Why we f*ck

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A professional thinker named Thomas Hobbes got it into our heads for an embarrassingly long time that our ancestors were pitiful, lonely, mean people.

Three and a half centuries later Hobbes is still revered for his smarts, even though he’ll always be most famous for that unfortunate soundbyte in which he described the life of prehistoric man as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Today few serious scientists are waving the “brutish and short” flag. Although the image of the paranoid, dumb, violent, solitary caveman persists in pop culture (and sometimes in our early blog posts) there’s little evidence to support it.

We now know human beings have always been highly social creatures, and that that has been our species’ defining strength. We know humans were nomadic for nearly all of their existence, roaming in groups of between 50 and 150 individuals. Rather than stressed, violent and solitary, they were probably most often calm, peaceful and intensely social.

Moving away from Hobbes’ thuggish caveman is one of those fabled “paradigm shifts” that happen sometimes in science, and which turn everything upside-down for a few decades (or centuries if there are churches involved,) until we’re mostly on the same page again — think Copernicus and his wild “the earth isn’t the center of the universe” idea.

As an interesting side-effect of rethinking what human quality of life was like in prehistory, it’s becoming clear that for all but the most recent sliver of human existence, human beings were not monogamous. Adults apparently didn’t pair off into exclusive couples like all of our storybooks tell us. They didn’t confine themselves to having children with only a single partner, as most people do (or try to do, or think they are supposed to try to do) today. 

Our closest relatives, chimps and bonobos, are both highly “promiscuous” by the standards of today’s mainstream human society. Evolutionary psychologist and author Christopher Ryan, from his book Sex At Dawn:

If you spend time with the primates closest to human beings, you’ll see female chimps having intercourse dozens of times per day, with most or all of the willing males, and rampant bonobo group sex that leaves everyone relaxed and maintains intricate social networks.

Ryan has complied a mountain of evidence that makes it hard to find compelling reasons to continue to maintain that we are biologically geared for monogamy. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. The only ape that demonstrates clearly monogamous behavior is the gibbon, a highly anti-social creature that lives in small nuclear families, estranged from other gibbons by their enormous territories. They have infrequent sex and do not appear to do it for fun.

Hobbes’s dismal vision of our ancestors has been famously debunked by all camps in the anthropology world, even if they have fiercely different opinions about other things. We know they probably didn’t live in highly competitive, scarcity-driven environments, and that they had more leisure time than we do.

And we know they had lots of hot sex. Probably more than you. They were definitely not the prudes that came about in recent centuries, bringing along chastity belts, religious meddling, and a shaming attitude towards sex.

Why did we have so much sex?

First of all, we still do. We just have more a lot more hangups about it. And it should surprise no one that the primary reason we do it is not procreation. We do it because it feels good physically and emotionally. More specifically, it allows us to share something super-intimate with another human being. Most of the time we are definitely, expressly not trying to make a child.

Out of all your sexual experiences, how often were you doing it simply because you wanted to make a baby? The vast majority of people use birth control. We try to minimize baby-making but we’re still highly interested in sex, and so for humans sex obviously serves another extremely compelling purpose.

That purpose is to bring us closer, to cement social bonds. Being big-brained and relatively weak-bodied — an 80-pound baboon can tear a 200-pound man to shreds — what kept humans alive for hundreds of thousands of years was that our interpersonal bonds were so tight.

What other species grieves so helplessly for so long when they lose a relative or companion? What other species requires a decade or two of constant attention in order to raise a child to be a healthy, independent individual? What other creature can lose track of itself completely by gazing into in the eyes of a close companion?

We bond intensely, perhaps like no other creature ever has. And sex, especially face-to-face, can create great peaks of intimate bonding. We lose our pretensions. In a hyper-intimate way we bare ourselves to another, our outer and inner selves at the same time.

Before “mine” and “yours”

Think about what it would be like to live your whole life in a social group of about a hundred people. You’d get to know everyone rather quickly, and would develop relationships with them over decades. Dissenters and troublemakers would be reformed quickly or shunned — jealous and possessive types would be too great a liability for the whole group.

Human beings have never been able to survive on their own. Even today the greatest human fear is being ostracized or abandoned, because for hundreds of thousands of years, it meant death. In the civilized world, where there’s always another job, always another circle of friends out there, rejection doesn’t mean death, but emotionally it remains a devastating experience for most of us.

Most notably, there would be no notion of private property, of “mine” versus “yours.” This can be observed in many of today’s remaining hunter-gatherer tribes, where hiding or hoarding anything is viewed as a glaring offense to the whole community.

Possessiveness would not be tolerated or even understood, and therefore the idea of sexual exclusivity would be just as absurd and offensive to the others as hoarding food. Clearly it is normal and healthy for human beings to be attracted to multiple people, and our ancestors wouldn’t have found many reasons to restrict their intimate activities to one mate.

