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Hip Hop Evolution Files: Examining Infidelity from a Biological Perspective

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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It takes two the cheat, but actually cheating involves at least three individuals. First are the two betrothed lovers and next there is the one who indulges the betrayer. Cheating is one of the most popular relationship topics of all time.  It never seems to get a rest.

Why is that? Well, the affair itself can be exciting to one or both of the participants; however it deliver a big blow to the deceived if she or he ever finds out.  And it’s not limited to humans.  Perhaps a bigger threat to marriage than the same-sex individuals petitioning for the right to legally couple, is the very real threat and incidence of infidelity.

This post was originally posted at SouthernPlaylisticEvolutionMusic (on the Southern Fried Science Network) titled The Myth of Monogamy.

Why is monogamy a myth? Well for the most part, among people and the entire animal kingdom, it rarely exists in its pure form – a single mate for life. Love ain’t so simple is neither is monogamy. In fact, there are 3 different types of monogamy.

1. Serial monogamy: one partner at a time. Partners may separate for a number of reasons – dissatisfaction, pre-mature death, or termination of the breeding season and pair with a new partner for a period time. Seasonal serial monogamy is quite common among many song bird species.

2. Social monogamy: one partner for an extended period of time. Partners court, secure a nest/den, mate, and raise young together. Such pair bonding is very common for many species of birds and mammals, including prairie voles.

In both serial and social monogamy, male and female individuals can and often do mate outside of the pair. This is defined as Extra-pair copulations, EPC. You can imagine what this kind of behavior can lead to -> outside babies! Females having their eggs fertilized by males other than their pair-bonded mate; and males fathering offspring with females outside of the pair bond. This is defined as extra-pair fertilizations, EPF.

This leads us to the third kind of monogamy.

3. Genetic monogamy: also called true monogamy. Partners pair bond with one mate and only have babies with that mate until that mate dies. At that time the surviving partner may re-pair with another single.

PCR has forever changed how we see and interpret animal sexual behavior, and the Maury Povich Show. Before 1983, all behavioral biologists had to go on was behavioral observations. If a researcher frequently observed a male and female of reproductive age in the same vicinity, leaving the same nest, mating, and raising young together – with no evidence of other lurkers, then we determined that those individuals were a monogamous pair.

This new information has actually been a low blow to folks advocating monogamy and using some bird and mammal species as support for a natural course of human mating behavior. We’re just as carnal as our beastly cousins. The truth is, more often than not, like the man in the very beginning of  music video – who hesitates but eventually discards the token of his monogamous relationship – many people struggle to be faithful to their mates.

Naughty by Nature’s “Down With OPP” is a great explanation of EPC — hip-hop style. The lyrics clearly outline how individuals in monogamous relationships do mate outside of the pair bond.

OPP by Naughty By Nature (1991)

OPP, how can I explain it
I’ll take you frame by frame it
To have y’all jumpin’ shall we singin’ it
O is for Other, P is for People scratchin’ temple
The last P…well…that’s not that simple
It’s sorta like another way to call a cat a kitten
It’s five little letters that are missin’ here
You get on occassion at the other party
As a game ‘n it seems I gotta start to explainin’
Bust it You ever had a girl and met her on a nice hello
You get her name and number and then you feelin’ real mellow
You get home, wait a day, she’s what you wanna know about
Then you call up and it’s her girlfriend or her cousin’s house
It’s not a front, F to the R to the O to the N to the T
It’s just her boyfriend’s at her house (Boy, that’s what is scary)
It’s OPP, time other people’s what you get it
There’s no room for relationship there’s just room to hit it
How many brothers out there know just what I’m gettin’ at
Who thinks it’s wrong ‘cos I’m splittin’ and co-hittin’ at
Well if you do, that’s OPP and you’re not down with it
But if you don’t, here’s your membership

You down with OPP (Yeah you know me) 3X
Who’s down with OPP (Every last homie)
You down with OPP (Yeah you know me) 3X
Who’s down with OPP (All the homies)

