Monogamy: Mating for Life

Dietmar Temps, via Flickr

Is monogamy natural? Colin Lowther and Katy Blake look at animals that mate for life.

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Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Colin Lowther.

Voice 2 

And I’m Katy Blake. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

Imagine this. You are in a huge crowd. There are 100,000 people all standing very close to each other. You are searching for your friend. You know he is somewhere in this huge crowd. You start to look at all the faces around you. You call his name. Can you ever find him this way?

Voice 2 

This sounds like a bad dream. But it is the way Magellanic penguins find their mates. These big, black and white sea birds do not fly. But they can swim very fast and walk very slowly. There is something else that is special about these birds. Magellanic penguins are monogamous. The penguins have the same mates for their whole lives. Today’s Spotlight is on these penguins and other creatures that can mate for life.

Voice 1 

During the winter, Magellanic penguins swim in the ocean. In the spring they return to the land. They are ready to mate and have babies. However, the mates have been separated. Each penguin needs to find his or her mate again. The penguins all come to the same place. 100,000 penguins walk about. Each penguin looks for its mate. All the penguins are calling at the same time. It is a very noisy crowd. But each penguin can identify the sound of his or her own mate. This is the way they find each other again.

Voice 2

For 30 years, a group of scientists has been studying these Magellanic penguins. The scientists are from the National Research Council of Argentina. They have found that the penguins sometimes travel as much as 10,000 miles in a year. But they always return to the same place. It is on the Patagonian coast of southern Argentina. One of the researchers is Doctor Pablo Garcia Borboroglu. He is president of the Global Penguin Society. He told the Telegraph newspaper,

Voice 3 

‘It is unbelievable how far Magellanic penguins swim - and each mating season they come back to the same place and the same mate.’

Voice 1 

The penguins only look for a new mate if one of them dies. Or they may leave each other if they fail to produce a baby one year. Then both of them will look for a new mate the next year.

Voice 2 

Researchers say that about 90% of birds are monogamous to some degree. Some of them remain together for one breeding season. But other birds are like the penguins. They stay together all their lives.

Voice 1 

Albatrosses live for up to 80 years. These large sea birds have wings that stretch more than 3 metres wide. They fly above the oceans for years. But they always return home to their nests to mate. And they remain with the same mate for their whole lives.

Voice 2 

Even some fish are monogamous. French angel fish live for about 15 years. And these black and yellow fish stay faithful to one mate all of that time. The male and female fish do everything together. They swim together, they defend their territory together and they feed together. When one of them dies, usually the remaining mate will not look for a new mate.

Voice 1 

Among other animals, things are different. Mammals are animals that feed milk to their young. This group of animals includes people. Less than 5% of mammals mate for life. The most monogamous animals include wolves, otters, and foxes. These animals have just one mate. However, the males will have sex with another female if they have a chance.

Voice 2 

Why do some mammals, birds and fish remain faithful to one mate while others do not? In most cases it is all about survival. For example, birds share the duty of caring for babies. For the babies to survive, the parents must work together. Monogamous mammals stay together for the same kinds of reasons - to protect and care for babies, or to protect and care for their homes.

Voice 1 

David Barash and Judith Eve Lipton are scientists. They are also married. They have written two books about monogamy in animals and people. They say that all animals have the same goal - to have babies, and reproduce their own genes. For some animals, having many different mates is a better way to reach this goal. For others, monogamy is the best method. Barash talked to the New Scientist magazine about their research. He said that animals are not monogamous because the animals are being kind.

Voice 4

‘We have lots of examples of monogamous animals like beavers and Malagasy jumping rats. These animals have good reasons for being monogamous. It is just that, given their biology, they do best when they stay together.’

Voice 2 

What about humans? Are people the same as other animals? Many human parents marry, and stay together all their lives. But it is also very common to have sex with more than one person – with, or without permission. Some people think this is only a matter of culture, or of personal choice.

Voice 1 

Science does not have a clear answer either. Some scientists think there is a monogamy gene in humans. Other scientists have discovered chemicals in the human brain that seem to encourage monogamy. However, other scientists observe that monogamy is not common across human cultures, or in human behaviour. They argue that monogamy is not more natural for people. David Barash told the New Scientist magazine,

Voice 4

‘There is much in biology that works against monogamy. But there is also much that works for it. We as humans are not forced to one extreme or the other. There is a lot of room for human choice.’

Voice 2 

Christians believe that biology is not the most important part of this question. The Bible teaches that being faithful to one person is the best way to live. In the Bible it says:

Voice 5 

‘A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife. And the two people will be one body. So the two are not two but one. God joined two people together. No person should separate them.’

