Monogamy

Mini-doc: The Economics of Sex.

First, watch this mini-doc (and don't read the rest of the post):

What is your first reaction? Give it a quick think and then scroll down.

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What if you then found out the makers of the doc, the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, is a far-right religious academic organization that is ostensibly advocating against families that aren't headed by a married heterosexual couple?

It isn't to say that some of the facts and ideas presented in this aren't correct (Roy Baumeister, one of the researchers they cite, is highly respected), but the conclusions drawn should lead to some red flags.

The Slate published a piece on this:

Are Men Getting Away With Too Much Sex? A New Austin Think Tank Says Yes. By Amanda Marcotte

The latest "viral" video—does it count if it has fewer than 100,000 views?—causing eyes to roll at computer screens coast to coast is the "Economics of Sex." This gem of right-wing concern-trolling explains to ladies how contraception has destroyed their lives: No longer can they use accidental pregnancies to trick men into marriage. The theory, which we've all heard a thousand times, is that contraception lowered the "price" women can charge for sex (getting hitched)—so women are all sad now. Clearly the height of a woman's happiness is being saddled for life with a man who barely puts up with her because he fears he can't get sex anywhere else. But it's in a cutesy format, so let's just pretend it's hip.

Brandon Watson of the Austin Chronicle did a little reporting on who's behind this video. It turns out to be the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture("family and culture," of course, being the uncomfortable conservative euphemism for sex). This new organization is run, in part, by Mark Regnerus, most famous for publishing a thoroughly debunked study arguing that gay parents are bad for kids. Watson has some fun describing how he imagines the staff: "On the veranda of a buttercream Victorian, the fellows sip lemonade while casting disappointed glances at University of Texas co-eds." Indeed, digging into their website reveals a bunch of half-baked studies that serve no real purpose but to cause jealous prigs to shake their heads ruefully at all the sexy people out there having too much fun.

Watson zeroes in on an article decrying the widespread practice of men taking "me time" in front of computer screens. The post—titled "Masturbation Nation?"—is an attempt to discredit the argument that masturbation is good for you. "Frequent masturbation is modestly associated with lower self-reported happiness as well as greater anxiety in relationships and difficulties navigating interpersonal relationships successfully, especially among men," it says. Of course, if you read the actual report, you'll find, buried deep inside, an admission that the masturbation is probably not causing the loneliness. Common sense would suggest that it's the other way around. But! We should nonetheless see masturbation as a challenge to "human flourishing," claims the report. The possibility that frequent masturbation could be a helpful coping mechanism for lonely people until they get a little less lonely is pointedly ignored.

Regnerus himself has been in the news again recently, after the blogger Jeremy Hooper highlighted a speech that Regnerus gave at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. In it, he warns women that supporting gay marriage is going to backfire by persuading men that all kinds of dirty sex things are OK:

If gay marriage is perceived as legitimate by heterosexual women, it will eventually embolden boyfriends everywhere and not a few husbands to press for what men have always historically wanted but were rarely allowed – sexual novelty, in the form of permission to stray without jeopardizing their primary relationship. Discussion of openness in sexual partners in straight marriages will become more common, just as the practice of heterosexual anal sex got a big boost from the normalization of gay men’s sexual behavior in both contemporary porn and the American imagination. It may be spun as empowering women, but it sure won’t … sure doesn’t feel that way.

The theme here is that women were once an empowered class that used all their magnificent social power, which was so much greater than that of men's, to make sure men didn't have very much sex. And now, because of gays and porn and contraception—and for all I know, the 19th Amendment—women have lost their power and men are just having out-of-control sex and we ladies can't do anything to stop it. It's an interesting theory, though it does snag against the reality that women don't seem to be bothered by men orgasming without paying the supposedly heavy price of marrying us first. Indeed, we may even think that marriage is not a "price" at all, but something men do for love and companionship.

Polyandry.

From The Atlantic:

When Taking Multiple Husbands Makes Sense

For generations, anthropologists have told their students a fairly simple story about polyandry -- the socially recognized mating of one woman to two or more males. The story has gone like this:

While we can find a cluster of roughly two dozen societies on the Tibetan plateau in which polyandry exists as a recognized form of mating, those societies count as anomalous within humankind. And because polyandry doesn't exist in most of the world, if you could jump into a time machine and head back thousands of years, you probably wouldn't find polyandry in our evolutionary history.

That's not the case, though, according to a recent paper in Human Nature co-authored by two anthropologists, Katherine Starkweather, a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri, and Raymond Hames, professor of anthropology at the University of Nebraska. While earning her masters under Hames' supervision, Starkweather undertook a careful survey of the literature, and found anthropological accounts of 53 societies outside of the "classic polyandrous" Tibetan region that recognize and allow polyandrous unions. (Disclosure: I first learned of Starkweather's project while researching a controversy involving Hames and he is now a friend.)

Indeed, according to Starkweather and Hames, anthropologists have documented social systems for polyandrous unions "among foragers in a wide variety of environments ranging from the Arctic to the tropics, and to the desert." Recognizing that at least half these groups are hunter-gatherer societies, the authors conclude that, if those groups are similar to our ancestors -- as we may reasonably suspect -- then "it is probable that polyandry has a deep human history."

