The Myth of Monogamy Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People

David P. Barash, Ph.D. and Judith Eve Lipton, M.D.

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

240 Pages



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Using DNA technology, biologists have now been able to trace parenthood in animals for the first time with certainty. The results have been astonishing: even among those species previously thought to be monogamous, cheating on your mate is common—for both sexes.

In The Myth of Monogamy, David Barash and Judith Eve Lipton describe how this new research shows that there is simply no question whether sexual desire for multiple partners is "natural." It is. Similarly, there is no question of monogamy being "natural." It isn't.

Armed with this evidence, scientists have also been able to explain such important questions as why animals (including humans) cheat; why the myth of monogamy was created in the first place; how men and women were sucked into the monogamy hoax; who stands to gain the most by perpetuating the myth of monogamy; and how big of a role procreation plays in the desire to have several sex partners. Finally, The Myth of Monogamy explores the implications of these dramatic new findings for humans, in terms of relationships, parenting, aggression, and more. A provocative new study of an emotionally charged issue, The Myth of Monogamy illuminates a part of our natural make-up that is as fascinating as it is frustrating.


Praise for The Myth of Monogamy

"The Myth of Monogamy provides a fascinating tour of human mating strategies, from monogamy to sexual treachery, from exclusivity to polygamy. Barash and Lipton brilliantly locate human mating within the broader spectrum of mating strategies pursued by other species. The book is gripping from start to finish, solid in its science, and literary in its flair. It's one of the best books written about why humans covet, why commandments are broken, and why men and women get into deep conflicts over mating."—David M. Buss, Ph.D., author of The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating and The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Love and Sex

"I read this book cover to cover—like a novel—not wanting to put it down, not wanting to miss even one deliciously naughty insect or bird figuring out how to 'have it all.' The authors have written a smart, intriguing, witty, nonsexist, provocative yet careful book about the realities of both male and female animal, and perhaps human, 'infidelity.' I have to say I felt a little proud of that devious lady bird who got her mate to sit on the eggs while she went behind his back (just as he had gone behind hers!). Nature's morality is different from our own—and Barash and Lipton are cautious about their extrapolations to humans . . . still, it is fascinating to see how reproductive fitness may be the ultimate cause of all those steamy soap operas and country western lyrics."—Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., author of Everything You Know About Love and Sex is Wrong

"The revelation that social pair-bonds do not necessarily imply exclusive mating relationships has spurred a revolution in how scientists think about mating systems. This book explores when and why social and sexual monogamy often do not coincide."—Paul W. Sherman, Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University

"A highly readable, light-hearted survey of monogamy and its variations across the animal kingdom."—Nature

"Written in an accessible, sometimes humorous style, while striving to offer a serious, scientifically-based explanation for what is generally an emotional and controversial subject in many cultures."—Book News

"Scores of examples, and the scientific explanations for each . . . bolster the authors' contention that genetic monogamy is not 'natural.' The implications for our own species, where the moral teachings of culture and religion clash with our biological imperatives, fill perhaps the most interesting chapter."—Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads



  • David P. Barash, Ph.D. and Judith Eve Lipton, M.D.

  • David P. Barash, Ph.D., is a zoologist and is currently professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Making Sense of Sex, co-authored by Judith Lipton.

    Judith Eve Lipton, M.D., a psychiatrist specializing in women's issues, is the recipient of many honors, including a fellowship in the American Psychiatric Association.

    Married since 1977, Barash and Lipton live in Redmond, Washington.