The premise of the book Sex at Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, is basically that as we moved from being foragers to farmers our society shifted in enormous ways, and with that shift, we went from a species that shared everything to a species that shared almost nothing. “Several types of evidence suggest that our pre-agricultural ancestors lived in groups where most mature individuals would have had several ongoing sexual relationships at any given time. Though often casual, these relationships were not random or meaningless. Quite the opposite: they reinforced crucial social ties holding these highly interdependent communities together. ” The book goes on to explain that our prehistoric ancestors rarely existed in pairs, it was not serving individually or collectively, and these ancestral roots may partially explain why long term monogamy is so difficult to pull off, and in fact has been standard practice for a very short period considering our overall time on the planet. The researchers estimate that this practice of pairing off has only existed for the last ten thousand years. You might think ten thousand years sounds like a long time (and it is), but not when you consider how human beings evolve over time. Change is slow. If we were all really used to hanging out in packs and having multiple sexual partners, what happens when we try to pair off and live in a house with one mate, several kids and possibly very little community? Trouble. More specifically, divorce, isolation, and sexual and relationship difficulty.
We have all been lead to believe it is natural to want to pair up and stay that way for eternity, yet there are certainly many individuals and many cultures where sharing is the norm or where people opt to remain single. So where does all this leave us? I would say fairly confused. Modern society purports marriage and monogamy, though troubled and difficult to maintain. How interesting it is to see it through a prehistoric lens. I am not prescribing a return to our ancestral times but a new way to view the struggle we all face.