Monday, August 8, 2011
In Praise of Reproductive Sex
In Praise of Reproductive Sex
Homo sapiens is a species renowned for our social sexuality. The average person making love an average of say 3 times a week throughout a reproductive lifetime of around 25-30 years for a woman and longer for a man can be expected to have sex some 4700 times while reasonably expecting to have no more than an average of 2-3 children. Despite the appearances of monogamy in this time each sex might have an average of between 5 and 20 partners.
Social sex has evolved in humans to be a principal means of bonding and forming the close intimate ties between partners that cement together the human family with its long-term child rearing, and human society as a whole..
Despite being dominantly social, sex is essentially reproductive and remains charged with undertones of emotional infatuation, jealousy, infidelity and betrayal, because who you become intimately involved with will affect your immediate partner(s) and their offspring, and paternity security in the case of men, and resourcing commitment in the case of women.
This is not to say that humans are socially monogamous, despite the Western heritage of Christianity's excessive dependence on enforced monogamy as a result of Yeshua's quip that divorce was a violation of Adam and Eve's monogamous partnership - a notion ignoring Jewish folklore's claim that Lilith preceded Eve in the marital union only to fly off when Adam tried to assert the missionary position.
In fact 85% of traditional human societies practice effective polygyny with about 10% of better-endowed men supporting more than one 'wife', and even in Western society, serial monogamy leads to effective polygyny when older men divorce and couple with a younger nubile partner to sire a second family. Nevertheless human pair-bonding is a real and potent aspect of human family relationships, lasting for at least the 4-5 years it takes for young children to become semi-independent.
Only 3% of mammals are socially monogamous, for a pivotal reason - females have a major 'choosy' parenting investment in giving birth to a limited number of live young, for whom they need the best genes and resources they can muster, creating a major polarization between the sexes, in which males have a primarily sexual investment seeking as many partners as they can fertilize. Even socially monogamous species such as prairie voles and colonial birds try to optimize their genetic investments by having occasional liaisons on the sly with partners of superior genetic fitness.
In many ways human pregnancy is at at extreme of mammalian evolution, with women facing a huge out-front commitment of 9 months of increasing vulnerability, often with existing young children in tow, significant risks to their survival in birthing a baby with a large head, years of breast feeding, and caring for small dependent infants for at least four years before human children can walk and talk and survive reasonably independently within their extended family.
Consequently women are traditionally choosy about their partners and tend to seek 'husbands' who bear sufficient resources to support and sustain a family and protect them from intruders. Hence we find the well-known themes of women often partnering with older established men and men in turn seeking out young nubile partners of peak fertility. Many of the themes of love and courtship, from good hunting, through story-telling, jokes and art and music stem from men establishing both their genetic fitness and resourcefulness as potential partners in the sight of women.
By contrast, men are want to sew wild oats, while keeping a very jealous eye on the women they do impregnate out of fear that another man has done the same. Women may also opt to sire by a clandestine partner on occasion as well if they cannot find a mate with both the best genes and good resourcing leading to endless suspicion of women's infidelity on the part of their men folk.
Thus while most sexual encounters don't lead to pregnancy, the implications of pregnancy drive our deepest emotional urges and jealousies of a sexual nature, even in an era when contraception is widespread, if only as effective as individuals make it, and genetic testing can lay bare all the subtleties of who has sired who.
Throughout history, paternity uncertainty has played a major role in shaping human societies. Most of our patriarchal heritage, from paternal lines of inheritance, which serve to compensate for the obvious certainty of maternity, through traditional marriage, in which a women is exhorted to be faithful to her husband, to religious and social laws, which violently punish women for infidelity, while allowing men to sew wild oats, as long as they aren't caught polluting another man's wife is founded on compensating for this uncertainty.
Eve is cursed for seducing Adam, women are to suffer the pain of childbirth, to be obedient to their husbands, to be stoned for adultery, or losing the tokens of virginity, doomed to be sequestered and veiled and only half the value of a man in law in Islam, genitally mutilated from Africa to the Amazon, abducted, trafficked and treated as the devil's gateway, so that sex becomes an evil of earthly temptation for men who seek to escape their mortality by pledging their allegiance to an eternal sky God of the day of judgment.
While this male fear of women is all very understandable, this form of patriarchal dominance, over the last 4000 years, is not conducive to evolution of intelligence because, like all animals that bear a few large eggs, or live young, it is female choice of male genetic and resourcing prowess that is the principal selective factor in ensuring the future viability and evolution of the species' gene pool.
The indications are that longer-term human evolution, and the emergence of language and culture, was accompanied by neither sex having strategic dominance, with each running a sexual Red Queen race of burgeoning intelligence, through courtship, in which female reproductive choice played a pivotal part. The ecstatic nature of human female orgasmic sexuality, and the lack of a penis bone in humans forcing men to display a genuine indicator of sexual fitness to reproduce, both attest to a significant degree of female reproductive choice, based on a lunar menstrual cycle, concealed estrus and social sexual bonding throughout human emergence.
