Conference on the Future of Monogamy and Nonmonogamy

About the Conference

     "Not in 500 years has the world seen such revolutionary change as it is now witnessing: the Internet, genetic engineering, mass migration, climate change, worldwide economic dislocation, a new global elite, and more...Yet our leaders don't seem to take any of it seriously."
                                                                                                                  - Todd Purdum

      Is monogamy a natural, normal, or essential feature of marriage or a satisfying relationship? How are attitudes on this subject changing, and what are the probable implications of such changes?

     Modern society's ideas about love, marriage, family, and sexuality have undergone drastic changes in recent decades, and evidence suggests further changes will occur in the near future. At the beginning of 2001, the marriage of gay and lesbian couples was illegal everywhere, and few anticipated the situation would ever change. Even most strong advocates for same-sex marriage estimated it might take a century or two before such marriages might be legal anywhere. Virtually no one could have foreseen that within the next 12 years, same-sex marriages would be legalized in a dozen nations, including much of North America and Western Europe.

      Within the lifetime of the present population of the modern world, equally drastic changes have occurred on virtually every issue relating to marriage, love, sexuality, and the family. The previous two generations have witnessed radical revisions of thinking and behavior related to not only premartial sexuality and homosexuality, but also regarding gender roles, single parenthood, contraception, abortion, and divorce.

      One feature all these changes have in common is that, except for a few "lone voices crying in the wilderness," until they actually came into being, all were largely unforseen. Even most social scientists, progressive social activists, and visionary politicians failed to anticipate the arrival, magnitude, and rapidness of these changes. Their sudden appearance caught social workers, mental health professionals, educators, clergy, political leaders, and the general public by surprise. One reason why it has been so difficult for society to adapt to these changes may be that virtually no one seriously anticipated them - not even the strongest advocates for the changes nor those staunchly opposed to them. Despite claims from some quarters that "the sexual revolution is over," there is no reason to believe any kind of stable equilibrium has been reached on these matters, or that the situation will not continue to evolve for the forseeable future. What is likely to happen next?

      One set of assumptions that has recently began to be called into question has been that of the inevitability and desirability of monogamy in marriages and sexual relationships. Contemporary western psychotherapists have until recently insisted that monogamous relationships are the only kind that are natural, normal, and healthy. However, now a small but increasing number have begun to question such assumptions.

      Numerous anthropological surveys have demonstrated that monogamous marriage is required in only a very small minority of societies. Other researchers have recently pointed out that polyandry, once considered to have been extremely rare, is far more common than previously assumed. The surprising frequency of polyandry among hunting and gathering people suggests it may have been even more common in very ancient times, and even among pre-human ancestors.

      Is monogamy actually the natural, "pre-programmed," or instinctual pattern of the human species? And if not, then what is? What is the history and evolution of monogamous relationships, and what changes are likely in the near-term and long-term future? The conference does not take a position on whether non-monogamy is desirable or practical, nor on the issue of whether any particular expression of nonmonogamy is healthy. We merely attempt to engage in an objective investigation of the subject.

      What are the psychological, social, political, economic, and philosophical variables that account for the prevalence of monogamy in western society, (or any society), and what factors influence increases or decreases in its prevalance?

      There are many questions, and few answers.

      Anyone living anywhere in the world with information relevant to such questions is invited to come and present at this event. Anyone who is interested in such questions is invited to attend.