Home Essays Between Monogamy and Polygamy: Choosing a Better Marriage by Ojetunde Esther

Between Monogamy and Polygamy: Choosing a Better Marriage by Ojetunde Esther


Monogamy is a form of dyadic relationship in which an individual has only one partner during their lifetime—alternately, only one partner at any one time (serial monogamy)—as compared to non-monogamy (e.g., polygamy or polyamory).[1] The term is also applied to the social behavior of some animals, referring to the state of having only one mate at any one time.[1]

Polygamy (from Late Greek πολυγαμία (polugamía) “state of marriage to many spouses”) is the practice of marrying multiple spouses. When a man is married to more than one wife at the same time, sociologists call this polygyny. When a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry.[2]

Anthropologically, polygamy is defined as marriage between one person and two or more spouses simultaneously. It exists in two main forms: polygyny, where one man is married to several women, and polyandry, where one woman is married to several men. A third form, group marriage between several men and women, is rare; same-sex polygamy is very rare. [3]

How did Polygamy begin?

Founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, the Mormon movement from its beginnings offered a unique perspective on the religious role of men.
One of the most influential events in the life of Joseph Smith was the death of his 25-year-old brother Alvin in 1823. In 1836, Joseph Smith had a vision of Alvin Smith in heaven. Based on this vision, he developed the Mormon teaching that families could be together in heaven if they underwent religious rites – called “sealings” – in Mormon temples. Any faithful Mormon approved by church leaders could perform these sealings.

Due in part to this powerful role it gave to men in helping to save the people they loved and brought to heaven, Mormonism attracted proportionally more male converts than any other American religious movement of the time.

In the early 1830s, Smith extended this view of the role of men to include polygamy as it was practiced by Old Testament prophets like Abraham. Smith taught that a righteous man could help numerous women and children go to heaven by being “sealed” in plural marriage. Large families multiplied a man’s glory in the afterlife. This teaching was established as doctrine in 1843.

Rumors that polygamy was practiced by a small cadre of LDS Church leaders spurred mob violence against early Mormon settlements in Illinois and Missouri. In the face of this opposition, Smith counseled Mormon men to be “crafty” – contemporary scholars have interpreted this to mean alert, wise and “resourceful” – in their practice of polygamy and use of “sealings.”

After the murder of Joseph Smith in 1845, Mormons migrated to Utah territory in 1847, and there, under the leadership of Brigham Young – who succeeded Joseph Smith – brought the practice of polygamy out of the shadows. LDS leaders announced plural marriage as an official Mormon Church practice in 1852.

Following Young, Mormon theologians heralded polygamy as a core doctrine and as evidence of patriarchal manliness. By the 1880s, an estimated 20-30 percent of Mormon families practiced polygamy.[4]

In Africa

The polygamy has existed in all over the African continent thanks to the fact that it represents an aspect of their culture and religion. These types of marriages have been more present in the whole history of Africa like no other continent in the world. One of the reasons why this has happened is because the African societies have managed to see that children were a form of wealth and this way a family with more children was considered to be more powerful. Under these circumstances the polygamy in Africa was considered to be part of the way you could build an empire.

Only after the colonial era in Africa has appeared the polygamy has started to be perceived as a taboo, as this was one of the things imported along with the colonists that took over some regions of Africa. Some people are saying that there was also an economic reason why this has happened: there were many issues of property ownership that conflicted a lot with the European colonial interest.

At first the polygamy was very popular in the west part of Africa, but as the Islam has started to diffuse in this region, the prevalence of polygamy has started to continuously reduce due to the restrictions that appeared to the number of wives.

For example polygamy is very widespread across Kenya and right now one of the most prominent single individual that is popularizing this practice is Akuku Danger who has managed to become famous, thanks to the fact that he is married with over 100 wives.

Even if people are thinking about the fact that South Africa is by far one of the most developed countries in the region, there are still many traditionalists out there that are constantly practicing polygamy. Even the president of South Africa: Jacob Zuma is declaring openly that he agrees with plural marriages and he is currently married to 3 wives. And at the same time he has 20 children with these and the two previous wives that he had in the past.

Another country where the polygamy is accepted is Sudan. Under these circumstances the Sudanese president: Omar Hassan al-Bashir has always sustained polygamy and he says that these multiple marriages are one of the options available for Sudan in order to increase its population.

Overall the polygamy in Africa is a very common practice that you are going to find all over Africa, but it tends to be more popular especially in the West African countries. This practice is very common among the animist and the Muslim communities. For example in Senegal there are almost 47% of the marriages where they feature more than one woman. In the Arab nations the percentages are even higher and there is also the Bedouin population that you can find in Israel, where around 30% of them are part of multiple marriages. And along with all that there are also the Mormon fundamentalists who also live in polygamous families.[5] Polygamy or Monogamy, which is more beneficial?

In Polygamy:

In most cultures, women contribute significantly to the wealth of the household and can thus materially benefit from the labour of an additional spouse. Where mortality rates of men consistently exceed those of women, polygyny can be seen as a resolution to the “deficit” of males and the “surplus” of females.

