October 28, 2011

Sex on his mind, author argues for the noncommittal

Stressing over your sexual partner?

Get another one.

That, and other critiques of modern society’s well-entrenched sexual mores, were among the many ideas that author Christopher Ryan flirted with in his lecture on the fallacy of sexual monogamy Monday night at Rockefeller Chapel.

For roughly an hour, Ryan and Peter Sagal, the host of NPR’s weekly quiz show Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me, exchanged anecdotes about the freer sexual cultures of the world and discussed humanity’s mental preoccupation with sex.

“No animal spends more of its allotted time on Earth fussing over sex than Homo sapiens,” Ryan said.

The conventional view on human sexuality is inherently flawed, Ryan said, arguing that sexual monogamy is often portrayed as a “contract” between men and women in which a man would provide food, shelter, and protection in exchange for a woman’s fertility and fidelity.

Almost all monogamous species have comparatively low levels of sexual activity, since they do not have to compete for reproduction, but humans engage in sexual activity more than any other animal, according to Ryan.

Ryan said that humans do not naturally conform to the structure of sexual monogamy, citing examples from cultures around the world.

For instance, he said that the concept of marriage does not exist in the culture of the Mosuo people, who live high in the Himalaya Mountains. Instead, men and women freely engage in sexual relations with as many partners as they wish.

Among the Mosuo, Ryan said, fathers have little responsibility for their own children, but care for their nieces and nephews. Many Mosuo maintain long-term relationships with their partners, but men and women in relationships never live together.

Ryan pointed to the way Mosuo sexual practices have influenced their language.

“The Mosuo have no word for rape in their language,” Ryan said.

Ryan was promoting his book, Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, which won the Theory Award in Sexology (2011) from the Foundation for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.

The event was sponsored by Out in Public Policy, the Office of LGBTQ Student Life, Queers & Associates, the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, and Vita Excolatur.