reasons why people practice a monogamous lifestyle. For many people, this is just what seems like the natural thing to do. For women especially, it is often an automatic thing — they simply take it for granted that they and their partner will be faithful to each other. (Of course, if both partners are not on the same page when it comes to this issue, there can be major problems. So good communication is the key to successful monogamy.)
People also practice monogamy for moral or religious reasons. Some people, especially women, believe they will be viewed as having loose morals if they have sex with several different partners.
Other people practice monogamy because it is just comfortable and convenient. They like the stability and familiarity of being with the same partner continuously. As many women point out, it can often take a while to feel comfortable disrobing in front of a new partner, so the idea of working up the courage to get naked for the first time in front of a long series of partners is not very appealing.
Monogamy in History
It can be tough to trace the roots of monogamy throughout history, mainly because the meaning of the word has changed over the years. Initially, monogamy was a term that simply meant the practice of taking only one spouse (generally a wife) at a time. As a result, many married men who technically practiced monogamy because they only had one wife were also carrying on numerous relationships with their mistresses at the same time.
There are many people who believe you can practice safe sex while still enjoying many partners if you are not in a committed monogamous relationship. The hot new catchphrase for this approach is “responsible nonmonogamy,” although medical experts are quick to point out that any sexual activity involving multiple partners involves at least some inherent risks.
Today, the term is used more broadly to refer to a couple in a committed relationship (which does not necessarily involve marriage) who only have sex with each other.
Throughout history, different cultures and religions have taken vastly different views on monogamy. For Catholics, of course, the final word on monogamy is literally written in stone, in the form of the commandment dictating “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Interestingly enough, though, even within the Catholic texts there are contradictions: The Bible contains many references to men who have numerous extramarital consorts.
In many cultures, the top priority for a man — especially for members of royalty — was having a male heir. Men commonly had sex with numerous women in pursuing that goal, especially if the wife did not give birth to a son. In these cases, infidelity was a nonissue, as it was considered far less important than the man's quest for a male heir.
A common approach to sex throughout history in many cultures has been that the man would have a single wife, with some discreet affairs on the side. Monogamy was not a huge issue in many societies, except in certain strict religious faiths where it was specifically prohibited.