Friday, 4 November 2011

Higamus Hogamus (Part 3)

In the first of these anthropological lectures on 21st century homo sapiens mating behaviour I spent a lot of time speaking about male sexuality, so this one I'll try focus more on the female side of the mountain, the innate female characteristics we need to factor in when speaking of male/female relationships & our present morality.

Human females are biologically structured for monogamous pairings, at least for the short term - what has been called 'serial monogamy': perhaps in reality four or five years. This is most likely due to the unusually slow development of human young; Monogamy, after all, is extremely rare in the rest of the animal kingdom, with the exception of a number of species of birds. And there it exists for a similar reason: there are eggs needing sitting on & waiting to be done until they hatch. The male must go forth & find food while the female sits at home & feathers her nest. In the human world, infants are helpless for years, rather than a few days or weeks, as it is with most other animals. But by around the fourth year the child can fend for itself a little more & the woman has more freedom of movement, she can work again & go about her life without nursing her child constantly. Then that urge can safely leave, once her & her child's survival is no longer threatened.

But women are also hypergamous, meaning they are usually looking for a mate of equal or higher status, be that socially, financially, physically (strength or attractiveness) or intellectually. One way or another, most women will not 'marry down'.

Biologically, this makes a lot of sense. For all of human history, at least up until the advent of the pill in the 1960's, sex for women would inevitably mean pregnancy, sooner or later. And pregnancy meant, at best, a new life you had to support for the next 16 years or so. At worst, death. That is a serious price attatched to pleasure, & under such harsh realities, it makes sense for women to vet their partners far more thoroughly than men, to find one who's going to stick around & provide for them in some way.

And so it is that when women find another lover it is more often the case that they are testing the water for a new relationship, for a better model, for someone they like better than the one they are with.

The males of the species are very different in this regard. Once they find someone they like very much & want to settle down with, they still want to go out & sow their seed far & wide, with almost anyone they can, even if they're not hoping to plant anything. Rarely are they looking for 'someone better' in doing this. They're simply doing what their bodies & nature are instructing them to do. To a man, love & sex are quite clearly two distinct entities. Women seem to have a harder time seeing a sexual relationship as being just that, & are much more likely to project a narrative on top, an expectation of something more, a longer story of greater commitment.

One of the authors of that fascinating analysis of male/female internet usage, A Billion Wicked Thoughts, had this to say about the differing requirements of men & women:

"All across the planet, what most women seek out, in growing numbers, are not explicit scenes of sexual activity but character-driven stories of romantic relationships.
Men who are attracted to a particular actress may go online looking for racy photos of her. Women who are attracted to an actor are more likely to seek out personal details about his life or erotic stories featuring one of the characters he portrays.
All romance novels, whether written by the likes of Jane Austen, Nora Roberts or Stephenie Meyer, employ a narrative formula that follows the gradual elucidation of the hero's inner character, leading to an emotional epiphany between hero and heroine. On this journey, the heroine—and the reader—investigates the character of the hero. The goal of a romance novel's heroine is never sex for its own sake, much less impersonal sex with strangers. All romance novels end with a "happily ever after": a marriage or committed long-term partnership".  

Women's romantic & sexual fantasies are not interchangeable with men's: if we reverse the genders of the Cinderella/Pretty Woman fantasy - the formula of perhaps most romantic fiction - we see it quickly falls apart & becomes nonsensical: A poor boy sits & waits for a rich woman to come along to save him from his poverty? A grey-haired businesswoman picks up a syphillitic rent-boy & promises to provide for all his needs, keeping him in pampered luxury until the day he dies? Who would go see that film? There's nothing in it for most women, & men would find it repulsive & emasculating. Such events may well have taken place in real life at some point, for all I know, but that's not the point: No-one, male or female, dreams of that story as their greatest fantasy. No-one thinks that being in that film is the best their life can turn out.


When I started looking into all this - men, women, monogamy, hypergamy.. I checked out, for the first time, the prevalance of polygamy in the modern world. I had expected to find, going in, that polygamy (or 'polygyny') had pretty much died out on the world stage, due to Christianity & the imposition of western culture upon the rest of the globe. But according to Wikipedia, & the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook it quotes from,  

"of 1,231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous. 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and 4 had polyandry."

