Sex at Dawn

Exploring the evolutionary origins of modern sexuality

What About Sexual Jealousy?

When the subject of our book comes up at parties, as it tends to do (who doesn’t love to be scandalized after a few drinks?), the conversation tends to follow a familiar pattern. We explain that our book argues that sexual monogamy is far from the natural state of our species, maybe giving a few safely remote examples from the Amazon or Asia. Read More

What a gust of fresh air.

What a gust of fresh air. Thanks for the straight talk. A brilliant read.

Where do you people come up with this stuff?

I'll admit, I'm jealous of evolutionary psychology. If I could spend my days making stuff up or citing studies that are done on rats and pretending that they explain the entirety of human behaviors, I'd have it made! And when they need to pull something out of their rear, you can always count on the ev-psych people to quote research on bonobos. (For heaven sake, don't bother to confuse your readers with research on chimps or some of the other great apes that might contradict the bonobo study that you just quoted.)

As for these authors' article today, they say authoritatively "Kids and wayward adults are this very moment walking down city streets with their pants hanging half-way down their asses because they think it makes them look cool. Most have no idea this asinine look first sprouted in overcrowded American prisons, where inmates were relieved of their potentially dangerous belts, thus leaving them with drooping trousers..."

Have you folks ever been in a prison? Do you see what prisoners actually wear? Do you really think they wear jeans five sizes too large with the waistbands on their Calvin briefs prominently displayed?

If there's any jails in the country where such a trend would have begun, it would have been at the Pitchess detention center in Castaic, California, and then followed at the newer Twin Towers in downtown Los Angeles. These are gangbanger central. The inmates at those facilities have worn jumpsuits or tops with scrub-like pants that have elastic waistbands. The idea that LA County sheriffs would allow inmates to stroll around with baggy jeans several sizes too large boggles the imagination.

These authors forgot to mention that the baggy hip riding pants may have actually had their origins in the B-boy and skateboarding cultures. Or what about the work of Jon Abdullah Yasin, Ph.D. who states that the fad is based on the Kente Cloth of the Africans and baggy track suits of the Jamaican Rastafarians blended with American street fashion?

Nope, why bother? Just throw it out there and then state authoritatively that "taller men, who on average enjoy greater success with women..."

Hmmm. Now that's definitive! Taller than what? And how do you define "greater success with women" anyway? No problem, this is evolutionary psychology!

On the weaknesses of EP

Thanks for your comments, Paul.

It might surprise you to learn that we are actually dissidents in terms of evolutionary psychology and agree wholeheartedly with many of your criticisms of the field (though not so much with your criticisms of the post in question, as you'll see). The folks here at Psychology Today put our blog in the evolutionary psychology section, but if you read what we've written, you'll see that we couldn't be further from the conventional EP stuff you'll find in The Scientific Fundamentalist, for example.

As to your specific comments:

- You wrote: "And when they need to pull something out of their rear, you can always count on the ev-psych people to quote research on bonobos. (For heaven sake, don't bother to confuse your readers with research on chimps or some of the other great apes that might contradict the bonobo study that you just quoted.)"

Have you bothered to actually read any evolutionary psychology? It doesn't seem so, in that most of it is quite the opposite of what you've said. Mostly, there's way too much emphasis on violent, manipulative chimps and bonobos are often missing from the conversation (thereby reinforcing the right-wing agenda of most EP). Pinker, Kanazawa, Wright, Symons, Helen Fisher, Tooby & Cosmides... take your pick -- you'll be hard-pressed to find prominent evolutionary psychologists who write about bonobos more than chimps.

You don't appear even to have read what you're trashing here. If you re-read what we wrote, you'll find that the line reads, "...as well as among our closest primate cousins (chimps and bonobos)?" See, we did mention chimps and not just bonobos, as you claim. And they are both our closest primate relatives -- equidistant from us.

As for other great apes, there is a significant gulf between what Jared Diamond called "the three chimps" and the other great apes, as you probably know. Chimps and bonobos are far closer to us than they or we are to the other apes. Gorillas and orangutans are significantly less relevant as models of possible human roots in that our last common ancestor was many millions of years further back. This is pretty simple stuff. Glass houses and all that.

-- Prison clothes. Yes, we've been to prisons. You're certainly correct that high-security prisons issue jump-suits to prisoners, but many other prisons don't. Nor do many jails. They remove the shoelaces and belts. Not all prisons are high-security.

In any case, rather than attacking a throw-away image we used to try to make a point, why don't you address the point we were making?

The point of the piece was to suggest that human beings are highly responsive to social pressures and that these pressures could be brought to bear on sexual jealousy as easily as they are brought to bear on any number of other feelings/behaviors. Thus, those who claim sexual monogamy MUST be part of human nature (like most of the evolutionary psychologists you can't stand) will have to come up with something better than the presence of jealousy as their proof.

