In the first two parts of our series on reinventing marriage, you discovered prehistoric reasons why we we are not wired to be faithful. You learned how some modern couples practice polyamory as an honorable alternative to illicit affairs and lying that often lead to divorce.
This is the third and final part of my interview with Christopher Ryan Ph.D, author of Sex At Dawn–The Prehistoric Origins Of Modern Sexuality. Now you’ll find out about societies with non-traditional families and complete sexual autonomy for men and women.
Many people will continue to strive for sexual fidelity in marriage. They will resist the concept that our essential sexual nature is promiscuity, not monogamy. Is there any danger in denying our prehistoric roots that we haven’t discussed yet?
If modern life contradicts our evolved predisposition, then we suffer. If the life we live differs too much from the life our bodies are designed for, then we get diseases. That’s true if our diet or exercise patterns differ to much from our ancestors. It’s also true for our stress levels or our sexual habits. Our bodies were designed to have several ongoing sexual relationships at one time.
If you look at the primates that are closest to humans, the bonobos and chimps, they are multi-male and multi-female maters. This creates sperm competition because the females have sex with different men in each menstrual cycle.
Who stays around to raise their offspring?
Primarily the mother raises the infant and the food is shared in their group. We tend to think that a woman trades her sexual fidelity to a man so that he will provide food and shelter. But historically, people have always shared everything. Why should we think that sex wasn’t shared?
So looking at modern society and projecting it in the past just doesn’t work?
Correct. I call it Flinstonization of the past because it’s fantasy.
In Sex At Dawn, you’ve said that some pre-agricultural societies didn’t expect sexual fidelity nor cohabitation nor sharing of property between sexual partners. Is there a modern society who lives this way?
The Mosuo tribe of 50,000 people live this way near Tibet. Every adult has absolute sexual autonomy. Every woman has a door in her bedroom that opens onto the street. She can invite any man to stay the night, but he must be gone before breakfast. Men see as many women as they desire.
What happens to the offspring of these sexual unions?
Children are raised by the mother and her mother and her brothers who all live together. The fathers neither live with nor raise their children.
So their view of family values has nothing to do with traditional marriage nor monogamy?
That’s true. Our conception of marriage at the moment is not traditional. There is no single definition of marriage that’s lasted over time. It’s a constantly changing institution. When we adjust it, we should do it in ways that benefit the children and protect them from the emotional anguish of divorce.
To achieve that goal, couples may need to learn to recover from infidelity, without throwing away their marriage over it. Do you agree?
Too many marriages end in divorce because of this silliness. If a couple is honest and looks at infidelity as a growth opportunity, they can stay together. You can find out how different cultures deal with infidelity in the book, Lust In Translation, by Pamela Druckerman.
Isn’t infidelity one of the toughest things to forgive?
The one thing women find most difficult to forgive is cowardice. It takes courage to tell a woman what you’re feeling and to clarify your essential sexual nature. It’s smart to do this before you sign on for a long-term relationship. If you’re afraid to talk about it, then it’s a bad sign right there.
I often tell my online community that no topic is taboo in a healthy relationship. You will deepen intimacy and understanding when you discuss ways to reinvent marriage and protect family from the anguish of divorce over infidelity.
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