Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Monogamy Takes A Hit

I just finished a rather enjoyable book called Sex At Dawn, The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, by Christopher Ryan, PhD, and Cacilda Jetha, MD. Sex At Dawn

The overall gist of the book is that human beings believe that they are monogamous when in fact they are extremely promiscuous.  The authors begin with what they call the “standard narrative” of human mating behavior:

•    A man is extremely possessive of his spouse because paternity matters.  A man does not want to support another man’s child.  As such he is sexually jealous of his wife.  However, due to the biological low cost of spreading his seed, a man is tempted to cheat on his wife and increasing his genetic advantage at no cost to himself.

•    A woman due to the extreme biological and economic cost of child care tends to be more choosey in mate selection.  She then becomes emotionally jealous of her husband (not so much sexually) because she worries about losing the material benefits of the union for her and her children.  A woman at times may cheat (only when ovulating) with a man she judges to be genetically more fit than her husband.  This is nature’s way of injecting some evolutionary advantage into a woman’s genetic future.

•    Summing up, a man is concerned with paternity and is extremely sexually possessive.  A woman is concerned with material benefit and is emotionally possessive.  But both will cheat to increase their genetic advantage.   

OK, this sounds about right from other things that I have read, and the authors do not deny that this is the current state of affairs.  Their claim is that monogamy is not a natural state of human beings but one that has been self imposed on our species by the pressures of agriculture—it is a social and economic construct, not an evolutionary one. 

The authors then proceed to provide a long list of evidence that they claim has been misread by others in the field of anthropology and evolutionary psychology to support their claim that human beings by nature are not monogamous but rather quite promiscuous.  In nature, men and women do not form pair bonds but rather live in small groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers that have little tangible possessions and share everything within the group including sex.  Paternity does not matter because everything is shared, and there are no possessions.  Children are supported by the entire group. 

Oh shit!  My beloved monogamous pair bond is slaughtered, my Sacred Marriage Bed is nothing but a social construct.  Sextant is in shock and grief, and currently planning to run out and get some strange stuff to assuage his hurt.  I have been living a lie for 33 and half years of marriage and several years of courtship.  I have been duped by an agrarian culture and a possession crazy woman and it is time for me to go and spread my seed and be the joyful man intended by nature.  But wait before I do, let’s take a look at the evidence.

•    Genetically we are within a couple of percentage points of being identical to chimpanzees and bonobos.  Both are promiscuous, bonobos merrily so.

•    Many primitive societies that are still hunter gatherers share all their collective possessions, have loose or no marital structures, and are very peaceful.

•    The human body provides evidence of sperm competition.  Human testicle size, ejaculate volume, and penis size and shape are all geared to promiscuous sperm competition modes of sexuality not monogamy.

•    Men are sexually performance wimps…hump, hump, hump…putt, putt, putt.  Hmmm, I think I will get the Skill saw out and build a deck.

•    Women, when they get properly fired up, are sexual performance Olympians… hump X 500…big O accompanied by shriek #1…hump X 500  big O accompanied by a shriek # 2…hump X 500, big O accompanied by a shriek # 3 on and on. 

•    The two above factoids are not complimentary, the man is shot and the woman is just getting started.  As such this is proof that women by nature want multiple partners lined up ready to jump on when partner # 1, # 2 and so forth are petered out (loose pun somewhat intended).  

•    The shrieking is a Female Copulatory Vocalization.  What does it mean?  Well it has nothing to do with visions of God, but rather an advertisement to all nearby males…”I am hot to trot and the guy I am with has just shot his wad, come and join the fun.”  Well bonobos do something like that anyhow.

•    Current American divorce rates would indicate that monogamy does not work.

•    Love and sex are not the same thing. 

•    Pornography is a symptom of our desire for non-monogamous relationships.  Multiple male partners with one female is an especially appealing form of porn in that it reflects true human desire. 

Actually there is nothing new here.  I have read all of this before, except the Female Copulatory Voice being an advertisement, but my reading of all this has been scattered about.  What is new in Sex At Dawn is the concentration of these facts, and the author’s insistence that this proves that we are not by nature monogamous and that marriage is not a natural state.  The authors bring up many names in the fields of anthropology and evolutionary psychology, some for which I have a deep respect, and claim that they wear the blinders of monogamous human marriage and they have been misinterpreting the data.  They offer persuasive arguments.  My Holy Marriage Bed is being consumed in the flames of evolutionary scientific truth.