Socially, cowives and their children may accrue enhanced status and prestige as members of a large (and therefore inherently prosperous) household. In societies that provide no institutionalized role for unmarried women, the status of a cowife may be preferable to that of a single woman.

Polygyny can also have a positive effect on maternal and child health. During postpartum recovery, for instance, cowives can usually rely upon each other to perform the most strenuous work of the household. By creating opportunities for sexual companionship among the other members of the marriage, polygyny also supports the once common expectation that women will remain sexually abstinent for two or more years beginning in the last months of pregnancy (or upon parturition). This practice fosters adequate birth spacing for the mother to recover from the physiological and emotional stresses associated with pregnancy, lactation, and the care of a young child.

Despite certain advantages to both sexes, polygynous families can be fraught with bickering and sexual jealousy.[6]

In Monogamy:

Advantages of Monogamy

• To achieve intimate oneness for two persons. Two is company, three is a Crowd.
• Wife, husband and children get undivided love.
• It is easier to achieve complete faithfulness and trust.
• It becomes easier to build mutual confidence.
•.Makes it easier to bring up children in a healthy and peaceful atmosphere.
• It is the only legal marriage relationship in law and according to the church.
• Reduces the risk of drug and alcohol use by the children and parents/produces delinquency.
• Helps to enhance/ improves family resources.
• Wife is able to enjoy all the rights and privileges without threat and competition.
• Reduce of the effect of injected with S.T.D.S.
• Easier to achieve complete harmony and peace in the family.
• The practices of inheritance upon the death of the father.
• Children grow in confidence and develop love, trust and respect for the father.
• Reduces rivalry in family / Favoritism/ jealously among wives and children.
• Reduces cases of homicide[7].

My Opinion

In a piece on the website RealClearPolitics, Sean Trende makes the argument that polygamous marriage is unlikely to become acceptable or legal anytime soon. Whereas most Americans know someone who is gay, the same cannot be said for polygamous groups. “It is one thing to say that ‘gays,’ as some sort of abstraction, should not marry; it is another to say that your neighbors’ kid is stuck living alone. The same simply is not true of polygamists, who tend to live apart from society (not entirely by choice). This probably isn’t how we should make moral decisions, but I don’t have much doubt that it is how an awful lot of people do make these decisions.”

But it is the fact that polygamists do tend to live apart that should make us think twice about whether polygamy should be legal as well. Increasingly, it seems that polygamy is simply incompatible with democratic values.

In a piece she wrote for the Wall Street Journal in 2011, Rose McDermott, a professor of political science at Brown University, wrote about her research on polygamy, which is practiced by substantial subcultures in France, Britain, and the U.S., as well as across religious lines in Africa.

According to the information I have helped to collect in the Womanstats database, women in polygynous communities get married younger, have more children, have higher rates of HIV infection than men, sustain more domestic violence, succumb to more female genital mutilation and sex trafficking, and are more likely to die in childbirth. Their life expectancy is also shorter than that of their monogamous sisters. In addition, their children, both boys and girls, are less likely to receive both primary and secondary education.

There are those who might argue that it is precisely because of the illegality of polygamy that these groups are kept from joining mainstream society. But McDermott suggests that another factor is at work:

Polygynist cultures need to create and sustain an underclass of unmarried and undereducated men, since in order to sustain a system where a few men possess all the women, roughly half of boys must leave the community before adulthood. Such societies also spend more money on weapons and display fewer social and political freedoms than do monogamous ones.

When small numbers of men control large numbers of women, the remaining men are likely to be willing to take greater risks and engage in more violence, possibly including terrorism, in order to increase their own wealth and status in hopes of gaining access to women.[8]

Polygamy also negatively affects the relationship between children and their mothers, with the former resenting the mother for being unable to make sure the father does not neglect them or for becoming depressed and also neglecting their emotional needs. Regardless of gender, they lack of confidence in their own ability to have stable relationships because they have only experienced a family life filled with traumatic quarrels and resentment. The children of second wives usually cope better because from birth they know their father has another family. But the children from the first family can see the comparison: the lack of time, lack of resources, their father’s absence when they needed him. [9]

In conclusion,whether or not it seems like the next legal step on this “slippery slope,” polygamy is a much different animal from gay marriage. Letting the men who run these communities have free rein and the stamp of approval from the federal government will only deepen the social problems polygamy causes. And the victims will become more helpless than they already are.



1.https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monogamy, last accessed 12/5/22.
2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygamy, last accessed 12/5/22.
3.https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781118924396.wbiea1377, last accessed 12/5/22.
4.https://theconversation.com/explaining-polygamy-and-its-history-in-the-mormon-church-81384, last accessed 12/5/22.
5.https://www.polygamy.com/articles/89746509/polygamy-in-africa, last accessed 12/5/22.
6.https://www.britannica.com/topic/polygyny-marriage, last accessed 12/5/22.
7.https://www.atikaschool.org/cre-questions-and-answers/state-five-advantages-of-a-monogamous-marriage, last accessed 12/5/22.
8.https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-problems-with-polygamy, last accessed 13/5/22.
9.https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/stress-quarrels-and-neglect-normal-polygamous-family/, last accessed 13/5/22.


About the Writer

Ojetunde Esther

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