Book notes: Sex at Dawn

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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92 Responses

  1. Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

    It’s funny, but when I come across speculations like this post (which is excellent, by the way, Rufus), I always read it with one eye towards speculating on how it will affect my changes of getting laid.

    Your post was nuanced and wide-ranging enough that I’ll probably come back later with a less-stupid comment.Report

  2. BSK says:

    “slutty marriage”…

    What does that term mean?Report

    • Snarky McSnarkSnark in reply to BSK says:

      Not-quite “open” marriage, but with more rewarding business trips.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to BSK says:

      “Slutty marriage” was me taking the piss out of the more politically correct terms people use for marriages that are not monogamous: i.e. “open marriage”, “non-monogamous”, “polyamorous”, and Dan Savage’s recent “monogamish”. I think the polite terms are a bit silly.Report

      • Snarky McSnarkSnark in reply to Rufus F. says:

        My own intuition is that sexual jealousy is genetic, but that surfaces (for most) only when the relationship is at risk.   It is functional to the degree that it helps preserve the pair bond through the period of a couple’s children’s infancy.    And it is highly influenced by culture.  If I recall correctly from my cultural anthropology class, “marriage” was one of the two cultural universals (the other being the incest taboo).   However, sexual fidelity is not so much universal, and is highly variable between cultures.

        I do know that sex is intrinsically a powerful bonding experience, even with a fairly casual partner.   And for that reason, it is a potential threat to a marriage.     Ironically, our cultural strictures about it–which seem designed to “protect” marriage–actually may destroy more marriages than they save.   When a moment of infidelity comes–and they do come for a majority of marriages–the act is seen as so outre and outrageous that mutual trust is often shattered.

        Nevertheless, almost every gay man I’ve even known has managed to negotiate “open” relationships without much drama.Report

        • These are good points. Two notes (obviously, I’ve thought about these things):

          1. I don’t get jealous over sex and, perhaps weirdly, not when my wife has something going on with someone else. The closest I’ve come is feeling insecure at the times when she’s not giving me the things I need in the relationship, which usually happen when one or both of us are working our asses off. What I suspect, although I can’t say for sure, is that most people feel insecure when they’re not getting what they need in a relationship, and that insecurity manifests itself as jealousy or is just taken for jealousy. In the case of those dudes (sorry) who are jealous assholes all the time, I think they’re just insecure all the time. I am, in general, very secure and probably a bit cocky about my relationship with my wife. This is probably why the open relationship stuff doesn’t trigger jealousy for me. She’s nuts about me.

          2. Most people in open relationships are familiar with the new partner rush of chemicals and good feelings. They also tend to realize that this rush is pretty ephemeral. It’s exciting being with someone new. However, it’s almost never remotely worth sacrificing a deeper relationship with your “primary partner”. It really does weird me out when monogamous friends of ours have had a brief fling with someone else and split up their relationship because they either mistake that rush for love, or decide that a momentary desire to get laid was a de facto indication that their love relationship had failed. Inevitably, they’ve gotten sick of the new person and regretted leaving their old partner. That’s something I don’t get.Report

        • Alan Scott in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

          I suspect, Snarky, that you know a non-representative sample of gay men.  I’d certainly have issues being in an open relationship, and I suspect that’s equally true of a lot of other young gays.  The promiscuity is an aspect of a gay culture that’s slowly dying out.  Homosexuality is becoming more mainstream, and as it does, we’re getting our cultural cues from our own family and friends instead of from the gay bar.  Unless non-monogamy becomes common in heterosexual relatioships, homosexual monogomy is likely to go the way of polari and flagging.Report

          • Burt Likko in reply to Alan Scott says:

            I had to look up what polari and flagging are. Seems like that must have been a lot of work to keep up with all that underground code.

            As to the merits, I’m in no position to opine on what is or is not the norm in gay culture. My gay friends all seem to be monogamous, particularly the married ones — but then again, I don’t ask my straight friends about whether their relationships are open either. Some things I just don’t really want or need to know.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Actually, the better response would have been a “slutty marriage” is one in which the wife is taking birth control pills.Report

  3. Will H. says:

    …and if prehistoric people never took a crap with their pants down, there’s no reason for me to be dropping my drawers when the barbarians are at the gate.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    Wednesday songs that occurred to me:

    As a probable indicator of my childishness, The Beloved – Sweet Harmony was the first song.

    My serious “what’s my authentic emotional response?” was something like The Killers – Mr. Brightside.

    Then, probably as a defensive mechanism, I went childish again and thought of Bloodhound Gang – The Bad Touch.

    All that to say: I should probably be glad that you didn’t post this on Saturday morning so I wouldn’t post links to the three toys/cereals that this post made me think of.Report

  5. Maribou says:

    “many of the conclusions the book comes to are ones that I responded to with a shrugged, ‘Yeah, well, duh.'”

    Yeah, that’s why I haven’t bothered to read it yet.