Females each mating with multiple males means that no male could quite be sure which child was his genetically. There were no paternity tests, and everyone would be so closely related that there wouldn’t be too many giveaways in the child’s features, such as distinct hair color or eye color.

Think about what that means for a moment: it’s likely that for most of human existence, it was not normal for a man to know which kids were his.

For the survival of the group, this was a good thing. First of all, it meant that males wouldn’t kill off the children sired by other males (as some species do). But most importantly, it meant that every adult felt a responsibility to care for every child in the group. The females would breastfeed the children of other women, and no man would have any reason to view one child as “his” and another as “not his.” All children were vulnerable, all were in need of food and protection and love, and the survival of the group depended on the survival of children, no matter who fathered them. Paternal uncertainty, as biologists call it, kept hunter-gatherer groups well-bonded and more liable to survive than they would be if they were fragmented into nuclear families who had clear preferences about who ought to get most of the help.

So the result of a sexual culture that modern people might call “promiscuous” was that the whole group was one giant family, with a conspicuous lack of alienation, possessiveness and competition, compared to how we interact with each other today.

Why everything changed

Before our eyes, social norms are changing. Most people don’t gasp and whisper when they see interracial couples anymore. The US president has officially endorsed gay marriage. Hotels no longer insist that you be married to rent a hotel room with a member of the opposite sex. Normal changes, and it can change fast.

Monogamy is still accepted by most to be the “way things are” among human beings, as a general rule. Certainly it’s prescribed non-negotiably in the Bible and other religious texts. But human relationships reach back far longer than that.

About ten thousand years ago, people figured out how to stay put. Instead of roaming the country, foraging for food, they began to grow it themselves, in the same place year after year. This had several immediate, world-changing effects.

For the first time, people could stay in one place. Food could be stored and accumulated. Settlements became permanent. The population boomed, and people began to live closer together. Currencies were implemented. Social institutions formed: churches, laws, militaries.

For the first time, wealth could be hoarded. One person could amass many times the resources of another. There had never been a way for one person to become vastly more powerful than other person before, because nomad groups could only carry what they needed, and would seek newer pastures when resources dwindled. Excess was pointless.

But now, everyone saw that there was no limit to accumulation, and the more they accumulated, the more secure they were. So nobody ever felt like they quite had enough — it was always desirable to have more. Combine this to the skyrocketing population, and fierce competition for resources became the new norm.

This had to have completely changed the social dynamics between human beings, on all scales. Human existence quickly shifted from an environment of abundance to an environment of scarcity. Great imbalances of power and privilege began, whereas they were impossible before, and they have continued to widen for the last ten thousand years.

What does this have to do with sex?

The greatest change agriculture made was that particular people became tied to particular areas of land. The notion of ownership had become became crucial for the first time. If an individual wanted to survive, rather than contribute to a cohesive, self-contained group, he had to secure the right to work a particular area of land, probably in spite of the competing interests of others. He had to participate as a small part of a large, impersonal economy. His life depended on his ability to do that.

Much like today, when a landowner died others wanted the land, and the issue of who had legal claim to it had to be settled. The most intuitive arrangement was for a landowner’s offspring to inherit it.

So for the first time ever, it became absolutely necessary for a man to know that his children were his. In the age before birth control and paternity tests, there was only one way for a man to be certain:

He had to make 100 percent sure that his woman never, ever had sex with anyone else.

And so men came to control land by controlling women’s sexuality, and the new “normal” sculpted by this economic trend is still the primary model for us today: sexual monogamy. To secure themselves economically, men demanded virgins and had zero tolerance for any hint of non-monogamy. Fidelity was enforced by vicious social contracts including religious dictates and cultural beliefs, for which women were humiliated, stoned or worse for even expressing the desire to bed with another man.

This was the beginning of a culture of sexual inequality and repression that we are still, sadly, used to. Even in progressive societies, women who want to have many sexual partners are often regarded as sluts, by both sexes. Men don’t face the same scrutiny.

For centuries it was debated — among scholar-class men, of course — whether women derived any pleasure from sex at all. The academic consensus was that sex was a drive that pertained only to males, and was merely accomodated by married females so that they could have the only thing the women truly desired: children.

So monogamy appears to be a cultural phenomenon that has its origins in economics of all places. There isn’t necessarily anything instrinsically wrong with it, but looking at the divorce rates one can’t help but wonder whether it’s a round hole, while humans — biologically at least — carry square pegs.

It’s well known that in North America, most marriages end in divorce rather than death, and most marriages include sexual infidelity. Sexless marriages are common, if not commonly talked about.

We’re still recovering from long-standing, asinine cultural pressures that tell us we can’t have too many sexual partners, can’t be gay, can’t be single parents, can’t have group sex without becoming a weirdo or a hippie, can’t have two partners at once without being a cheat, and can’t decide not to have children without being a self-absorbed hedonist.

