Is Monogamy Unnatural? Book Argues It Isn’t and CNN Talks About This!

When yours truly read about this on Facebook, she rushed to read the article and fund out is is a review of the book, Sex at Dawn, abut the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality.  The authors are Cacilda Jetha and Christopher Ryan.  The argument does not seem very new, and is still quite interesting.
  
Foraging societies did not have a sense of personal property and this applied to people as well as things. Groups of humans moved around with personal possessions reduced to a minimum, and no one really bothered to find out who belonged to whom. Women breastfed children regardless of who delivered them, and men helped parent them regardless of who sired them.  This was normal for humans before agriculture became prevalent, before, in other words, we knew about seeds, and wombs, before the concept of paternity was part of human knowledge systems.  

This argument started with Bachofen, in the late 19th-early20th century, who, in Myth, Religion and Mother Right, argued that matriarchal social organizations were prevalent throughout the Neolithic for that precise reason: that paternity was not a concept yet, and so men did not think they should know who put the seed in.  Women were more revered and also more free: they had sex with multiple partners, especially in the fertile period, to make sure someone would make them pregnant. 

This line of thought developed further with feminist philosophers and theorists of the ‘second wave,’ including, to my knowledge, Adriana Cavarero, who, in In Spite of Plato (translated by yours truly), argues that this ignorance of paternity was a good thing, because it empowered women with sovereignty over our bodies, and the decision to be hostesses to the reproductive process necessary for the species was ours and ours alone.  Two other theorists on this topic are of course Riane Eisler and Marija Gimbutas.  Eisler links the social practice of competition to the social construct of paternity and the ensuing practice of controlling the female body that hosts the seed to ensue its authenticity, the fact that the resulting child is sired by the man who parents it.  This, Eisler observes, not only disempowers women, but also preempts the possibility of a society organized on partnership.  Because partnership requires trust and equality, and these are impossible when men’s self esteem is predicated on their ability to certify paternity. Matrifocal societies are better candidates for partnership systems.  The Romans, who learned a lot from the Greeks, and the matrifocal cultures that preceded them, put this very simply: “maternity is always certain, paternity never is.”  So, if it isn’t, let’s shift our focus away from it, argues Gimbutas, who studies the matrifocal cultures of the Neolithic in the pre-Indoeuropean Mediterranean, to find out that they indeed were organized around the sacred feminine, myths of fertility, the management of waters, the practice of sharing resources, including amorous, sexual,and reproductive resources, the commons, and social peace.  social peace.  

Obviously, with us humans having been around for about a million years now, monogamy and paternity, which came about as social constructs only about 10 thousand years ago, it follows that our species is not monogamous from an evolutionary viewpoint: indeed, our bodies, our biology are not programmed for sexual exclusivity.  How could they be?
Many will say that neither is our biology programmed for sitting hour after hour at the computer, like yours truly and many other bloggers and other social media people do.  Obviously, we don’t need to be biologically programmed for something to enjoy doing it.  We can enjoy sexual exclusivity when we choose it.  That’s why yours truly often claims that monogamy is a version of polyamory: it’s a spontaneous occurrence which is good as long as it is not enthroned as a social rule or billed as ‘superior’ because, supposedly, it represent the endpoint of evolution for our species and the biota as a whole.  
Reclaiming that polyamory is ‘natural,’ as Ryan and Jetha do, is a very good thing.  It helps to reconfigure ‘nature’ in the human mind as something quite closer to what it is: an ecosystem of interconnected life forms that is, per se, quite queer, namely odd, irregular, diverse, interconnected, happy, gay, and cheerful.  Able to heal itself because it does not follow mechanical rules.  Alive per se because it enjoys the pleasure of being.  Yet claiming that non-monogamy is ‘natural’ as opposed to monogamy not being so is deceptive too.  It is extremely important to bring back polyamory within the range of what is natural, spontaneous, and healthy for humans to do, but not at the expense of, or in bipolar opposition to, what is commonly known as monogamy or sexual/amorous/romantic exclusivity.  

More to the point, this new acquaintance with polyamory as a natural, biologically-programmed, and long-standing prevalent tradition that goes back all the way to pre-history is a way to revisit the past to invent a new future.  If something was done in pre-historical times we often consider it bad, backward, ‘primitive.’  But what is ‘bad’ about primitivism?  What we often call ‘history’ is actually a very short period in the life of our species.  A well documented one, for sure!  But a ‘good’ one?  The past ten thousand years have been filled with wars, empires, exterminations, genocides, tortures, competitions, extinctions and other forms of destructive behavior that we humans have inflicted on fellow creatures and a whole bunch of other species, not to mention entire habitats, climate and ecosystems, based on ever more powerful weapons and domination systems that have, ultimately, had the effect to make us, the inventor species, also a rather unhappy species, with very few individuals still able to connect with the magic of nature, the ability to contemplate existence in the present as a state of pure bliss.  

Maybe those matrifocal ‘primitives’ who knew nothing about paternity, and were ‘naturally’ polyamorous because they loved nature in all its manifestations, including several people, were happier than today’s average person.  So, by finding out how these poly primitives lived, by looking at the origins of sexuality in the long-standing life of our species, we can also come to a better understanding of a different time in our ‘history,’ a time when ‘history’ was actually more of a ‘herstory,’ as fellow second-wave feminists Susan Griffin and others would put it.  

This will help us also dispell another myth: that women naturally ‘suffer’ polyamory while men are the ones who want it.  Really?  How come today’s women would ‘naturally’ demand monogamy when historically the times when polyamory was natural are times when women were revered, sovereign, and free?  If paternity, the cultural construct of male insemination as ’cause’ of female fertility, is what caused dominant societies where women lost that sovereignty and that freedom, then perhaps sexual exclusivity is a result of patriarchal social organizations too? 

In any event, all reflections on these topics are very significant at this time.  Sexuality, in itself an invention of modernity and its wish to study the expression of erotic love in view of general laws to be considered ‘scientific,’ is now being re-envisioned as mainly a way to revitalize our species and the biota that hosts it, not necessarily as a way to reproduce it.  The mandate to ‘go and populate the earth’ has been fulfilled.  We need forms of erotic expression that are about pleasure, connectedness, health, holism, not about possession or release.  We need ecosexual people, people whose erotic inclinations are ecological too.  That’s the only way to invent a new future. And of course the potential and ability to express these inclination respectfully with multiple people of various genders is a bonus to this future too.  

An ecosexual future is also a Gaian future, a future when the fact that our planet Gaia is gay will finally be recognized by our sad and ingeniously destructive and self-destructive species and when we will decide to use our ingenuity to finally keep Gaia gay too.       

Christopher Ryan is a psychologist, teacher and the co-author, along with Cacilda Jethá, of “Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality,” published by Harper Collins.
http://polyplanet.blogspot.com
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serenagaia • August 9, 2010


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