"So, did you read it?" Dieter pestered me.
"No, I didn't read it, and why are you so keen on this book anyway?"
"It's opened my eyes," Dieter said. "Everything they ever taught us about sex is bullshit."
Dieter's library consists of Doc Savage novels and paperback adventures drawn from the Star Wars and Farscape franchises. What he was doing reading a book like "Sex At Dawn," which examines human sexuality from strictly anthropological and physiological perspectives, was beyond me.
But to placate my cousin, I downloaded the book in electronic format to my iPad and read it. The book is written in a sprightly, clever prose style, and the authors take no prisoners: They lambast anthropologists, men of the cloth, medical science, and society in general for the cardinal sin of clinging to preferred results instead of allowing the facts at hand to guide them to their conclusions.
Dieter was right: "Sex At Dawn" makes a compelling argument to the effect that everything we have been taught about sex has little to do with reality, and everything to do with emotionally volatile sexual politics. Much of the book is concerned with the myth of the "sexually coy female," which is to say, a persistent--and utterly fallacious--conviction that women, at least proper women from good families and with proper backgrounds, do not have the same sexual feelings of pleasure and desire that men do.
Moreover, the book annihilates the much ballyhooed, but... as it turns out... deeply ignorant assertion that the nuclear family consisting of one man, one woman, and their offspring is the "cornerstone" of civilization and that sexual pair-bonding for life is the norm in every culture, everywhere, throughout all of human history. Indeed, the book finds example after example after example of cultures, many of them hunter-gatherer cultures that scorn the idea of life-long pair bonds. Some cultures even believe in the idea of multiple paternity: Pregnant women looking to instill an array of desirable traits in her developing infant will sleep with a number of tribal males (the best hunter, the fastest runner, the most agile climber, etc.) in hopes of having a son or daughter who possesses all the skills and talents of the tribe's best and brightest.
Human physiology in and of itself rebukes the idea that the "one man, one woman, married for life" model is natural or even beneficial. The way women are plumbed, the shape of the human penis and presence of external testes, and the chemical composition of semen all speak of "sperm competition," which indicates that our ancestors used to get it on not one-on-one but in group situations. Moreover, sex appears to be a means for social bonding, and back when our ancestors lived in small groups that was crucial for the group's survival (and especially important in getting all the adult males in the group interested in the welfare of the tribe's children).
"Sex At Dawn" reported that even now there are resonances of that wider socio-sexual bonding: The infamous "key parties" of the 1970s didn't start with dirty nasty hippies looking to expand sexual liberty in every conceivable direction; rather, they originated on military bases, as a way to cement bonds between military families. If a guy got killed in action, the other military families would be that much more likely to pitch in and help the dead man's family if a social-sexual bond had been established. The book's authors even go so far as to not only buy into the stereotype of gay relationships being open, but to suggest that heterosexuals could learn a thing or two from gay families.
That's when the light bulb clicked on as to why Dieter, of all people, cared about this stuff. His interest was anything but scientific, though it was rooted in method and rational... or at least, served as a method of rationalization.
"So did you read it?" Dieter demanded when I saw him next.
"Yes, and I finally see why you were so excited."
"What?" Dieter said defensively.
"Look, I know you and I know what you're thinking. But don't you think Manda is going to have something to say about you fooling around with other women?"
To his credit, Dieter didn't deny that this was what had gotten him so worked up. "Monogamy is a lie," he said, and proceeded to tick off points the book had made with his fingers. "Trying to force people into monogamy is a bad idea because it's not natural. It puts a strain on marriages by not allowing people a chance to be adventurous. And as men grow older, the lack of sexual novelty causes their testosterone levels to fall... and that leads to all sorts of disease! Men who chase women live longer, and monogamy tells us we can't chase women. Therefore, monogamy is a health risk. Monogamy kills!"
There was no question that Dieter had gotten the upshot of the book, but he seemed to have missed some of the nuances.
"You did read the rest, right?" I asked him. "The part about men who assume that they can go off and see other women on the side because the little lady will understand? And then they get caught, and guess what. The little lady doesn't understand! And you might have noticed that the book also warns the reader that women are gonna catch their cheating spouses, oh, yes they are! Or did your little yellow hi-lighter fall out of your wildly trembling hand before you got that far?"
Dieter was looking at me with a sour frown.
"Look, cuz, I agree that pretty much everything we hear about human sexuality in the popular press is garbage. The anti-gay side of the marriage debate is especially blatant about building crazy, elaborate rhetorical constructs in order to deny families like mine our essential human right to be a family, while excusing and ignoring their own bad behavior. But none of that is going to stop Manda from clobbering the holy hell out of you if she finds lipstick on your collar."
"So I should just chain myself up and let myself die of frustration?"
I was starting to see why their engagement had lasted for almost two years. This kid wasn't ready to commit to anybody.
"I think you need to have an open and honest conversation with Manda before you start trying to justify an open relationship that she might never have agreed to," I told him.'
"Talk to her about it? Are you nuts? She's just gonna say no!"
"Maybe she will, and then you will have to work things out from there. But don't make the mistake of thinking she's not going to find you out, cuz. And don't think for a minute that she's just going to giggle and say, 'Boys will be boys' when she does!"
I'd like to say that I left him clutching his copy of "Sex At Dawn" with a thoughtful look on his face. I'd like to say that we left it with a sigh of genial exasperation and a caption along the lines of, "Those crazy heteros!"
Unfortunately, as the conversation came to a close, I felt upset with worry for Dieter. To be perfectly honest, I don't care what he does and with whom, as long as he is safe and responsible. Then again, I'm not the one he's accountable to.
A few days later I wrote him an email. "You have every right to ask for what you need," I told him "But asking is the important part of the equation. Be a bad dog if you feel that's good for you, but do it in the best and most classy way you can."
I wanted to be kind and supportive and rational, but I have to confess to a strain of real anger. What is it with straight guys? All that chatter about "family values" and the "sanctity of marriage," and for what? Divorce is through the roof... partly because infidelity is through the roof. Straight people can't manage to keep their marriages intact, and whether that's due to sexual immaturity or unrealistic expectations of what men and women should, and can, do for one another is kind of beside the point. As far as I am concerned, straights need to take a big step back... off our backs, actually... and get their own issues worked out before they keep on putting our families' lives up to the ballot.
Dieter hasn't made mention of "Sex At Dawn" or his own thoughts on monogamy since, expect for once, the other day, when I tried to follow up on our earlier chat. All he'd say was that his position on the matter is "evolving."
I'll just bet it is... right back to caveman days.