The term “polygamy” means a marriage, or the marital relationship, of a person with several partners at the same time.
Polygamy, also referred to as plural marriage, is the counterpart to monogamy. Depending on gender, a distinction can also be made between polygyny, i.e. the relationship between one man and several women, and polyandry (one woman with different men).
In western culture, polygamy has become extremely rare. Marriage with more than one partner is even forbidden by law and is punishable by a fine or imprisonment.
In other latitudes, such as in some Arab states, plural marriage is socially accepted and legally allowed. Today we would like to shed light on the reasons as well as the benefits and disadvantages of this form of relationship.
Polygamy is common in societies where male figures have the resources to keep multiple women. However, it’s turning out to be an incentive. In societies where it is practiced, women are gaining interest in being the second wife of a rich man rather than the first of another poor man
It is a lifestyle adopted by those who aspire to form romantic relationships with more than two people. Although it seems alien to reality or ancient custom, it has been made official in many countries such as Brazil. The list of regions with unconventional families is very wide, increasing thanks to the consent of the women. Russia, Egypt, and Greece have joined the list of countries where this type of union is observed and is rarely not criticized in the world.
Why is there polygamy?
The reasons for a relationship with multiple partners at the same time are not always exclusively sexually motivated. Until the modern era, polygamy was also accompanied by social security. A man who could financially support several women at the same time was more likely to be a potential spouse than a single person whose social status was more in the lower sector.
From the point of view of evolutionary biology, having multiple partners also means greater chances of successful reproduction. So if there is a part of the marriage that turns out to be sterile, there are always other alternatives that can guarantee the preservation of the species.
Even if a woman had lost her partner prematurely, for example, due to war, it was not uncommon at the time for a man close to her to additionally marry this woman to protect her from a social emergency.
Polygamy, especially polyandry, takes place today mainly in countries that are dominated by Muslims. In Islamic law, a man can marry up to four wives as long as he treats them all equally.
Polygamy, however, is not a form of life that humans have exclusively. It is widespread in the animal kingdom, with approximately 95% of all mammals living in polygamous communities.
The benefits of polygamy
Below are some of the advantages of polygamy to the husband, wife, and society:
- Sexual satisfaction
A man who has a relationship with several women at the same time satisfies many of his sexual needs and fantasies in this way. Even in monogamous societies, men often enter into sexual relationships with other women who are not their wives.
- Post-retirement care
If polygamy has many descendants, the many children can look after their father when they reach retirement age, for example by providing funds.
- Company to keep
Women involved in polygamy could also benefit from this lifestyle. They could enjoy the company of other women and share household chores among themselves. In this way, younger women could considerably reduce the burden on older women within a polygyny.
- Solution to high male mortality rate
In countries that are struggling with wars and thus also with a high male mortality rate, polygyny can support population growth and thus also the reconstruction of the state.
- Every woman finds a husband
In polygamy, it would be ensured that every woman can potentially find a partner, even if the proportion of men in society is significantly below that of women.
- Mutual agreement
Something very common in monogamy is that the relationship becomes routine by following the patterns imposed by society. Day by day, coexistence becomes more complicated and conflictive due to jealousy.
Excuse or not, those involved end up cheating on their partner. In a union contrary to this custom, conflicts decrease since a mutual agreement is established. Both parties communicate, trust, and support each other.
Only 3% of mammals are related to a couple since it is convenient for the male to copulate with several and pass on more genes to posterity. While we believe that we are psychologically conditioned to bond with just one person, there are exceptions thanks to nature.
Given the opportunity, a man can also choose to have multiple wives and thus extend his genetic durability. If they accept it, women are integrated into harems where they have resources for a normal life without deficiencies.
The disadvantages of polygamy
However, from the western, modern point of view, polygamy has many disadvantages. Above all, the inequality between men and women is maintained here and even seen as worthwhile.
In many polygamous countries, wives officially have a lower social status than their husbands. And, for example, they are not allowed to go to work without their permission.
From the women’s point of view, an environment in which one is constantly confronted with competition from other wives has the potential for a lot of jealousy and conflict. It even happens that women in polygynous communities secretly kill the offspring of other women to gain an advantage within the marital community.
- Increased tension
Although the prerequisite for an official polygamy is the equal treatment of every woman by the man, this scenario turns out to be unrealistic in reality. The man will likely prefer the youngest or most beautiful woman to the others, which in turn can create tension within the community.
Such tensions could be avoided by establishing an official hierarchy between the women, or they could each run their household and thus live spatially separated.
- Effects on men of low social status
While some well-off men benefit from polygyny, those of lower social status who cannot afford plural marriage are left behind. The effects can even go so far that womenless men in polygamous societies are more likely to slip into the criminal sector.
- Abusive relationships
It is noticeable that polygamy is most prevalent in countries that are considered socially unstable. The discrepancy is exacerbated by the bride price to be paid, which is a defining characteristic of polygenic unions.
The payment is intended to compensate the bride’s family for the fact that their household is now one less helping hand available. Since divorce requires repayment of the usually immense bride price, many women are forced to persist in abusive marriages due to financial hardship.
- Underaged/premature wives
While the men usually would have reached a more advanced age until the bride price can be raised, the tendency for female spouses is towards a rather young age at which their fertility is guaranteed. As a result, many women who are still in training are unable to finish it as it is interrupted by a wedding.
- Each child may not receive equal care
The offspring within a polygamy also struggle with the effects of polygamy; while they may enjoy the undivided attention of their mothers, the father cannot do justice to every child equally. Statistically, violence and child mortality are much higher within polygynous communities than in monogamous families.
- Tendency to add more spouses
It is very difficult in this type of love agreement to differentiate feelings because many consider that there is no stable partner, at least for the rest of their days. Those who follow this lifestyle are the first to declare the freedom to experiment and meet new people.
That is why the dream of many polygamists is to continue adding wives, as they say, they would like to have better care, kindness, and affection to give.
In the past, the human being was much freer, although everything changed when he settled in certain groups to work on the land. By that time, the idea of having sex with multiple people was left behind. The explanation that some scientists defend is that in a hunter-gatherer society, STDs were not a threat.
Despite not having studied medicine, our ancestors knew that sexually transmitted diseases corresponded to an infection that spread quickly. They punished those who practiced polygamy since the contagion is greater by having relations with several partners.
Although strongly criticized, unaccepted, and outlawed in the western world, polygamy comes with various benefits. These include high sexual satisfaction and better old age care on the part of the male. It can be a real solution for warring countries with high male mortality rate.
However, this practice causes competition and Jealousy among wives. There is the problem of a wider age difference between the partners. The risk of abuse, rejection, and homicide of infants is also greater.