(Written by guest blogger Wendy Harlowe.)
First, again, please feel free to e-mail me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org if you don’t want to post comments here. I look forward to hearing from you. I’ve been gratified by the response to my first post, including comments and private e-mail correspondence. (Over the years I’ve worried about being too “in your face” with sexual issues, felt judged for having a lack of boundaries … part of what I think is important is for other survivors to know they can go on to have “normal” healthy sex lives, which I didn’t think possible for many years.)
Regards biology, know that I am not an academician on this topic (or any other topic, for that matter), but as the years go by I’ve thought about it more and more. There are two academic fields that cover this topic: sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. My interest is in human sexual behavior that can be explained through biology and evolution (the belief that animals act in ways to maximize the spread of their genes). And my thoughts are somewhat disjointed and inarticulated. I’ve never had an outlet for real discussion on this topic, and am very interested in your thoughts.
Some facts are obvious: the bodies of girls/women are best ready to have children in their mid-teens through their 20s. Our American/western culture has evolved to discourage childbearing until at least the age of 18/19, and encourages waiting longer than that. Women’s entry into the commercial workforce is hampered by childbearing and childrearing. This childbearing capacity is one of the factors for the disparity between the financial income of men and women.
Although sweeping generalities can always cause problems, the testosterone factor means that men are more hardwired for sex with multiple partners, and women are more hardwired to need protection (of course, I’m running into trouble right here, because the social structures have so much to do with this … if the village truly raised children, women wouldn’t need the individual protector that comes with monogamy).
Men are hardwired to be attracted to young women because they are more capable of healthy reproduction. There is no limit to the number of children one man can sire, but women are limited, physically. Men want monogamy because its the only way to ensure their progeny. Women have accepted monogamy because of the “protector” benefits it delivers. (I don’t believe that most people operate in this way because of conscious belief … I think the marriage/monogamy factor was consciously developed many, many years ago to ensure men’s lineage, linked with the development of Christianity and political power … I think today many people live very happily in monogamous marriages; I don’t think its wrong, I just don’t think its necessary for happiness and moral/ethical living.)
I do believe our human species is evolving. One hundred and fifty years ago, it was completely acceptable to own another human being. Slavery still exists today, but it is illegal and universally condemned. Although women still don’t have basic human freedoms in many parts of the world, human rights campaigns are seen as necessary, even while there is such a huge amount of work for them to do. (another digression … many people believe that pre-Christian nature religions created a far better world, less war, no patriarchy … I think that might be true in some times and in some places … I don’t think it is a given, but my jury is still out on that topic)
Because of this evolution, I do believe our species might be able to progress to the point of acting “above and beyond” those hard-wired biological “needs,” and there is a lot of evidence to signify this: women’s increased sexual assertiveness; faithful and monogamous men who stay with their partners far beyond said partner’s reproductive years; the trend among educated, more affluent couples to have fewer children … also the fact that the nerd/geek population is now more sexually attractive to women, rather than simply excellent physical specimens of the male gender, because success in our world is oftentimes so much more mental than physical.
But here’s what has gotten me thinking about more in recent years: I’ve played a small part in the child protective system, and seen what is so easy to judge … people having children with no thought to their ability to raise them … again and again … having children taken from them by the courts, and continuing on to bear more children. There is a horror to this, and yet … at some basic, instinctual level, we humans are breeders … and accepting that fact in some ways makes it easier to see, makes it more understandable, even if not forgivable. (well, I doubt in the big picture that there is anything unforgiveable, but I digress far too often in this meandering post …)
I suppose, also, that one’s spiritual / religious beliefs come into play here. Although I see Darwinism in human sexual behavior, I also believe in a Divine Spirit, a unifying oneness to us all. Wierdly, I fall into the intelligent design faction, although I certainly don’t want to be lumped in with those who oppose teaching evolution in the schools. Its just all interesting to me … could be seen as so anti-feminist, but over the years this instinctual male and female behavior does make sense at the instinctual level. I think as I have learned more about Buddhism, also, it becomes easier to observe and not be so emotionally attached to judgment.
What do you think? It’s clear to me that I’m not clear in my thinking, but I have been inspired by Chris Smithers’ ditty (” The whole thing works like clockwork over time”):
Origin of Species, by Chris Smithers (you can find him singing this on YouTube, wonderful melody)
Eve told Adam, snakes! I’ve had ’em!
Let’s get outta here
We’ll raise our family someplace outta town
They left the garden just in time
With the landlord cussin’, right behind
They headed East and finally settled down
One thing led to another …
A bunch of sons, one killed his brother
They kicked him out with nothin’ but his clothes
But the human race survives
‘Cause the brothers all found wives
Where they came from ain’t nobody knows
Then came the Flood, go figure,
Just like New Orleans, only bigger
No one who couldn’t swim would make it through
The lucky ones were on a boat,
Think circus, then make it float
And hope nobody pulls the plug on you
How they fed that crowd is a mystery
It ain’t down in the history
It’s a cinch they didn’t live on cakes and jam
But lions don’t eat cabbage,
And in spite of that old adage
I’ve never seen one lie down with a lamb.
Charlie Darwin looked so far
Into the way things are
He caught aglimpse of God’s unfolding plan
God said “I’ll make some DNA,
They’ll use it any way they want
From paramecium right up to man
They’ll have sex, and mix up sections
Of their code; they’ll have mutations
The whole thing works like clockwork over time
I’ll just sit back in the shade
While everyone gets laid
That’s what I call intelligent design.”
Yes, you and your cat named Felix
Are both wrapped up in that double helix
It’s what we call intelligent design.