  6. Burt Likko says:

    Pair-bonding and/or monogamy may not be the “natural” state of humans, but it is the aspiration to which western culture aspires. There are other kinds of “natural” human social organizations that may not be particularly good fits with modern culture. 

    For instance, we believe that caring for or respecting one’s elders is a morally good thing to do. To the hunter-gatherers from whom we are descended, elders were likely burdens with few benefits, and in some hunter-gatherer societies, elders were expected at some point to wander away and die as part of their duty to relieve the tribe of the duty of caring for them.

    Or consider hierarchies and primacies — how do we select leaders, when and how do leaders get displaced? Democracy was probably not the method employed by our ancestors out on the savannah. But we all seem to prefer some other means of selecting leaders — and rotating them periodically — that is other than the strongest get their way. You can torture that to some degree, but

    So for a good number of folks, going along with the dominant cultural ideal as opposed to the way that we might reasonably presume was the most probable form of social organization for humans of a hundred thousand years ago is not so unnatural or awkward as to be dehumanizing. Just because we can reach some reasonable conclusions about how prehistoric man did things, and draw reasonable inferences about our instincts and actual (rather than idealized) behavior patterns and physiologies, we can still govern ourselves as we choose.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I think maybe you’re responding to the book here, instead of me, but let me respond anyway.

      One of the things I was trying to argue is that our ideas about prehistoric norms are mostly conjectural because, seriously, how much can you tell about a society from some femurs and cave drawings? So, trying to approximate the prehistoric norm is pretty impossible, given that you’re most likely imagining that norm to a large extent.

      Also, I don’t really see “natural” as being terribly well defined in any case. Human behavior has been remarkably varied throughout recorded history and perhaps was the same through prehistory. We seem pretty flexible in how we live and, moreover, how we live seems to be a matter of individual choice. For the vast majority of people, pair bonding and monogamy are lifestyles that work, and I don’t see this book as changing that in any great way. So, when I say that monogamy is “unnatural”, I’m being more than a bit ironic.


      • Kimmi in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Tales and Legends. There’s a quite good argument for an “amazonian” tribe led by women somewhere in Eurasia (vagueish vacinity of turkey/greece). We can derive quite a lot about the culture, and what led to its eventual extermination.

        Youv’e got maybe 5% of people as alphas, and alphas are not designed for pair bonding. They cheat, and it’s basically no big deal to them. The wife divorces? not a big deal, get a new one.

        Then you’ve got the about one third that are betas, and they also cheat, in various ways and with various effectivity. It is definitely not the “vast majority” that go for true monogamy.

        Men who are in touch with their instincts have a very strong desire to procreate — and nearly all of them will pursue a short-term strategy if it’s without much risk. Many men also pursue a long-term strategy (mating) at the same time.

        Bear in mind that many cultures had culturally sanctioned orgies (like May Day!)Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Rufus F. says:

        no, really, over a third of people don’t do monogamy like you think. Alphas certainly don’t (they like harems, and generally have enough charisma to get harems). Betas (that’s about a third of the population) don’t, but they aren’t constantly cheating either… when the opportunity arises.Report

        • Rufus F. in reply to Kimmi says:

          no, really, over a third of people don’t do monogamy like you think.

          Over a third of people cheat? Or over a third are in open relationships? Because I can see the former being the case a lot easier than the latter. They’re not the same thing though. I sometimes think I have a lower opinion of cheaters than people in monogamous relationships do. Also, with ‘alphas’ and ‘betas’, are you talking about men here or people in general? Because, from what I’ve heard, women are closing the cheating gap.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to Rufus F. says:

            alphas and betas are male terms. there’s definitely a lot of “consensual cheating” going on too, but that’s harder to monitor than “ick, that guy has no morals and is looking at his daughter awful closely…”

            Alphas tend more towards being in either open relationships, or of the sort where their wife is pretending she doesn’t see. They go more for orgies too.

            Yeah, I have an extremely low opinion of cheaters… Either tell your partner, or leave your partner. It’s simple.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Burt Likko says:

      every single culture believes something that limits the amount of reproduction… American beliefs tend to be less in touch with instincts than say Japanese beliefs — but the commonality among all successful cultures is that they limit reproduction.Report

  7. Mike Dwyer says:

    From Rufus:

    “Finally, while monogamy might be a perverse and unnatural behavior, it’s not entirely clear why that’s a problem. Plenty of human behaviors are totally unrelated to primate norms and certainly this one seems to work for the vast majority of people.”

    I think this is key. Whenever I hear people say, “Monogamy is not natural,” I kind of roll my eyes. Neither is crapping in a Western toilet. We engage in unnatural behaviors dozens of times per day. Monogamy is a choice and a valid one.Report

  8. BlaiseP says:

    Having been a serial monogamist all my life, I understand cheating at a theoretical level but find it an exceedingly unwise structure for sexuality, again, speaking only for myself.   Perhaps if I came equipped with multiple hearts I could manage the trick of multiple sexual partners emotionally, for I must love the women I fuck.  

