November 23, 2003

The Essay 

NOTE: If you came here from the "Favorite Posts" list on the main page, you may want some brief background info. I wrote the following essay for my moral philosophy class, and my TA said that it was "the best undergraduate essay [he'd] ever seen." Therefore, I decided to post it on the blog. It was originally in normal paragraph form, but those are hard to read, so I broke it up a bit.

I may be making a really dumb decision, but I'm posting the entire philosophy essay here instead of taking excerpts or breaking it up (read the previous post for an explanation of what I'm doing). I have other work to do, so this should hold you for a while. Feel free to read it piece by piece on separate occasions. I probably won't be posting anything of this size again until I go home next week. I don't think I really need to set this up too much. I'll just let it speak for itself. Readers of SIT, I give you:


In today's society, people are gradually losing respect and appreciation for traditional values. Many social practices that were once considered honorable and proper are now largely ignored and often ridiculed. Among these is the practice of monogamy.

Due to developments in birth control and other sexual safety techniques, some people consider it unreasonable to go through life with only one sexual partner. In addition, from an evolutionary perspective, monogamy appears to contradict the very design of human beings.

Although these arguments may seem convincing at first, they do not necessarily prove that monogamy is not preferable. On the contrary, there are several reasons that it can actually be beneficial. This can be shown from both an evolutionary and a psychological perspective. Therefore, I intend to prove that monogamy is the most rational form of sexual behavior for human beings to practice.

Obviously, survival is important for any kind of life. Therefore, one can assume that the human desire for sex is a beneficial and necessary one. Some have suggested that monogamy is irrational from an evolutionary perspective because it decreases the chances of passing one's genes on to the next generation.

One argument is that people should have as many sexual partners as possible to improve these chances. The question is whether or not this is beneficial to the offspring and the parents. One downside of having multiple partners is the danger of sexually transmitted diseases. These diseases have several long term consequences that are detrimental to survival and evolution.

First of all, the number of STD cases in the United States is increasing rapidly. According to recent statistics, approximately 65 million people in the U.S. have an incurable STD, and approximately 15 million new STD cases are reported each year. In addition, two-thirds of these cases occur in people under the age of 25 (ASHA).

Since the chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease increase with the number of partners one has, monogamy is a safer option. If a large portion of the human race is infected with incurable diseases, survival and evolution will suffer.

Sexually transmitted diseases are not only detrimental to one generation; Children can also be affected. Many diseases can be transferred at birth, which immediately lowers the chances of that generation's survival.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Harmful effects on the baby may include stillbirth, low birth weight, conjunctivitis (eye infection), pneumonia, neonatal sepsis (infection in the blood stream), neurologic damage (such as brain damage or motor disorder), congenital abnormalities (including blindness, deafness, or other organ damage), acute hepatitis, meningitis, chronic liver disease, and cirrhosis."

Because evolution is dependent upon healthy genes being passed on, these effects greatly reduce its success rate. In addition, many of them can lead to genes not being passed on at all.

From an evolutionary perspective, reproduction is useless if the children do not survive long enough to have children of their own. Conversely, if a couple practices monogamy, they improve their chances of producing healthy offspring who can then continue the process.

An argument against this is that the success rate will improve if people reproduce with a diverse variety of partners, which may cancel out some of the effects of disease. However, even if one grants that this is true, there are still problems.

For example, higher reproduction rates can lead to overpopulation. Even if every human being on the planet is born healthy, they must still contend for limited resources. As a result, the quality of life will decrease later, but the effect will be the same.

This could also lead to more competition, which seems to support the idea of "survival of the fittest," but human nature is slightly different. People normally worry more about everyday concerns than the future of the species, so there is no guarantee that overpopulation can lead to a balance. This is an extreme example, of course, but many areas are already overpopulated due to excessive reproduction, and the results usually do not favor evolution.

Monogamy is beneficial to survival and quality of life from an evolutionary perspective, but the psychological and personal aspects of this practice are also important. Many of the most common arguments against monogamy are related to this area of reasoning.

Some argue that one cannot possibly be happy with a single sexual partner, and they cite many reasons for holding this view. At this point, one must look at the subject of immediate gratification versus long term satisfaction. While it may be true that sex with any partner can result in physical pleasure and satisfaction, it is not necessarily true that this will have any long term benefits.

Casual, meaningless sex can, in fact, have negative consequences on the individuals involved. As mentioned above, one argument is that casual sex provides relief and satisfaction and must therefore be a good thing. Unfortunately, the nature of this act can lead to greater stress and more serious problems.

Sexually transmitted diseases apply here as well. If one has to constantly worry about disease, then one cannot fully enjoy the sex act itself. Instead of relief, this can lead to greater tension. In addition, there is always a risk of pregnancy, and in casual sexual relationships, this is rarely the intention.

Therefore, the risk of pregnancy will also weigh heavily on the minds of the participants, and it will undoubtedly make the act less satisfying. In contrast, sex between two people who know that there are no immediate health consequences can be much more fulfilling, and if a pregnancy does occur, the child will have a greater chance of growing up in a loving environment.

A second consequence of casual sex with many people is the loss of respect for oneself and one's partner. Some have said that the ability to have a fulfilling sexual relationship without any emotional baggage is a positive trait that will improve one's self esteem, but it can, in fact, have the exact opposite effect.

