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Sexual Stirrings

A valued congregant once complained that I talk about sex too much.  I sympathize with her.  It’s a “touchy” topic.  It stirs our hurts and hopes, our anxieties and arousals, our loneliness and lovingness.  Is it the best of life, or is it what Andy Warhol quipped, “the biggest nothing there is”? 

Fair warning: I won’t settle these stirrings. 

Because I get a weekly report from Mailchimp on how few or many open and read this site, I know hardly any do.  It takes days to read, think, and write such essays as my last two on Barbie – only to have them sail into the void.  (Between Barbie and Oppenheimer and Is Barbie the Answer? can be read here under Writings.) My main urge is to write and publish, not push and promote.  It’s hard to keep trying if few care.

But you’re here, reading.  Well, loyal readers, read on.  I’ll say what I’ve been reading towards a mini-essay and make excuses, but mainly, I’m not intuitively impelled enough to try to churn out something that others might like.  I may delete this halting attempt in a few days.

This month I read something so complex and challenging that I’m not ready to report on it.  Matt Ridley’s The Red Queen – Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature is a romp through many related scientific disciplines.  He tells which theorists at which universities tweak which slant as scientific but volatile subjects goe into and out of vogue. 

He’s witty and dense, loading up his points of view with far-reaching facts and speculations. His reductionism can easily become expansionism. He doesn’t hide it, though, “… I make no apologies for mixing animals and human beings together in this book,” he admits. From sparrows to whales, we all share a nature born of sex.

Sex comes in far more varied forms and for more reasons than we tend to think.  The tendency for crystals, life forms, and memes (the ideas that survive, the counterpart to genes ) to replicate provides stability but relies on variety.  We’d all be single cells merely replacing ourselves were it not for sex.  We’d long ago have succumbed to parasites were it not for the salvific newness sex contributes. Sex allows for both continuity and newness. 

Ridley reaches into the incredible variety of forms of sex, from forms that barely involve both sexes to forms that generate genders galore.  He tends to generalize from this vast laboratory of variation reasons why we humans are as we are.  His conclusions rile many, for he finds reasons why boys like guns and girls like dolls, why monogamy is as common as sneaking around, why guys like certain shapes in their girls, why men tend to go for younger women, and why girls like guys who other girls like and who have one form of power or another.  All these have reasons – despite being currently non-PC. 

King Atahualpa kept 1,500 women in his “House of Virgins” chosen at age eight to ensure their virginity.  Most of the six different forms of civilization from 1700 BC to 1500 AD had leaders holding thousands of women in their harams, breeding machines for the emperors.  Lesser leaders had smaller harams.  The remnants of Genghis Khan’s DNA are more common in humans than any other single source.  In France, his wife and his mistress publicly attended the leader’s memorial.  In our Puritan Culture, Gary Hart lost his bid for the presidency for having had an affair and got caught.  Curiously, the ostensibly prudish evangelical Christians gave Donald Trump a pass, praising him despite his announced penchant for “grabbing them by the pussy.” 

Even the supposed prohibition against incest turns out to be politically influenced.  The early Christian church banned it within royal families to loosen up the entrenched power of such dynasties. 

Men seek variety and quantity in women; women seek stability.  Female homosexuals pair up in stable bonds; male homosexuals have hundreds or even thousands of hood-ups.  In between these, heterosexual monogamy is praised but eluded.  Men notoriously sneak.  So do some women. Even loyal wives who pair up with stable husbands can have sudden flings with macho bad boys.  Such genetic rule breakers are more common than realized.  We’re made of this stuff.

Volatile though these ideas are, we inherit some sort of mix from the countless generations of fuckers who led to us as we are.  “Come as you are” would be an honest invite to a nudist party, wouldn’t it? No one looks that perfect or bad.  We are as we are, meaning we’re uneasy about it. 

Christopher Ryan’s interesting book Sex at Dawn – the Prehistory of Modern Sexuality presents paradoxical extremes for humans: that we’re more sexual than most other animals (doing it round the clock and calendar), and we’re the only animals to do it in the bushes (hiding what we like and do).  He highlights ancient and current cultures that affirm and enjoy the erotic, sharing their sexuality rather than constraining and punishing it.

Gorillas are monogamous, protecting territory.  A female gorilla mates about ten times per birth.  They’re nowhere as libertine as chimps, who mate over a thousand times per birth, and bonobos, who do so three times more than chimps!  What would humans do if they weren’t morally and legally constrained?  That question scares many.

I’m appreciative of Rabbi Marc Gafni of One Mountain, Many Paths for affirming our erotic nature as our piece of the cosmic erotic force built into everything from atoms to molecules to cells to animals to us to the cosmic whirl all about us. He, like me, is critical of the Barbie movie. We are here to awaken a renewed source of value, a new dawn of desire. We aren’t here to be doomers, deniers, or dominators. He calls on us to inconvenience ourselves by becoming cheerleaders, stepping into the Field of Play, our Joy.

