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Monogamy is the practice of limiting sexual interaction, and sometimes emotional intimacy as well, to one specific person.

Defining Monogamy

Biologists refer to four types of monogamy:

  • Marital monogamy refers to marriages of only two people. This may be further distinguished as one of two types:
    1. marriage once in a lifetime;
    2. marriage with only one person at a time (serial monogamy), in contrast to bigamy or polygamy
  • Social monogamy refers to two partners living together, having sex with each other, and cooperating in acquiring basic resources such as shelter, food and money.
  • Sexual monogamy refers to two partners remaining sexually exclusive with each other and having no outside sex partners.[3]
  • Genetic monogamy refers to sexually monogamous relationships with genetic evidence of paternity.

The Development of Monogamy

Cross-cultural studies have identified the primary predictor of monogamy in a culture to be the use of the plough. That is, monogamy became a useful or desirable arrangement in agricultural cultures. Pre-agricultural cultures adopt a range of strategies for raising children, including polygamy, polyandry, matriarchal cultures (in which marriage is unnecessary, as the social male parents of a child are the mother's brothers, and the biological father is not relevant) and other communal care arrangements.

Early agricultural societies in Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, Greece and Rome were generally monogamous, with a few wealthy individuals maintaining multiple marriages, or concubines alongside a single, legal wife. In some cultures, taking a second wife (or concubine, or sex slave) was permissible of the first wife did not produce a son. The ancient Israelites required a man to marry his brother's widow and beget an heir for his brother, if the brother died before fathering a son. While this is technically polygyny, the arrangement was viewed as an extension of monogamy for a special circumstance, rather than an exception to it.

The Catholic Church became a strong proponent of monogamous marriage once it became tradition for wealthy families to send younger sons to become priests. Should "the heir and the spare" die without siring male children, the wealth of the family would pass to the sons in the Church.

Modern Monogamy

"In the West, we are taught from a young age that true love is the love of just one person, who can, in turn, answer all our needs: the princess awaits her prince, and, once they are united, they live happily ever after."[2]

Monogamy is such an all-pervading paradigm in modern culture that it is difficult to conduct unbiased research into alternative relationship structures [3]. The form of monogamy which dominates our culture is not a simple arrangement, as monogamy was in ancient times; modern monogamy is confounded with a medieval ideal of romantic love, and a 20th century focus on personal satisfaction and emotional fulfilment.

Practical Monogamy

The arranged marriage is the archetype of practical monogamy. The couple are expected to keep their vows of sexual faithfulness, and to co-operate to run a household and raise children. Over time, a companionable love is likely to form between two people who co-operate so intimately, and so consistently.

Romantic Love

In the context of romantic love relationships, romance usually implies one's deep and strong emotional desires to connect with another person intimately or romantically. Laura Ashe, Associate Professor of English at Worcester College and the Faculty of English has described the invention of romantic love in the literature of the Middle Ages.[7] The romantic love of knights and damsels, called courtly love, emerged in the early medieval ages (eleventh century France), derived from Platonic, Aristotelian love, and the writings of the Roman poet, Ovid (and his ars amatoria). Such romantic love was often portrayed as not to be consummated, but as transcendentally motivated by a deep respect for the lady and earnestly pursued in chivalric deeds rather than through sexual relations.

Although the idea of romantic love was enjoyed by the upper classes from the Middle Ages onward, the realities of life dictated that most people, no matter their station in life, would be required to live in practical monogamy.

It wasn’t until the industrial age in Europe that things began to change. People began to take up work in city centers and factories. Their income, and thus their economic future, became untied from the land, and they were able to make money independent of their family. They didn’t have to rely on inheritances or family connections the way people did in the ancient world, and so the economic and political components of marriage became less pressing. The new economic realities of the 19th century then cross-pollinated with the ideas that emerged from the Enlightenment about individual rights and the pursuit of happiness, and the result was a full-blown Age of Romanticism.

Marriage was no longer a simple, practical arrangement for the preservation of wealth and the raising of children. Now, it was expected to be based on romantic, erotic attraction, rather than purely practical concerns. As trade, colonisation and globalisation spread European cultural influence to other cultures, the idea of a "love marriage" became known even in cultures which still practice arranged, practical marriage.

The "Me" Generation

Even though marriage has been based on romantic love as a "norm" in Western European culture for almost a century, there have still been large shifts in the expectations for marriage during that time.

