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Are we monogamous by nature?

A differentiated look at hormones and relationship forms

The question of whether humans are naturally inclined towards monogamy is a matter of interest to social scientists, biologists, and psychologists alike. In order to answer this question, various aspects such as biological mechanisms, genetic dispositions, and cultural influences are considered. Of particular interest are the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, whose roles are often the focus of research.

Monogamous couple holding hands

The role of hormones in bonding

Oxytocin, often referred to as the 'bonding hormone', is central to the development and maintenance of social bonds. It promotes trust and connection, which is crucial for strengthening relationships, including familial and romantic bonds. Research shows that oxytocin can increase mutual trust and cooperation between partners, which in many cases forms the basis for long-term relationships.

Vasopressin is also associated with bonding and social behavior and plays a role in territorial behavior, particularly studied in men. Studies focusing on genetic variants of the vasopressin receptor show that this hormone plays a role in the strengthening of partner bonds. This has been supported by research on prairie voles, which shows that vasopressin contributes to the strengthening of monogamous bonds.

Genetic predispositions and relationship forms

Interestingly, genetic studies show that variations in the receptors for oxytocin and vasopressin may correlate with different predispositions to relationship forms. Some people may have a genetic predisposition to monogamous relationships, while others show a greater openness to non-monogamous forms of relationships. These genetic markers may explain the diversity of human relationship preferences.

The evolutionary significance of monogamous and non-monogamous relationships

Vasopressin and oxytocin are not only key elements in the development of monogamous relationships but also influence territorial behavior and response to stress, with interesting differences observed between the sexes.

The “bonding effect” of oxytocin can be observed in both sexes, although the intensity and impact can vary depending on individual and social factors. Vasopressin, on the other hand, which has been particularly studied in males, contributes to the promotion of monogamous behavior by increasing the sense of pair bonding and protective behavior towards the partner and common offspring.

Territorial behavior and sex differences

Territorial behavior, which is closely linked to vasopressin, shows clear differences between males and females. In males, vasopressin can increase territorial behavior and defensiveness, which in evolution has been considered beneficial for the protection of resources and family. In females, vasopressin appears to promote less aggressive territorial behavior, suggesting that evolutionary roles and behavioral strategies vary between the sexes.

The influence of stress and hormones

Stress also affects the hormonal balance of males and females differently. Under stressful conditions, elevated cortisol levels can weaken the effect of oxytocin, which can have a negative impact on the ability to bond and interact socially. In men, increased stress associated with vasopressin may lead to an increase in defensive and territorial behavior, while in women under stress, oxytocin-promoting effects such as caring and bonding ability may be impaired.

Non-monogamous bonding and hormonal influences

In contrast, the role of these hormones in non-monogamous bonding is less clearly defined. While oxytocin and vasopressin help promote attachment and trust in monogamous relationships, the dynamics in non-monogamous relationships may be more complex, as they involve a broader range of social interactions and bonds that are not exclusively focused on one partner. Here, other hormonal processes and external social factors may play a greater role.

Cultural and social influences on relationship forms

In addition to biological factors, cultural norms, and social structures play a significant role in shaping our relationship practices. In many societies, monogamy is encouraged and seen as the norm, while in other cultures polygamous relationships are accepted and common. These differences make it clear that social and cultural influences are just as important as biological factors.

Minority stress and vasopressin as a stress hormone

Minority stress, the stress experienced as a result of discrimination and social exclusion of minorities, can have profound effects on behavior and hormonal processes. Specifically, this stress could affect vasopressin hormone levels, which in turn alters social behaviors and possibly the tendency to form monogamous relationships. For example, increased minority stress could increase vasopressin levels, leading to an increased need for social support and security. This could promote a stronger tendency towards monogamous relationships, as such bonds are often perceived as socially accepted and therefore stabilizing and supportive. 


Whether people are monogamous by nature cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Although the effects of hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin indicate a biological basis for attachment, genetic, personal, and cultural factors determine how these biological predispositions are translated into concrete forms of relationships. Our ability to live different forms of relationships shows that both biological and social factors shape our relationship behavior. These findings offer a differentiated view of human nature and emphasize the importance of a holistic view of love and relationships, but above all tolerance.



Oxytocin and Bonding Behavior:

Insel, T.R. & Young, L.J. (2001). The neurobiology of attachment. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2, 129-136. This study offers a deep insight into the role of oxytocin in the development of bonding behavior.

Vasopressin and Territorial Behavior:

Donaldson, Z.R. & Young, L.J. (2008). Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and the Neurogenetics of Sociality. Science, 322(5903), 900-904. This research examines the effects of vasopressin on social and territorial behavior in mammals, including humans.

Genetic Predispositions for Relationship Forms:

Walum, H., Lichtenstein, P., Neiderhiser, J.M., Reiss, D., Pedersen, N.L., et al. (2012). Variation in the Oxytocin Receptor Gene is Associated with Pair-Bonding and Social Behavior. Biological Psychiatry, 71(5), 419-426. This study links genetic variations in the oxytocin receptor to relationship preferences and social behavior in humans.

Stress, Hormones, and Behavior:

McQuaid, R.J., McInnis, O.A., Abizaid, A., & Anisman, H. (2015). Making room for oxytocin in understanding depression. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 55, 258-270. This article discusses the impact of stress on oxytocin and its effects on social behavior and depression.

Social and Cultural Influences on Monogamy:

Chapais, B. (2010). Monogamy, strongly bonded groups, and the evolution of human social structure. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 19(2), 52-65. This publication analyzes how social and cultural factors might have influenced the development of monogamous relationships in humans.


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