Membrane proteins are prone to misfolding and degradation within the cell, yet the nature of the conformational defects involved in this process remain poorly understood. The earliest stages of membrane protein folding are mediated by the Sec61 translocon, a molecular machine that facilitates the lateral partitioning of the polypeptide into the membrane. Proper membrane integration is an essential prerequisite for folding of the nascent chain. However, the marginal energetic drivers of this reaction suggest the translocon may operate with modest fidelity. In this work, we employed biophysical modeling in conjunction with quantitative biochemical measurements in order to evaluate the extent to which cotranslational folding defects influence membrane protein homeostasis. Protein engineering was employed to selectively perturb the topological energetics of human rhodopsin, and the expression and cellular trafficking of engineered variants were quantitatively compared. Our results reveal clear relationships between topological energetics and the efficiency of rhodopsin biogenesis, which appears to be limited by the propensity of a polar transmembrane domain to achieve its correct topological orientation. Though the polarity of this segment is functionally constrained, we find that its topology can be stabilized in a manner that enhances biogenesis without compromising the functional properties of rhodopsin. Furthermore, sequence alignments reveal this topological instability has been conserved throughout the course of evolution. These results suggest that topological defects significantly contribute to the inefficiency of membrane protein folding in the cell. Additionally, our findings suggest that the marginal stability of rhodopsin may represent an evolved trait.