Thankfully Kinsey’s famous studies, released following the war, revealed to the world what it both feared and knew all along: that everybody was doing everything the whole time, they just hid it from view. People were having oral sex, anal sex, extramarital sex, group sex, sex with machinery, sex with their own hands and fingers, gay sex, dress-up sex, S&M sex, and sometimes, no sex at all.

The variety and volume of sexual tastes and practices were enormous in reality, but publicly everyone presented the same front: modest, God-fearing monogamous relationships.

Where normal comes from

The day we’re born, each of us opens our eyes and begins to build a world that seems “normal” to us. It is built from scratch, experience by experience, and what we build depends on the die roll of where we’re born and when. So what we come to regard as “the way things are” may only be the way things have been for a few centuries, or even a few decades, and only in our own locale.

We have a tendency to project our own “normal” backwards and forwards across time and across millions of other people’s lives, making a lot of people wrong in the process. The irony is that we refer to these relatively new practices and social rules — of which monogamy is only one — as “traditions,” and that any deviation from them is a betrayal of what’s natural. Ninety-nine percent of human existence occured before the “traditional” ways even began.

I know some people reading this have no idea where I’m going with this or why I’m picking on monogamy, but I know a lot of people out there are nodding their heads. There might be a very good reason why it’s been so damn hard to make things work the “traditional” way. What’s traditional in your culture might clash very strongly with your biological and emotional makeup.

I’ve been in relationships where I was expected never to audibly acknowledge that I find other women attractive. It was somehow wrong, offensive to my partner, to disclose this truth. Yet it’s the most basic and obvious truth of human sexuality — that we all feel desires for more than one person throughout our lives. Still, somehow, the normal perspective is that the right thing to do is to hide it from the person we are supposed to love most.

Think of how many people have suffered the most miserable ache in the heart, just because they did not accept that basic reality. If that’s normal, you may find it’s a good reason not to be normal.

***

Photos by sinabeet and GulinKopec


ben April 14, 2013 at 7:38 am

that was the trippiest article ive read in a long time. never thought of things like that before. Great read!

ABC April 18, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Great job… and a truly great article
Thanks God… someone thinks like me…. For years I was thinking of writing an article like this which sums up my thoughts and ideas. But every time I sat down I felt its futile because hardly anybody would be able to appreciate it. I have been saying the same things and have only found resistance.

I would like to add the sexual deprivation is also the cause of many of the crimes, wars and the general “competition” we find ourselves forced in each day. Think on an island completely inhabited by either only females or males. Do you think anyone on the island will feel a need to fight for power, hoard up money and spend it on expensive brands?

I just wished I lived in a time and place where people didn’t believe in strangling one of their most fundamental and primitive need.

Engin May 6, 2013 at 1:35 am

I didn’t read all of that but I will say this: Sex is one of the most overrated things in this world. It doesn’t feel good at all. What’s the deal with the fact that sexual organs are the same as urination organs? Oh, also don’t start me on the ugliness of the sexual organs! Just look at the weird shape of penis, and try not to vomit at the nastiness of the vagina.

I also believe that people who value sex so much ar among the dumbest people on Earth. Me? I have abandoned sex a while ago. I am an extremely intelligent person who values more important things in life.

Engin May 6, 2013 at 1:35 am

I didn’t read all of that but I will say this: Sex is one of the most overrated things in this world. It doesn’t feel good at all. What’s the deal with the fact that sexual organs are the same as urination organs? Oh, also don’t start me on the ugliness of the sexual organs! Just look at the weird shape of penis, and try not to vomit at the nastiness of the vagina.

I also believe that people who value sex so much ar among the dumbest people on Earth. Me? I have abandoned sex a while ago. I am a pretty smart person who values more important things in life.

sex kontakter May 13, 2013 at 9:08 pm

Utroskap er ingen skam, det har eksistert like lenge som selve ideen om monogami.

Her kan dere arrangere sextreff og utveksle preferanser før dere møtes, på denne måten er dere
mer eller mindre garantere å ikke bli skuffet over det kåte paret dere møter.
Ingenting er forpliktende her på knull kontakt og
alt du trenger er en pc og internett.

David Hernandez June 17, 2013 at 7:59 am

Love between two people that is deep and centered on a commitment to be together with each other forever, does not preclude the reality that you can love more than one person. It simply means that your love for this one person is strong enough to negate the need to love more than one person or to have the intimate connection with more than one person that is what sex is all about. Doesn’t seem that complicated to me. Dave

Icanhaspornhub June 27, 2013 at 2:59 am

I apologize if some, or all, of my thoughts about this have been addressed. I do however strongly doubt anybody will probably end up reading this anyways as it’s so far down the list of comments that I guess I’m really just writing for my own ego. Damn I love me.

