IS PROMISCUITY NATURAL?
Thursday 03 October 1996
We've long thought of ourselves as monogamous, and indeed, of monogamy as a distinguishing characteristic of mankind, but Desmond Morris's suggestion in his bestseller The Naked Ape that human beings are a pair-bonding species looks increasingly weak. What's more, other species thought to be monogamous have been found to be rather less faithful than we had imagined:
Female swallows, for whom size is evidently important, have been observed having secret trysts with male swallows in possession of longer tails than their mates.
Geese, when going about the mate-selection business, sample the downy delights of up to six partners, in liaisons lasting from a few days to a few weeks. Around 60 per cent of birds, mostly males, use what is known as a "partner-hold" strategy - still clinging to an old partner while trying out a new one.
Oystercatchers are not always faithful to their long-term partners, indulging occasionally in what observers have called EPCs (extra-pair copulations). For the males, an EPC offers extra reproductive success and the chance of a superior mate for future reproduction; for females, it might bring extra food from courtship feeding, help caring for her own chicks, and potential genetic improvements in her progeny.
Chimpanzee females are highly promiscuous. Gibbons are practically monogamous, and gorillas polygamous, one male dominating a harem of females. This spectrum of sexual behaviour is related to the weight of the testicles (relative to the male's body) in each species: chimps have large testes to ensure their sperm can compete by volume with rival males, while gorillas, who don't have to endure the competition, aren't so well endowed. The human species falls somewhere between these extremes, suggesting that women are naturally more sexually adventurous than society has been willing to allow.
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 5 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
HSBC review into moving headquarters from UK 'underway'
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...
£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...
£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...
£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...