An excellent article on another blogger’s site picks up this same theme and looks at it from a different angle.
In my recent post, “Pretty Boys Finish First”, I make the argument that science shows that it is probable that the biological ideal for women is multiple partners—a loving, supportive, live-in beta or community of such, and the alpha for sexual encounters at peak fertility. Link to that post is here.
How appropriate that the very next day, artist, thinker and Dr. Kaye Smith PhD should then post “Did Monogamy Eat the Female Libido?” which not just touches on that same conclusion but adds important nuance and colour, and takes the concept in several new directions. Her article suggests that female desire is enhanced by non-monogamy.
You can find the link to her article here.
This is so important but leads to so many different possible avenues of discussion, it will be hard to stick to the point. I will do my best, as each merits a future post. As I see it, these are the key points that such a post raise:
- If female desire, arousal, is driven by novelty (in terms of new partners), then women’s biology is programmed for adultery;
- If this is true, it is true because our species’s survival depends on it—we are collectively better off when our biology is allowed to express itself;
- That our entire cultural construct is designed to judge and thwart the natural order of things—think of the social stigma attached to “adultery”—heck it is one of the 10 commandments, handed down by God via Moses, a man, to keep us out of “trouble” (and fun)…that marriage itself is designed to thwart biology;
- This concept equals extraordinary female power. It lies at the heart of female power. It is also the deepest fear of a male. Just think for a moment. Biologically speaking a woman always knows that her baby is hers because she carried it. A man does not. All of these social constructs are designed to allay male fear in this regard.
- Where I am not going in this post, but will in others—misogyny. It has its roots in this fear.
Why does it make sense for a woman’s biological desire to drive her to seek out novelty, or extra-pair coupling?
Okay. Think for a moment of why this might be. The investment that a woman has to make to have children dwarfs what a man makes. Her commitment is total. Her body before, during, and after, is consumed by it, and is occupied for just over a year. Add in the time of breast-feeding and immediate nurturing care, and we’re up to 18 months to two years. Add in the developmental years where a child needs a mother most of all, and you are up to 6-7 years of commitment.
In contrast, a male can trigger this process by simply depositing his seed. That said, a male, just like a female, has an incentive to see his offspring grow up healthy, protected, and well. So, if the nurture element is biologically advantageous for both sexes, why is novelty biologically more advantageous at conception?
It is simple. What we may need emotionally, in terms of friendship, companionship, comfort may just not equate to the ideal sire for children. Yes, boys, it hurts. At peak fertility, a woman is aroused by a man that is genetically hot to her. She is aroused by it because it is likely to lead to a genetically superior outcome. And she can sense it, can feel it, through a whole host of biological cues: what he looks like, how he carries his body, what he SMELLS like—yes, pheromones are so strong that they can literally pull us together—she can smell him across the room. She gets hot and bothered because her body knows that this man has a genetic makeup that will result in a good outcome for her. The body knows what the rational mind does not.
The good news is that men are aroused by a fertile woman, so he will likely respond to her in the same way. Caution to the wind. This kind of desire is strong enough to override social convention and coupling inside and outside of relationships occurs because of this. Coupling of this kind is hot, heavy, fun, but only rarely lasts. How many of us have had incredible sexual relationships in the past, only to find that the rest was lacking, and the relationship fell apart? Probably almost everyone. Maybe now we know why.
Lessons from the Jungle
In Dr. Smith’s article, she highlights what happens in communities of our nearest primate relatives, chimpanzees. Chimpanzees live in societies that have an alpha male and several betas, but are essentially matriarchies. The alpha male stays alpha as long as he is physically able to dominate not just those males in his own troop, but also those who may come along looking to take over. In exchange for this position, he gets first dibs on copulation. Why, because his genes are deemed better because he has earned his position through the crucible of competition with other males. In other words, females have a very clear indicator of his genetic suitability for breeding. But the betas are all there lurking, and copulating away with the females whenever the alpha’s gaze is averted.
During periods of peak fertility, however, it is the female of the species that is sexually aggressive. Indeed, the female is so aggressive that she actively stalks the male until he copulates with her. But it doesn’t stop there. The female monkey is not satisfied with one mate. Instead, she pursues and copulates with many males over this period, going from one to the next. Because competition between males in the social sphere is not sufficient. Even the sperm must compete. And indeed, they do. Strong sperm beat out weak sperm inside the vaginal canal.
And, just because the alpha male leads the troop, his sperm might be a salad bowl of diversity—some strong and some not so. And the beta lurking at the edge of the troop may have the same, but in his sperm may lay the next uber-alpha, and that is why the female monkey pursues him too.