First off, I think there are majorly useful insights to be had from this article. However, it addresses things with a sort of middle of the road complexity and suffers somewhat from comparing apples to oranges. I do however realize that this is not a dissertation (I can barely spell the word let alone write one) and so it’s incompleteness should really not be a point of contention for letting it’s ‘smartness’ go unaddressed.

The ‘middle of the road complexity’ I speak of comes out of the fact that ,yes, it does address anthropological social structures in nomadic groups in a way that doesn’t overwhelm somebody with minutia but let’s them see a through a useful paradigm. But it does gloss over things in an attempt to reach a conclusion of an idealized world (at least in regards to sex) that probably never existed. Here’s why, cuz ain’t no man exactly like some other man, man. We unfortunately are not created equal. And this is the second most problematic thing that creates such conflict in humanity. The first is that everyone is corrupt. Period.

You wanna know why capitalism is so much better than communism? Ha, trick question, it isn’t. Nor is the opposite true or for that matter. Nor is any other social structure better than another. Frankly, they’re all quite fantabulous. Perfect in fact. Here’s the problem, we aren’t. What happens when you introduce an imperfect element into a perfect system? That’s exactly right captain genius! You get an imperfect system. And in the case of any societal structure we can create, with are most fanciest of thinking caps on, it will ultimately still be an inevitable failure; because it’ll still be crawling with ‘imperfect elements’ all over the place. Why is this relevant? Because it’s not necessary to know all the ways things could breakdown just that they will; including, but not limited too, sex.

So now that we have introduced inequality and corruption into our wonderful tribe scenario let’s take a second look:

(The names, dates, and places have been changed to protect the innocent)

Once upon a beautiful day two babies were born. And what a wonderful day it was since it was the day that Jim was born. You see Jim is a very fine specimen and grows up to be the best hunter the tribe has ever scene. Coincidentally, Bob is born on the very same day. Bob is not a fine specimen. Although he does survive childhood and makes it to adulthood, Bob is the worst hunter the tribe has ever scene. He’s also a troll. Now Bob and Jim both like Gina (actually everyone likes Gina) but Gina only likes Jim. Big surprise. In fact Jim likes Gina so much that an unofficial rule is made that if you aren’t Jim you don’t touch Gina. Gina is okay with this cuz Jim is, well, Jim. No one in the tribe likes this but Jim brings home so much bacon, literally, that it’s hard to argue with the guy. Plus Gina won’t put out for anyone else and besides it’s just one woman and there are plenty of others to go around. However, Bob forces himself on Gina one night (which I’m pretty sure would still be rape) and the next day Jim and Bob fight to the death. Jim wins. But now there’s unrest cuz of Jim’s murderous selfishness. So now a meeting is called and Jim is cast out of the group; but he’s got enough pull that several men and women, including Gina, leave with him. The rest of the tribe is extremely pissed that Jim formed his own party of tribe members and didn’t just go. Now there’s bad blood between the groups. The tribes go there separate ways but eventually after years pass they run across each others paths. Taunting and cruelty lead to battle. Jim’s tribe being smaller is eventually overcome by larger numbers and is completely destroyed. However they managed to lay a mortal blow to the remaining tribe as so many of it’s hunters are now either dead or wounded and winter is near. The group will not be able feed most of it’s members through the winter. T-Rex eats the rest of them. Shut up it’s my story!

This story revolves around sex but the reality is it could just as easily be about anything else. The 2 things that will always underpin any scenario like this is the fact of corruption and inequality. These are just as assured as death and taxes. And this is just one of a million scenarios that could play out (your write I totally should write for Game of Thrones)

I don’t think that there is anything that is inherently wrong with sharing something like sex among a large group of people. But pretty much anything that can be shared can also be exposed to rejection, abuse, misuse, jealousy, hoarding, greed, etc. etc.

Additionally, This post sort of compares apples to oranges. You can’t work from a context where everyone shares pretty much everything and then extract one element of that unconditional sharing and then to stick it into a society that practically shares nothing. This, I think, points to the poorly focused direction of this article. Sure I’m all for non-monogomy but the reality is we should also reference the fact that you and I don’t have 150 people that our lives are intimately fused with. And we don’t share much of anything else. We donate, we pay taxes, we hold bake sales but these are ways of buying into more of a faceless community than names and faces we can even say ‘hi’ to, let alone fuck.

I can think of more things to address but realistically I feel the shear amount of what I’ve already written is ample evidence of how much of a life that I don’t have. And that’s really all I wanted you to know.