    Women have always liked me and I’ve liked them, but fucking is something I’ve always seen as an act of bonding.    If someone needed more than I was providing them sexually, why wouldn’t they have the decency to either ask for it or be honest enough to say I wasn’t the Right Fit, so to speak.   Sexual compatibility is hugely important:   I don’t believe a long-term relationship is possible without it.

    He who fucks around shall be fucked around on, to use a particularly unwieldy string of prepositions.   It’s bad business to retreat into a posture of acceptance without full awareness of what’s going on with your partner. While nobody can fully explain the contents of their hearts to anyone else, sexuality is a concession to the fact that we can’t.   We are mysteries to ourselves and to each other.

    Reduce sexuality to a mere need if you can, if you dare.   Try doing the same with food and you’ll find yourself eating MREs.   Sex is both everything and nothing.   It is a great mystery, the greatest of all human pleasures.    Mankind has tried to warp it and transmogrify it, reduce it to power plays and financial transactions and political contracts.   It’s pliable, it’ll let you do what you want to with it.   But sexuality will always spring back to crush those who underestimate its power.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to BlaiseP says:

      “Sexual compatibility is hugely important:   I don’t believe a long-term relationship is possible without it.”

      It’s interesting how many white, suburban, college-educated males I know that seem unsatisfied with their sex lives. Celibate periods of 6 months or more are not uncommon. Yet these guys are devoted to their families and when you press them they say they wouldn’t think of cheating. My guess is that the easy access to internet porn has become a salve for the sexually discontent.  These guys develop low-level pornography addictions as a way to keep from straying. I’m not saying it’s good or bad but it’s the new reality. Gen X women seem to have finally won the battle over sexual frequency in their marriages and they seem to have (mostly) chosen ‘occasional’ at best.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I’ve encountered the same phenomenon.    Sexuality, dare I use this word without being pounced-on, has a spiritual component, that is to say it’s beyond physical.   Show me a working relationship and I’ll show you two people hard at work. Pornography takes the easy route to that beyond-physical substance. Ultimately, it’s empty and meaningless. But who said sex had to mean anything? It doesn’t. We give it meaning, that is, if we want really good sex we do.

        Orthodox Jews will grant a divorce to a woman if her husband can’t sexually satisfy her.   A rabbi, I am told, ought to have sex with his wife four times a week.   Marriage is forbidden if either party finds the other repulsive.  Sex is a woman’s right, onah, and cannot be compelled, this they believe to be an act of tremendous wickedness.

        But I go even farther.  I am with the Hindus on sexuality:  it is an act of union, the most primal and spiritual act, an act of creation but even deeper, an act of completion.   Sex ought to be frequent, varied and the union thus created treated as its own entity.   I cannot speak for others, but when the French joke about the Beast with Two Backs, I think they’re onto something.   We are annealed in its furnace and forged on its anvil.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Allow me to finish the conversation…

        “If you wanted to engage in something that would have me in an epileptic fit to the point of unconsciousness, I’d want to do it pretty rarely too!”

        “Umm… I don’t think that that’s what we’re talking about.”

        “Well, then, There’s your Problem!”

        … in short, men who don’t focus enough on their partners’ needs, wind up with cold partners. Also, there may be some amount of neurological degeneration involved — it’s important to understand that “it gets better” is honestly physically true, a lot of things improve with use, and sex is just one of them.

        Women enjoying sex is just sort of a fluke of nature…Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi says:

          There’s the old joke about God making Adam and Eve.   He’s going through his box of parts and says “Okay, two items left.   This one’s interesting, who wants to pee standing up?”

          “Mememememe!”   yells Adam.

          “Last item.  Multiple orgasm.”Report

        • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kimmi says:

          It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. These couples have sex less and less frequently and then when they do the man has no staying power or they are so awkward with each other that no one enjoys themselves. Then the woman’s previous opinion on how enjoyable sex is seems confirmed and the next dry spell is even longer. I had a friend tell me that every time he has sex with his wife he feels like he’s a 16-year-old fumbling with a bra strap at the drive-in.Report

          • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            There’s an obvious solution to the “no staying power” problem.  You don’t even need to use artificial stimulants or equipment.

            You just need to start differently, that’s all.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        A while back, I had left a comment regarding my own celibacy. This was followed in part by a female with an, “Isn’t that sweet that you would want to save yourself for someone special,” type of sentiment. I felt more than a bit guilty about that, because that’s not the reasoning behind it at all.
        First of all, it is a religious observation, the same as fasting. To understand fasting properly, you must acknowledge that this is not a deprivation. To view it as so diminishes the benefit of it.
        Even without the religious factor, celibacy makes sense. Engaging in sex colors the volition. In many ways, you are no longer completely your own person afterward.
        Women can be fairly manipulative, and sex or the idea of it is a very common form of manipulation.
        Better to retain the volition intact. Forgo the insanity.
        Nothing really sweet about it at all. I’m being selfish.
        Unwittingly, I reminded myself of Rand, that the majority are so unaware of where their own interests lie that it is impossible for them to act in their self-interest.