The women's liberation movement, and the advent of the contraceptive pill, had a combined effect on the norms of marriage which is still unfolding to this day. When the notion of romantic love was invented, most women were economically dependent on men. In England, women were unable to own property in their own right, so even women from wealthy aristocratic families were dependent on the goodwill of fathers, brothers, sons, or even distant cousins. The novels of Jane Austen, set in England in the late 1800s, provide a window into the types of compromises women were forced to make because of this legal structure.

The women's liberation movement made a range of changes to the law, which increased the ability of women to be financially independent. Women were able to open bank accounts, get drivers licences, take out loans, own real estate, work full time (even after getting married and having children) in well-paid careers, have their own health insurance, and get divorced without having to prove their husband had done something "unconscionable". Women were also able to enjoy an active sexual life without worrying about an unwanted pregnancy, so the pressure to insist on marriage before having sex was greatly reduced.

The effect of this was that people were able to attain many of the benefits of marriage - sexual expression, companionship, and economic security - without getting married. Romantic love alone was not necessarily a good enough reason to enter into a legal arrangement which had a 50% chance of ending in divorce. People started waiting longer before marrying and having children. One in four women are childless, many of them by choice. There is no longer the assumption that couples will automatically pool their finances. Monogamous relationships are no longer synonymous with financial and co-parenting partnerships.

In this environment, romantic relationships need to provide a high level of emotional benefit. One's monogamous partner is now expected to be one's best friend, a confidante with whom one can share one's problems and receive empathetic support. They are expected to be an enthusiastic participant in whatever projects we undertake in pursuit of life goals, and to share our hobbies, holiday trips, and even our preferences in TV and cinema.

Needless to say, these high expectations put a lot of pressure on relationships. The baby boomers, also known as the "me" generation, were born between 1945 and 1965. They lived through the transition from the expectation that marriage is for life to the expectation that if the marriage is not "working", it will end, and the people will find new monogamous partners. Serial monogamy has become the norm in Western society, and couples who marry in their teens and stay together for life are becoming increasingly rare.

After the 1960s, an increasing focus on psychotherapy, personal development, and spirituality raised expectations within romantic relationships even higher. Romantic partners were now expected to support one another's personal growth and spiritual development. When confronted by a partner in a rage over some imagined wrongdoing, romantic partners were now expected to calmly "hold space" for the person's "process", instead of either defending themselves or withdrawing to safety.

Tantra and Monogamy

Traditional Tantric texts show that Tantra has never been bound by the norms of society, and sexually exclusive marriage was no exception to Tantric taboo-breaking.

The traditional texts make it clear that if a Tantric was practising left-hand Tantra, with actual sexual intercourse as part of the practice, the Tantric partner should not be their husband or wife. The ideal Tantric partner was described as someone healthy, someone the Tantric did not find sexually attractive, and someone with whom the Tantric would be unlikely to form a mundane emotional bond. Washer women, for example, members of the "untouchable" caste, were considered ideal Tantric partners for Brahmin men.

Practicing Tantra with one's monogamous partner is one of the most difficult ways to practice Tantra. From a Tantric point of view, the risk of being distracted from the spiritual path is extremely high when we have attachment to our Tantric partner, and therefore this is not a recommended path in any Tantric tradition.

While practicing Tantra with a monogamous partner may make it more difficult to reach spiritual goals, it can, however, make it easier to attain more material goals, such as becoming detached enough to support a partner as they work through a triggering situation, or a past sexual trauma. Many people, particularly in neo-Tantric circles, maintain monogamous Tantric relationships for the purposes of healing and personal growth.

Many neo-Tantric teachers give specific advice on applying Tantric techniques within a monogamous relationship. Tantric massage can improve the emotional and sexual aspects of a monogamous relationship. Transfiguration is a powerful way to transcend egoic patterns, and to relate in a more unconditionally loving way. Ejaculation control naturally converts sexual energy into devotion and selfless service, which immediately enriches any relationship.


  1. Monogamy in Wikipedia accessed Sep 30, 2017
  2. The Rise and Fall of Monogamy in Psychology Today
  3. Concept of Monogamy Based on Flawed Science by Rachel Hosie
  4. Romance in Wikipedia
  5. A Brief History of Romantic Love and Why It Kind of Sucks by Mark Manson
  6. The Myth of Romantic Love by Michael Novak
  7. Did Love Begin in the Middle Ages? by Clemency Pleming
  8. Romantic Love in New World Encyclopaedia