Wednesday, April 13, 2005

EOTM: The Socio-Cultural Context of Sexuality and Marriage

Human beings have the longest period of dependency of any form of life. Many animals reach the level of maturity to be self-sustaining within the social unit within a year. A few may require as long as 4 to 5 years, with sexual or reproductive maturity several more years after that. Humans are the only species which reaches reproductive maturity significantly before reaching social maturity.

Animals have evolved a wide variety of strategies for assuring that the young are cared for until they can feed and fend for themselves: from the many varieties of fish where the male carries the young in his mouth, and may actually hatch them there, through birds who usually share the burden of feeding the hatchlings because it takes both of them to fill those endlessly hungry mouths, to mammals who most often tend to develop mostly matriarchal social groups (herds or packs) where the general responsibility of protection is shared among the social unit even if the provision of food is still up to the mother, a precedent established by nursing. Humans are essentially social, or herd, animals. Social groups always have a concept of status and hierarchy.

As the human race made the transition from hunter-gatherers to agriculturally based permanent domiciles, the human herds (tribes or clans) began to congregate in larger permanent encampments called cities. The size and complexity of these cites began to demand a greater degree of specialization of skills and introduced the concepts of commerce or trade, money as a universal medium of exchange because barter would not work if one party already had a surplus of the offered commodity, and property or wealth. People moved from the shared living quarters of the lodge to individual residences. While they still tended to live in multi-generational groups, these groups were usually based on kinship and there was an increasing degree of separation between families. New methods of defining the social hierarchy were required since it is much easier to understand the status distinctions among a group of 30 people than it is among 30,000. Thus were born the concepts of class or caste and the accumulation of surplus wealth as a measure of status. Kinship became very important in making decisions regarding distrubution of that surplus wealth. While the rigidity of the physical infrastructure made mobility of the clan as a group less easy than previously, it also decreased the interdependence of individual clan members as it transferred the dependence onto the culture as a whole. Thus new means of social controls had to be developed. Laws and punishments began to replace totems, taboos, and the threat of being an outcast as a means of controlling individual behavior. The drawback to laws is that they require enforcement by group of specialists called "police" and administration by another group of specialists called "the court system". This was very expensive and required taxes to support, so organized religion evolved as a primary means of social control, with legality as a second level of recourse.

All this had a great effect on lengthening the period of dependency of the young. The concept of a state called "childhood" as separate from adulthood developed. Aboriginal cultures generally do not have adolescence. Once sexual maturity is reached, the child is treated as an adult, albeit an immature one. The transition is marked by the onset of menstruation in girls and by a culturally significant rite of passage for the boys. At that time they were recognized with full adult status. However their responsibilities did not change significantly since they had been gradually being integrated into the culture and were expected to make increasing contributions as they matured. The only thing like this which exists in our culture today is the family farm. At the turn of the century 98% of the population lived on farms while 2% lived in cities. Today those percentages are reversed. In urban environments, there is an extended period of childhood dependence, sometimes even twice as long as before if the child pursues higher professional education, and the transition is usually abrupt and discontinuous. Until that time it is the responsibility of the parents to "provide" for the child. In many cases the period of dependency now is equal to or greater than the normal human life span for most of the time humans have been on this planet.

This period of dependency is rigidly enforced by the social control mechanisms. In most jurisdictions it is illegal for persons below a certain age to hold jobs, which are in an industrilized society are the only means of providing for basic needs. The vast majority of "education" is simply a process of indoctrination in cultural concepts of how things "should" be and largely ignores the fundamental skills necessary to take care of oneself and others and conduct relationships. At some arbitrary point these children are dumped out into the "real" world and expected to be financially, emotionally, and personally successful. If they fail, society regards it as a failure or flaw which resides completely within them rather in society's perparation of them for the task.

Since the average puboid is functioning mostly from instinct and totally unprepared to assess the full consequences and burdens of being fruitful and make "rational" decisions to oppose their urges to do so, elaborate mechanisms of social controls have developed. It is far easier to isolate the flowers than to reign in millions of bees, so the control mechanisms generally concentrate on controlling access to the sexuality of the female. It is essential that NO bee pollinate her until SOME bee is both prepared and willing to partner with her in creating a suitable child rearing environment and sustain it for the next 18 to 25 years. Again, it is important to remember that during the time these cultural traditions were being developed most people did not live to see the age of 40. Children reached sexual maturity close to the end of their parents' life span. If the child were allowed to reproduce without a support system in place it was likely that the parents would die leaving the child and the grandchild to fend for themselves. This, of course, was intolerable since the probability is low that they would be able to do so without the support systems built into the clan or tribe. Since the biological imperative is to SURVIVE, all human cultures are built around the preservation of life of their members which is essential for survival of the species.