Looking deeper, we can see how sex and mortality became inextricably entwined in the burgeoning diversity of ever more complex life. All multi-celled organisms are sexual, with a very few exceptions. Where parthenogenesis occurs in a few species, sometimes to aid rapid colonization, it is at the cost of declining resistance against (sexual) parasites in what is known as the Red Queen evolutionary race - that the immediate advantage of sex compensating for transmitting only half our genes is the immediate increase in disease resistance it provides, because sexual diversity means parasites cannot evolve to attack a single parthenogenetic clone.
The result is that to have evolved as conscious beings at all, we are inevitably saddled with individual mortality, because we are endlessly varied and can transmit only half our genes to the next generation. Dyadic sex may have even been invented by a 'selfish' jumping gene, which ensured its immortality, transmitting 100% of its genes, by providing the apparatus for sexual recombination and exchange, in which we each only transmit 50% of ours.
The result for our view of the world is that we are conscious beings caught in the mortal coil of birth and death, with no respite, because of the endless variety of sexual recombination which makes us each unique and different (except for identical twins) and which dooms us to expire at the end of our days, because we are sexual rather than parthenogenetic beings - a doom which it is said God cast upon us for disobeying his instructions not to eat the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, in Eve's carnal enticement of Adam, causing the fig leaf - an unfair un-biological judgment cast on sexuality by the male religious forefathers.
What we need to understand here is that sexuality is the manifestation of the life process potentially heading towards even greater heights of sentient existence, if we don't damage the enchanted loom and threaten the living viability of the planet. So, far from being evil and 'dirty', sex is good, as life is good, and our individual conscious existences, along with our sexual desires and fear of death, are a bountiful product of the immortal sexual loom of life.
It is thus to sex and the sexual paradigm that we should stoop to worship in devotion, not the loneliness of an imaginary godhead, just as Shiva courts Shakti in the Tantric dance of creation, and Yin and Yang form the Taoist completion of nature. Reproductive fertility is also the nascent theme of the Song of Songs, the grail of courtly love and the ideal of romantic love that echoes through the airwaves in popular music and is written into our literature from the Song of Inanna in Sumeria to Mills and Boon. Being in love and falling in love are not just manifestations of social sexuality but our evolutionary heritage. It involves the whole sexual cosmology of meeting the other in the full flush of fertility incarnate, with all its passion, tenderness and explosive potential for new life.
Christianity has sought to go further and violate the holy grail of love by assigning to sexuality only reproduction without pleasure, with social sexuality having little more than a bestial function of concupiscence, sexual desire or lust, to be avoided like the plague, as a diabolical influence. Augustine went so far as to curse the spontaneous arousal of his penis and Origen castrated himself in the shadow of Matthew 19:12. This is as perverted as all the manifestations of sexual deviation known to man and leads to denial, and sexual exploitation and degenerate behavior, as has riddled the celibate Catholic church and fueled the witch hunts and Inquisition and European crusade, when the Albigenses insisted Jesus and Magdalen were lovers.
An integral feature of the evolution of the humanity is that, unlike many species, where fertility and reproduction are driven by chemical cues and sex takes place only in estrus, when the female is ovulating, humans, and some of our sister species such as bonobos, have adopted the use of social sexuality as a medium of social bonding. In humans social sexuality is absolutely essential as a sensual glue that holds together conjugal couples in long-term relationships and provides much of the social bonding in society at large, that reduces violence and makes us sensual and lovable people.
However there are other manifestations of human social sexuality, which if not understood in relation to reproductive sexuality, begin to spawn a confused, if not perverted fulfillment of our sexual desires. These include a wide spectrum of erotic phenomena, many of which may be natural in one social context but forbidden in another. For example the Bible has invocations against masturbation and homosexuality, both of which are regarded as choices of consenting adults in modern Western society, although sodomy is regarded as unnatural in many Muslim countries and parts of Africa. Certainly masturbation may be essential for male sexual fitness and cannot be reasonably deemed to be harmful for females either, but the spread of social sexual gratification extends down to almost any deranged stimulus of boundary-breaking the mind can encompass, from extreme coprophilia and bestiality to rape, snuff movies and serial murder.
While Western society currently regards incest, bestiality, paedophilia and sexual violation as criminal derangement, it accepts cunnilingus, fellatio, both homosexual and heterosexual sodomy, as well as sadistic, and masochistic sexual acts and human bondage and prostitution as integral to social sexuality as long as it is between consenting adults.
This however comes at a frank cost. While women are increasingly enjoying the right and ability to watch female-oriented pornography, a large swathe of pornography is simply catering to male sexual fantasies veering towards exploitation of women as sexual objects of gratification.