Read the rest here.

Promiscuous species may have stronger immune systems.

From Science Daily:

Monogamy and the Immune System: Differences in Sexual Behavior Impact Bacteria Hosted and Genes That Control Immunity

In the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains two closely related species of mice share a habitat and a genetic lineage, but have very different social lives. The California mouse (Peromyscus californicus) is characterized by a lifetime of monogamy; the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) is sexually promiscuous.

Researchers at the University of California Berkeley recently showed how these differences in sexual behavior impact the bacteria hosted by each species as well as the diversity of the genes that control immunity. The results were published in the May 2012 edition of PLoS One.

Monogamy is a fairly rare trait in mammals, possessed by only five percent of species. Rarely do two related, but socially distinguishable, species live side-by-side. This makes these two species of mice interesting subjects for Matthew MacManes, a National Institutes of Health-sponsored post-doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley.

Through a series of analyses, MacManes and researchers from the Lacey Lab examined the differences between these two species on the microscopic and molecular levels. They discovered that the lifestyles of the two mice had a direct impact on the bacterial communities that reside within the female reproductive tract. Furthermore, these differences correlate with enhanced diversifying selection on genes related to immunity against bacterial diseases.

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Based on a comparison of the two species' genotypes he confirmed that the promiscuous mice had much more diversity in the genes related to their immune system.

"The promiscuous mice, by virtue of their sexual system, are in contact with more individuals and are exposed to a lot more bacteria," MacManes said. "They need a more robust immune system to fend off all of the bugs that they're exposed to."

The results, published in PLoS One, match findings in humans and other species with differential mating habits. They show that differences in social behavior can lead to changes in the selection pressures and gene-level evolutionary changes in a species.

Read the rest of the article here.

Polygamy in Netherlands.

Passed along by Andrew (thanks!).

This is from 2005 - I assume that there have been more of these types of marriages since.

From the Brussels Journal:

First Trio "Married" in The Netherlands

The Netherlands and Belgium were the first countries to give full marriage rights to homosexuals. In the United States some politicians propose “civil unions” that give homosexual couples the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage. These civil unions differ from marriage only in name.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands polygamy has been legalised in all but name. Last Friday the first civil union of three partners was registered. Victor de Bruijn (46) from Roosendaal “married” both Bianca (31) and Mirjam (35) in a ceremony before a notary who duly registered their civil union.

“I love both Bianca and Mirjam, so I am marrying them both,” Victor said. He had previously been married to Bianca. Two and a half years ago they met Mirjam Geven through an internet chatbox. Eight weeks later Mirjam deserted her husband and came to live with Victor and Bianca. After Mirjam’s divorce the threesome decided to marry.

Victor: “A marriage between three persons is not possible in the Netherlands, but a civil union is. We went to the notary in our marriage costume and exchanged rings. We consider this to be just an ordinary marriage.”

Asked by journalists to tell the secret of their peculiar relationship, Victor explained that there is no jealousy between them. “But this is because Mirjam and Bianca are bisexual. I think that with two heterosexual women it would be more difficult.” Victor stressed, however, that he is “a one hundred per cent heterosexual” and that a fourth person will not be allowed into the “marriage.” They want to take their marriage obligations seriously: “to be honest and open with each other and not philander.”

Dr. Christopher Ryan: Sex at Dawn.

In the section on monogamy, I mentioned the book Sex at Dawn, which was published earlier this year. The book makes the argument that from an evolutionary perspective, humans aren't sexually monogamous. Not surprisingly, it's drawn much attention, both positive and negative. The interview in the clip below is with one of the authours, Dr. Ryan. The description:

In Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality renegade researchers Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá debunk almost everything we “think we know” about sex and show how our promiscuous past haunts our current struggles regarding monogamy, sexual orientation, and family dynamics. Weaving together convergent, often overlooked evidence from anthropology, archeology, primatology, anatomy, and psychosexuality, Sex at Dawn shows how far from human nature sexual monogamy really is and unapologetically upends unwarranted assumptions and unfounded conclusions while offering a revolutionary understanding of why we live and love as we do.

And the video (via the SLOG):


Stay classy Ashley Madison.

From Jezebel:

Is Your Wife Fat? Try Adultery!

Adultery website Ashley Madison further classed up its image today with a post-Halloween campaign implying that a) fat people are scary and b) you should cheat on them. Want some rationalization? The company's CEO has buckets of it.

The ad, which appeared in the New York Metro, features a scantily-clad overweight woman with the caption, "Did your wife scare you last night?" The message: your wife, though she's clearly gone to some effort to look sexy and seduce you, is too fat. Solution: adultery.

