One of the things that fascinates me the most about sex is the fact that our own species does so many things so differently than the rest of the animal kingdom.
Essentially, humans have taken the biology out of the sexual process. Will this lead to our ultimate demise?
I refrain, for the most part, from making sarcastic jabs about how humans get it wrong on so many levels when it comes to our basic biology. Essentially, the enormous complexity upon which my books and blog posts are based don’t pertain all that much to members of our own species.
Perhaps our biggest biological blunder is the fact that we completely ignore the notion of maximizing our fitness by utilizing contraception.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to NOT bear all the children that my body would allow – it gives me the opportunity to have outside interests and a career! However, on a biological level I’m doing my genetic blueprints a disservice. Those that have large numbers of children will have a greater impact on the evolutionary future of the human race than I will. It’s just a fact.
In addition to our near ubiquitous use of contraception, humans allow most of our natural biology to be concealed using any number of products (makeup, hair colour, deodorant, shampoo, clothing, and jewellery).
For other animals out there, good genes are responsible for health and beauty; however, for the human animal this is not the case. Less than optimal genetic blueprints can easily come in decent-looking packages, which has the potential to confuse what should be the most important biological decisions of one’s life.
The human animal of the Western world is also blissfully removed from the processes of hunting and gathering, such that our energy can be more directly devoted to relationships, sex and parenting. So many of the sexual strategies for procreation that we’ve learned about on my blog hinge on resource availability, whereas for our species in the Western world it’s a moot point.
But is our overabundance of time and energy for childcare the best thing for them? I’d like to run that question past all parents who still have children over the age of thirty living at home.
If humans took a parenting cue from our closest primate cousins, juveniles would largely be without direct parental care as soon as puberty hits.
In addition to providing an overabundance of care to our own biological sire, we also provide care to the children of our peers (play dates, child minding), and in many cases we provide foster care or adopt unrelated juveniles. There is no direct advantage for doing these things, although we do them just the same. On a strict biological level, any parental care provided to non-genetically related offspring represents both a decrease in our own fitness and an increase to someone else’s.
For me, one of the most fascinating things about human sexuality is our adherence to sexual and social monogamy. Almost no other mammals exhibit such a strategy for valid biological reasons.
Where did monogamy begin? Why did it catch on so completely in our species?
While there is an abundance of research on the topic, I’m unsure as to whether there is one overriding conclusion. Although it may not be “what all the other animals are doing”, I am still a believer in the notion of a monogamous relationship. I think that this is because while our bodies may want to, our brains don’t allow for it.
The complex suite of emotions that accompanies any sexual relationship lends itself to having one partner (or one preferred partner) over being highly promiscuous. That’s not to say that other animal partnerships don’t involve emotion – it’s just that our own emotions are the only ones that we understand.
This post is an adapted excerpt from my book “Wild Sex: The Science Behind Mating in the Animal Kingdom“