Given the ancient nature of social sexuality and the endless male drive of boundary-breaking sexual curiosity it is likely that some women throughout history have been strategically compelled to give their man everything he might desire to ensure securing his commitment to her, even if this is sometimes painful or degrading. While it is true that some women enjoy all manner of erotic experiences, from fellatio to sodomy, many women find sodomy painful and mixing sodomy and coitus carries health risks. It is hypocritical for heterosexual men to treat gay men homophobically when they themselves are indulging in exactly the same kinds of sexual act.
Confusing social and reproductive sex also alters the whole balance of the mind set, so that non-reproductive forms of social sex, such as fellatio become a central social norm of petting, while coitus itself is something more special for a more developed relationship, or even regarded as inferior to other forms of sexual gratification and self-stimulation, or unsatisfying to females entirely.
We also end up with highly distorted views of the role of sex and sexual bonding in society as merely social on the one hand, encompassing any form of erotic concourse and sexual orientation, but treat it as entirely reproductive in traditional and religious terms and in parenting and families, where reproduction is central.
This means that we drift into seeing eros purely in terms of sexual pleasure and gratification, demeaning it to a subservient role rather than a defining spiritual dimension through which we and the whole of life comes into existence. This dooms it to a similar fate that Christianity has doomed it in its fear of sexual power casting it down into a purely lustful level below the waist-line, when it place is nature is the holy grail of immortality.
This doesn't mean that by respecting the fertility of sexuality we will completely resolve all the problems of jealously, betrayal, infidelity, infatuation, unrequited love, and sexual violence that make pair-bonding an endless round of the cooperation, defection and tit-for-tat exchanges that characterize the prisoners' dilemma in action because evolutionary selection of the future of humanity is at stake and there are no global simple solutions that will put all partners in the ideal relationship they would desire.
Nevertheless, having a clearer view of the formative role of sexuality in life does lead to a profoundly more astute and successful love life and family life. Since the dawn of gatherer-hunter history, mothers have been teaching their daughters how to be both attractive and astutely choosy to make the best sexual choices they can under the limited and complex circumstances they find themselves in, and to fall for a guy only if he can bring home some good meat from the hunt and tell good stories round the camp fire, as well as showing sensitivity and respect to his partner(s), rather than going for the most pushy delinquent bully boy who is prepared to drive his car off the cliff to play chicken with every other guy in sight.
While we make what might be called social 'strides' in accepting the right of same-sex couples to marry and even to raise families through surrogacy and insemination, we seem to have become blinded to the needs of children to have close parental examples of both their own and the opposite sex, and to understand the distinction between social acts of erotic love and the fertility of the passage of the generations we all come and came from.
We need to understand that the highest peaks of sexual fulfillment, of deep bonding, of orgasmic intensity, and sexual and sensual meaning, come not just from social erotic gratification, but from the full flood of sexual fertility in coital embrace in love between a man and a woman, as the Song of Songs declares - the Tantric dance of male and female principles - of Shiva and Shakti - in bringing the entire sentient-material universe and the diversity of conscious life into being.
The temples of Khajuraho have a revealing perspective on this, with the higher levels of the Lakshmi temple consisting of couples with attendants practicing maithuna, or ritual coitus, while the lower layers include all the variations of fellatio, cunnilingus, masturbation, bestiality and sodomy.
While we can sustain the diversity of social sexuality as long as it is non-exploitative and between consenting adults, we need to realize that we can't substitute social gratification for the sexual life force from which we all came, and which gives us the capacity to fall in love, to form loving relationships and to procreate new life.
In this respect, sexuality is inevitably a meeting of opposites, and fertility is and has always been that shared between a man and a woman, whether or not we define marriage in this way.
Homosexuality is a perfectly legitimate aspect of social sex, but even though same sex couples can form committed loving relationships and rear children through surrogacy and artificial insemination, they can't celebrate the fertility of life without serious violation of the genetic machinery, by making genetic modifications to human reproduction to turn eggs into sperm or directly fertilize nuclei as some same-sex oriented scientists have already attempted to do, although we know sexual imprinting of genes is essential in development especially of the brain.
It also needs to be remembered that sexual orientation is a mix of genetic and social factors, with social factors still highly significant. For example direct genetic factors affecting male sexual orientation, namely the fertile mother effect and the serial brother immunity effect account for only a 21% genetic contribution to sexual orientation and even identical twins share only around 50% orientation, indicating that, even with identical genetic makeup, social choices are still important.
Given that sexuality and the continuity of life depend on the fertility of man and woman, it is specious and counter-productive that parenting of a child of either sex can be deemed to be blind to the sexuality of the real, or foster, parents. Neither is it fair, or realistic, to deny growing children access to experiences of natural sexual complementation which they will need as adults to have a full opportunity to express their own fertility.
The sieve which sorts the wheat of ecstatic fulfillment from the chaff of sexual deviation is the reproductive fertility of sexuality and the understanding that the role other forms of social sexuality play are subsidiary to it and find their place ad meaning only in relation to it.