Voice 1 

However, many people find it difficult to be faithful. People have to decide to be monogamous. They have to choose to be faithful and work hard at it. What do you think about monogamy? Do you think it is easy, or difficult, for people to mate for life?

Voice 2 

The writer of this programme was Joy Smith. The producer was Nick Mangeolles. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this programme and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this programme again, and read it, on the internet at This programme is called ‘Monogamy: Mating for Life’.

Voice 1 

You can also leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at You can also find us on Facebook - just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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What do you think about monogamy? Do you think it is easy, or difficult, for people to mate for life?


Avatar Spotlight
said on November 18, 2013

thank you very much for your help.God bless you

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said on November 18, 2013

very nice I learn a lot with this program, I think when you love someone monogamy is better.

Avatar Spotlight
said on November 18, 2013

Hi, I think when somebody finds a person to stay together, That person has to think like one, because he/she is now in a relationship, and has to be faithful, he/she has to trust in the other person, cause they are now a couple, and it must be forever.

Avatar Spotlight
jack shin
said on November 19, 2013

I think the question spotlightradio gave us at last is very serious one.
but i found some thing in this script an agreement which is we humans have been grown for our best way to survive ourselves by reproducing our species.
So, my final conclusion is monogamy is incompatible concept with natural instinct of human beings, but we all have to adjust ourselves for monogamy because of social expectations which is made by social social awareness. :)

thank you spotlightradio for letting me know the english word ’ Monogamy’ which i’ve not known .

JoaoVBR's avatar
said on March 14, 2015

This program has a interesting topic. In my opinion, the main reason of humans choose monogamy is cultural, not genetic. People feel more confortable when they are loved by one person and feel fidelity in the mate. Also, I think animals don’t have the concept of love as the humans have. For animals, it is almost always a issue of continue the specie.

And the scene of those penguins should be very funny. I was imagining how that happens =D

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said on June 13, 2015

I can not play this audio on spotlight apps (android)

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said on June 16, 2015

Thanks for the good contents, but the download link of this program doesn’t work.

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said on June 22, 2015

We were born and grow up. We are cared for, taught and educated. We try much to become good persons of family and community. We age. We die away every day. Our lives have many challenges. Doing beautiful good things brings us joys. Becoming good persons brings us great joys. We find ourselves when we live our lives for beautiful good things. We have beautiful good things in family. We have beautiful good things in community. Sacrifice brings development in family. Sacrifice brings development in community. By sacrifice for beautiful good things we find brightness and splendour.

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God is Love
said on November 21, 2015

if, we fall in love of one person then,  we won’t be able to fall in love of other person.

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said on June 01, 2016

I think when you have one love, you don’t need another people in your relationship.  The married life is Always renew, but both must want it.

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on June 01, 2016

I believe with what came in Bible.
In addition to that, the monogamy and enough one mate is a normal and human lif.
While the polygamy is brothel in disguise even if it is based on religious law, like Islam.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on June 02, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Thursday 02, June 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Katy Blake, Colin Lowther, Joy Smith, and Nick Mangeolles:

First of all, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article. Thanks!
I think monogamy is a very interesting way to live between animals and human people.
Yes, I do. It is easy for people to mate for life. To keep the fact of monogamy is very important that to love each other, to like each other, to respect each other, and to decide everything together. So, I think these actions help each other to live together to forever. However, I have a true example next to me: my grandmother and my grandfather lived together for many years.  So, they had got married for 70 years. Besides, they liked each other so much. Also, they rarely argued against each other. They lived in Peace in a farm. On the afternoon, they joined on the ground to grind coffee in powder to make coffee to drink together with them and their sons (my uncles) and I. This action was made by their hands (handicraft)  to make the coffee to drink. My grandmother died a long time ago so she was 95 year old. And my grandfather died when he was 90 years old. They were my mother’s parents.

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on September 06, 2019

I think monogamy belongs to cultural habits and exists to avoid conflicts between two people who want the same partner. It is more comfortable and safe for human groups that their members can live without personal conflict. If we observe the twelve commandments of the Moses’ law, without religious spirit, we’ll see they are coexistence rules, so that “not wanting the neighbor’s wife” implies monogamy and also “not sin against chastity” ...
Thank you for this nice program.

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Marcos Fonseca
said on September 08, 2019

I think this: nothing is forever, but when two people decide are toghters, both should being faithful all the time, trust is important for remain together.