February 15, 2002 (Ira Pilgrim)

Monogamy and AIDS

In the 14th century the Black Death, the most severe pandemic in history, ravaged Asia and Europe, leaving more than 40 million people dead and making a profound social and economic impact. Despite the impressive advances in medicine since then, HIV/AIDS is likely to surpass the Black Death as the worst pandemic ever.

Peter R. Lamptey

In most of the world, monogamy is practiced by most people. It is honored by almost all religions in the world, even though it is not necessarily practiced. Only the rich in the middle east and tribal kings in Africa can afford polygamy. Polyandry is almost unknown. How did this state of affairs come to be?

Since sex is the most pleasurable activity known to men and women, I would expect that it would be indulged in often and with every available partner. Yet, the religions that now dominate the world prize virginity in females. In some religions, the priesthood is celibate. Despite this, prostitution is rampant, particularly in countries that have a large amount of poverty.

Very little is known about the customs of the small tribal groups that must have predominated in prehistoric human cultures. Much of what is conjectured has been derived from the study of small isolated tribal groups. In these, the care of children is considered important but sexual activity seems to have been promiscuous.

Before the arrival of European sailors, the Eskimos(Inuit) had very close families. In the winter, they had to stay in their igloos and I have read that winters were a continuous orgy. I have also read that the custom was for a man to offer a visitor his wife or daughter for the night. The first European sailors to make contact with the Eskimos were delighted with the Eskimo women. However, with the sailors came venereal diseases. I don't know what the Eskimos do in the winter now, but I suspect that it is nothing like the sexual freedom that existed before the arrival of Europeans and venereal diseases.

I believe that it was sexually transmitted diseases(STDs) that were responsible for the dominance of marital and sexual fidelity. The principle of natural selection prevailed. Since gonorrhea often produces inflammation of the Fallopian tubes and results in sterility, promiscuous women would have their fertility seriously impaired. In the days before antibiotics, a woman had to have more than two offspring to just break even. Most had many more.

According to Peter Lamptey, "The HIV/AIDS pandemic has devastated many countries, reversing national development, widening the gap between rich and poor people, and pushing already stigmatized groups closer to the margins of society. It has killed millions of people, decimated families and communities, and adversely affected the lives of hundreds of millions. AIDS stands to kill more than half the young adults in the most severely affected countries.

By the end of 2001 an estimated 65 million people worldwide had been infected with HIV, 25 million had died and 40 million were living with HIV or AIDS, most of whom have no access to the lifesaving drugs available in industrialized countries. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia are the worst affected. " (British Medical Journal Jan.26,2002; 324:207-211) In one thing, Lamptey is in error: there are no life saving drugs for AIDS, just drugs that prolong life. AIDS is still an incurable disease.

What will the effect of the AIDS epidemic be? There are several possibilities; one is that people who have a number of sexual partners and do not use condoms will die young, as will many of their children. A cure for AIDS is unlikely in the near future. It seems likely that an information campaign would be effective, at least to those people who will take it in. The rest will die, but not before many have spread the disease to others.

Consequently, AIDS will be the agent that selects for people who either practice monogamy or are intelligent enough to take precautions to avoid catching the disease. The world of the future belongs to people who are either monogamous or very careful. The rest will die out. That may seem to be a very cruel and heartless statement to make. However, nature has no such emotion as kindness. Nature has no emotions at all. Mother Nature, like Santa Claus, is a myth.

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