Lots of sex please, we’re apes

by November 13, 2010

Guest post by Zach Kuehner

It is no secret. Countless marriages end in divorce. Some statistics estimate that more than half of all marriages eventually fail. It is clear that something is wrong, but every day, starry-eyed sweethearts rush down the aisle convinced that they will be the ones to defy the numbers. Are they not aware? Are they naïve? More than likely they just believe what most of us ultimately do: that human beings are biologically preordained to a lifelong game of one-on-one. And why shouldn’t they? Monogamy represents the dominant relationship narrative for almost every society on the planet. This is pretty hard to argue with, but then again so is the rate at which monogamous pairings fall apart.

Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, M.D. raise the possibility that the source of our monogamy woes is not societal, but biological and sexual. In their recent book, Sex at Dawn, the two researchers combine zoology (bringing to front and center the often forgotten Bonobo chimpanzee), paleontology, and cultural anthropology to shine a critical light on the presumed biological imperative of human monogamous pair bonding (more commonly known as marriage). Whether you believe in their destination or not, the journey is entertaining. From the introduction:

Forget what you’ve heard about human beings having descended from the apes. We didn’t descend from apes. We are apes. Metaphorically and factually, Homo sapiens is one of the five surviving species of great apes, along with chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans (gibbons are considered a “lesser ape”). We shared a common ancestor with two of these apes—bonobos and chimps—just five million years ago. That’s “the day before yesterday” in evolutionary terms. The fine print distinguishing humans from the other great apes is regarded as “wholly artificial” by most primatologists these days. Like bonobos and chimps, we are the randy descendants of hypersexual ancestors. At first blush, this may seem an overstatement, but it’s a truth that should have become common knowledge long ago. Conventional notions of monogamous, till-death-do-us-part marriage strain under the dead weight of a false narrative that insists we’re something else.

For more excerpts and a bio of the authors visit www.sexatdawn.com.


Zach Kuehner lives and works in Toronto, Ontario. His educational background includes health science as well as international relations and politics. He can be reached at zkuehner@gmail.com