All that sperm for one child? Yes, exactly. Because having one child takes so much investment, the female does well to maximise the potential field to find that one dominant spermatozoid to fertilize her egg. It is a biological imperative. In her article, Dr. Smith notes that a female chimp might mate as often as 4 times an hour with more than a dozen males, on each and every day of her estrus cycle. Wow.
Can we be so different? I don’t think so. At least not biologically. But socially, we are. We have designed society to prevent this. Why? I would argue that it is not out of some altruistic desire to ensure every woman finds a nice cuddly man to grow old with. Instead, I believe that our social constructs have arisen to give men privilege.
There is one key difference between our primate cousins and us. The jungle. While we may live in a metaphorical jungle, our jungle does not require physical strength as the most important survival trait as it does in the real jungle. That means, what is the genetically best male in human society is not the same. Other factors can come into play. Smarts, aesthetics, humour.
But what hasn’t changed is that the biology of female desire still leads us in the same direction as our primate cousins.
What kind of social construct might make this possible?
We don’t know so much about matriarchal societies of pre-history. It is often posited that patriarchy arose with agriculture when our distant forbears gave up their nomadic lifestyles and became farmers. Ownership and cultivation of the land pushed us towards a different social structure, with different roles for the sexes than had been common in hunter-gatherer societies.
It is hard to imagine exactly what this might look like in today’s world. Would it be community living, based on equality, where women take more of the leadership in the governance and running of the community? Certainly the traditional family unit of male-female in a couple with their children would likely be more fluid. Some animal societies do show this approach, with both females and males raising each others offspring, sharing in the duties of parenting—but in this case it is still a kinship link—they are all cousins.
I certainly find parallels in the world of D/s and BDSM to these themes. Does that happen because our biological needs are speaking out? Does cuckolding turn some men on because the human race would be better off if it happened for real? Does breeding kink make evolutionary sense? Would a polyamorous female produce more genetically successful children?
Has anyone ever done this? I have certainly heard of D/s couples with a female dominant partner, where she is sexually adventurous and he stays home. That is fairly common. But I am not aware of it ever extending to child-bearing.
It is perplexing to me that there appears to be a disconnect between society and social mores and what may be best for us as a species, and certainly what is the most fun.
Thank you so much for that wonderful shout out shae, it is much appreciated. It is such a pleasure to read your writing and your musings. I am glad that my own ramblings have been of use.
Definitely food for thought, my friend! I would say that my desire has been driven by different elements at different ages. At 41, no longer feeling that strong pull to procreate, my desire is definitely driven by novelty…but when I was younger, it was more driven by finding a provider for myself and potential offspring. In college (before wanting to procreate or settle down), I wanted to jump on the first attractive man that walked by. I would agree that society has definitely set women up to fail with regard to the stigma of women having extramarital affairs. Often, if a man has an affair, you might hear something like “well, that’s to be expected” or even blame put on the woman for not meeting his needs in some way. But if a woman cheats…oh my, watch out! Scarlett letter time, for sure.
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You said it. I will post on this topic very soon. The Scarlet Letter. I still have children who get summer reading lists, and I get to choose their books. One son, the one who is in most need of a gender-sensitive education, is currently reading the Scarlet Letter, and we discuss the issues it raises every day at lunch. There is a French feminist writer, Helene Cixsous, who writes about how the concept of “women’s shame” has been used to police her…and this is very relevant for the what you posted. If you are interested, her work appears in an anthology called “New French Feminists.” This is one of the books that I read in College that makes my SO joke about my degree as “Women’s Letters”.
The irony is not lost that men are the ones who need monogamy–first to have greater certainty that the child they raise is their own, and second to ensure propagation of their own genes–you see in the animal kingdom when a new dominant male appears on the scene, as with the cats for instance, he kills all the cubs and the mothers accept it–don’t defend their young. Females on the other hand, don’t give a darn who the male is as long as it is a male with good genes (I’m speaking animal kingdom), and their best reproductive strategy is to have sex far and wide…and to then settle with a protective male who may or may not be the father–provided he behaves like one. I can think that many males, in exchange for the warm embrace and loving understanding of a female, particularly a high-status one, would accept such an arrangement.
I really need to think about this more. Because I think in my own life I can afford to feel this way today because I have children–in other words my biological destiny is complete. So, now, being a “cuckold” or raising someone else’s kids, or just supporting a woman who has children or a relationship with someone else doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
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