This is a very interesting and fairly wide-ranging book on the anthropology of our human ancestors and some of our closest simian cousins. It is somewhat deliberately misleading by having “SEX” on the cover which, like the light and airy style of writing, is aimed at bringing in more of the ‘popular science readers’ crowd than might otherwise be motivated to buy it. That said it contains more references than practically any other book I’ve read so they obviously know their stuff (and aren’t afraid to contradict popular science leading-lists suck as Stephen J. Gould and Stephen Pinker).
The extensively attack the “standard narrative” that humans are genetically evolved to live the kind of lives we live in the Western world at this moment in time. A comment they back up with, amongst many other things, Darwin’s Victorian attitudes and how this lead to his ludicrous views on human female sexuality. Their comments cover everything from monogamy to conflict to sharing resources. The authors posit that in pre-agriculture times humans lived in small bands in which it was strongly taboo not to share everything (food, child-rearing, sex, etc). They use everything from human physiology and psychology to the long history of failed monogamous relationships to justify their position.
However, it is far from just about sex. They take a chapter to specifically address each of Hobbe’s points in Leviathan and aim to prove that for most of our pre-agriculture ancestors life was anything but “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.
I would encourage others to read this book – if for no other reason than to provide some reasoned arguments against their theory which I personally find quite compelling. I have long felt that the ideal environment to live in is a small group of adults in which everything is shared (living space, money, chores, fun, sexual partners, child-rearing, etc) – alas very few people agree (whether this is nature of culture is pretty much the premise of the book) and even if they did, those I would wish to actually share my life with are probably very few in number…
We know that many female readers aren’t going to be happy reading this, and some will be enraged by it, but for most men, sexual monogamy leads inexorably to monotomy. It’s important to understand this process has nothing to do with the attractiveness of the man’s long-term partner or the depth and sincerity of his love for her. Indeed, quoting Symons, “Aman’s sexual desire for a woman to whom he is not married is largely the result of her not being his wife.”28 Novelty itself is the attraction. Though they’re unlikely to admit it, the long-term partners of the sexiest Hollywood starlets are subject to the same psychosexual process. Frustrating? Unfair? Infuriating? Humiliating on both sides? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. But still, true.
What to do about it? Most modern couples aren’t as flexible about tolerating a variety of sexual partners as the
Melanesians and many of the societies we surveyed in earlier chapters. After reviewing the broad literature on Western marriage, sociologist Jessie Bernard argued in the early 1970s that increasing men’s opportunities for sexually novel partners was one of the most important social changes required in Western societies to promote marital happiness. But this hasn’t happened yet and seems even less likely now, almost four decades later. Maybe this is why some twenty million American marriages can be categorized as no-sex or low-sex due to the man’s loss of sexual interest. According to the authors of He’s Just Not Up for It Anymore, 15 to 20 percent of American couples have sex fewer than ten times per year. They note that the absence of sexual desire is the most common sexual problem in the country.30 Combine these dismal numbers with the 50 percent of all marriages that end in divorce, and it’s clear that modern marriage is suffering a soft-core meltdown.
In The Evolution of Human Sexuality, the ever-quotable Donald Symons pointed out that Western societies have tried every trick in the book to change this aspect of male sexuality, but all have failed miserably: “Human males seem to be so constituted that they resist learning not to desire variety,” he wrote, “despite impediments such as Christianity and the doctrine of sin; Judaism and the doctrine of mensch; social science and the doctrines of repressed homosexuality and psychosexual immaturity; evolutionary theories of monogamous pair-bonding; cultural and legal traditions that support and glorify monogamy.”31 Need we supplement Symons’s thoughts with a list of specific examples of men (presidents, governors, senators, athletes, musicians) who have squandered family and fortune, power and prestige—all for an encounter with a woman whose principal attraction was her novelty? Need we remind female readers of the men in their past who seemed so smitten at first, but mysteriously stopped calling once the thrill of novelty had faded?