Robert J King Ph.D.

Hive Mind

Fifty Grades of Shale

Kink is neither new, nor going away, anytime soon

Posted Feb 14, 2015

It’s a truth hilariously acknowledged that each generation thinks that it invented sex. It’s not hard for a biologist to work out why this should be. The Westermarck effect is the name given to the set of mechanisms that cut in to prevent you finding your family members sexy. (1)

And, in humans, this extends to even thinking about them in sexual terms. When it works correctly, it prevents inbreeding which can have otherwise bad outcomes on the fitness of offspring. This is because bad genes might not otherwise cancel out as they should. This desexualising seems to work with siblings and parents equally. However, when inbreeding is forced—as with some royal families—obvious genetic abnormalities can multiply.

Chaler II of Spain
Keeping wealth and power...and other things in the family
creative commons Wiki

"Genes hold culture on a leash"*

Genes can’t see each other directly so they have to work through proxy behaviors. Here, the proxy seems to be roughly “treat those with whom you went through a critical early developmental period, as non-sexual beings." And we have tests of it. Sim-pua marriages take place in rural China and Taiwan where boys and girls are brought up from an early age together to try to encourage marriage. But, the boys and girls themselves have other ideas. When they become adults they resist the expectations and desires of their parents—saying that they see one other as siblings, not lovers. (2)

Love you like a brother?
Adam Huber 2010

These Sim-pua adults try to avoid having sex with one another, often have affairs, and rarely have children together despite the intense social pressure to do so. And the reverse of the Westermarck effect also works. Siblings separated at birth and later re-united can have strong (and socially embarrassing) genetic sexual attractions (GSA) to one another. GSA can be so intense that re-uniting siblings are now explicitly warned about the possibility of their falling madly in love with one another. (3)

Sooo embarrassing...!

The Westermarck effect, when working normally, has some amusing by-products. One of these is that, despite the overwhelming evidence that your parents had sex (at least once, given the fact that you are around to think about it) you can’t actually, you-know, think about it. This is why daughters tell their mums not to go out dressed like that or why your dad’s dancing is sooo embarrassing.

And, if you have tried during that last sentence to even think about any of your family members as sexual beings, you will know what I mean…your mind just slides off the thought. That’s great. It means the Westermarck effect is working well. No weird Freudian neuroses for you.

Oedipus Smedipus

However, a by-product of this sexual blinkeredness is that each generation thinks it invented, not just sex, but also all the things that attend sexuality—like art, music, and creativity in general.

A quick quiz:

Which, of the following, is the most likely cause of the belief that art and music were better “in the good old days”?

a) Human IQ is steadily decreasing?
b) Malicious advertisers have been manipulating our helpless sensibilities?
c) The people who think like this are past their peak reproductive years?

Music tracing
SMBC 2013

This has been tested directly. Robert Sapolsky found that radio stations in America tend to play a range of music twenty years wide. (4) Once someone has settled on their tastes they rarely add anything new to the mix. Alternatively…maybe it just so happens that all the creative folk just happened to be around at your time of key mate attraction—between the ages of fifteen and thirty five. What were the odds? (5)

Hope I die before I get old

Not only does each generation think it invented sex, it thinks it invented kinky sex. And when each generation’s most famous expression of this comes along everyone gets into a predictable lather over what this means and how harmful it might be and how (no really!) this time we have gone too far, this time society really is going to hell in handcart.

Nine and a half (million) weeks

I’m talking about 50 Shades of Grey, of course.

To these people I say, “Take a deep breath, we have been through this before, it’s not a sign of moral decay, in fact it looks like we have been doing this sort of thing for as long as we have been recognisably human”.

In a paper coming out in March, I go into some detail about how some ice age art carries hints that kinky sex was something that our ancestors were indulging in 25000 years ago or more. The comparative pictures in my paper are, according to my editor, too salacious for Psychology Today. So, until the piece comes out I will have to tease you with a paleolithic pin-up from the Kostienki site who is sporting ropes. (6)

Kostienki Kinky
That's "jewelery"? And I'm Queen Marie of Bavaria.
Wikipedia creative commons

Now, it could be “jewellery” as some exhibition notes claim. But, put it this way, the so-called decoration would be familiar to any modern practitioner of BDSM, and it doesn’t look like any other jewellery that has existed at any other time or place. (7) And I’m not the first to notice this…(8)

But, back to the present day…

Giving away my age, my generation’s Fifty Shades of Grey was 9 ½ Weeks, and my parent’s generation’s was Story of O. Before that was Delta of Venus. (9) So, I am fairly confident when I tell you that the much-heralded “collapse of western civilisation” that was predicted as a consequence of each of these previous erotic works…aint gonna happen this time either.