For example, an issue that is often discussed is the objectification and subsequent devaluation of women for sexual purposes. When women are viewed as a method of sexual satisfaction rather than human beings with emotions and needs, this can occur. However, many fail to realize that men can suffer these same consequences.

It is possible for a man to eventually view himself as a simple sex object, and he may build his entire identity on his sexual abilities. When these abilities are based on meaningless sex, a man's identity may become meaningless. Basically, even if one has superb sexual abilities, it is difficult to develop self esteem based on physical skills alone.

Another argument against monogamy is that sexual relationships will not be as fulfilling when both partners are inexperienced. This relates to the problem of basing an entire relationship on sex, but there are other problems as well, as it can also lead to the decoupling of physical and emotional satisfaction.

In order to have a truly successful relationship, both of these must remain intact. In resisting monogamous relationships, most often marriage, people employ arguments such as "I don't want to buy the cow if I can't milk it first." Although it may provide comic relief, this analogy does not properly address the issue of monogamy.

The problem with this view is that those who hold it view sex as something that people give them, just as a cow would give milk. However, one has to ask if these same people would feed the cow before buying it. The answer should be no, because this act would assume a certain responsibility. When sex is treated as a free gift rather than a mutual exchange, its purpose is lost, and relationships suffer.

In addition, this view rests on the belief that people should not commit to a long term relationship until they have had enough sexual experience to know what they are looking for in a partner. This can also lead to problems.

If a person has a string of casual relationships before finally making a serious commitment, those relationships can surface again. The person will constantly be making comparisons between current and past sexual partners, and the emotional and personal aspects of the relationship will not fully compensate for the fact that the relationship as a whole is not unique.

At this point, the argument about experience becomes a factor again. The couple in the previous example may have a better sexual relationship due to past experience, but the fact remains that much of this experience comes from other people.

In monogamous relationships, however, the partners will gain a better understanding of each other and learn everything together, which will ultimately bring them closer. They will not need to compare everything to past relationships or worry that they made the wrong decision.

In any case, this once again raises the question of what is truly important in a relationship. It seems that the physical and emotional aspects should complement one another rather than being totally separate.

This is, incidentally, another decoupling that occurs with casual sex. A positive emotional relationship makes sex more fulfilling, and this will then improve the emotional aspect even further. In this way, monogamy is still preferable if one truly wants to be happy.

It is even possible to build more trust through monogamy, and trust will result in a greater sense of satisfaction and happiness. By entering into a monogamous relationship, two people place a certain amount of trust in their partners and expect them to remain faithful.

This can build confidence and respect in both partners, and it gives the relationship an even more unique aspect. Casual sex cannot have the same result. By avoiding committed relationships, people concede that they do not trust themselves or their partners enough to share a truly fulfilling bond.

Another common argument against monogamy is the reality of sexual desire. Some say that because humans always have a desire for sex, they should act on that desire whenever possible. The issue of immediate gratification once again becomes a factor in this case.

It cannot be the case that giving in to every single desire in order to avoid temporary discomfort is an intelligent response to life's challenges. After all, if people never resisted desire, the majority of the world's population would be dead or in prison.

In reality, the power to resist extremely strong urges is a virtue few possess, and if one can successfully overcome sexual desires until the proper time, then one can apply those powers of resistance and dedication in other aspects of life. These abilities can also help to improve relationships. If both partners are aware of their ability to resist temptation, they will trust each other even more.

Much of what has been mentioned here about trust and emotion can be applied to reproduction as well. Monogamy is beneficial to evolution from a purely biological perspective, but it has positive effects from a psychological perspective as well.

In the proper relationship, children are viewed as a blessing rather than a burden or an accident, and parents who are ready to provide a positive environment for their children have a better chance of raising them well. In addition, the values and strengths gained from staying in a monogamous relationship, such as trust, love, and the ability to set long term goals, will be transferred from one generation to the next.

At the same time, parents who instill negative values in their children increase the risk of failure in the future. If a child does not learn self control or experience a loving relationship, that child will have a poor understanding of these concepts.

The consequences of this have already been discussed. Overall, given the biological benefits of monogamy, one can assume that the psychological benefits will further assist the human race in its survival.

Even though modern society does not cherish the same values it once did, it can still benefit from the results of those values. Monogamy is beneficial from an evolutionary perspective, as it decreases the risk of disease, controls overpopulation to some extent, and ensures that some members of future generations are able to continue the process.

In addition, monogamy is beneficial from a psychological perspective. When monogamy is practiced properly, emotional relationships improve, sexual relationships are more fulfilling, and children grow up in a better environment.

This practice also builds character, self control, trust, and respect. Casual sex may feel good and provide immediate relief, but in the end, it is not as rational as a committed, monogamous relationship.

Works Cited:

"Facts & Answers about STDs." American Social Health Association. 11/10/03.
"STDs and Pregnancy." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 11/10/03.

A couple end notes for blog readers who managed to get all the way through:
1) I'll remind you again that this took 3 hours to write with only a half-sheet of notes to help.
2) I did all the research as I was writing.
3) I really do believe in all the arguments I made here.
4) Any time I used the word "evolution," it really means "survival," because one of the requirements was to cover how your argument is and is not at odds with evolution, but I think evolution is crap.
5) Have I mentioned I'm religious?

Posted by CD on November 23, 2003 03:40 PM
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