Erik July 9, 2013 at 3:15 pm

I think it’s much harder for Homo sapiens to have the sex lives of bonobos than it is for them to live monogamously. Modern man has emotional needs that bonobos apparently do not. There’s no reason to suspect that the earlier members of our species had emotional needs that were any different. Perhaps the “easiest” way for our species to live is serial monogamy, so I suspect that that is most likely how prehistorical members of our species lived. However, I’m quite sure that looking at how bonobos or chimps live is much less useful for answering the question than does looking at how modern humans live.

elisabeth crokaerts July 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm

well done, outstanding article.. brave and to the point. i think you are right in what you write, it is impossible not to cheat someone as our mind wanders all the time and we can’t impossibly be obsessed our whole life 24 hours a day by one person…it is better to accept this reality. it would take away a lot of tensions if we share more, hide and hoard less.
I love nomadic life and believe it is better for the earth and human kind to live in that way. if we could become all so wise that we could let go of our greed then there would be more place for love in relationships with many. ofcourse it is not an easy subject, i will reflect on it, thank you very much for your article.

tunamonkeyrock September 6, 2013 at 6:03 am

so glad you share your insights on this blog. as your awareness increases it’s easy to be isolated if you have few amongst you who want to share in that awareness. finding this blog, amongst other resources, has improved my quality of life.

gjb September 8, 2013 at 8:51 pm

The evidence that human’s were not monogamous or not serially monogamous is questionable at best. I’m a huge evolutionary psychology fan, but it has real limitation. The fact that most apes aren’t monogamous means nothing.

David Cain September 8, 2013 at 9:36 pm

>The fact that most apes aren’t monogamous means nothing.

Hmm. I’m not sure why you say that. If monogamy is something that’s rare in the animal kingdom, particularly among the animals most similar to humans, that seems relevant to me.

Novak September 9, 2013 at 4:48 am

By all means, people should avoid monogamy. As much people as possible should have sex with multiple partners, as openly as possible.

Why?

Speaking as an inhabintant of a former communist state I can say that culture of sharing makes all people equal – equal in poverty (Except those people who are running the whole show, of course. They take higher standard of living for themselves as it’s available to the mases).

Common (state) ownership of means of production should in theory get people to care more for the businesses that they work for, because the ownership hasn’t been assigned to a single person. In theory the owners of factories were the citizens. So, because they were working in their own factories (to earn for themselves, not to accumulate wealth for The Man), they should work better and prosperity should abound.

Except that it didn’t work. USSR went bankupt and fell apart. Yugoslavia ended up in civil war and fell apart. The basic problem is that in conditions like these everyone prefers leaving the “improving prosperity” part to others. It is in everyone’s interest to minimize his actual effort (while presenting to others as if he/she is making an effort). To reduce expectations and gain popularity, people even obstuct and supress those people who are more enterprising (except in urgently prioritized industries, like nuclear weapons and space racing).

So if free sex becomes the norm and we get again to the conditions that men won’t know for sufficient number of children whose they are, the children will be treated worse. Every man will prefer that other potential fathers do as much as possible and he avoids contributing actual effort as much as possible. Of course they will try to not neglect children too much (so that genes will still survive), but everyone will err on the side of doing less.

For the current state of peopling of the Earth, this is a good thing. In this condition, population will fall, because children won’t grow up into people, willing to work hard to maintain the complex Western civilization (they will prefer to enjoy sex instead of work on improving the chances of children who might or might not be theirs). Capitalism will crumble (yay!). And industrial agriculture with it. And capacity to feed growing population with it. Well, for the people, this won’t be so good thing.

In last centuries, we went from 1 to 7 billion people in the world (and counting). Majority of this icrease is in time where monogamy is prevalent in the world (not to mention technology and industry, spurred by capitalism), so culturally enforced monogamy looks correlated with massive population growth.

The problem is where would we put all the people that would be born if this trend continued. Of course there’s a lot of empty space on the planet, but how would you like to live crowded as in India or China?

patmuk September 9, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Wow, interesting article.
A nice theory of how the needs made society monogam.
I would argue that monogamy, especially nowadays, is fair for woman.
Getting a child is really hard work – from being pregnant to raising it up. Naturally a woman is doing that, which limits her from carring financially for herself – not only is the time limited in which she could earn money, she is in the beginning physically handicapped as well.
So, having a partner is essential to support her fairly and share the time+money costs. The lesser other partner this partner has the more he is willing to support. The opposite does not help – if a woman has several partner the child is still of only one of them. Naturally, in doubt, they would all care about their other partners and avoid sharing the burden.

Why a man would share the burden at all?
It is the same motivation, why initially a man would inherent his wealth to only his true children. The urge to reproduce oneself, or whatever. If there would be no need for a man to have children they would never have carred what happens to their belongings once they die.
So, monogamy is a kind of win-win relationship, where sharing the load of the woman is the price payed for having a true successor.
However, this need might only come after a certain age, and if the joy of sex with multiple partner is more important only accidents might change the situation.