I’ve blogged elsewhere about why I think that while Fifty Shades is not exactly great literature, or great BDSM, it’s pretty harmless in the general scheme of things. And its themes—women sexually attracted to strong, socially and sexually dominant, males—are not exactly hold-the-front-page news.

No, really, this time its different. Honest!

My edition of Story of O has dire warnings on the back of it from a reviewer about the subjection of women to the male desires depicted therein. Said reviewer was gloriously, and hilariously, unaware that the book’s author was a woman. Fifty Shades and 9 ½ Weeks were also explorations of female desire.

Imelda May
Imelda May's B-side "Small, self-effacing, ugly man" was not such a big seller
Wikipedia creative commons

Gather round…as I fold back the mists of time… as I look into my crystal ball… oohh…I am getting one of my visions…it’s the future! It’s twenty five, maybe thirty years forward in time…what is it…the mystic portals are clearing…and what do I see through the fog?...It’s a book….it’s kinky…it’s written by a woman….and worried citizens from the future think that it heralds the end of civilisation.

Rinse and repeat as necessary.

(And don’t, for gawd’s sake, use cable ties in your kink whatever you may have seen on screens today. Sheesh!)


*...Which is pretty kinky of them. Although probably not the use intended by E.O. Wilson when he first noted this

1) Westermarck, E. (1891). A history of human marriage. New York Macmillan.

2) Wolf, A. P., & Huang, C. S. (1980). Marriage and adoption in China, 1845-1945. Stanford University Press.

Ying-Chang, C., & Wolf, A. P. (1995). Marriage in Taiwan, 1881–1905 An Example of Regional Diversity. The Journal of Asian Studies, 54(03), 781-795.

Similar patterns were found in those brought up on Kibbutzes together, e.g. Shepher, J. (1971). Mate selection among second generation kibbutz adolescents and adults: Incest avoidance and negative imprinting. Archives of sexual behavior, 1(4), 293-307.

3) Warnings about prevalence and effects of GSA. Retrieved on 14/02/2015

4) Sapolsky, R. M., & Bonetta, L. P. (1997). The trouble with testosterone: And other essays on the biology of the human predicament. New York, NY: Scribner.

5) Even Jerry Coyne, who knows a thing or two about biology (and music) fell for this one, saying that rock and roll is finally dead and bewailing the lack of any decent popular music anymore

6) King, R. (in press for Mankind Quarterly Spring 2015 Volume 55 No. 3.) Venus in Mammoth Furs: Modern Minds with Dark Corners?

7) Wiseman, J. (1996). SM 101: A realistic introduction. Gardena, CA: Greenery Press.

Morey, C. (2002). The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage. Greenery Pr. (Better known as Midori)

And for a probably NSFW example of the rope-work used on the Kostienki lady: rope-handcuff-wrap-bondage from httpwww.autostraddle.comlesbian-bdsm-101-how-to-tie-someone-up-198567 retrieved 26/11/2014

8) Taylor, T. (1996). The prehistory of sex: four million years of human sexual culture. London: Fourth Estate.

9) Nin, A. (1940s, but published posthumously in 1977) Delta of Venus

(That’s Anaïs Nin, by the way)

Reage, P. (1954) The Story of O . Pauvet Press.

(That’s Pauline Reage—actually Anne Desclos—just sayin’)

Mc Neil, E. (1986) 9 ½ Weeks. Signet

(That’s Elizabeth McNeil, in case you were wondering)

James, E. L. (2011) 50 Shades of Grey. Vintage Books

(That’s Erika James—are we seeing a pattern yet?)

Incidentally, who else has noticed that there seems to be a non random scatter of male names in these stories? "Mr Gray" is the male lead in 9 1/2 weeks, Secretary and 50 Shades and in other works the leads often dont even have full names ("The Baron" in Delta or "Rene" and "The Count" in O.)