        There was a study back in the 90’s where they were trying to tie pornography to violence against women.
        The results of the study indicated that pornography does not increase violence against women, but the researchers noted an unanticipated effect.
        In practically all cases, those who used pornography reported being dissatisfied with their sex partner.
        There were higher dissatisfaction rates with increased use.
        Which would indicate to me that the quickest way to ensure that your sex life will be unfulfilling is to use pornography.
        It’s not wise.Report

        • Mike Dwyer in reply to Will H. says:

          That’s an interesting point. A lot of guys I know see it as a firewall that prevents them from straying HOWEVER one assumes that the more they use it the less they press their partner for regular intimacy. The wives are happy to be left alone and the men accept their sexless marriages as their burden in life.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            otaku are otaku.

            I don’t think its terribly a good idea to not share porn with your wife (and read hers too).Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi says:

              Heh.   As someone who writes erotica for women, I concur.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Alright – I have to ask. Is this a paid hobby?Report

              • Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

                on asstr?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                No, I don’t write on asstr.   And yes, it pays very well.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Is that like full-on novels?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                They began as short stories.   I prefer the short story form, novellas are easier to write though.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Fascinating stuff. A few years ago I toyed with the idea of trying to write a romance novel as a way of generating college money for my kids. I just don’t seem to have the attention span for novel-length writing (hence my dazzling blogging career).Report

              • Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Lotta places to sell novellas or short stories, Mike. Analog’s always looking for stuff, if sci-fi/fantasy’s your bent. (and yeah, they do do romance occasionally)Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Thanks for the info. I am going to look into that. It’s amazing how much a college education costs these days. My oldest will be a freshman in the fall.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Had a writing teacher, Paul Fromer, important guy in my life.   All stories are ultimately the story of Odysseus, he said.    Put a character in a landscape, change something, watch him react.  Change something else, watch him react.   If the character is believable, he is changed thereby.

                Everyone’s first novel ought to be a grandiose orgy of semi-autobiographical self-pity.   It’s like passing a giant turd.   Get it out of your system, throw it away, wash your hands and start in writing another immediately.

                Novels are the easiest thing in the world to write, far easier than short stories, for a short story must do more with less.   I have this Red Riding Hood theory about how to construct a novel.   Not the trite, bowdlerized version we get in the children’s books, but the fierce, dark vision of the Brothers Grimm.   Not all novels are a journey to Grandma’s House but they are journeys nonetheless.

                A novel is constructed in two manuscripts.   The first is the cast of characters  written in the style of a criminal profiler:  here’s what he is, here’s what he does, trying to extrapolate some motivation.    The second is the novel itself, written in the style of a crime report:  here’s where it happened and when and what.   The novelist is constantly cheating, writing up the criminal profile on one side then describing the crime on the other.   The novelist’s greatest temptation is to take the God’s Eye View or even worse, resort to Deus Ex Machina.   As long as you keep the two separate, the one feeds the other.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Short stories were always my forte. I had a few that did well when I was in college. I just never thought there was any market there. I know Steven King has lamented the way novellas are treated in the publishing market. I’ll have to do a little exploration. That would be an enjoyable pastime and if it generates a little income even better.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Write a good novella, and Analog will love you for it! It means they get four issues or so of your story, done up serial style. Then Stan doesn’t need to pull as much from the slush pile…

                It’s hard to make a living on short stories, but getting a few pennies for the college fund? yeah, that’s a piece of cake.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                He who “writes for the market” is on a self-defeating mission.   Write for one person.  Without that target you write in vain.   All those rejection letters will weigh heavy on your heart if you write for the market.   Even if you do achieve some success in the market, the ink-pissing reviewers will only anger you:  they are no good judge of what you wrote.   Even if you get favorable reviews, the reviewer always misses the point.

                 Far from his illness
                The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
                The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
                By mourning tongues
                The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

                But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
                An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
                The provinces of his body revolted,
                The squares of his mind were empty,
                Silence invaded the suburbs,
                The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

                Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
                And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
                To find his happiness in another kind of wood
                And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
                The words of a dead man
                Are modified in the guts of the living.

                But if you write for someone else, the rejection letters don’t mean anything.   Those letters just mean your writing isn’t for their publication.   Only your target audience knows if your stuff is any good.Report

              • MFarmer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                ” As someone who writes erotica for women, I concur.”

                The gift that keeps on giving.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I started writing erotica on a dare from a woman who said a man couldn’t write effective erotica for women.   So I started cautiously interviewing women online about what motivated them.   Learned a lot in the process.   Women are recondite, female desire is baroque beyond my power to describe adequately.    Every woman’s unique, there are no general principles to which a good writer of erotica can possibly adhere.   So I started writing stuff to order, as Anais Nin had done.

