Only a small percentage of animal species practice monogamy (e.g. zebra, geese, robins, nocturnal lemurs, beavers, seahorses, orca). Of all sexual arrangements, it is the least frequent. The Australopithecines are suspected to have lived in groups because these slender creatures hunted baboons in the savanna. Such a hunt cannot be envisaged without a concerted communal action on the part of the hunters. This mode of life requires a good level of intelligence and is very different from that of monkeys, which live in forests. Gorilla bandleaders are by no means comparable to baboon warlords. Among great apes, females are accessible to young males. One may assume that the domination of mighty males was not absolute among the Australopithecines. Also, within our own species, numerous examples exist of cultures where fecundation of the nubile women of a group is achieved at random, not solely restricted to primitive cultures but including Old High Cultures as the Etruscans. The moral stigma attached to fornication may be very slight or even nonexistent when the relation between copulation and pregnancy has not been established. In some primitive egalitarian groups, paternity is fuzzy. The assumption that a child can have several fathers is common. In some groups, the number of children with more than one father may amount to over 60% 2. Since all the fathers care for their offspring, such children have definitely a survival advantage. Being certain of paternity is not necessary and may not have been a crucial element in the evolution of modern humans.
The necessary intervention of the male in the impregnation of females is usually, but not always, recognized in human cultures. In former times, the ignorance of the existence of cells and the function of the male gave way to the wildest interpretations. It is only about 300 years ago that van Leeuwenhoeck and de Hamm established the presence of spermatozoids in male lactescence. But these spermatozoids were not related to fecundation. Two hundred years ago, clergyman Spallanzani had the curiosity to fit drawers to male toads, wherewith he demonstrated, against his will, their practical sterility. As late as 1848, i.e. about 160 years ago, the question was asked if the spermatozoids were to be classified among entozoarians or cercarians.
Solid emotional ties exist between human adult males and females. The chemical basis of the family is found in the brain. The surge of the psyche during the evolution of the primates demanded that the brain be programmed to consider the amorous emotion one of the most potent activators of pleasure. If this were not the case, then the elementary pulsation towards coition could have been easily countered by the selfish considerations an evolved thinking brain may have to favor his own personal survival. Survival, for an Australopithecine, was not self-evident and the presence of offspring could have been considered a hindrance to the well being of the adults, unless the pulsation to coition and the subsequent long-time duration of the raising of several offspring were backed by satisfactions stronger than security and food.
In humans, the period of amorous attraction corresponds to a phase of enthusiasm, exploration and disinhibition, planning for the future and rich phantasms: one sees in the sexual partner an epitome of perfection. The phantasms that hinder seeing the reality of the partner’s physical and mental traits, the anticipation of the happiness and the projection towards the future are all designed to put all chances towards the constitution of a durable liaison. This initial amorous phase is nurtured by an inundation of the brain with nor adrenaline and dopamine. A perpetual excess of these catecholamines, due to the lack of monoamine oxidase that destroys them, leads to the Casanova syndrome spiced by alcohol, which may lead to orgies. The administration of amphetamines, which promote the secretion of catecholamines, also induces transient activities of exploration, diminution of appetite and a sense of well being. People rich in monoamine oxidase will better control the synthesis of catecholamines and will easily pass from the first step of the amorous contact to the second, based on attachment to the person who triggered the sensation of pleasure. This attachment period induces an altogether different behavior: one is now satisfied to be with the beloved one and seeks no other spice in life. One lives in the expectation of a happiness that becomes, more and more, a need. Each separation induces an uneasiness that may lead to obsessive jealousy and depression. A similar behavior is found in babies and infants taken away from their mother and is also observed in pets (cats, dogs, dolphins, parrots), which seek the company of their master. The “happiness” state is produced by endorphins, which work in a manner identical to that of opium. As with opium addicts who repeatedly go back to the drug, the “happiness state” is sought by a repetitive search for the exclusive situation that brought about the initial release of the endorphins. In women, the hormonal discharges that follow delivery and accompany lactation favor the endorphin function. As with opium, the repeat discharge of endorphins brings about a habit, variable according to individuals, that leads to boredom and, ultimately, to separation. In former times, separation was essentially due to death that occurred naturally at about age 40. Now that the length of individual lives has markedly increased, this endorphin-catecholamine system of family ties establishment is under severe stress.
The regulation of sexual relationships in the sapiens species varied substantially in the course of cultural evolution. The phylogenetic heritage makes of monogamy the norm but the rule is not stringent: all forms of reproduction have been explored, including the fecundation of women by strangers and family support by their brothers, at the exclusion of mothers fecundated by their own sons. At the most primitive cultural levels (African and Australian Gatherers) a monogamous patriarchy was the rule but the family bonds were established only in a loose manner and the group was a big family. This was the situation in Europe until about 1000 years ago.
Nomads turned rapidly to polygamy with its obligated corollary, despise of women and depreciation of the amorous act. The first indication of this is given in Gen. 4, 19 followed by the mention of nomadism (Gen 4, 20 and 21): Abram traveled unhampered from Chaldea to Canaan, from Canaan to Egypt and from there to Palestine, which indicates that the region was pacific. Everywhere he went, he was well received by sedentary people and could leave unmolested despite his abject behavior (Gen. 12, 10-20). Abram had no qualms in lending his wife to pharaoh (Gen 12, 15) to gain therewith wealth and gifts. Saraï, the wife of Abram, lent him her Egyptian servant Agar to sire Ishmael (Gen 16, 16). Ishmael fecundated his own mother (Gen 21, 21). When the people of Sodom wanted to copulate with his guests (Gen 19, 5), the son of Abraham, Lot, opposed this but offered them his two engaged daughters as compensation (Gen. 19, 8). The two daughters of Lot seduced their father who fecundated them (Gen 19, 21-38).