All of which is considerably more than I would have imagined. Polygamy as an institution is extremely foreign to our culture, yet objectively it is important to accept that people living polygamously are no more or less moral than people in monogamous relationships. People born into polygamous cultures are no more inherently 'bad' than people born into Christian cultures are 'bad' because they're not born Muslim. It seems a common weakness in the human mind to not be able to think outside whatever cultural goldfish bowl we are born into for more than a few minutes at a time.

Monogamy is not natural, & men, being naturally polygamous, struggle under it particularly. But I find it odd how polygamy is often presented as some kind of male oppression of women, when in actual fact it is 'men' (as a group) who lose out the most in a polygamous society. For those for whom this is not immediately obvious, let's break it down:

Say there are a hundred people, 50 men & 50 women - the population of the world in miniature - Now say 5 of the men at the top of the social hierarchy are wealthy & powerful or popular enough to attract & comfortably support multiple partners, so each of them takes 5 wives apiece. For the women this works out well, as, after all,  these are the attractive men, & in a monogamous society they would otherwise have to compete with each other to get to them & only one of them could succeed.

But now here's the situation: now there are 45 men left but only 25 women: half the women are gone. The 25 left may marry 25 of the remaining men, leaving all the women comfortably settled, but still that leaves 20 of the men with no-one at all.

In addition to this, if men are to have multiple partners, where are they going to find them, except from the pool of already attatched women, women with lovers & husbands already? It is here the private spills over into the public & creates societal problems - disharmony & anger between men, & also between women, families, & society as a whole. As a man it means you can't trust your friends. As a woman it weakens what security & hold you feel you have in your relationship. As a society, it means you are no longer pulling together but instead looking out only for your own interests. Without a shared sexual morality practiced by a majority, no society can hold together long.

This is the crux of the problem: there has to be a certain amount of societal disapproval to promiscuity so that civilization doesn't break down altogether. But, at the same time, nature must find its way.

The answer, such as it is, that our present society + human nature seem to have thrashed out between them is that the men who can - i.e. the wealthy, powerful or unusually attractive men - do stray, but keep it hidden. As wikipedia puts it:

While few present-day states permit polygamous marriages, polygynous male behavior may be observed in the establishment of mistresses, who are openly or secretly supported. In this way, men may be technically monogamous but de facto polygynous.

This is problematic, because clearly not all men can do this, & ends up creating a situation of imbalance, of haves & have nots. It is also morally troubling, as it invariably involves lying ('cheating'), at least under the present order. But plainly many men accept this as a necessity. Most women, after all, react badly to the idea of their man being with other women, even if they may benefit from it by it keeping their relationship together. But another way of looking at the situation would be that men are forced into 'adultery' by the peculiar morality of their times, which ignores or condemns the natural biological reality of their sex.

The prudery of the Christian era - in particularly the Victorian period - never really ended but carried over into the present feminist age. The only real difference being, where the Christian Church demonized all sexuality, feminism demonizes & condemns only male sexuality, depicting it almost exclusively as some sort of ugly, violent threat.

But here's the thing:

Sex is life. Without male desire for womankind, none of us would be here. In a healthy society male desire would be something honoured & praised. But instead of being raised up & admired, male virility is shamed & frowned upon unless it is played out within a narrow band of acceptable behaviour: "we want you to be a wild, free, sexual stallion, preselected, admired & desired by other women, driven to be successful but only with us (monogamously, of course)".

Now, those two things don't go together: a highly sexual, driven, virile man will rarely be truly monogamous, & if he tries to be - or is forced to be - he will become less virile & so less attractive to the woman he is trying to be faithful to. An alpha male is seldom monogamous. Perhaps a few beta males are, but women don't want beta males. Women don't have posters of beta males on their bedroom walls.

Einstein, Roosevelt, JFK, MLK, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, Gandhi, Picasso, Nietzsche, William Blake, Muhammad Ali, Marlon Brando, Laurence Olivier, Ernest Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence... the list is only limited by how much we know of great men's intimate lives. All these were either believers in polygamy or adulterers. If our best minds, our highest achievers the past hundred years or so are all just a bunch of dirty lowdown pussyhounds, what hope do the rest of us have?

Would a more sensible approach not be to simply accept that as part of male nature? Would it not be more sensible for us to expect that behaviour from most men, & accept it as part & parcel of the whole package?

There's still a little more to say on this: One more post & that''ll be it.


