Jealousy and Sex at Dawn

Newlyweds Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston pose for pictures July 29, 2000, in Malibu, California. REUTERS/Michael Sanville/POOL NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE, MAGS OUT, TV OUT, INTERNET OUT, ONE-TIME USE ONLY REUTERS

I’m reading a really interesting book right now called Sex at Dawn. No, it’s not an instructional manual on a morning quickie (although god knows that would probably be a bestseller), it’s an examination of the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality. Put simply, it’s a look at how our views toward sex and sexuality have evolved over the last 10,000 years or so, and where they might have come from.

I’m only about a quarter of the way through, but as far as I can tell, there are a couple of key points the authors are trying to make (or slipping in there as secondary thoughts in the background):

  1. The standard narrative of human sexuality (long-term pair bonding, monogamy, and marriage as a fundamental condition of the human species) is in fact B.S.
  2. There are other ways to express sexuality that might come more naturally to us as a species.
  3. That “The shift to agriculture is a ‘catastrophe from which we have never recovered.’” (A personal favourite of mine since I often love to debate that the agricultural revolution actually hindered humankind.)

One entire section (Chapter 10, Jealousy: A Beginner’s Guide to Coveting Thy Neighbor’s Spouse) is dedicated to examining jealousy – how it’s evolved, why it exists, and whether or not it’s natural – and it’s kind of a fascinating read. It purports that in today’s model of human sexuality we view love as a zero sum game, where if two women desire the same man, then one woman’s success in attracting him is automatically the other woman’s loss. But if you remove the initial assumption of monogamy, the model collapses.

We don’t have this either/or approach to any other type of love. When younger siblings are born, the book points out, older siblings are reassured that there’s plenty of love to go around. “Why is it so easy to believe that a mother’s love isn’t a zero-sum proposition, but that sexual love is a finite resource?” “’Is it so obvious that you can’t love more than one person? We seem to manage it with parental love, … love of books, of food, of wine, love of composers, poets, holiday beaches, friends… why is erotic love the one exception that everybody instantly acknowledges without even thinking about it?’”

It’s a good question. I haven’t formed an educated opinion one way or another yet, and I’ll be the first to admit that, even though I can theoretically agree with the concepts presented in the book, I’m not sure how comfortable I would be implementing them in my own relationships (I still expect monogamy from a partner) but there’s something there worth examining. Are we fighting against our intrinsic nature trying to fit within the standard narrative of sexuality? Is monogamy and lifelong pairing a realistic expectation or is it setting us up for disappointment and heartache? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions (so if you’ve read this far hoping you were going to find them, sorry to disappoint) but maybe there’s something there. Maybe we have to shift our expectations. Maybe there’s enough love to go around. I’ll let you know in another 300 pages or so.


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