(You might enjoy his initial take on the Barbie movie here: https://medium.com/office-for-the-future/363-reading-barbie-as-a-text-of-culture-the-tragic-rejection-of-the-universe-a-love-story-9e3918d3abb5 . Further elaborations are coming via that address.)

I was glad to see Ridley explore the prehistoric rapid development of our brain size coupled with our neoteny – the tendency to look younger and last longer.  If we were to gestate as long as the other apes, we’d be born at twenty-one months.  That we’re born at nine means we’re all that much more helpless and dependent.  We can get our big brains out without wrecking the fetus or the mother, but that then means we need more care.  This implies family and even culture.  Language takes brain space, as does singing and dancing.

So, here we go with our big brains, our songs and stories, our yearnings, learnings, and churnings.  Our culture seems to have wandered into titillation and alienation about sex.  Gender discomfort is rife. I feel sorry for the young ones of breeding age.  Bob Dylan warned “We’re afraid to bring children into this world” and all the former norms on how males should relate to females, now resented, uncertain, and unsettled, have young couples horny but lonely. 

Sorry, readers, if you wanted a more conclusive essay.  This hurried, choppy one only glances at the rich and controversial work of Matt Ridley. Comprehensive and penetrating though he is of such a vast subject, the subject is even more subtly vast in us. Why do we have preferences in our desires? Is it only arbitrary conditioning? What ancient and perhaps wise force is that? The woes and worries of the world challenge us to keep on trying.  Despite shame and sorrow, big-brained babes need to be born.  We only know a bit about who we were, are, and might be. 

Byron has been using his writing and public speaking to engage, challenge and inspire audiences for over 40 years. Reverend Carrier's mission is to rescue and revive our earthly Eden, including our human worth and potential. If you enjoy his work, consider supporting him with Patreon.

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Teja Ray
Teja Ray
4 months ago

I’d rather be chanting. Seriously, I’m glad that I had my sons who in their twenties now bring me such joy…. but otherwise, I’d say overall the pleasures weren’t worth the pains…. I’d much rather read, write, chant, meditate, walk barefoot in nature, sit in the sun, or sleep! But that’s just me, at 53, and happily being my own kinda nun. There’s a lot of suffering going on in this world, and for the most part I think sex brings more suffering than happiness. Most people aren’t skilled enough to work with the overwhelming amount of emotional content which… Read more »

Teja Ray
Teja Ray
4 months ago
Reply to  Byron Carrier

Good ones! I especially like the N for Non!

John Granacki
John Granacki
4 months ago

Wow, I’d almost forgotten about sex, but I do recall it was a lot of work — before, during and after. These days I get most of my joy from reading, conversation, painting, and gardening. I can’t even consider space travel anymore, now that my bones are old and brittle, although if I were an astronaut I’d probably get laid again because it would largely be out of my hands ????.

John Granacki
John Granacki
4 months ago
Reply to  John Granacki

My laughter emoji was replaced by 4 question marks and I’m not being permitted to edit!

Jim-el
Jim-el
4 months ago

The truth always struggles to come to the surface. Thanks, BBC, for allowing the bubble to rise. If you’ve been criticized for bringing up sex too often, one reason is that it’s clearly a frustrating issue for you personally, with endless ramifications. Another justification is that breathing and water-drinking, eating and finding shelter — although they’re even more primitive needs — are not repressed, distorted, manipulated, managed, outlawed, psychoanalyzed, judged and shunned as much as sex has been in modern society. Oh, yeah, there are the Lithia Water addicts, the vegans, the dome-dwellers and the tantric breath workshops — all… Read more »

Vernon
Vernon
4 months ago

I’ve come to sense the erotic or sexual force as merely one of the multiple strands in the Divine Force, the Sacred, the Tao, the spiritual or whatever term one chooses for the Spiritual Realm. It is not an isolated energy, but we often mistake it as soley a sexual force or energy.

Byron
Byron
4 months ago
Reply to  Vernon

Good point, Vernon. It isn’t isolated from the Spiritual, Cosmos, or our bodily incarnation of countless generations – all born of the same urges and connections.

Vernon
Vernon
4 months ago
Reply to  Byron

Slightly changing the subject, France, especially Paris, is currently experiencing bedbug hysteria. Bedbugs are reportedly showing up in hotels, restuarants, public transit, taxis, cinemas, schools, hospitals. BBC recently reported on the sex life of bed bugs: “Among the new facts to emerge are interesting details about the sex-life of cimex lectularius, to use the insects’ formal name. According to scientists, bedbugs are one of the few species to practice “traumatic insemination”. With his barbed needle of a penis, the male bedbug can pierce the female at any point of her body. His sperm then makes its way via the bloodstream… Read more »

Byron
Byron
4 months ago
Reply to  Vernon

Er, uh, yuck! (By the way, readers should know the BBC Vernon refers to is not me, BBC, but the British Broadcasting Corporation.) As to male bedbugs in France and elsewhere with barbed penises (peni?) sticking them in various inappropriate places, again, to quote me, “…yuck!”

Vernon
Vernon
4 months ago
Reply to  Byron
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