The prime role given to the female in the sustenance of the group, the care she was able to take alone of her children (Agar) quickly produced a family unit based on matriarchy. A matriarchy was the family type of the early Egyptians and Sumerians. At that cultural level, the existence of material wealth passing through feminine hands prompted marriage among sisters and brothers and fathers and daughters, which accentuated the racial characteristics of these societies. The active role played by women had a beneficial effect on their freedom of movement and the consequence of this was that the primitive laxity of the customs continued, favored by the clement weather that did not induce people to wear clothes (fig. 9.1).
Figure 9.1. Egypt. Statuette of a girl. Painted limestone, height about 38.5 cm., 13th century BC. Private collection. The pubic hair has been realistically painted, which Greek sculptors of the classical period did not do because coquette Greek women shaved their pubic hair.
The ease of sexual relations in Corinth was legendary. Saint Paul, in a letter to the Corinthians, vigorously condemned it, apparently with no great success. In Babylon, the ease of sexual relationships was present from the founding of the city, and lasted well within the Christian era. It is only with an edict of Constantine that the sacred prostitutes were suppressed. A matriarchy is still practiced today by the ferocious aborigines of Formosa and by the Chinese Mosuo, living near the Tibetan border, who allow young girls to have a rich sexual life as soon as they reach age 13. At the cultural level of “Black Africa”, the role of women in the sustenance of the family is still extremely great. Woman’s freedom of movements is hardly hampered and the family ties are not extremely rigid. A pregnant woman will readily provide a sister or a friend for the temporary sexual satisfaction of her impatient husband. A cousin, a brother or an uncle may show sexual interest in a married woman.
The awareness of man’s role in pregnancy has led, in some countries of Asia and of Black Africa, to the custom of female circumcision, amplified later by Islam, whose emphasis on purity associated with the existing practice. Clitoridectomy consists in removing part of the clitoris. Excision further removes the inner lips of the vagina. The most drastic form of genital surgery is infibulation, practiced in Mali, Sudan, Somalia and parts of Ethiopia and Nigeria, in which the stitching together of the outer lips of the vagina, to cover the vaginal entrances, follows excision. A new opening is created for the passage of urine and menstrual blood, and for sex. The opening is made so small as possible, to increase the man’s enjoyment. Paradoxically, this practice made to please men is not always appreciated by them because of penetration difficulties. Further, since an infibulated woman must be cut open to allow childbirth, the complications of pregnancy and childbirth are motives for repudiation. Curiously, despite its counter-productivity and pain, married women with daughters are most instrumental in keeping the tradition.
The adaptation of Sapiens to temperate and cold climates, and competition for territory, had in general the consequence of substantially reducing the feminine role and emphasizing the man’s potential in the acquisition of security. In the Old High Cultures and Europe, the predominance of the male is usually complete and absolute and frequently accompanied by lapses in polygamous dispersion (the Persian and Ottoman Empires, Islam, the Vikings, the Hebrews). During the first 1200 years of the Christian era, the West was extremely poor and primitive. People lived together in a “villa” or a “burg”, protected by the lord. The lord considered his whole flock as his family. Everybody ate at the same table and the close family slept together in the same large bed, people readily lived naked (in bed, taking baths, sauna) without shame and there was great promiscuity. To be sired by the lord was not considered abnormal. Carolus Magnus had a harem, as had his sons; abstinence was not known to be the greatest virtue of priests, down to Richelieu (fig. 9.2).
Figure 9.2. Philippe de Champaigne, born in Brussels in 1602, died in Paris in 1674, painted the Cardinal of Richelieu circa 1640. The National Gallery, London. “Without his red hat and scarlet robe, a cardinal is not much» claimed Marion Delorme, a courtesan who had visited Richelieu for professional reasons. She gave him a second chance but declined to visit him a third time.
The Church, for whom celibacy was not the strictest of rules did not consider the amorous impulse as shameful. Pope Gregory (monk Hildebrand), forbade marriage to priests to prevent hereditary benefices but he did not prohibit fornication. After the Hildebrandine renovation, it took several centuries before the natural sensuality and lust of Western Man were curbed under rigid hypocritical rules imposed among others by Queen Victoria. These were governed essentially by logic and the laws of heritage. In the West, women began to wear brassieres and drawers only in the 19th century. Girls on swings were a favorite painting subject for frivolous French artists (e.g. Fragonard) up till the end of the 18th century (fig. 9.3). The scandalized audience prosecuted the first ballerinas who wore panties on stage. The severe Cistercians wear no underwear.
Figure 9.3. J-H Fragonard: the swing, fragment, 1768, Wallace collection, London. The mistress is on a swing “pushed by a bishop” (right under) while the lover looks up her skirts. French women did not wear panties in those days. The girl strips, having already lost one shoe and in the process of losing the other. This airy masterpiece, expressing unabashed hedonism, sums up the spirit of that epoch, in France.
In those days, genetics were largely ignored. It is only in 1865 that monk Mendel established the rules of genetics for plants but these were not believed to apply to animals. In 1900, Guénot discovered that the breeding of gray mice with white mice produced not only gray and white offspring but also black and dotted mice. This is because his starting material was not genetically pure for the characters analyzed but Guénot was unaware of this. His experiments “scientifically” corroborated the assertive creed which stipulated that the first genitor who impregnated a female “labeled” her so that the children sired by following fathers would bear some characters of the first genitor. Such a creed led, in the middle ages, to a preferential first coition with the lord.
After the Reformation, the Church stressed monogamy with male dominance, enforced by inclement weather conditions, war, poverty, logic and the existence of heritage. It is only in contemporary times that a general increase in security, protection of children, work availability, technological progresses toward birth control, added to a population explosion, have favored the emancipation of women in the West.