Marriage and monogamy unnatural?

Do we need a book telling us that monogamy isn’t natural, because our ancestors 8,000 years ago didn’t mate for life? Apparently so.

A new book called Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha has just been released in the U.S., and while I haven’t read it, there’s doesn’t seem to be anything new in there. Salon‘s Thomas Rogers sums up the book (before interviewing Ryan) this way:

We have a stratospheric divorce rate and a surge of single parents. Couples who stay together are often trapped in sexless, passionless unions. An entire industry — from couples therapy to sex supplements — has emerged to help people “rekindle the spark” without straying from the confines of monogamy.

But Ryan and Jethá also have a theory for what’s causing this misery: From a biological perspective, men and women simply aren’t meant to be in lifelong monogamous unions. In “Sex at Dawn,” which uses evidence gathered from human physiology, archaeology, primate biology and anthropological studies of pre-agricultural tribes from around the world, they argue that monogamy and the nuclear family are more recent inventions than most of us would expect — and far less natural than we’ve come to believe.

Before the advent of agriculture, they argue, prehistoric humans lived in a much less sexually possessive culture, without the kind of lifelong coupling that currently exists in most countries. They also point to the bonobos, our closest relatives, who live in egalitarian and peaceful groups and have astronomical rates of sexual interaction, as evidence of our natural inclinations…

Ryan says he and his co-author are not proposing an alternative to marriage — they just want people to see that it’s not about sex, but “about things that are much deeper and more lasting than sex, especially if you have children. And the American insistence on mixing love and sex and expecting passion to last forever is leading to great suffering that we think is tragic and unnecessary.”

He’s right on one hand, of course — marriage is not primarily about sex. And yet, it is all about sex —  becaause marriage is the key way we channel and sanction an act designed to build intimacy and produce offspring. A lot more can be said about his comments here, but I’m supposed to be on vacation, so I’ll let you hash it out. 

 

Zoe Romanowsky

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Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in "Catholic Digest," "Faith & Family," "National Catholic Register," "Our Sunday Visitor," "Urbanite," "Baltimore Eats," and Godspy.com. Zo

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