                Seven years alone in hotel rooms is an awful long time, folks.   They start looking like jail cells after a while.   I didn’t get seriously involved with anyone, simply because I knew I couldn’t drag someone else into my life on the road.    But in writing erotica, I was able to find some meaning in that loneliness.   Women don’t want to be idealized.   Their feet aren’t made for pedestals.   Fundamentally, good erotica is simply good storytelling.   Create believable characters, give them a good backstory, put them in an interesting landscape.   Thereafter, they run around in that landscape and it’s a joy to follow them around.   Sometimes it’s hard to keep up, heh heh.Report

          • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            I would caution that you can’t assume the direction of causality goes that way. Perhaps being unsatified results in hirer consumption. Or people with more demanding expectations consume more.

            I know that in my experience when I anticipate sex I sometimes refrain from porn so as to save my energy. I can report high levels of satisfaction with my partner and 2-3 times per day porn viewing.

            The key is being able to talk about the sex and having patience.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Will H. says:

          WillH, I believe you mentioned at some point that you have your own blog. Is there a reason you don’t link to it?Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Mike: I know what you’re describing is accurate, but I can’t relate to any of it. My wife wants sex just as frequently as I do, and sometimes more frequently. It might have been a big reason I married her, to be honest, but we’ve been together for 9 and a 1/2 years now and, seriously, having a healthy sex life is a major part of why we’re as happy as we are. Admittedly, though, for us, the occasional outside partner is a lot less like cheating than foreplay. So that likely boosts our numbers. Also, this study is likely flimsy, but it really does correspond to our experience.

        Porn is something I’ve never understood. It seems to render one of the most emotional experiences in human life in a way that’s devoid of all emotion- I have XXX videos in mind here, specifically. I’ve not seen enough to count them on one hand… er, so to speak, and that’s because they just seem boring as hell. We do enjoy some of the 70s European soft core films, but that’s usually because they have open couples in them and don’t portray them as freaks. Otherwise, smut’s never turned my crank. I will say though that I have a close friend who raves about porn all the time and she is a she.Report

  9. Roger says:

    Thought provoking piece, Rufus

    Random thoughts…

    Although marital status is hard to evaluate based upon old bones and teeth, violence is not. I believe the consensus is that violence between groups was several orders of magnitude higher than current levels. This is supported both by archeology (crushed skulls and embedded arrows) and anthropological studies of current hunter gatherers. Much of the fighting is over women.

    Seems we need to consider two types of evolution, biological and cultural. Certainly there were huge shifts from hunting and gathering to farming and ranching. Monogamy seems to be a more successful cultural practice in the latter.

    It is critical to evaluate the consequences of monogamy both on the adults and on the children. Stable father figures that invest heavily in their wives kids is important, and may be limited by step fathers’ innate feelings.

    I’ve read that in long term evolutionary trends, over half of all men never reproduce (60% vs 20% of women). Monogamy changes these odds. Monogamy is a solution for non alpha males. Women would love to have alpha kids raised by beta males. Some betas may disagree.

    Jealousy is like envy. It is a useful emotion (useful for genes) that differs in strength substantially by individual. Some people are able to rationalize it better than others. Some are more enslaved by our genetic propensities than others.

    Just thinking aloud…Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

      1) Most of the decrease in aggression is not caused by monogamy, but by beer. In Germany, hotheads died. Same most places with alcohol.

      2) Long term relationships (high input strategies) do not diminish the importance OR USE of short term (low effort strategies). Saying that Monogamy was a more successful cultural practice in the latter is plain wrong. And I can roll out the geneology charts to prove it.

      3) Where’d you read that? If we assume that a woman has 5 kids (not unusual in agrarian cultures), the man only needs to succeed in laying with her once.

      4) Alpha males suck in bed. Women would rather have non betas and non alphas =– the other 33% who can be dragged around by their nose,a nd who they don’t need to worry about cheating on them.


      • Roger in reply to Kimmi says:

        I wasn’t suggesting that it was due to monogamy, but it certainly reduces the winner take all battle for status and wives you will find in a polygamous society. Here is the link and some excerpts from Baumeister:

        The “single most underappreciated fact about gender,” he said, is the ratio of our male to female ancestors. While it’s true that about half of all the people who ever lived were men, the typical male was much more likely than the typical woman to die without reproducing. Citing recent DNA research, Dr. Baumeister explained that today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men. Maybe 80 percent of women reproduced, whereas only 40 percent of men did.

        “It would be shocking if these vastly different reproductive odds for men and women failed to produce some personality differences,” he said, and continued:

        For women throughout history (and prehistory), the odds of reproducing have been pretty good. Later in this talk we will ponder things like, why was it so rare for a hundred women to get together and build a ship and sail off to explore unknown regions, whereas men have fairly regularly done such things? But taking chances like that would be stupid, from the perspective of a biological organism seeking to reproduce. They might drown or be killed by savages or catch a disease. For women, the optimal thing to do is go along with the crowd, be nice, play it safe. The odds are good that men will come along and offer sex and you’ll be able to have babies. All that matters is choosing the best offer. We’re descended from women who played it safe.