As for the ladies, OPP means something gifted
The first two letters are the same but the last is something
It’s the longest, loveliest, lean– I call it the leanest
It’s another five letter word rhymin’ with cleanest and meanest
I won’t get into that, I’ll do it…ah…sorta properly
I say the last P…hmmm…stands for property
Now lady here comes a kiss, blow a kiss back to me, now tell me exactly
Have you ever known a brother who have another like ah girl or wife
And you just had to stop and just ‘cos he look just as nice
You looked at him, he looked at you and you knew right away
That he had someone but he was gonna be yours anyway
You couldn’t be seen with him and honestly you didn’t care
‘Cos in a room behind a door no one but y’all are there
When y’all are finish, y’all can leave and only y’all would know
And then y’all could throw the skeleton bones right in the closet do’
Now don’t be shocked ‘cos if you’re down I want your hands up high
Say OPP (OPP) I like to say with pride
Now when you do it, do it well and make sure that it counts
You’re now down with a discount

You down with OPP (Yeah you know me) 3X
Who’s down with OPP (Every last lady)
You down with OPP (Yeah you know me) 3X
Who’s down with OPP (All the ladies)

This girl ah tried to OPP me I had a girl and she knew that matter-of-fact my girl was partner’s
Had a fall out, disagreement, yeah an argument
She tried to do me so we did it in my apartment, bust it
That wasn’t the thing it must have been the way she hit the ceiling
‘Cos after that she kept on coming back and catchin’ feelings
I said, “Let’s go my girl is coming so you gotta leave”
She said, “Oh no, I love you Treach” I said, “Now child please”
You gots to leave, come grab your coat, right now you gotta go
I said now look you choose the stairs and this damn window
This was a thing, a little thing, you shouldn’t have put your heart
‘Cos you know I was OPP, hell from the very start
Come on, come on, now let me tell you what it’s all about
When you get down, you can’t go ’round runnin’ off at the mouth
That’s rule number one in this OPP establishment
You keep your mouth shut and it won’t get back to her or him
Exciting isn’t it, a special kinda business
Many of you will catch the same sorta OPP is you with
Him or her for sure is going to admit it
When OPP comes, damn– skippy I’m with it

You down with OPP (Yeah you know me) 3X
Who’s down with OPP (This whole party)
You down with OPP (Yeah you know me) 3X
Who’s down with OPP (This whole party)

Treach makes it perfectly clear that OPP is all about another individual’s partner – so to speak. The last P is an interchangeable term relating male and female genitalia.  And much like the scenarios presented in the song, it’s a very short-term interaction between un-paired individuals in which at least one is in a relationship. EPC don’t often usurp the existing relationship, doing so would then be an example of serial monogamy. Moreover, EPC aren’t necessarily sexist.  Both males and females may exploit an opportunity, and if one isn’t very vigilant, then one risk his or her mate copping a cop, outside of the relationship.

Link to references about Extra-pair copulations in the animal kingdom:

1. David Westneat. 1987. Extra-pair copulations in a predominantly monogamous bird: observations of behaviour Animal Behavior, 35:865-876. doi:10.1016/S0003-3472(87)80122-7

The SouthernPlayalisticEvolutionMusic Remix – Sing it with me.

You down with EPC (Yeah you know me) 3X
Who’s down with EPC (Every last homie)
You down with EPC (Yeah you know me) 3X
Who’s down with EPC (All the homies)

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. joewhitehurst 1:25 am 10/26/2011

    With all due respect,if you are serious about having a “biological” perspective, how can you possibly even see something that is not in the biological realm at all? Biology has no constructs to deal with the infidelity vs fidelity personal construct especially down at the level of microbes. The fidelity vs infidelity personal construct is well covered by psychology, sociology, morality, etc. and as much political science as one human being can stomach. Biology is completely superfluous and unnecessary in this realm and actually has nothing to say of interest at all.

    Link to this
  2. 2. DNLee 5:30 pm 11/1/2011

    Thank you for comment Joe Whitehurst. However, biology has plenty to say about fidelty — as I present in the post what s often studied in “fidelity vs infidelity personal construct is well covered by psychology, sociology, morality” is examined in much detail in Animal Behavior and Behavioral Ecology as Extra-pair copulations/fertilizations/paternity. Animal behavior and behavioral ecology are sub-disciplines of biology. Coincidentally, psychology is the human applied discipline of animal behavior. So, not only does biology have plenty to say of interest related to ‘fidelity’, my post which explains this concept in an awesomely unique way – is so completely AWESOME that it completely boots your ‘superfluuous adn unncessary’ criticism all the way out of this universe.

    Link to this

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