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March 5, 2013

Why I Love Sex at Dawn, Volume 3




A jovial contingent of Marind-anim men, perhaps preparing to welcome
a blushing bride into the family in their own unique idiom




Previously in this series of jingly-jangly meditations on Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships, we looked in on the Matis people of Amazonia, who bring a sort of jury-duty approach to the practice of sex: i.e., you might be going about your business, hunting (or perhaps gathering as the case may be), when you are randomly asked to serve at anytime by anybody, upon which occasion you need a better excuse than a sudden and convenient disdain for “the Mexicans” if you want to get out of it.

Free love, man! You know, at first blush the sort of freewheeling sharing of sexual goodies practiced by the Matis et al sounds like a domestic policy that you and I and Eliot Spitzer and every frat boy in captivity could get squarely behind…at first blush. But perpend…

It’s been said that everyone who ever attended high school bullied someone and was bullied by someone else. By the same token, it stands to reason that all of us are, at any given moment, powerfully attracted to someone who wants nothing to do with us, and simultaneously the object of an offsettingly powerful and unsought attraction by some bathysphere-cruising abomination further down the food chain. The latter case was exemplified in Sex at Dawn by the pusillanimous Matis lad hunkered down in the anthropologist’s hut while his hormone-enflamed cousin scoured the village for him.

So bear that picture in mind the next time you contemplate a utopian free-sex society: You can’t have your cake and avoid eating out your hideous cousin, too.

I bring this up out of fear that my earlier two posts in this ongoing book report (Here's the first one.) might come across as a bit fawning and uncritical. The picture that the Sex at Dawn authors paint of our hunting-gathering, polyamorous, pre-agricultural forebears—what with their easy access to multiple partners, their absence of sexual jealousy, their tolerance of blitzkrieg ejaculations no matter where or in whom or how abrupt—strikes the reader as both deeply moving and giggle-provoking, an engaging cross between Guernica and poker-playing hounds.

And yet there are some downsides—one could even say a Dark Side of the Force—to such societies. Much as I would like to chuck aside all the prejudices and neuroses that are the birthright of twentieth-century Western Man, some of the behaviors of these pre-agricultural groups give me pause.

For example, recall that the last post also delved into the Marind-amin, a Melanesian culture with a unique system of wedding gifting. Instead of logging into the registry to pick out a nice wine fridge or towel set, the male relatives of the groom instead all chip in to give the bride sperm. Lots and lots and lots of sperm.* A heapin' helpin' of their hospitality, as it were. But lest you think these people savages, rest assured that no more than ten male relatives are allowed to deposit their donations on the wedding night. Any leftover kin have to come back the following day. I guess it’s sort of like voting in Florida.

It was noted in the passage that these Melanesians “married quite young” and, as the Governor noted in a recent Walking Dead episode, “Adolescence is an invention of the twentieth century.” So we can probably read “quite young” here as “pretty darn soon after puberty,” raising the specter of a Melanesian eighth-grader getting sperm-gifted in quick succession by three or four craggy uncles of my vintage.

I’d like to think that it takes a lot at this stage in life to make me squint and go Ewwwwwwww! and, as a general principle, I’m very much pro-ejaculation, especially as pertaining to my vintage. And yet, Ewwwwwwwwww!!

On top of this comes word that some of these idyllic societies support abortion, like, up to the seventh or eighth trimester:

Societies that practice infanticide don’t consider newborn infants full human beings. Rituals ranging from baptism to naming ceremonies are delayed until it is determined whether or not the child will be permitted to live. If not, from this perspective, the child was never fully alive anyway.

I don’t know, man… That’s a tough character flaw to overlook. Never having had an infant in my own home, and thus having escaped the whole midnight-feeding-and/or-changing rigmarole, I must confess to a soft spot for these critters as a class. It’s only when they start to walk and talk and post Amazon reviews that I start to find my fellow humans eminently killable. When babies start giving me one-star ratings, I’ll reconsider infanticide, but till then I will not hesitate to call it the egregious faux pas that it is.

In a few other segments of the book, it was not the awfulness of the societies that made me squirm but rather the surprising naivety of the authors. For example, to support their assertion that noncompetitive, consensual gang-banging is the natural means by which we humans and our closest relatives go about the whole gooey business of procreation, they dived into the present-day porn market and emerged with this nugget of wisdom:

Images and videos showing one woman with multiple males are far more popular on the Internet and in commercial pornography than those depicting one male with multiple females.