        For men, the outlook was radically different. If you go along with the crowd and play it safe, the odds are you won’t have children. Most men who ever lived did not have descendants who are alive today. Their lines were dead ends. Hence it was necessary to take chances, try new things, be creative, explore other possibilities.

                    To summarize my main points: A few lucky men are at the top of society and enjoy the culture’s best rewards. Others, less fortunate, have their lives chewed up by it. Culture uses both men and women, but most cultures use them in somewhat different ways. Most cultures see individual men as more expendable than individual women, and this difference is probably based on nature, in whose reproductive competition some men are the big losers and other men are the biggest winners. Hence it uses men for the many risky jobs it has.
        Men go to extremes more than women, and this fits in well with culture using them to try out lots of different things, rewarding the winners and crushing the losers.
                    Culture is not about men against women. By and large, cultural progress emerged from groups of men working with and against other men. While women concentrated on the close relationships that enabled the species to survive, men created the bigger networks of shallow relationships, less necessary for survival but eventually enabling culture to flourish. The gradual creation of wealth, knowledge, and power in the men’s sphere was the source of gender inequality. Men created the big social structures that comprise society, and men still are mainly responsible for this, even though we now see that women can perform perfectly well in these large systems.
                    What seems to have worked best for cultures is to play off the men against each other, competing for respect and other rewards that end up distributed very unequally. Men have to prove themselves by producing things the society values. They have to prevail over rivals and enemies in cultural competitions, which is probably why they aren’t as lovable as women.
        The essence of how culture uses men depends on a basic social insecurity. This insecurity is in fact social, existential, and biological. Built into the male role is the danger of not being good enough to be accepted and respected and even the danger of not being able to do well enough to create offspring.
        The basic social insecurity of manhood is stressful for the men, and it is hardly surprising that so many men crack up or do evil or heroic things or die younger than women. But that insecurity is useful and productive for the culture, the system.
        Again, I’m not saying it’s right, or fair, or proper. But it has worked. The cultures that have succeeded have used this formula, and that is one reason that they have succeeded instead of their rivals.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:


          Okay, so I don’t know jack about prehistory, so I’m going to pretend I’m not talking about it, even if I am. It seems really wrong to say that 80% of women reproduced, particularly with such a high infant mortality rate. Add to that the very great risk of death during childbirth (particularly at age 14 or 15, probable in a lot of places).

          Your source is entirely too fucking liberal. I’m sorry, but it really fucking shows. Throughout history, a large proportion of babies were made through rape. It’s all well and dandy to say “look what guys do!” but that’s still fucked in the head — a man will OFFER sex? jesus fucking christ! no, a man will come along and RAPE a young girl — kissing cousins, among other ways to have that happen (incest was a favorite among my ancestors). Yes, some rather stupid betas attempt to become alphas. It doesn’t work.

          To understand why women are, by and large, more “get along” people, is to understand a group of people CONTROLLED and forced to do things, for the good of the race.

          Your source fails to take into account the rather intensive breeding program alphas have undertaken to reduce the amount of alphas in a society. You see, alphas tend to kill each other. Therefore, they honestly have a smaller chance of reaching maturity than most betas. There are a few alphas in charge, and their descendants.

          If you create a society where most betas don’t get a chance to breed, you create a REALLY FUCKING UNSTABLE society. Most places don’t do that. Seriously, they Don’t Do That. Now, of course, sometimes it’s an illusion… monogamy where your wife is cheating/getting raped while you aren’t watching…

          But there’s a reason Islam thinks of a harem as being four wives, max. Alphas don’t need LARGE harems, and that’s basically what your source is taking as a fucking given. It’s fucking fucked up wrong.

          You look at alphas, at the princes, and you see in general signs of mental illness. If these were the major reproducers that he’s thinking of, youd’ see far higher rates of mental illness among the populace.

          Alphas reproduce more than betas (or at least used to), but it’s not Most Babies.

          MEN are more extreme than women. PERIOD. Mr. Smarty thinks he knows it all AIN”T gonna tell you about more men being dyslexic, LD or retarded. Mother nature experiments more with men, because she CAN. I can lay out a variety of survival strategies that are MORE OPTIMAL than most men pursue. THEY ARENT ALL ALPHAS.

          Betas are winning the war against alphas, by the way. Most alphas are stupid people — strong or charismatic, but they never needed intelligence.

          Jeez, how mysogynistic can this guy get? We had an entire culture run by women. It was exterminated for a REASON. Men took over women’s jobs — whomever created fire, it was men who got to carry it, because it was important. It’s not like we can really say who created a lot of prehistoric things — but a woman invented weaving, I’m fairly certain of it. It plays to a woman’s strengths. EVEN in societies where men weave.

          I’ve spent too much time on this guy already, but… geez, he’s saying men are less lovable than women????? I’m stopping reading at that point.Report

          • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kimmi says:

            Throughout history, a large proportion of babies were made through rape.