Do you disagree with that? Your disdainful tone suggests you must, but beyond attacking a few of the examples we used to try to make the point, you really haven't said anything very meaningful.

Swinger

I am not a psychologist. I am the female half of a swinging couple. I have been with my husband since we 17 years old(28 years) and married 22 years. We have been swingers for the past 12 years, we have no jealousy issues or insecurities.We do not pretend that we are not jealous, we honestly are not jealous of each others sexual partners.We always make sure that we make time to spend with each other sexually and doing things that a "normal" couples do. I believe jealousy does feed on fear, and if a couple is fearful of losing one another then this does not work for them.
I have seen many couples divorce because of fear and jealousy. Thank you for allowing me to voice my opinion on this subject. This was a great read and I am going to go out and buy the book when it is published.

Swinger

Thanks for your kind comments, Dee. Sounds like you've found what works for you. Congratulations. CPR

what works? you contradict yourself

your articles are prevalent with the concept that humans are NOT finding what works for them but according to you, they only act upon pre-arranged genetic and primal impulses which are at odds with supposed cultural (or rather, WESTERN) cultural norms. And, anything outside of those norms are humans battling against nature and/or untrue in a real sense (kinda the "only a matter of time" idea).

I see you citing the predominate male cultures, but not the (granted, few) female dominant cultures. Whereas I do not dispute your observations, I do dispute that you are seeing the whole elephant but actually are only describing the trunk (tail?). I understand that to make a point, our "cultural" inclination is to speak in absolutes--especially when publishing something under a supposed "expertise"-- you do have to sound like an expert of course, or no one will pay you any attention...but that does your science a disservice.

The excuse that there isn't as much, or as measurable, information on the female is just that: no excuse. To me that is an admission of distortion and thereby automatically reduces your assumptions to allegory. I would be more interested in your observations of the disparity, if you also were conducting studies to remedy the situation rather than just bewailing the fact that there are none. Otherwise, you are simply regurgitating old information and I, for one, am tired of the endless over-analyzation. There's a listing for that in the DSM too but you never find a psychology journalist admitting to it even while citing information gleaned in a previous century.

But no, human's cannot evolve from their primal, prehistoric programing, so speculating on 1950's human responses of course is static and written-in-stone information. Create or be involved with a duplicate study (you know, that scientific duplication experiment requirement) with identical questions and execution, on today's humans, and see if the result match up. If they do, then perhaps you have a argument for static evolution, and/or an idea of actual cultural effect given that the cultural norms for today's gen X and Yers read MUCH differently than their boomer counterparts. Whenever this is suggested, it is pointed out that there are questions about how various studies were conducted...which ya'll don't seem to realize is another bullet in the metatarsals.

Better yet, let's go find some of those humans in the original study, have them re-submit the information, and THEN analyze how even a singular human's experience frame changes over time.

You teach that creationism is how we all go about our business? That's what you are saying: man was created as such, will always act as such, will always be as such....only lesser mammals evolve. We are taller, why cannot we evolve into a pair-bond species? Especially in light of over population. Basically you are saying that the human condition is divided into two norms: male is cancerous (growth for growths sake); and female is sustainable (growth within the limitation of resources). Not saying that's causation, just saying there is an innate contradiction and you've got some additional explaining to do before I see this elephant-in-the-room (the un-PC idea that males need multiples) you are trying to describe. Even if it is so, right there (give or take 7 billion humans) is your argument as to WHY males need to evolve and evolve fast.

I do think the human species is subconsciously susceptible to population growth rate and the surviving genus is the one who adapts to the changing environment of resource (pair-bond). All others are doomed to procreate a population which will not survive their parents (sound familiar?). Never mind seeing the elephant, we are BECOMING the elephant: lower birth numbers, longer raising periods, etc. etc. etc.

(in another of your articles I commented on the "monkey see, monkey do" theory, whereby humans adapt from the kingdoms and information around them, similar to another of your articles dealing with cultural expectations i.e. flattening of foreheads--in short, if it exists in the animal world, a human is hardwired to assimilate that information and adapt it to support survival, ergo, like a multitude of animal kingdoms (not just primates), some humans are monogamous, some poly, some serial, etc. etc. etc.)

I appreciate what you are trying to do but dude, go back to the drawing board.

llogical fallacies

"Those who claim sexual jealousy to be part of human nature aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are missing the crucial fact that human nature is made of highly reflective material."

Obviously culture plays a huge part into human behaviour, and in this case, sexual jealousy but that doesn't mean you can just totally discredit it as part of human nature.

I think you are missing the point of what human nature is. I don't think you'll find many people well versed in evolutionary theory, who will tell you that human nature is non-malleable, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Human nature reflects behavior in the absence of culture, but since culture is inescapable, it becomes impossible to get a perfect sense of what it is, but that doesn't mean we can't derive it from commonalities and research.