  1. As you know, Byron, I've been following your series from the beginning and understand what you've outlined as the problem, but now I'm not sure what you're recommending as a solution. It's one thing to stop demonizing a natural desire and another thing to integrate it into society. There is a difference between not shaming males for their polygamous urges and making polygamous relationships mainstream--and your essay acknowledges that a polygamous society would be particularly brutal on the men who might have to go without even a single woman. Are you advocating tolerant polyamory for everyone?

    Then there's also the practical side of things, which I think Anacaona brought up in an earlier thread. Monagamous unions (when not easily dissolved by divorce) may check male polygamy, but they put the same limitation on female hypergamy. And this is necessary for the raising of the children who naturally result from sex. I doubt that there is a better model than the nuclear family for this purpose.

    (Yes, birth control can take children out of the picture. But contraception is even less natural than the shaming of polygamous urges. I think it was Athol Kay who pointed out that a couple that has been having regular sex for years but preventing conception may be playing with a time bomb, because their bodies will be asking, "Where are the babies?" and then getting them to look for more "fertile" mates.)

  2. Hi Bellita,

    all good points. I began to reply but then it grew so long it seemed best I just work it into the next post rather than hide it here. I'm still figuring out what my closing remarks are going to be on this, what my 'position' is, but your questioning has helped me focus & clarify &, I hope, think outside of the box enough to have something worthwhile to say, so thanks for the prod.

  3. Thanks, Byron. I've been enjoying this dialogue and can't wait to read what you come up with next.

  4. Great post. I was going to reply to it with my usual position and arguments (again I lived in this ideal society of men desire for variety being recognized and is not better than this mess in here is not worst just as bad) but you already know and I rather wait for it to end and see what is your solution after recognizing is as a natural impulse, which I know is not the same as validating it.
    Waiting for the next chapter!

  5. Thanks Steph, working on it now.

  6. Now, those two things don't go together: a highly sexual, driven, virile man will rarely be truly monogamous, & if he tries to be - or is forced to be - he will become less virile & so less attractive to the woman he is trying to be faithful to.

    This is a profound, incisive point with difficult implications for how a guy in this situation should live. I am not certain of this, but I believe there were times and cultures when wives understood this, accepted it, and looked the other way as long as the guy didn't embarass her publicly.

  7. Which is pretty sad, Mike.

  8. @Mike C

    I can tell you that resignation doesn't mean that the wife didn't felt like crap, cried herself to sleep and overall hated every single second of her marriage because of the mistress or mistresses. No matter how culture trains you to see certain behaviour we don't have more than one set of genitalia. Very few people enjoy sharing women were not the exception it was just the lesser of two evils. Again a HUGE part of my hate of cheating is that I had never seen a happy cheated on, no matter how much they understand. The only time a woman doesn't care is when she married for money of status so as long as there is money and parties in fancy house she wouldn't mind. That is another catch 22, you can find a woman that let you have all the fun you want but that woman only will be with you as long as is convenient for her to look the other way. Is not the paradise many men think it is, YMMV.

  9. You are right Anacaona, but that said, it does mean that marriage, monogamy, and faithfulness does in fact involve some sacrifice. Ultimately, presumably, what you get on some level outweighs what you give up. Rollo had a good post on this:

    "I’ve had a fantastic marriage for over 15 years now, but I’m not going to sugar coat the facts that marriage involves life changing sacrifices for men that no woman will ever fully understand or appreciate.


    I think what most men uniquely deceive themselves of is that they will ultimately be appreciated by women for their sacrifices. Learn this now, you wont. You can’t be because women fundamentally lack the ability to fully realize, much less appreciate the sacrifices a man makes to facilitate her reality. Even the most enlightened, appreciative woman you know still operates in a feminne-centric reality. Men making the personal sacrifices necessary to honor, respect and love her are commonplace. You’re supposed to do those things. You sacrificed your ambitions and potential to provide her with a better life? You were supposed to. You resisted temptation and didn’t cheat on your wife with the hot secretary who was DTF and ready to go? You were supposed to. Your responsibilities to maintaining a marriage, a home, your family, etc. are common – they’re expected. They are only appreciated in their absence."

    One blogger I read that blogs on something completely different from gender/sex stuff has an expression "it is a conversation they cannot hear".

  10. awesome post man.