            I’ve got to see a reference for this.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

              Take ancient greek society. They envisioned a power dynamic (one able to take, the other passive and ideally NOT LIKING IT).  this, again, was their ideal. It wasn’t a society that gave women choices — or that was very interested in women “finding love after marriage” (which you find in certain Indian and certainly Japanese society — Nob, is that a westernization? How old is that belief?)

              In the middle ages, women were not expected to enjoy sex — or, really, to consent. You were married, you were a man’s property, he could do with you as he wished. The “rule of thumb” was about the boundaries of that — he could beat you, but only with a stick as thin as his thumb or thinner.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Kimmi says:

                Add to this the number of festivals which basically made “open sex” okay, for a day or two, anyway… Women were not seeking out sex in these things. They might accidentally find themselves in a place alone with a guy — and sex would happen to them. Mostly quietly, in a “natural” sort of way — it’s nonconsensual sex, more akin to our formulation of date/acquaintance rape than “violent bleedy” rape (which was REALLY rare).Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Kimmi says:

                ought to note that not only are women more likely to respond (even somewhat unwillingly) to new partners during ovulation, but they are also more likely to get pregnant from them.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kimmi says:

                OK – that makes a little more sense. I would be hesitant to use the word rape to describe it. I’m always reluctant to use modern terminology to describe historical conventions.Report

              • Roger in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


                Why? Rape is forced sex, right? Granted social mores may differ, but forced sex is forced sex, right? Do we also not call involuntary servitude slavery? Is involuntary killing no longer murder?Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

                Roger — rape implies “legally wrong” in my country. In a country where it is either normative, or even considered “ethically Best”… you’ve got a case that maybe the word is a poor fit.

                Nonconsensual sex does not precisely imply force — a woman can just be standing, relatively pliable — but unable to say a word.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Roger says:

                One could argue that a woman in 1900 who had no economic options other than to stay home with the kids was a slave of sorts (her labor was not of her choosing). Likewise, women in other times were expected to give their husbands sex. Anyone who is married will tell you that wives even today often comply against their wishes simply to make their husbands happy. I don’t call that rape. Social pressure maybe.Report

              • Roger in reply to Roger says:

                Mike and Kimmi,
                Mike: “One could argue that a woman in 1900 who had no economic options other than to stay home with the kids was a slave of sorts (her labor was not of her choosing). Likewise, women in other times were expected to give their husbands sex. Anyone who is married will tell you that wives even today often comply against their wishes simply to make their husbands happy. I don’t call that rape. Social pressure maybe”.

                I dont call it rape either Seems like you just reversed the language abuse. A woman choosing to get married and labor in the home is not a slave and a woman agreeing to have sex because she feels pressure or obligation to do so is not being raped. I understand that the exact legal definition of the shades of grey may differ between societies and within societies over time. But overall, rape murder and slavery are quite good terms for various types of clear cut physical exploitation of another person. 

                Rape, murder and enslavement can still be conceptualized absent rules prohibiting them. Seems to me that these three terms are great words to describe general types of physically coercive exploitation, and that ” statute so and so” is the proper term for the exact details of the law against it.

                Kimmi, I am still having trouble grasping the concept of ethically best rape. Is this some kind of weird utilitarianism where the women all agree to take one up the you know what for the team?Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

                Roger, in ancient greece, rape — more of the statutory kind, but younger boys were not supposed to enjoy it… was considered to be a Good Thing. More moral than other forms of sex.Report

              • Roger in reply to Roger says:


                I am well aware that rapists might consider raping a good thing and that they are strongly incentivized to rationalize their behavior so others in society will go along. I am also aware that some societies considered sacrificing virgins to the gods as a good thing. I am also aware that some people today believe that forcing people against their will to subsidize another person’s contraception is a good idea. However they are all clearly and objectively forms of exploitation from the subjective view of the victim.

                Sorry, but this just sounds like PC moral relativism run amok.Report

          • Roger in reply to Kimmi says:


            I am not saying I agree with his views, just that he is the source that the majority of men have died with no surviving progeny and that this is definitely not the case for most women. I agree with you that forced sex has been extremely common, and is probably one of the tactics used by men that women are not attracted to. It is a reprehensible strategy that was evolutionarily successful.

            I think you are actually agreeing with him when you point out the struggle of men to get in the minority with surviving grand kids. The point is that the intense competition leads to wars, winner take all struggles and even rape and conquest.

            I also agree with you that monogamy can be viewed as a cultural adaptation to create a more stable and less destructive relationship between men. It turns down the intensity of competition to the benefit of men and children, and possibly indirectly for women. As a libertarian, I would not naturally require coercive restrictions against polygamy, but I certainly see the value to society of having these rules. Monogamy basically restricts women from marrying married men. It precludes a perceived win win between an already married guy and a willing girl. The indirect beneficiaries of the rule are first wives and less mariagable dudes.