Let's take for example, our willingness to live. I don't think anyone would argue that its not in human nature to not want to die. And yet, people still commit suicide, and some extreme forms of religion manage to convince people to do it as well.

So yes, can there be a couple cultures in the world who experience less or no sexual jealousy, but thats because they have been climatized to this 'ritual sex' there entire life.

I'm no expert into the Brazil Canel Indians, but I would argue that you will still see derivations of sexual jealousy. For example less willingness to care for a pregnant mother, or even less willingness to care for the children. (because there is obviously no guarantee that the child is yours).

You finish the article off with a half a dozen what if statements. But those what if statements are just the point! Not to mention some of them are dead wrong

"What if guilt-free sexual pleasure were easily available to almost all men and women, as it is in the many societies we discuss in the book, as well as among our closest primate cousins (chimps and bonobos)?"

But its NOT guilt free! Chimps and bonobos fight all the time for dominance and access to females.

The argument produced in this article is an Argument By Selective Observation:
also called cherry picking, the enumeration of favorable circumstances, counting the hits and forgetting the misses.

its also

So before you jump and say, hey there's a few cultures that don't have sexual jealousy, so sexual jealousy must not be human nature, think of all that do.

illogical fallacies

Thanks for your comments. Briefly, we don't argue that human nature doesn't exist. At all. We simply argue, as you read, that it is highly reflective of cultural forces. Further, we argue that the subjective experience of sexual jealousy, while based upon a biological impulse, is extremely malleable. So, the subjective experience could range from nothing at all, to a minor irritant, to blind rage. Depends on what your culture tells you is appropriate. If you read the book, you'll see that we talk about more than "a couple" of cultures in order to illuminate this point. Readers interested in knowing more about the Canela people might want to read William Crocker's work. He's spent most of his life studying these people, and has written beautifully about his experiences. Lastly, you are misinformed about bonobos. They do not "fight all the time for dominance and access to females." Quite the opposite, in fact. Frans de Waal has written a great deal about the differences between bonobo and chimp behavior, in terms of power struggles and sexuality. Any of his books would help clarify things for you on that score.

Bonobos

In Bonobo de Waal (1997) writes:
“There is a sharp decline in sexual involvement during a male’s adolescence due to the tendency of dominant males to occupy the core of traveling parties where the females are. Only when they enter adulthood and rise in rank do males regain access to receptive females. Not that male bonobos are egalitarian with regards to sexual privileges. In contrast to its peaceable image, the species conforms to the general pattern in the animal kingdom of male competition for females [...] Since the two top ranking males in any traveling party generally do most of the mating, it is assumed that they suppress the sexual activity of other males."

Bonobos

In Bonobo de Waal (1997) writes:
“There is a sharp decline in sexual involvement during a male’s adolescence due to the tendency of dominant males to occupy the core of traveling parties where the females are. Only when they enter adulthood and rise in rank do males regain access to receptive females. Not that male bonobos are egalitarian with regards to sexual privileges. In contrast to its peaceable image, the species conforms to the general pattern in the animal kingdom of male competition for females [...] Since the two top ranking males in any traveling party generally do most of the mating, it is assumed that they suppress the sexual activity of other males."

"Quote"

Anthropologist William Crocker is convinced that Canela husbands are not jealous, writing, “Whether or not Canela husbands are telling the truth about not minding, they join with other members in encouraging their wives to honor the custom … [of] ritual sex with twenty or more men during during all-community ceremonies….”

This is not actually a quote from Crocker but from Hrdy in "Mother Nature" - her view of the situation. She references his 1994 book but he does not say this in the book. Crocker writes about the jealousy and the way this sexual activity has to be kept away from spouses etc, how they are told that they must control their jealousy, and how this control sometimes fails.

It should also be noted that the girls used in sequential sex are only technically wives as they have not yet conceived a child and will be young adolescents. A girl becomes the wife of the man with whom she first has sex. She may then change partners - what teenager wouldn't want to? - and becomes married proper when she becomes pregnant. Then her extra-marital sexual activity is very much curtailed.

"If you remove all fear of

"If you remove all fear of sexual jealousy, what's left?"

A sick, weak, degenerate culture that has to ritualize gangbangs in order to stay intact?

If you remove all fear

If you remove all fear happiness has time to enter the equation, I and my husband have very different time schedules as far as sexual intimacy goes, so we decided that for the sake of our sexual relationship Swinging might better suit us as we hardly ever can coordinate our appetites, we have gone several weeks times 2 or 3 before we got them inline, and that might last about a week... so instead of cheating on each other and being secretive we decided this lifestyle might work out better... we have yet to indulge but have a couple who are willing to walk us through the first few times... thank goodness they are patient... so being sick, weak and degenerative ok but at least we dont have to hide an ugly affair from one another.

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Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., is co-author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (HarperCollins 2010).

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