Now, we wouldn't necessarily expect a thoughtful, sensitive advertisement from a business designed to help people cheat on their spouses. That said, Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman has made an effort to convince folks he's not just some skeezeball. He's described his business as a "marriage saver," allowing people to seek extramarital sex without divorce. He explained to Bloomberg BusinessWeek,

If I woke up and found my partner wasn't interested in being with me sexually and I tried to do everything I could but sex was now off her radar...Well, sex is important in my marriage — it is — but it's not No. 1 and it's not No. 2. So I would stray before I would just leave, because maybe that would give me enough of what I need to stay within my marriage to do all the other things that are critical to me.

Read the rest of the article here.

Poor economy could lead to more male infidelity.

From Science Daily:

Grim economic times could cause men to seek more sexual partners, giving them more chances to reproduce, according to research by Omri Gillath, a social psychology professor at the University of Kansas.

Men are likely to pursue short-term mating strategies when faced with a threatening environment, according to sexual selection theory based on evolutionary psychology.

When made to think about their own death, which mimics conditions of "low survivability," Gillath and his colleagues found that men responded more vigorously to sexual pictures and had increased heart rates when viewing them, compared to when they thought about dental pain.

"We're biologically wired to reproduce, and the environment tells us the best strategy to use to make sure our genes are passed on," said Gillath. "If you think you might die soon, there's a huge advantage for a man to use short-term mating strategies -- to make sure there are a bunch of offspring and hope that some of them survive -- but women can't do the same thing."

"The ultimate sign of low chances of surviving is death," Gillath added. "After threatening them with their own death, we asked them to look at a computer with sexual and nonsexual images, to see if death makes men more interested in sex."

People primed with death triggered a lever faster when they saw sexual images, compared to those primed with dental pain. The two groups exhibited no difference in response times for nonsexual images.

"In low survivability conditions, we think that men would be more apt to pursue sex outside of a monogamous relationship, looking for ways to spread their genes," Gillath said.

Read the rest of the article here.

Much more on monogamy.

Monogamy (or more accurately, non-monogamy) has become a hot-button issue in the last couple of years. While various forms of non-monogamy have been around for millennia in non-Western cultures, mainstream Western culture has historically only sanctioned relationships that are sexually and socially monogamous. Non-monogamous relationships have been (and still are) considered taboo, even resulting in legal penalties, despite the fact that a large proportion of people who are in apparently monogamous relationships are not actually sexually monogamous.

The publication of the book Sex at Dawn a couple of years blew the top off this issue. I posted an interview with one of the authours, Dr. Christopher Ryan, earlier this year (link here). Based on a review of all the available evidence, he and his co-authour claim that monogamy is not a natural human inclination or behaviour. Since the publication of Sex at Dawn, many articles have come out questioning the feasibility of monogamy for many people, including the piece a few posts down from The New York Times.

Recently, The Slate published a bunch of great articles on monogamy. If this is an issue that interests you, the articles are recommended reading. You can find them here.

Dan Savage on monogamy.

From a recent piece by Mark Oppenheimer for The New York Times about Dan Savage and his views on monogamy:

Savage believes monogamy is right for many couples. But he believes that our discourse about it, and about sexuality more generally, is dishonest. Some people need more than one partner, he writes, just as some people need flirting, others need to be whipped, others need lovers of both sexes. We can’t help our urges, and we should not lie to our partners about them. In some marriages, talking honestly about our needs will forestall or obviate affairs; in other marriages, the conversation may lead to an affair, but with permission. In both cases, honesty is the best policy. “I acknowledge the advantages of monogamy,” Savage told me, “when it comes to sexual safety, infections, emotional safety, paternity assurances. But people in monogamous relationships have to be willing to meet me a quarter of the way and acknowledge the drawbacks of monogamy around boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted.”

Read the rest of the piece, which has stirred up substantial controversy, here.

Richard Dawkins on monogamy, ethics, and religion.

In the wake of the Anthony Weiner's resignation from the US Congress after getting caught sending naked photos of himself to women other than his wife, Richard Dawkins, wrote this excellent piece for The Washington Post:

Banishing the Green-Eyed Monster
"Is sex outside of marriage a sin? Is it a public matter? Is it forgivable?" No, of course sex outside marriage is not a public matter, and yes, of course it is forgivable. Only a person infected by the sort of sanctimonious self-righteousness that religion uniquely inspires would apply the meaningless word 'sin' to private sexual behavior.
It is the mark of the religious mind that it cares more about private than public morality. As the bumper sticker slogan put it, "When Clinton lied, nobody died." Officially, Bill Clinton was impeached not for sexual misconduct but for lying about it. But he was entitled to lie about his private life: one could even make a case that he had a positive duty to do so. Tony Blair should have been impeached for lying to the House of Commons about alleged evidence for weapons of mass destruction, because his lies persuaded Members to vote for a war when they otherwise would not. Lying to Congress by saying, "I did not have sex with that woman" should not be an impeachable offense, because where a man puts his penis is none of Congress's damn business. Nor is it any journalist's damn business whether a politician once took drugs at university. Or whether he is gay.
And please don't say the right answer to an impertinent question about your private life is "No comment", because we all know how that would be interpreted. Telling a lie is often the only way to convey an effective "No comment."

Read the rest of the article here.