Human Sexual Behavior

While the mating habits of other species are guided by strong biological instincts, humans have evolved to become more flexible in how we can be trained to behave, and we can be very resourceful at exploiting opportunities.

While we are still driven by the same basic biological urges as other animals, there appears to be no boundaries to the behavioral strategies that we might employ when attempting to fulfill these urges.


Cultural evolution

As the ancestors of humans began to walk upright and use their hands, and as their brains evolved to become larger and their throats evolved to enable speech, they began forming tribal laws and customs to regulate their social behavior, and in particular, their reproductive behavior.

Different populations often developed different customs depending on their unique tribal histories and the survival strategies that best suited their particular environment. Whenever different groups came into contact, whichever culture facilitated the survival of more healthy young was more likely to dominate and spread.

Prehistoric hunter gatherers roamed the land in small family tribes. While men focused on physically demanding tasks like hunting large animals and protecting the group, women focused more on maintaining the camp, gathering and preparing food, and caring for family members. Intertribal marriage was a common way of establishing wider social networks and ensuring shared access to larger areas of land.

With the beginnings of agriculture and the formation of farming villages, areas of farmland could sustain much larger populations. Farming villages grew into towns populated by specialists such as carpenters, merchants, and tailors, who all contributed to an integrated economy.

Marriages were usually arranged by families. Sons or daughters were often sold into marriage for a price. Multiple wives were common in communities that were ravaged by war, where men were often killed and women taken away as slaves. In places where women were rare, marriages were sometimes arranged with multiple husbands.

Dominant male behavior still occasionally happened, like in the case of ancient kings and medieval sultans who took hundreds of wives and concubines. Men driven by power and desire could do as they pleased as long as no rival force could stop them.

Even today, the unchallengeable power of dictators like the president of North Korea allows him to have an entire government department dedicated to recruiting desirable young women for his personal pleasure palace.

Until the rise of modern democracy, the outcome of political power struggles was generally decided by war. Rape and pillage were often seen as the spoils of war, and it was common for armies to reward their soldiers by throwing captured women into officially sanctioned army brothels.

In almost every community throughout history, prostitution was either grudgingly or enthusiastically accepted as a way for poor or unmarried women to make a living.


Religion and sexual morality

With refinements to the art of writing, strict rules governing sexual behavior became enshrined in religious scriptures. Strict laws condemning sex outside of marriage, and even laws against divorce and abortion, were enforced by powerful religious institutions for thousands of years.

The old Church of England matrimonial ceremony describes the tradition of marriage as a “mystical union”, “instituted ... in the time of man’s innocence”, “not to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding”, but rather to be taken “soberly ... duly considering the causes for which matrimony was ordained”, which are “for the procreation of children”, and so that men and women may satisfy their lusts without harmful consequence, and so that families may “aid and comfort one another in times of adversity and prosperity”.

The laws and values of Islam reflect the harsh desert conditions from which it arose. At the time, tribesmen regularly battled each other for control of scarce desert resources. Men were often killed and women enslaved. As Muhammad fought to unite the desert tribes under Islam, his followers were permitted to marry up to four wives, and his warriors were allowed to keep any number of captured slave girls.


Modern relationships

The spread of modern democracy and the invention of modern technologies like television have resulted in the formation of a distinct modern global culture. This modern global culture is rapidly replacing traditional cultures all over the world except in those places where it clashes with beliefs that are enshrined in traditional religious scriptures.

The availability of reliable birth control in the modern world has broken the connection between sex and pregnancy, and now sex can be pursued for pleasure while having children has become a matter of choice.

It is now common for people to have more than one sexual relationship before they choose to have children. Couples often live together for years before they marry. Some men and women avoid lasting relationships as long as they can continue to attract desirable partners.

The result has been the formation of an unregulated social reproductive system, sometimes called ‘the meat market’. This system is particularly noticable in the big cities of the western world, where people continue to “try before they buy”, often in the hope of finding a compatible partner before they consider settling down to start a family.


The meat market

Almost everyone would like a partner who is physically attractive, smart, funny, and possibly even wealthy. But it is usually very difficult to find all of these qualities in the same person.

Most people are forced to compromise and lower their expectations in order to find a compatible partner. The degree to which we compromise depends on what we ourselves have to offer and how desirable we are to others, in other words, our own value on the meat market.

Those who understand the rules of the mating game are usually the most successful players. Those who think that there are no rules and who try to cheat usually end up suffering penalties they never knew existed. And those who hold out for too long, waiting for something better, are often the ones who end up with less, or end up with nothing.


Conservative forces

One potential problem with the deregulated social reproductive system is that without government assistance for single parents, children born outside of marriage or children whose parents get divorced may end up being seriously disadvantaged. Allowing premarital sex and easy divorce can result in more children becoming a financial burden on their extended family or on the wider taxpaying society.

The deregulation of reproduction often becomes a political power struggle between liberal forces concerned with the freedoms of the individual, and conservative forces concerned about the costs to society. The prevailing balance will depend largely on the wealth of the nation to afford a generous welfare system, or the ability of governments to hold biological fathers responsible for the costs of their offspring.

The most common strategy employed by conservatives is to try to uphold traditional religious moral values. However, because of the historical peculiarities of most traditional religions and their inability to adapt to changing conditions, their ancient rules for regulating sexual behavior often work against the interests of both the individual and the wider taxpaying society.

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