So what do we as a society of duped women and men do now?  To the author’s credit, they admit to being perplexed.  They offer no panaceas of unrestrained debauchery, but they do insist that people should realize our true nature and discuss it within their marriages.  Don’t ignore the elephant in the room, grab it by the tusks and talk it to death.  Everyone needs to come out of the monogamistic closet and realize that humanity is nothing but a collection of sluts—both male and female and perhaps we need to be more open to an open sexuality.  But beyond talk, they are short on advice.  They come out very strong for the idea that it is insane to destroy an otherwise solid marriage and family over a little bit of cheating.  They feel that the destruction of a good marriage and parent-children family is a travesty.  I agree with the second sentence.   

The authors get a little conventional when discussing the ravages of infidelity.  It is the man who cheats and the woman and children who are the victims.  This seems to go against the natural human sexuality with the woman calling out to all available males with the FCV.  Why is there not widespread female cheating?  Hmmmm, the flames on that marriage bed are not burning quite as hot. 

Not stated in the book is the fact that our authors are married and apparently happily so.  On their blog on the Psychology Today website, they were questioned about how they use the information in the book in their married life:

The Authors Are Married
"You guys are married, right? How do you handle this issue?"

"That's definitely a fair question, but one we've decided not to answer. Certainly, our relationship is informed by our research, but the details of our own sex life are nobody's business but ours."
Psychology Today, Sex At Dawn Blog

HA!  HA!  Excellent answer!  Keep ‘em guessing!  I love it, because it is very true, it is none of our business.  And while we are at it, of what business was Bill and Monica’s peccadilloes to us?  Despite Ken Starr’s opinion that every lascivious detail was worthy of a Federal report, I would have to say that the only people that had a genuine concern was Bill, Monica, Hillary, and Chelsea.  Ain’t none of our business, but thanks to Ken we could probably estimate Bill’s sperm count.  That is not to say that one shouldn’t question Clinton’s judgment, people who live in glass houses, or fish bowls, should keep it zipped, but to suggest that the American people were somehow traumatized by Bill's and Monica’s actions (had they remained unknown) is ridiculous.  I am not defending Bill and Monica, I believe what they did was wrong, but what I am saying is that we the American people should have never known about it.  Our cultural fascination for who is screwing who is not healthy, and I believe the government has more important things to do than analyzing DNA on blue dresses.  

So my poor happy monogamous pair bonded couple is lying in a pool of blood, run through by the sword evolutionary truth, while my Sacred Altar of Holy Monogamous Matrimony, the marriage bed goes up in flames, and I am off to a singles bar to pick me up some hot hookup action…three decades of fidelity has me depressed and in a life of weighted down misery, and while I am at it, perhaps, I will bring back some lads for my wife.  She has to be bored with all this monogamy. 

No so fast, I ain’t buying all this.  

First let me say this.  I am neither shocked nor saddened by the news that we may be a promiscuous species and marriage is a social construct resulting from agriculture.  As I said, I have read all this stuff before, but in a scattered matter, so there is no real news here.  What I am not prepared to do is accept the author’s conclusions lock, stock, and barrel.  I find it hard to believe, although not impossible, that we have been duped by a collection of anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists that could never see beyond the blinders of monogamy.  So to that I say, let the intellectual slug fest begin.  Argue it out and let the truest opinion win.  The author’s arguments are persuasive but may not be the end all truth.  Sam Harris said that no society was ever harmed by being reasonable, and I would add as a corollary that no society will ultimately be harmed by the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may appear.   

But let us concede for a moment that the authors are 100% correct.  We are by nature promiscuous and monogamy is a cultural fabrication.  So what?  We are also an ape that should be running about the savannah in the nude.  So should I rip off my clothes run out in the back yard and freeze to death because nudity is natural and I have no business violating nature by living in a heated home in a locale with a winter?  Is anyone prepared to go back to our hunter gatherer ways?  It sounds great, go out with the boys and try to hunt down an antelope.  If we get one, great we are the macho boys with the meat, but if we don’t get one fine, the girls were doing the real nutritional work of gathering fruits, nuts, grubs and vegetables, either way we will eat.  Then we can sit around and stare into the fire for a bit, and then go bed down with any one of the 75 girls that may be hot tonight, and perhaps sharing her with the other boys from the hunt while she vocalizes copulatory ecstasy into the night.  Lovely!  But how in the hell do you support 7 billion people with hunting-gathering, and wouldn’t all this unbridled promiscuity add immensely to the population?  It won’t happen in our life time, but perhaps if everyone followed the 1 child per couple philosophy (which sort of requires enforced monogamy), the world's population might drop within 10 generations to support hunter gathering again and mankind could then live in promiscuous bliss.  But for the time being, I think we are stuck with the evils of agriculture and all the miserable social and cultural fabrications that result from it. 

But do we have to maintain (thinking of my 50s hi fi) long term monogamy with absolute fidelity?  Hmmmm?  The authors get a little funny about offering any concrete advice other than coming out of the monogamous closet and talking about it.  So I think I shall sit down with Lady Sextant and have a chat. 