Since this is a discussion of male sexuality, so far we have largely ignored the influence of active female sexuality, concentrating on the passive attracting aspect. This is ludicrous because male sexuality doesn't exist without female sexuality. The word sex itself comes from the latin secus, to divide, the same root which gives us the words section and segment. The sexuality of each gender exists only in relation to the sexuality of the other. If it were not divided it would not be sex and would be just another behavior. The only thing which distinguishes masturbation from scratching is that masturbation produces sensations similar to those produced by sexual intercourse.

In the sociocultural context of agriculturally induced and supported urbanization some means of fertility control is required to prevent the population from rapidly outgrowing the food supply once the normal control mechanisms of mortality are removed. In the absence of mechanical (including chemical) means of fertility control, the next best thing is to control the behaviors that lead to fertility, ie coitus. The reason that these behavioral controls concentrated on the female and not the male are easy to understand from the mechanics of reproduction. If we take a population of 100 women and 100 men and apply behavioral controls to one gender which are 99% effective, we have very different results based on which gender we control. Applying the controls to men, leaving 1 man and 100 women with their sexuality unrestrained could potentially produce 100 babies. We've gotten nowhere. On the other hand, applying the controls to women and leaving 1 unrestrained woman to 100 unrestrained men would produce at most 1 baby and 1 very tired woman. Problem solved.

In addition, the consequences of unrestrained coitus fall disproportionately on the woman. The male "bee" can immediately be off looking for other flowers to pollinate while the woman has just incurred a responsibility which will consume most of her time and energy for the next several years. In this light it is not difficult to understand why women seem much less willing than men to engage in coitus. It is actually surprising that they are willing to engage in it at all, regardless of the pleasure it produces. In order to understand why they do, we must realize that the neat and clean division between the fruit bearer and the pollinator completely breaks down when we enter the animal kingdom.

Sex is a physical phenomenon. Babies are "assigned" a gender at birth based on physical characteristics. Even at this level there is a great deal of ambiguity. Thousands of babies are born each year with ambiguous genitals. Yet the need to divide, assign, categorize is so great that a baby not easily classified is usually surgically modified to assure that they fit into one category or the other. The results are often diastrous for the child.

In the behavioral arena, things are even worse. Aside from the actual specific mechanics of coitus which involve insertion of one part of the anatomy of the one called the "male" into an orifice of the one called the "female", there are absolutely no behaviors which are gender specific. There is an attribute of humanity that we all share which transcends the artifical distinctions we try to make. Part of this humanity is the tie to the natural world and the desire to reproduce and to engage in the behavior, coitus, which leads to reproduction. In the absence of social controls it is likely that females are as compelled to seek coitus when they are fertile as males are. We see this everywhere in the animal kingdom.

What distinguishes human females from most other mammals is the frequency of their fertility cycle and the fact that they may be sexually receptive even when not fertile or may become fertile at unexpected times. Thus the human female is potentially receptive to coitus at all times and may often seek it. This is the active aspect of female sexuality which is the target of the social control mechanisms. Closing the gateway to the womb is the most effective means of population control.

This is much easier said than done, since the biological imperative is driving every member of the species to contribute to its survival by reproduction and mother nature has provided a powerful carrot in the form of the pleasure of sexual orgasm. In general, the closer a population is to exceeding the limits of its food supply, the more extreme the measures used. In western culture, the so called "developed" nations, these controls tend toward the social and psychological. In the less developed nations, and particularly those where the prevailing religion is Islam, the controls are more extreme and grisly. A set of practices, collectively referred to as Female Genital Mutilation or FGM, are common in many cultures of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Masked under such polite terms as "circumcision" or "excision" and justified by a bunch of lame excuses about health and religious traditions, all these practices amount to holding little girls down and chopping off their genitals. In the most extreme form the insides of the outer labia are cut away and the resulting wounds sewn together in such a manner that the woman must be "opened" surgically before coitus is possible.

And people accuse pagans of sacrificing babies.

What is amazing is that the vast majority of these practices are perfomed by women, who are often the most adamant about the need to continue them. What is disgusting, enraging, and tragic is that the continuation of this horrible practice is justified by the lame excuse that men want it. The power of the social controls and conditioning is so great that no matter how much opposition and resistance there is, this horrible practice is continued and that girls will often submit to it willingly knowing in advance exactly what is involved. Alice Walker refers to this as the "sexual blinding" of women.

Before the reader gets his/her racial prejudices up and starts self-congratulation on how much more "civilized" or advanced western culture is, a bit of thought about nose-jobs, boob-jobs, collagen injections, liposuction, electrolysis, and fake fingernails would be in order. On the male side, those utterly ridiculous looking little plugs of hair implants reflect the same drive to conform to society's ideal.

Even worse, the sex-negation practiced in the name of religion deprives the young woman of any joy from her sexuality, depriving her of the use of her genitals almost as effectively as removing them from her. Women in western culture are just as effectively "blinded" to the ability to see men as kind, gentle, and caring lovers by shame and by indoctrination with a hatred of sexuality, men, and maleness. Instead they see them as meal tickets, self-esteem providers and, paradoxically, as oppressors when they find that men simply are not able to provide enough to fill the emptiness that women feel. So women get angry and start bashing.


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