To be sure, this finding gibes with my own fairly extensive research. Leaving aside the charged word “popular,” there are, beyond doubt, a great many more gangbang movies available than “reverse gangbang” ones. However, I’m pretty sure that this fact reflects the relative ease and cheapness of assembling an eager staff of male performers vis-à-vis an equal number of females.

To bolster this claim, consider this pathetic blogger, who has deigned to devote one long-winded post entirely to a review of a particularly heroic reverse gangbang performance, and zero to the run-of-the-mill gangbang genre.

Or, if you happen to be a male porn aficionado yourself, take this simple quiz.

Would you rather spend twenty-five pantsless minutes of your mortal existence in front of your monitor gaping slack-jawed at…

(a) a story that speaks to some dim, tribal memory tucked away in the bowels of your psyche, a memory of an epoch when you and all your male relatives hovered numbly around one eager jailbait chick and spent twenty minutes fluffing yourselves for your twenty seconds of action, OR

(b) a whole Benetton Ad Variety Pack of delightfully legal chicks in all colors, shapes, and, presumably, flavors taking turns tag-teaming some simpering, supine slug like yourself into submission.

I know. Exactly.

For all that, I would say that the authors of Sex at Dawn present a credible case on the whole. Then again, I’m one of those whose entire world-view was reinforced by nearly all their conclusions (Gangbang-gate aside). Their prose is sprinkled with these odd, gentle admonitions to readers: Your core beliefs are going to be challenged by what we’re about to say; you will have to think outside the box here; etc. Sometimes, they are downright apologetic about demolishing traditional notions about lifelong monogamy and “cheating” and jealousy and so forth, as though they were children whose parents have just come home from a night out to find all the living room lamps broken.

We are not advocating any particular response to the information we’ve put together. Frankly, we’re not sure what to do with it ourselves.

At least they don’t blame the information on the dog. Still, I found these defensive interjections jarring. Just who are these people who might fly into a rage upon reading these perfectly commonsense conclusions? I kept asking myself, only to remember: Oh, yeah. Most people. In the end, Sex at Dawn just felt right to me. I know that doesn’t mean anything, I totally get that this sort of gut-level response to a smooth presentation made by attractive presenters is precisely what leads so many doomed souls into suicide cults and Fox Nation—and yet, there it is. In my two readings of this book, the bullshit detector barely twitched. I kept nodding and saying, Yes, yes, yes, that’s probably the way humans were, and the way we still ought to be. And, If we hadn’t screwed up and if we still lived this way, well, humans being what we are, we still probably would have found some reason to do dreadful shit to one another, but perhaps not nearly so much of it. And of course, God damn you, agriculture. God damn you to Hell.

Not surprisingly, Sex at Dawn has sparked a critical firestorm. People way smarter than you or me (well, me, anyway) accuse the authors of taking quotes out of context, cherry-picking data, all the very same academic crimes that the Sex at Dawn authors themselves accuse the architects of the traditional narrative of using.

There is even a book-length rebuttal out now, Sex at Dusk, arguing that “rather than revealing important facts about our sexual evolution, Sex at Dawn shrouds it in a fog of misinformation and faulty logic that can only lead us further into the dark.” I have not purchased this book, not because it challenges beliefs that I dearly want to cling to (well, maybe for that reason, too), but because the author self-published it. You just can’t trust those people, you know.


So the clinical debate over the true sexual nature of humans will rage on and on, mostly way over the heads of people like me. But in the end, it’s largely a moot point anyway, isn’t it? As the authors put it:

For those of us born and raised in societies organized around interlocking principles of individuality, personal space, and private property, it’s difficult to project our imaginations into those tightly woven societies where almost all space and property is communal…

"Difficult." Right. In short, we're stuck with what we've got, and whether the past was one great, hairy-armpitted Woodstock or not, we're not getting back there anyway. The toothpaste of materialism is not going to go back into the tube, anymore than all that wedding-night sperm is going back into all those Marind-anim uncles-in-law. (How could you tell which was whose, for starters?) As realtors I have dealt with are wont to say, it is what it is.

At least we’ve got reverse gangbang movies to tide us through.






* And you Minnesotans think your whole “kidnap the bride and take her to a bowling alley” shtick is so rad.