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What Is It About Polygamy, Mr Junker?

People living as a couple usually try to be monogamous, but it often doesn’t work, says Thomas Junker. In his book “Die verborgene Natur der Liebe” (The Hidden Nature of Love), the historian of biology reveals that we are still creatures of nature, that sexual loyalty is a human notion and that polygamy could be the more promising model.

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  • Text: Kristin Hüttmann
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Professor Dr Thomas Junker teaches the history of biology at the University of Tübingen. In the 1990s, he was a Feodor Lynen Research Fellow at Harvard University, USA.

Thomas Junker

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“Multiple relationships have advantages that shouldn’t be underestimated,” says Junker. “They reduce the emotional, sexual and even economic dependence on a single partner.” Our relations in the animal kingdom practise this model very successfully. Amongst primates, he argues and refers to bonobos, groups of several males and females are the most common form of existence. “These pygmy chimpanzees are the hippies amongst the primates.” They use their numerous sexual contacts to all members of the group to work off aggression and reinforce alliances – all without any fuss.

The weaknesses of human monogamy, on the other hand, are well known – therapists and lawyers make a good living from marital infidelity. By comparison, free love, communes and polygamy sound very attractive. But it has somehow never worked properly, Junker emphasises. And why? Because of something that is inherent to human nature: sexual jealousy. In biological terms, this emotion was indispensable. “Because,” he says, “for men, paternity certainty and for women, reliable resources were even more important than diversity of opportunity.” In the face of this evolutionary legacy, even the wildest theory is forced to capitulate.

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