August 1, 2010


The Culture of Sex (Jessa Crispin, Smart Set)

[A]s Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality says, most of what we think of as our inborn nature in regard to love and sex is culturally indoctrinated. They take this so far as to suggest that monogamy, jealousy, and marriage that begins with virginity are all social constructs. Sexual pluralism is instead part of our nature, screwing, cohabitating, and sharing resources and genitals alike. No wonder relations between men and women are so bad right now, with resentment on both sides. We say forever and ever, we say one and only, when really what we should be doing is fooling around with our neighbor. Maybe while our husband watches.

Authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá work hard to make this point. They bring in anthropology, biology, primatology, neurology, psychology, and ethnography. They search the globe and back into prehistory in search of proof that the model we are working with now — incredibly high expectations, coupled with extremely poor follow-through — is not human nature but works directly against it. And so, if their theory is correct (and it’s not exactly groundbreaking for anyone up on the work of modern anthropology, prehistory, or the multitude of books and articles on the free love societies of our close relative the bonobo) how did we get this way? Blame agriculture.

And why not? Agriculture is the scapegoat of many cynics right now. Ryan and Jethá refer to the switch from hunter-gatherer culture to agriculture as a “catastrophe” -- quoting Jared Diamond — and while they claim they are not out to make the hunter-gatherer way of life sound more “noble,” that is exactly what they do. Their anthropology sections are basically cut-and-paste jobs, and they leave out any of the dark stuff. Complex social and sexual systems are reduced to a paragraph, sometimes a sentence, making every society they mention sound like a sexy utopia. Customs like female genital mutilation is mentioned only casually, incest and old men fooling around with young girls reported with a shrug.

Agriculture may have brought with it all of the woes that Ryan and Jethá say it did — malnutrition, a decrease in life expectancy, greed and selfishness springing from this new concept of private property, diminished value of women’s contributions — but it also brought autonomy. As in, this is my vagina, and no, I am not going to sleep with every male member of your family despite it being the way things are done. explain what we knew four chapters into the Bible?

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 1, 2010 9:12 AM
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