Luís September 9, 2013 at 8:39 pm

This is good. First of all I don’t believe in “love”. Because if love exists, this means I’ve been in love a dozen times. There are just too many atractive people in this world for me to become exclusive. I don’t share this opinion with all my girfriends, but I tell this to all my friends and most of the times when I meet new girls. This doesn’t mean that I am allways cheating on my girlfriends, but when I have an oportunity with a girl to which I feel atraction and desire, and I’m certain that my girlfriend is never going to know, I just do it. the only reason I don’t have sex with more women is because I’m a little bit OCD about being clean and free of deseases, I’m terrified of catching STD’s.

About matrimonial commitment, I just know that I’m never gonna get married. I think it’s against male nature to commit to someone for the rest of your life. I think that more and more it’s going to become an obsolete tradition, it doesn’t make sense in the modern times. Whenever I see someone getting married I just think: “Poor fuckers, they don’t know what they are getting into…”

Patrick September 11, 2013 at 11:24 am

My experience with monogamy as a man hasn’t been very positive. I am attracted to different people all the time, but can’t act on it, so porn is a big outlet. If porn weren’t available, it might have been prostitution, which would be much more problematic in the context of monogamy. If you look at the popularity of porn for both genders, I know I am not alone in this.

On the other hand, I have benefited greatly from monogamy at the same time in the economic sphere. I made a choice that when I married, that my partner would be economically successful and devoted to work. In this choice I believe I’m more aligned with with women have typically chosen when evaluating mates. I actually think of women as prospective partners primarily from an economic standpoint, coequal with that is “are they kind”, and only secondarily from physical attraction. My priority in relationship was escape from poverty and freedom from drudgery as I received little help from my family and desired to have a life with some luxuries and have the privilege of privacy and some isolation. Let me clarify that both of us work and make similar salaries so I wasn’t asking something from someone else what I wasn’t willing to contribute.

Isn’t it true that socializing is easy and finding time to be alone in your own space more difficult in this world? In my relationship, I also declined to have children and made this a prerequisite before I was married. From what I understand and experience, the world is overpopulated and suffering from resource deprivation already. On top of that I don’t have a have a desire to have children so it’s a moot point.

All of this information is somewhat paradoxical and I turn it over in my mind frequently to see if anything has changed. I love my partner, and we are close on many levels. I can only say that my true nature is not monogamous. I have made a trade off that I’m acutely aware of. I think there must be another way to live, but I haven’t found it and from what I observe in others, neither have they. It seems to me that open sexuality you lose the economic and privacy benefits I obtain from it. We are all making compromises in one way or another. If I could live a life without compromise I’m not sure it would balance out any better than this one. I am relatively content with the compromises because I can’t see how another path where I chose more sexual liberation, for instance, over security and privacy would have benefited me more.

Patrick September 11, 2013 at 11:50 am

Another thing that came to mind from my previous comment. After achieving a degree of economic success and freedom that I have, it’s easy to attract women or men if I just wanted to have sex with them. But they aren’t really attracted to me, they are attracted to the balance I live in and obtained from prioritizing economics and privacy. I know this because most of them weren’t attracted to me “on the way out”. I say “out” rather than up because what I actually valued is the detachment provided by having a small degree of wealth. I would probably hate a tribal communal life. The thing is, I now only value sexiness in the context of “wholistic success” as well. I see physically attractive people all the time, but I immediately look for how much freedom they have economically and what their devotion is to privacy and detachment (and of course, “are they kind”). I have yet to see it line up in a package that would ever tempt me to leave my own space. There are some comments around about the tribal life not being that idyllic. To me communal living sounds miserable. Maybe the sex was more satisfying, but I doubt it since you could never escape the entanglement of all those relationships. It leaves us with a conundrum though… we still have the attraction to many. It just doesn’t seem to fit who we are now. Maybe we should evolve out of it or in a different way to redirect this energy?

Ben September 11, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Hi! Nice article, and I’m with you. I wish some of your claims about “the way things were back then” were backed by citations, but I know that’s nontrivial in this format.

Just one nitpick:

“Certainly [monogamy is] prescribed non-negotiably in the Bible and other religious texts.”

