Abstract The traditional paradigm of male polygamy and female monogamy has been replaced by the recognition that both sexes may typically mate with several partners. As a consequence, much attention has focused on the evolution of polyandry, while the evolutionary significance of monogyny (male monogamy) remains poorly understood. Monogyny, a taxonomically widespread mating system that includes dramatic examples of male self-sacrifice, is predicted when the benefits of paternal investment exceed those of searching for additional mates. However, monogyny also occurs in animals lacking paternal investment, instead representing a form of paternity protection. It has been suggested that such mating systems are expected where the costs of mate search for males are high. However, this argument fails to recognize that if there is a low probability of a male finding a mate, then there may be a high probability that he will not need to defend his paternity. Using a mathematical model, we show that monogyny as a means of increasing paternity is favored when the sex ratio is male biased, but not necessarily by high search costs. The importance of a male-biased sex ratio for the evolution of monogyny is supported by various empirical studies.