Describes the condition of a plant whose flowers have several pistils or styles.

From the BioTech Dictionary at For further information see the BioTech homenode.

Polygyny is the sociological practice of one man having more than one female partner. It is the most common form of the practice of polygamy. (Polyandry being the reverse, one female with many male partners.) Polygyny comes, naturally enough, from the Greek poly- ("many") and gyno- ("woman").

In the lower animal species, polygyny is far from rare, although the term is usually reserved for practicing a form of controlled polygny. Whereas for most species, males tend to have multiple partners due to the limitations of pregnancy, it is uncommon to find species where females are bound to one male while males are free to copulate among the many females.

Although polygyny has been seen throughout practically all of human history, it is generally frowned upon in modern societies as degrading to women and socially inhibiting.

Famous incarnations of polygyny include the fabled harems and concubines of the Middle East, the early practitioners of the Mormon church, the ancient Chinese and Indian peoples, and of course, the Hebrews of the Old Testament, where polygyny and its effects play a role in a number of famous Biblical stories.

A few weeks ago, I had dinner at the house of a man who has 3 wives. He married the first around 2005 and the other 2 in 2020. He married the 2 of them in 1 month. There were 3 other guys who had come for the dinner, making 5 of us. Our host was the only 1 with multiple wives although 1 of the others had declared his intention to marry again. Of the other 2, I'm aware that 1 of them is not averse to an additional wife (despite being from a monogamous tradition since his father, brothers and uncles all have a single wife) while I am not aware of the last guy's stance.

Last Sunday, 7/2/2020, I had dinner at another friend's house. 2 of the guys from the dinner earlier mentioned were at this one as well. Along with 4 others. The conversation periodically turned to the subject of additional wives. This is something I find by turns, amusing, tiresome and irritating.

I find it amusing because when the topic comes up, it is accompanied by a sort of furtive, sheepish laughter - eh heh heh heh - something like that. It sounds silly and I cannot help laughing along because of how I interpret their reasons for laughing. I suppose the other guys are laughing because it is a topic that while not taboo in our culture, has become something not to be discussed too openly in order to spare oneself the stress of having to explain to one's wife that it was just a joke (whereas it probably is not). This assumes the person only has 1 wife or has led her to believe that he has no intention of marrying another.

I find the topic tiresome because it really is not interesting. There is much recycling of jokes that weren't even funny at the first telling, never mind being told for the umpteenth time. I suppose the fact that I am usually just there for the food and I just want to eat and get the fuck back home to my book doesn't help me appreciate the company. This is not to say I am some sort of glutton.

Lastly, I find it irritating because other than jokes, another thing that is almost always repeated is the justification and desirability for marrying multiple wives. While I have no problem with their reasons (I actually think some make sense), I feel the conversations are a case of preaching to the choir. Further, the person doing the talking assumes the air of one saying something new, something original and that is silly.

Polygyny is widely practiced and accepted in Nigeria. While it is an accepted and even encouraged practice among Muslims, even the Christians here do not condemn it too strenuously.

The arguments made in favor include:

1. Biology: If sex is strictly for procreation, then polygyny makes biological sense since many women can simultaneously be pregnant for 1 man but 1 woman cannot simultaneously be pregnant for many men. I think this one makes sense. However, since I think humanity's usage of the earth is harmful to other life, I am not a supporter of increasing the population. Even where procreation is not the sole aim, in many societies, period sex is taboo. Actually, given the existence of period pain, it appears period sex is not appealing for many women. And since men do not have such a restriction, multiple wives works for them.

Further, there is a widely held belief that like other mammals, the human male is biologically predisposed to having a harem.

A third biological reason is male aggression versus female conciliation. This means that women are more willing to (or rather less liable to violently resist having to ) share a partner. This point might be pseudo-biology, but it is widely believed.

2. Religion: Islam sort of encourages having multiple wives. While this encouragement has caveats, in Nigeria, such restrictions are ignored. Further, the prophet is taken to be the model human, and so it is believed that emulating him would most probably guarantee salvation. So, since he had multiple wives and encouraged marriage (a bit like Octavian, who understood its importance for the survival of society), many people seek to emulate that aspect of his life. I don't particularly like this reason but I understand it.

As I said in my introduction, even Christians here do not strenuously condemn it. As for traditional religionists, it is not an issue.

3. Historical structure of human society: this point is reaching, but, related to the biological point above. Men being generally physically stronger than women while being more willing to express their horniness means that an unattached woman is vulnerable. Since societies aim to reduce intra-group conflict, and since culture is group societal behavior, many societies have accepted polygyny as a solution to the problems that might arise in this situation.

4. Demographics: even though the natural sex ratio at birth is male biased, it becomes female biased over time due to greater male susceptibility to fetal complications, childhood diseases and more dangerous/aggressive behavior over time. This means that there will eventually be more available, single women than men. If it desirable for every person to have a mate, then this objective can only be achieved if some men have more than 1 partner. I wonder if this argument would hold were the situation reversed.

5. Economics: in many places, marriage is still an economic arrangement. Men provide food, housing and other life staples in exchange for exclusive sexual access.

The points above have their merits, but I think the argument is totally irrelevant. The variation in family composition across cultures is evidence that there is nothing natural or unnatural about whichever model is dominant in society. And despite criticisms of the justice or injustice of any particular model, the advancement and liberalization of human culture means that people should be allowed to choose what works for them. One model that I particular like is the line marriage in Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I like it because I think monogamy quickly gets boring; polygyny could be unfair to women; polyandry could be taxing for the woman and really unsatisfactory to the men; so a group marriage would be quite stable and provide variety without being unfair to either sex.

Po*lyg"y*ny (?), n. [Poly- + Gr. woman, wife.]

The state or practice of having several wives at the same time; marriage to several wives.

H. Spenser.


© Webster 1913.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.