            Men are more extreme than women. More geniuses and retards. More variety. You say this should lead to more mental disturbance, but perhaps it just explains the screwed up nature that we do observe around us. Remember, alpha status is not completely intrinsic. It is an outcome after the struggle. The guy with a spear in his back is not alpha. He is dust. The CEO has the trophy wife and the string of affairs, not the guy that went bankrupt.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

              Alpha is relatively intrinsic, correlated with small penis and ball size (and, as I said, large muscles).A guy figures out whether he’s an alpha or not at around puberty, based on girls’ responses.

              I said that if alphas reproduced more than they do, we would have a greater incidence of mental illness.

              (and you can consider my ire directed at your source, not yourself.)

              When I mention rape, it is often in the context of betas breeding alpha male’s wives. Which I don’t think your source has bothered to think about, let alone its relative prevalence.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Roger says:

      Roger, this is an area where I’d love to hear from an archaeologist- unless you are one, in which case mazel tov!– because I always thought too that the evidence was that violence was endemic among prehistoric people and the authors claim it’s just the opposite, and frankly I haven’t the training or connections to find out who’s right.

      It probably does make a difference that my wife and I have zero interest in having kids. If we had them, we’d maybe try monogamy rather than explain things to them. I wonder if the sexless marriages Mike’s talking about are ones with kids. For us, not having kids is generally an incentive to try a whole lot of different things, sexually and just in general. I don’t know if having them changes that though. That world is a mystery to me.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Rufus F. says:

        This is an area where I’d love to hear from an archaeologist…


        I don’t collect my paycheck as an archaeologist anymore and I was a historic archaeologist BUT I feel qualified to speak to this at a low-level. Yes, violence happened frequently. It was also more common that today HOWEVER it is impossible to determine the reasons why people were fighting and fighting over women honestly seems unlikely. Primative tribes all over the world generally have pretty liberal traditions regarding relationships. Generally speaking there is very little tradition of romantic drama until western society began to make marriage such a formal undertaking.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          Romances came rather late to the West.   When they first emerged, they were all tragedies, the madness of romantic love would always lead to some destructive end.   Lots of untruths, Merlin assists Uther Pendragon to seduce Ygraine, Arthur and Morgana, Merlin and Morgawse, Lancelot and Guenivere.   None of ’em end up in a good place.

          The Abrahamic Three would give rise to all this patriarchal baloney.    Nomads are terribly possessive of their women.   City dwellers, less so, Egypt’s full of sexual promiscuity, so’s Sumerian and Babylonian culture.

          But my favorite bit of ancient erotica is the Venus of Willendorf.Report

        • Rufus F. in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          Yeah, that’s what I’d read from explorers like Léry who first made contact- the “wars” were fairly regular, but related more to things like who killed who in last year’s war. As I understand it, this was true of the steppe tribes in Asia for centuries- wars were regular and usually for limited goals- with the Mongols just really excelling at war making after the innovations of Genghis Khan.Report

        • Roger in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          The explanations for fighting comes from studying primitive tribes that are still around, such as the Yanomamo. Obviously the reasons are complex and contextual, but they often find disputes over women and pigs as essential elements.

          The comments on romantic traditions misses the point that the warfare is between different groups, not within the group. When they steal your pigs and women, a response is required!Report

      • Roger in reply to Rufus F. says:


        No such credentials. I’ve read about the higher violence rates in dozens of places. I just grabbed my copy of Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature and he has the average rate of death by warfare in HGs as 14 % and mixed hunter/gatherer/horticulture as almost 25%. Modern world is less than 1%.

        Everything I have read the past 10 years or so on the topic is that the peaceful savage is a total myth.Report

        • Mike Dwyer in reply to Roger says:

          Roger – I would agree with those numbers however determining causation for violence in any society without a written record is complete conjecture. I’m not saying archaeologists/anthropologists don’t engage in that kind of conjecture (to the contrary it’s their favorite hobby) but it’s not based on any real science.Report

          • Roger in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


            Well said. Though I do believe it is the type of thing that should be studied. For example, it would be useful to have data on what percent of wars between tribes involved theft of women or livestock as a significant measure of cause. This would allow imperfect quantification of trends and tendencies and is more important to some of us than anthropological trivia. Of course, I think trivia (meaning facts and specific details) is important too, at least to some people. I guess I am more drawn to trends and patterns than details.Report

  10. James Hanley says:

    I read a lot of the evo psych lit in grad school, and if the authors of this book think the body of work supports the hypothesis that “homo sapiens are a naturally monogamous species in which the men are randy until they mate and jealous lovers afterwards, while the women are coy and sexually disinterested, aiming mostly for a mate who can provide security to their offspring,” then they are attacking a strawman.  That idea was somewhat prevalent decades ago, but hasn’t been dominant–probably not even prominent–for at least the last 20 years.

    Now if this book is just a popularization of that more recent literature, then that’s fine. But if they’ve mischaracterized the current state of the discipline, then the authors are beginning by being deceptive, which is never a good sign.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to James Hanley says:

      I think it’s intended more as a popularization of the more recent literature with a lot of criticism of the venerable elders of the profession. It would be up to the people criticized to say if they’ve been unfairly characterized.Report