But, let me make clear, I don’t believe in Adam and Eve! The whole snake bit in the bible is a thinly-veiled attack on women and feminine spirituality … the asp/snake was a sacred animal and image in the Goddess-worshiping cultures of pre-Christianity. But, I do enjoy the song. Gawd sitting back in the shade, while everyone gets laid. Who can doubt that?!? 🙂
While I think evolutionary psychology has a lot to offer in terms of explaining human behavior, I also think men use this an excuse to screw around while not giving women an excuse to do so.
What do I think?
I think you covered a lot of ground in that post.
I think there is great merit in considering evolutionary psychology in the discussion of sex, but carefully. I agree with Alice that most of the time biological determinism is used to try and excuse behavior ranging from the merely boorish to the truly predatory.
>Some facts are obvious: the bodies of girls/women are best ready to
>have children in their mid-teens through their 20s.
Not to quibble, but I would say LATE teens to 20’s, and I think those few years are a critical distinction. Especially since this is a forum for discussing adolescent sexuality in particular.
>Men want monogamy because its the only way to ensure their progeny.
Again, not meaning to argue over a minor point, but I think it would be more accurate to say men have historically supported monoandry (each woman having only one husband) but men have not had a historical objection to polygyny (one man having more than one wife). I think this has had more to do with a clear demarcation of property rather than progeny.
> I think today many people live very happily in monogamous marriages;
> I don’t think its wrong, I just don’t think its necessary for happiness
> and moral/ethical living.
Fair enough. But are their examples of stable polyamorous societies? Not just multiple wives, but an open state of voluntary free love?
>many people believe that pre-Christian nature religions created a far
> better world, less war, no patriarchy … I think that might be true in
> some times and in some places …
I’ve always thought the vision of the ancient golden age to be more wishful thinking than historical fact. It seems that every culture has a romanticized myth of an untainted past free of the troubles of their current society, be it Eden, Classical Greece, pre-Columbian America, or a pre-Christian equality-utopia.
>Because of this evolution, I do believe our species might be able to
> progress to the point of acting “above and beyond” those hard-wired
> biological “needs,”
I think this is not only possible, but necessary to our survival. I would compare our sexual urges to food. We are hard wired to crave fat and sugar, useful traits for the bulk of our evolution. But food is much more available now and these old urges are now indulged to point that they undermine the health of individuals and our entire culture. We have to learn to recognize how we evolved, discern which parts of that evolutionary response are no longer healthy, and develop new strategies where necessary. Michael Polan has written some great stuff on the food side of this.
I don’t know what those new sexual strategies should be, except a few:
We need to limit the number of children we have.
We need to guarantee equality in sexual expression.
We have to rewire ourselves to value the transmission of values as highly has the transmission of biology – memes over genes.
I think there’s something to be said for “advanced souls,” who operate in the “higher” realm of ethics and Spirit. I think that the more “evolved” a person’s character is, the less they need to act out of the animal instincts. It’s what we should all be striving for, right?
Robert, my previous brief response was in response to Alice’s comment. I appreciate the thought you put into your response to the original post. I’m interested to know why you would say that girls’ bodies are best ready to have children in the LATE teens, other than the emotional factor. I think the bodies are primed for having children 2-3 years after onset of menstruation. When I was an early teen, I think 13 years old was the average; that is decreasing over the past few decades. Ten years old is not unusual now for a first menstruation; 8 years old is not unusual for African-American girls.
I think it is uncomfortable to even address that, because we’re uncomfortable with girls so young giving birth. Especially with the new brain science emerging, which tells us that our brains don’t completely mature until the early-mid-20s, of course we don’t want to be encouraging girls to have children. But I do think that PHYSICALLY, their bodies are ready at mid-teens.
I’m also interested to know why you think that monoandry has more to do with property than progeny? They are related, of course, since women and children have historically been considered property, but I really do think the origins are in the discovery by men of their role in the birth process. Since men can never be as sure as women that they are a biological parent, monogamy and/or monoandry then becomes the attempt to be as sure as possible (with severe consequences for women who stray).
Would France, and contemporary enlightened European cultures, be examples of stable societies in which “voluntary free love” is accepted? Prior, I would refer you to the Mabinogion, a quartet of old Celtic mythology chronicling the transition from Goddess-worshiping nature religions to the patriarchial Christianity. (Robert Graves referred to the Mabinogian in his writings.) One of the books of the quartet begins with a statement something like “this was in the time when women slept with whoever they wanted.” The books clearly explicate one of the reasons for the transition being that men had discovered their role in birth; prior to that they had worshipped feminine deities, and women, as givers of life.
I agree with you that the past is too often romanticized. I also think that the work of many archaeologists have proven that feminine deities were worshipped in many times, in many places, in cultures in which tools of war were not paramount.
I love your analogy regarding food. Great case to be made there. Of course, “unevolved” eating behavior harms only oneself physically, whereas “unevolved” sexual behavior can cause tremendous emotional pain to others.
Your suggested sexual strategies make sense. One of my main points in writing this post was simply to indicate my own fairly recent thinking about the sociobiological aspects. It has fit with my practice of observing, rather than judging. I’m a late bloomer in many aspects; thinking about human sexual behavior in terms of Darwinism is one of those topics I simply hadn’t thought about until the past few years.
Thanks for your comments, Robert. Part of the great continuing conversation. Namaste, Wendy.
I started menstruating at 11. I MOSTLY stopped growing at 13 but I don’t think I was at my full adult size/proportion until 16. I guess that counts as “mid-teens.”
Comments are closed.