monthly column from lifestyle author/activist
"...and they lived happily ever after."
This standard end to our perfect fantasy has the young couple traipsing off into the sunset on what will surely be a lifetime of love and passion. Of course, anyone past the age of nine knows that the standard end to our less-than-perfect reality is somewhat different. Statistics show that far more than half of all marriages end in divorce and that far more than half of those couples who don't separate become more like friends than lovers after the first two years. In fact, it's been said that anyone who doesn't believe this should try the following experiment: Drop a coin in a piggy bank each time you have sex up until your second anniversary. Then take a coin out each time after that. Even without any compound interest, you'll never go broke. So how is it that what we believe will happen is so often at odds with what actually does happen?
Mother Nature, it seems, has laid two very heavy biological imperatives on human beings. The first is a need to find a long term partner and procreate. The second is an equally strong need to enjoy lots of sexual diversity. The predominate view among academics today is that men and women fall in love (and yes, this does involve a definite change in brain chemistry) but typically stay in love only long enough to produce and insure the survival of any offspring. After that period of two to four years, the urge for sexual diversity reasserts itself with a vengeance. The male is eager to spread his seed and the female is equally eager to find a new, and hopefully superior, mate for the next go 'round. Indeed, more than a million years of evolution virtually assure that asexuality becomes a normal reaction to familiarity. If this were not the case, close relatives would mate on a regular basis and recessive genes would soon become dominant. Not a pretty picture... and not at all conducive to the survival of the species. So how is it that people in other times and places have managed to avoid neurosis in light of these two seemingly irreconcilable biological imperatives?
Back in the 1940s, anthropologists looked at 149 different cultures worldwide and found that almost 40% considered an "extra-mateship liaison" to be perfectly normal behavior. Since then, over the past half century, many more aboriginal groups have been discovered in remote parts of the planet; living lives that until then had remained untouched by the Space Age. When combined with the findings of archeologists, digging around in the ruins of ancient civilizations, it seems that something like 80% of human societies (past and present) would go on record and decry any notion of one-penis-one-vagina-fifty-years as sick-city! Strict, long-term monogamy it would seem, is just not normal human behavior. And even in those times and places where it is said to be routine comportment (as in 20th Century America) adultery is more the rule than the exception. Even those partners who do manage to remain faithful while wed will (when they divorce and remarry) enter the ranks of what has now become the true norm of our day - Serial Monogamists. It may not be romantic and it may even seem unnecessarily pessimistic but anyone considering the vows of matrimony (a legally binding contract by the way) might want to think long and hard about that " till death do us part" business. So how is it that some couples do manage to achieve the goal of every woman's magazine in the supermarket checkout aisle and do manage to rekindle their old time embers of ecstasy?
Terry Gould, a tall, trim investigative reporter who has received more than a few death threats after writing about organized crime, has taken years to complete this latest book which deals with the Lifestyle and, in my opinion, pretty much exhausts the topic. You want science -- it's in there. You want philosophy -- it's in there. You want sex -- ditto. And what makes all this an especially worthwhile read is that Gould is no apologist for the group. In fact, he's not even a member of the group! How he ever managed to obtain interviews with his subjects (usually as skittish around outsiders as the most endangered of endangered species) is a testament to his reporter's skills. And he certainly did his homework too, the book is full of legitimate research and background material regarding the nature of human sexuality; making it clear that what many of his readers may think they know -- may not be so. The fact that most of our kind have traditionally celebrated extra mateship as normal, natural, wholesome fun, no doubt, will come as a surprise.
And the surprises continue:
Drawing on dozens of professional journals and popular publications, Gould weaves a fine tapestry of fact and opinion that allows the reader to happen on his or her own insights and then come to his or her own conclusions.
Some of the material that may challenge your thinking regarding the Lifestyle might include:
After reading Gould's book, one must wonder why, with ten thousand gatherings a year taking place in North American swing clubs in the absence of any violent confrontations within the confines of those walls, these parties are considered dangerous or detrimental to society and why those who sacrifice sexually are seen as morally superior to those who indulge sexually. Why, indeed, do so many people have to take something as simple and straight forward as sex and turn it into a problem? Go figure.
Dr. Mason may be reached with comments and column suggestions at: DrSBMason@aol.com