Not really true. See for example, this, and especially the “Main Article” links under some of the religions, especially Christianity:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygamy#Contemporary_religious_attitudes_to_polygamy

Of course, most religious texts offer passages that support any position at all…

Amrita September 15, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Hi David. Came across your blog & writings today. A friend posted the article ‘What others leave for you to keep’ on FB. Read that, was impressed and hence found my way to your blog. And surprise! clicked on this title. I come from one of the most repressive societies of the world. People may argue that India isn’t more repressive than say Saudi Arabia. But hey, they do what they do openly. But we? We like to look ‘cultured’ and ‘educated’ and ‘progressive’ and are supremely uncultured, illiterate & regressive when it comes to how we treat our women, our animals, our environment and each other. So, yes we are one of the most repressive. Point is, I totally loved this piece, and completely agree with this view. It feels simple and logical and fun, so it must be true. Keep writing my friend!

sat September 20, 2013 at 10:40 am

Your points were really good. And you write really well

Let me ask you this…and I actually mean it without malice or anything negative

You talk about being in relationships where you were not supposed to express that you found other women attractive

Would you, in all honesty, feel alright with your partner showing you that she found another guy attractive? Again–I am really asking. I am trying to learn about some of these things.
I am a woman and I have been in one relationship with a guy. He would comment on the attractiveness of other women. Not frequently, infact, really not a lot. But I didn’t like it. Not that he found other women attractive, I understand that. I found other men attractive. But for me, it seemed unkind and thoughtless and the fact that I was supposed to accept this as sharing seemed, at best, silly and at worst, damagingly destructive. At the time, I would never have talked about another guy’s attractiveness because I know it would not make him feel good. I understood that he would suck it up, but I didn’t think he should have to. It wasn’t overly important to me to share my thoughts on how attractive other men were with him. However, I was willing to consider that perhaps it was a hangup on my part. And so I loosened, I figured “ok it isn’t so thoughtless of him to talk about other women. And again really–it was rare”

But then, I once casually mentioned a guy’s attractiveness. I had forgotten all about this and I had just been less on guard, I guess. And—he felt really bad. He admitted that he felt a little bad but I knew him well enough to know, no–he felt bad.

So that’s my question to you—if you feel that the women in your life were should be fine with you acknowledging other women’s attractiveness, does the same apply to you? Again–I am really asking. Not–attacking or anything

You write really well by the way. I came here because of your 40hr work week article. It was so so well written.

john September 20, 2013 at 10:35 pm

*compiled.

Karese Warfield September 23, 2013 at 11:27 pm

As the author pointed out, there is little biological purpose for monogamy I suppose, however it serves a number of valid cultural purposes which enable our species to survive… If you’re aiming to challenge a cultural norm, approaching with a clear bias is rather ridiculous too. Both positions ought to be thoroughly investigated including validation wherever necessary along with criticism to gander my respect academically speaking. A superior (i.e. talking down to supporters of the other POV) presentation of your point of view reduces the number of individuals willing to listen not to mention the fact that is just distasteful & rude.

Deborah Pease- Bell October 9, 2013 at 7:26 am

Even the Bible instructs us to f*ck alot stopping only long enough to pray. God is very cool!

Rob October 9, 2013 at 9:20 am

Well there sure is a lot of talk on multiplying and begatting and stuff. But 2 things to remember: It was a man’s world in the Bible. The men were able to fling it about a bit, but not the women. Second point; as far as the Bible is concerned, the men paid dearly for flinging it around, just look at the life of Jacob, or Abraham, or David, who all had more than the one standard wife at any given time. I’m certain, by looking at their lives, that given a second chance, they’d choose a monogamous lifestyle any day of the week….maybe even celibacy. Oh no, they couldn’t do that…God told them they HAD to go out and multiply.

Jenny May Forsyth October 30, 2013 at 9:11 am

Hi David,

I love reading your blog – I especially like this article and have quoted it in a blog post of mine: here t’is… http://salonducybermuse.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/the-rules-of-engagement/

Comments are welcome!

Namaste, Jenny

Paul B. November 6, 2013 at 10:02 am

An interesting read. I love Anthropology….it’s one of those “it never gets boring” -kinda things for me. But what does get boring, though, are people who get stuck in “that other country does it right”, “that other tribe does it right”, “that other state does it right”, “those people used to do it right” –mode and “we suck so-badly-today-how-can-we-possibly-live-with-ourselves?”—-is the only possible outcome that can bubble up from that. Admittedly, nearly each and every construct that comprises ANY CIVILIZATION can be be pasteurized down to the role economics played in creating that construct……I’ll concede that. For a long time, in Western culture, monogamy “made sense” (on many levels, at least). Monogamy has always felt very natural to me. I did copy one little bit below:

“This was the beginning of a culture of sexual inequality and repression that we are still, sadly, used to. Even in progressive societies, women who want to have many sexual partners are often regarded as sluts, by both sexes. Men don’t face the same scrutiny.”

You’re right on some levels, but not on all. Men can AND OFTEN DO face a great deal of disdain by certain members of society for being “sluts”. They might not be reviled as openly as some women have had to suffer through, but many men dont get off scott free.

