Mon | Dec 17, 2018

Lennie Little-White | Is monogamy an outdated custom?

Published:Sunday | July 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Lennie Little-White

For most men, monogamy is as unnatural as using a condom during sexual intercourse. Primarily for health or reproductive reasons, a condom is a necessary evil that men can't wait to dump in the waste bin after usage.

The truth is today's monogamy is an outdated practice that was never a consequence of love but rather a social practice that evolved out of Judaism and became a primary tenet of Western Judaeo-Christian practices. Among primates, monogamy is the exception rather than the rule.

For some, monogamy is the result or consequence of a religious marriage and it has little validity when formal marriage is not the norm. Using Jamaica as an example, most partners never get married but coexist for love, economic gain or social convenience.

What then is the formal definition of monogamy? The textbook dictionary a la Wikipedia says, "Monogamy is the practice or state of having a sexual relationship with one person at a time." We need to look at the different configurations if we are to have an objective assessment of monogamy.

Marital monogamy refers to the marriage of two people. Sexual monogamy refers to two partners remaining sexually exclusive with each other and having no outside sex partners. Genetic monogamy refers to sexually monogamous relationships with genetic evidence of paternity.

It is important to note that monogamy was preceded by polygamy, where a man was allowed to have multiple spouses. Not to be outdone, when a woman has more than one husband, it is called polyandry. Monogamy takes pride of place in highly structured social groupings where children were seen as an economic benefit in early agrarian societies which were the bedrock of colonialism and slavery.

Monogamy evolved between 9,000 BC and 6000 BC as a result of formal agriculture which demanded landownership. This created a need for a legal system to pass ownership of land to descendants. It was felt that monogamy was the best way to guarantee paternity for zealous men who were often gone to war or far away from home hunting wild animals and tilling the soil to produce food.

With no birth control pill or condom, men wanted to be sure that 'Joe Grind' was not leaving 'jackets' on their doorsteps, so they insisted on their wives being faithful. This was the genesis of one man-one woman monogamy.

Wealth and status became wrapped up in the number of wives and children a man had. A large family was a source of pride. While the monogamous wife was in her annual cycle of bearing another child, the man was busy outside - under cover - impregnating other women. The children became cheap manpower for subsistence farming. Later, children became a new and cheap source of slaves for the plantation state.

Among practising Muslims, Arabs, the Bedouins of Israel and a variety of African societies, polygamy was the accepted way of life. Divorce was unheard of because these men saw their wives as economic vessels to produce more children. This did not find favour in Western European societies with religious traditionalists who insisted that monogamous marriage become normative and legally enforced in most of the world's highly developed countries.

Even so, polygamous relationships existed until laws were introduced to prohibit multiple partners in places like Japan in 1880, China in 1953 and India in 1955. Today, some societies still allow men to legally have four or more wives - as long as they can afford it. Even among Mormon fundamentalists, a multiplicity of wives is allowed.

Flash forward to today where the babyfather/babymother nexus is the norm. Fewer and fewer of our people are prepared to genuflect in front of sanctimonious parsons and priests making us pledge, "Until death do us part." Even when we say those words, the 'toy boy/Joe Grind' and 'side chick/matey' are entrenched factors with tangible benefits allowing them to hold pride of place in society even though they do not have the outward symbol of a conjugal ring. Across Jamaica and other Caribbean states, this is the rule - not the exception.

Let us not make the mistake to think that men are the only practitioners of polygamy. Albeit under cover, women are just as active as their male counterparts in having multiple sexual partners. This became even more rampant with the advent of the birth control pill, which gave them control over their reproductive organs.

Is this likely to change anytime soon? Hardly likely. The Church is no longer the moral compass it used to be. People now enter intimate 'serial' relationships similar to what happens at the workplace.

We can no longer hide our heads in the sand like ostriches. The time is ripe for us to be open with our respective partners and be responsible parents in our relationships to guarantee our children a life where they have an acknowledged mother and father to relate to - especially in their formative years.

Let's be honest - monogamy has long been passe, but we continue to feel guilty each time we visit the Seventh Commandment and Corinthians 6:18, which reminds us to "flee from sexual immorality".

For the traditionalists, let monogamy continue to exist but do not deny the larger society the freedom and right to enjoy those mating customs that give them the greatest social satisfaction - especially where it allows for more responsible parenting for our young boys and girls.

Time to face the fact that monogamy has been on its deathbed. It is time we stop hanging on to biblical castigations from male and female self-righteous church leaders who have been molesting young boys and girls while secretly having same-sex relationships behind the pulpit in the vestry. We are reminded in John 8:7: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone."

Let them talk - who will be the first to burn in hell when the roll is called up yonder?

- Lennie Little-White is a Jamaican filmmaker and writer. Email feedback to and