“I say there Lady Sextant, are you aware of the fact that bonobos have sexual relations extremely often, numerous times a day with different partners?  Did you know that we are only 2.838964% genetically different than a bonobo?  Now look down here at my testicles, Lady Sextant.  You will note that they are much larger than a gorilla’s but only slightly smaller than a bonobo’s or chimp’s, and notice how my member looks like piston in a vacuum pump.  Well that’s for the purpose of evacuating competitors semen from the many female reproductive tracts that by nature I should be visiting.   Did you know that there are many primitive tribes with very loose or no rules of sexual exclusivity?  You do know, of course, that monogamy is the invention of farming patriarchs that have enslaved females for the past 10,000 years.  Well dear, all this to say that I think you should give me your blessing to go out and get some strange stuff.  After all, long term marriage to you has sunk me into the despair of sexual boredom.  Now don’t take that the wrong way, after all sex and love are not the same thing.  Just a little fling, you know, a little roll in the hay with some strange lass will make me feel so much better.  And you can revel in the knowledge that I am living up to my evolutionary promise.”

Yes, I can see Lady Sextant listening to this conversation, this coming out of the closet of monogamy.  I can also envision me like the Bobbit gentleman searching along the road side…”Oh dear, dear, where did she throw it?” 

What was not mentioned in the book:

•    Human beings possess intelligence.  How does our intelligence affect our decisions, as individuals and as a culture, regarding the merits of monogamy or polygamy?  Should we approach our sexuality by instinct?  Do bonobos apply intelligence to their sexuality?

•    Sexually transmitted diseases, if mentioned, I didn’t notice.

•    Multiple sex partners put women at a higher risk for vaginitis from bacterial vaginosis and cervical cancer. 

•    Pregnancies from these extra-marital flings seemed to evade mention. 

•    Does sex have any spiritual or religious component that may affect our decisions regarding monogamy?  The morality of busting up good marriages were discussed, the morality of keeping it in your pants was not.  

•    Dolphins.  The book never mentioned dolphins who are an intelligent species and apparently enjoy their sexuality far beyond the needs of reproduction. 

Alright, I am now going to express some annoyance.  The authors talk about the Perils of Monotomy (monotony + monogamy).  Poor little hubby gets all bored with the Mrs, you know, screwing only her all the time makes his testosterone levels drop.  Life is such a drag.  So he goes out and gets himself a little innocent piece of strange tail.  Then this brute of a wife somehow finds out, gets all pissed off, and destroys the marriage and family by mindlessly divorcing him when all he was doing was just following his evolutionary directives.  They didn’t quite put it that way but that was the flavor I got out of it, and bear in mind, I am a man.  The woman is being unreasonable over a minor dalliance.  Sorry but that is bullshit!  Hubby needs to keep it zipped up.  We ain’t bonobos and we have a moral commitment to not be screwing other people than our spouses, no matter how boring life may get.  Sorry but that is what I believe, I didn’t marry my wife to cheat on her.   

OK but I also believe that what is good for the gander is good for the goose.  So all you poor little sexually bored hubbies out there, is it OK if the Mrs goes out and enjoys a nice big eight inch hunk of strange manhood delivered slowly and with a masterful dedication to her pleasure?  Doesn’t she have the right to be a little bored with your 30 quick thrusts of an average sized tool and...putt, putt, roll over and fall asleep before she has even got warmed up?  Maybe size does matter.  Maybe skill counts even more.  Not being in a hurry, a big plus.  So why shouldn’t we all be relieved of our boredom?  Again what is good for the gander should be good for the goose.  And what about the goslings? “Mummy and Daddy, where are you going all dressed up like that, can we go to?”  “Oh no Billy and Janey, Mummy and Daddy are going out to have sex with strangers tonight because we are bored with each other.  It will make our family much stronger.  You be good for the Grandma now.”  Sounds like an episode right out of Father Knows Best.    

Obviously I am an unapologetic monogamist.  I am not buying into these arguments, no matter how persuasive they are.  First we are not bonobos.  I would like to think that we have more intelligence and morality than our close genetic cousins.  Second we are not hunter-gatherers any longer.  So no matter how fulfilling a 3 minute sex break at 10 AM with one of the young interns could be for my evolutionary destiny, my employer has other expectations.  (Oh sorry I am late for this meeting, Jennifer and I were ripping one off by the copy machine, didn’t you hear her vocalizations?)  Perhaps capitalism as well as agriculture will be the ruination of us.  Third, I think we have a moral obligation to maintain fidelity to our spouses if that was part of the bargain, and for most people, that is the expectation…that you are not going to go out and screw someone else because you are bored.  "Oh my testosterone levels have fallen off, I need something different."  Tough shit!  There are worse fates in the world.  I also have the dim recognition that this is a private obligation that applies only to my wife and I.  I really have no business stating that this is how you or anyone else should live.  So if you desire a polyamorous relationship, have at it, but at least establish the ground rules at the beginning of your relationship, not two or three decades into it.   