Digitalasylum November 13, 2013 at 5:25 am

I really enjoy your rantings and views on Raptitude, but on something like this, when you are dealing with scientific matters (i.e why we procreate, and specifically the mating rituals and practices of our ancestors) I would like citations of research, scientific data, or at least a statement saying how you came to the given conclusions. (even if it just states that this is your own hypothesis, based merely on your opinion)

Digitalasylum November 13, 2013 at 5:25 am

I really enjoy your rantings and views on Raptitude, but on something like this, when you are dealing with scientific matters (i.e why we procreate, and specifically the mating rituals and practices of our ancestors) I would like citations of research, scientific data, or at least a statement saying how you came to the given conclusions. (even if it just states that this is your own hypothesis, based merely on your opinion)

Digitalasylum November 13, 2013 at 5:29 am

I apologize for the multiple postings, it was accidental.

Aurolyn Luykx December 2, 2013 at 7:13 pm

I too loved “Sex at Dawn” — and even taught it to my students — until I read Ann Saxon’s rebuttal, “Sex at Dusk”, which is as rigorous as it is readable. She tears apart Ryan and Jetha’s shoddy scholarship by showing how much of it misleading, taken out of context, or just plain wrong. Read it and you’ll quickly see how R & J just don’t really get how natural selection works — some of their whoppers are so obvious (after Saxon points them out) that I can’t believe that I fell for them, being a reasonably scientifically literate person.

Ramon Soto December 8, 2013 at 11:02 am

5. Everyone likes somebody who gets to the point quickly. < this is number 5 out of 88 Important truths you've learned about life….right? So with that said, I'll get to the point right away by saying that the reason we f*ck is because is part of been human being, simple and because is sooooo f*cking good!! ;-)

Jade December 23, 2013 at 8:42 am

This article is very interesting and it would be even better with some references.

Tom December 23, 2013 at 9:53 am

Great article.

This all seems, and has done for some time, pretty blatant to me. But I have real difficulty explaining this to people.

Adriana February 3, 2014 at 12:01 pm

The only reason I find convenient to be monogamous today is due to STD’s…

Jen February 22, 2014 at 11:33 am

Very interesting read. When I first started reading it I had no idea that it would touch upon something so personal to me. I have a very difficult time embracing monogamy. It is so hard for me to understand the restricting of relationships…as though we can choose the attraction or the emotions that we feel for someone. Sure I can ‘choose’ to restrict relationships…feelings…connections…even my sexual orientation. But that does not feel normal to me. It hurts my soul. It makes me sad to know that I cannot love and care for someone, that I cannot express that love or attraction because society would frown upon it.

I do understand why people choose to be monogamous. It is a societal norm and it helps people avoid uncomfortable emotions…it limits jealousy, it can lower insecurities, it avoids the anxiety of contracting an STD, it calms the fear of heartbreak. But I also think that it can increase dishonesty, limit open communication and ultimately can backfire when people do not understand how to live in a world where love and attraction is not something we can control. It can breed guilt and it can distroy the relationships its suppose to be protecting.

Ashley April 12, 2014 at 6:02 pm

I agree with what you’re saying. I think “true love” (whatever that means) is being with someone because you choose to be together, not because you feel like you have to, and certainly not because some BS legal contract says you must. Don’t cling. Don’t be selfish. Don’t hold people back from experiencing whatever it is they want to experience.

I understand all of that.

BUT.

Personally, I could never be in an open relationship. I really wish I could. I think in a lot of ways it’s the most “evolved” way to be.

But even though I rationally understand all of this, and even though I know she and I will be attracted to other people, it would freakin’ kill me if she was getting it on with somebody else. It would absolutely break my heart. But if that’s what she wanted, I’d tell her to go ahead and do it, just don’t expect me to be there when she comes back.

So even though I 100% agree with what this article insinuates, I still could never be in an open relationship. Interesting read.

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Jeff June 24, 2014 at 6:36 pm

I’m fascinated by this conversation, and I think it comes from a slightly “counter” culture perspective. As a gay man living in Los Angeles, the idea of “monogamy” is fluid. My partner and I have agreed that we don’t like the idea of the other being with someone else unless we are both present. This means 3somes, groups, all kinds of play are ok as long as both of us are there to enjoy it. We share intimacy, love and respect between each other, and watching him with someone else just makes him all that sexier. But what is interesting is that he and I are considered tame by our other friends. Many of them in fully open relationships. We do have a rule, though, that if something happens, if one of us sleeps with someone by ourselves, we don’t demonize it. It’s not the end of the world. Life is long. We trust each other and love each other. I often wonder, as gay men, we’ve been allowed a chance to self-define these things for ourselves. My good friend is in a triad with two other guys. Taking a third lover is not that outrageous. Having fun with each other, exploring each other’s sexuality, and realizing that we are sexual beings with vast desires, is part of the fun of being in a relationship. Just some thoughts. I can’t imagine being told I can never look at or touch another man again. Just this one. I’m grateful to be part of a relationship and a community that allows me to be who I am and to express my sexuality, while still knowing that the person I choose to love is my soul mate and that we believe in romance and love and all of that stuff as well!

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