In Europe, the number of men and women, at twenty years of age, is about the same; a similar rule prevailing also in America; but at an earlier period of life, in both continents, there were more men than women; and at a later, more women than men.* It is not necessary here to enter into the causes of this disparity; it being sufficient to say that it depends, to a great extent, upon the higher, and lower, rates of mortality at given periods of life; but to this pretty constant equality of numbers, at the marriageable age, is chiefly due the tendency in all civilized societies to monogamous marriages.
There are many reasons why a man may desire to possess more than one wife; and, from the view-point of natural law, there appears little to urge against such a practice. In fact, much might be said in its favor. The periods of abstinence from sexual intercourse, which the health and decency of both parties demand, are too long to be reasonably bome by a vigorous man, with sexual powers normally developed; and I am convinced that not only are many of the marital infelicities of society traceable to this cause, but that serious impairment of health very frequently results from two early sexual connexion after both childbirth and menstruation.
In many countries—and fortunately they are mostly polygynous— the husband is not only compelled to live apart from his wife for a certain period every month, but during the whole term of her pregnancy;* as soon as this event is announced, the sexual rights being suspended with superstitious scrupulosity, and the poor husband being condemned to "bum" for varying and, to him at least, interminable periods of time.
Indeed, very commonly in savage life, the husband must not cohabit with his wife until the child is weaned; and this prohibition is certainly not lessened in severity among those races where the suckling period lasts for two, three, and even four years. It is therefore quite in accord with what one should expect, that the advent of the new being—particularly if monogamy prevail—or if the mother, as is generally the case, be the most attractive and sexually desirable among a man's wives—is hailed with no special features of rejoicing. Among the Ashantees, "when conception becomes apparent, the girl goes through a ceremony of abuse, and is pelted down to the sea, where she is supposed to be cleansed. She is then set aside; charms are bound on her wrists, spells muttered over her, and, by a wise sanitary regulation, her husband is not allowed to cohabit with her until she has finished nursing her child."1