Again let us assume that the authors of Sex At Dawn are correct.  We are fighting millions of years of evolution with 10,000 years of cultural expectation.  Are we helpless to do anything about our situation?  Must we just run off, screw someone new, let our marriages go to hell, leave our kids to fend for themselves and avoid sexual boredom, or is there something we can do?  The authors don’t offer much help, “we are perplexed”, “come out of the closet”, “talk about it.”  Sorry but I am not sure what that is going to buy us.  The direction that the authors seem to lean without coming right out and saying so is toward some novel polyamorous solution.  Well that is good for those who want to do something along those lines but what about we simpler folks who just want to remain faithful to our spouses?  Should we just throw our hands up and say it is impossible? 

Well it is not impossible.  I think the authors have a point, we probably are fighting millions of years of evolution but I don’t believe we are helpless.  First let’s realize that we live in the modern world with 7 billion other people.  We have many things that we are forced to do:  show up to work on time, pay taxes, stop at traffic lights, travel internationally with a passport, wear clothes, mind the laws and codes of civility in all our daily dealings.  Bonobos and primitive man did not have to pay taxes.  Well there you have it.  Should we not pay taxes or stop at a red light because it is not in our inventory of gifts bestowed to us in evolution?  So what makes sex so different?  Sure it is a powerful motivator, but still the things we can lose over sex are very valuable.  So there should be balance.  So what do I think you can do to help avoid sexual ennui? 

The authors tell us that sex and love are not the same thing.  I agree but I think they can be so tightly intertwined, if you choose so, that they can be impossible to separate.  Sex can be the ritual for your love of only one person.  If you believe that you have a Soul, sex can be the Sacred ritual of love.  We are not forced to think of sex as just sex, it can be Sacred if you choose to make that way.  This goes back to something I said in a previous post, I believe that as a culture we have secularized sex.  If you take the human dignity and Holiness out of sex, then it is just screwing…what difference does it make if you screw your spouse or your neighbor?  But if you consider it something Holy, a communion of Souls, then making love becomes Sacred.  Sex is something that you will only do with that one person in the world that you love, no matter how tempting a new partner may look.

How do you avoid sexual boredom?  By keeping your love life alive, and here I will probably sound like one of those glossy magazines at the super market checkout with the same failed advice that the authors mention in the book.  First you must make time for it.  You have an obligation to your children, but you also have an obligation to your spouse and yourself.  Make time for sex.  Make it special.  Take a weekend trip every so often without the children, friends, or relatives.  Just the two of you.  Take a shower together, do it on the kitchen floor or in the backyard at 3 AM.  Novelty strikes interest, be a little crazy.  Your marriage is worth it.  There are hundreds of books addressing this problem.  Pick one and try out those things that perhaps pull you slightly beyond your comfort zone.  Strip poker?  Perhaps a bit of grab ass in public (not so much that you get arrested for indecency).  Be inventive.   There was a time when you first got together that you couldn’t keep your hands off each other, that time can be brought back with your partner, perhaps not with the intensity, but certainly with a greater depth.  It really is up to you and your partner.

I think there is one thing that we must come to grips with as individuals if not as a society.  What is at the core of our being?  Is it just a body and a mind?  If so, it probably doesn’t matter how bad we live.  In three score and ten or there abouts, we will be dead and our behavior will soon be forgotten.  But if there is a Soul or Spirit at the core of our being, regardless of whether there is or is not a God, then we owe it to ourselves and our families to honor that which is Divine within us.  If you can look at your spouse and your children and not see a spark of Divinity within, I feel genuinely sorry for you.  Look harder.  You don’t screw up that which is Divine with a strange piece of ass no matter who tells you how much like a bonobo you are.  We need to raise our standards as a culture, not lower them.  If you believe in monogamy, defend your faith.  Do not let the dictates of fashion and culture spoil your belief.  We may be a couple of percentage points from being a bonobo, but I think we are a bonobo with a Soul…a Soul that deeply needs to commune with one other Soul.   I am sorry but I remain an unapologetic monogamist.  

Sex At Dawn Web Site and Image Credits


  1. Isn't it boring and stifling to sleep with members of one sex exclusively? I'm looking forward to heterosexual polygamists advocating bisexuality.

  2. Thank you for your comment. As I mentioned in the article, I am an unapologetic monogamist, so not only do I sleep exclusively with only one sex but with only one memember of that sex, so I am probably not the best person to ask this question. But no I don't find sex with my wife to be boring or stiffling. People are different, what may be good for me might be abysimal for you.

    I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.