What Dads Can GIVE on Father’s Day

sexhysteria:

Well-said. Dr. Klein is a great communicator!

Originally posted on Sexual Intelligence:

Two words: sex education.

Yes dads, today is your day. And one of your gifts is that you’re in a unique position to help your kids grow strong and healthy.

They need you to talk about what sex means to you, whether that involves pleasure or values or intimacy or self-expression. They need to know what was confusing or troubling for you about sex when you were their age. A story about how you coped back then may get both of you laughing together—if it doesn’t get you crying together.

They need to know that masturbation is OK. They’re going to do it whether you like it or not; your reassurance can help them do it without guilt or shame, which is a huge advantage in life.

They need to know that there are different kinds of sex. I don’t mean oral vs. anal vs. the Pirate Game. I mean…

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Child Massage

Anyone who has experienced a professional massage knows that massage is very enjoyable. The standard price may seem excessive relative to the pleasure, but there is actually much more to massage than merely pleasure. Searching “child massage” on the web reveals that there are reliable authorities to confirm the health benefits of massage, even if the massage isn’t performed by a professional. So why don’t most people practice daily massage? Why isn’t child massage more popular?

There are several books and videos available about child massage (1,2,3,4). The University of Miami Medical School has a Touch Research Institute which has published over 100 studies on all ages. They have found that massage facilitates weight gain in preterm infants, enhances attentiveness, alleviates depressive symptoms, reduces pain, reduces stress hormones, and improves immune function  The research has been partly funded by the Johnson and Johnson Baby Products Company. J&J itself also published a great book many years ago: “The Many Facets of Touch” (1984), as part of a Pediatric Round Table series.

Daily massage is now recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and many pediatricians, especially for babies, and there is no good reason to stop the practice as a child matures. The skin isn’t merely a covering for the internal organs; human skin is also an organ of perception – the largest body organ of any kind. Gentle skin contact causes a cascade of physiological effects that communicate safety, friendship, and affection, as well as modulating mood and the immune system, regardless of who does it (5).

Busy parents should invest their limited time in talking with children about what the children are interested in, expressing love and guidance, but words aren’t enough. Daily massage is a way to communicate feelings in addition to words. If parents aren’t always available, siblings or friends can learn how to perform a good massage with a minimum of study and effort. As I describe in my free video Buddy Massage gentle skin-to-skin contact also fosters social relationships, especially when monitored by a parent, teacher, or other responsible adult.

Children should be informed that interpersonal skin contact is an option rather than an obligation or an unspeakable taboo. The prior, voluntary consent of the children giving and receiving the massage is always needed, as well as parental consent. Appropriate hygiene before massage is also mandatory. Children should be informed that massage relaxes the body and mind, so a child being massaged may fall asleep. The child receiving the massage may also experience a genital erection, which is another natural consequence of deep relaxation.

Sleep and genital erection are nothing to be ashamed of. If massage takes place in the nude, as it normally is, and if there is a genital erection, the child should be praised since erection is an indication of healthy genital function. If anything, not experiencing genital erection may indicate dysfunction. Failure to experience clitoral erection may be normative in adult women, most of whom were mentally castrated in childhood, but clitoral erectile dysfunction is not normative in children.

Schools in several countries now include “massage time” in the classroom to foster relaxation, social harmony, and discourage bullying (6). Satisfying children’s need for gentle skin contact may discourage many from indulging in unnecessary violence or inappropriate sexual contact. Once kids have experienced a good, thorough massage at home or in school, they will want it again every day. But once a day is enough. Children would get bored with too frequent massage; they never lose interest in other forms of activity, especially physically active games or sports.

The various members of the shame lobby (religious fundamentalists, feminists, psychotherapists) are suspicious of skin contact and nudity, especially for children, and blatant paranoia over child sex abuse is rampant thanks to the sensationalist “news” media, political opportunists, and profiteers in the sex abuse rescue business (7). Some drama queens declare that any skin contact with a child is “overstimulation” and worse than death, despite the clear evidence to the contrary (see The Rind Study ). Unfortunately, social workers, teachers, law enforcement agents, and other government employees are sometimes more interested in their own job security or career advancement than in protecting and serving the public.

How pathetic to see parents who certainly know better pretending to be “concerned” about nudity and skin contact in order to appear politically correct. In the current climate of mass hysteria over sex, parents should inform children that child massage and buddy massage should preferably be discrete rather than openly broadcast. Schools can play a role in normalizing child massage, since whatever schools do is widely considered socially acceptable – even though the prestige of traditional schools is actually unjustified.

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that many individuals who are hysterical about skin contact and nudity have a personal agenda; they are probably sexually dysfunctional due to touch deprivation in their own childhood, and can’t bear the envy of thinking other children may enjoy what they missed. A community needs rules, but that doesn’t mean any and all disagreement and non-conformity to numerical norms must be viciously censored and violently suppressed. A community that behaves so intolerantly must view itself as extremely fragile, or else so-called threats to community stability are merely an excuse for gratuitous sadism.

In an ideal world people would respect individualism, diversity, and nonconformity. Once upon a time, some countries even officially boasted that they value courage and rugged individualism. But times have changed. Nowadays, some people are so insecure and paranoid that the only courage many people respect is the “courage” to conform to the current whims (“standards”) of their dumb-down community, “informed” by the highly selective and sensationalist “news.”

Hopefully, someday child massage may become widely accepted, and communities may enjoy the social and health benefits of citizens who have never been deprived of innocent skin-to-skin contact.

References

  1. Aucket, Amelia. Baby Massage. (Morrow, 2001).
  2. Jelveus, Lena and Anders, Jelveus. Swedish Child Massage. (Swedish Health Institute, 2004).
  3. Torporek, Robert. The New Book of Baby and Child Massage. (Running Press, 2001).
  4. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wLRNlKBw6k and search “Child Massage” on YouTube for many others.
  5. Montague, Ashley. Touching. 3rd ed. (Harper and Row, 1986).
  6. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlPxpij_NRM and https://youtu.be/kJMVbnd2SNM
  7. Levine, Judith. Harmful to Minors. (University of Minnesota Press, 2002).
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Sex in School

It’s scandalous that schools are showing very young children videos of adults expressing sexual desire and experiencing sexual pleasure, including genital intercourse. Although no other species in the animal kingdom hides copulation from their young, it’s scandalous that civilized human beings are utilizing modern audio/visual technology for accurate, balanced, and comprehensive sex education. But wait. In reality, schools are not providing access to such videos to children. Why not? Why is sex kept a secret from children?

Hypothesis #1: Accurate, balanced, and comprehensive sex education would distract future adults from focusing on spiritual matters.

This is the historical justification for sabotaging children’s healthy sexual development, and a religious agenda is still part of what some scholars (e.g. Howard Gardner) call the “hidden curriculum” in schools today. The early Christian Church even included a sect that advocated the physical castration of priests. As a young man St. Augustine considered joining such a sect. But this hypothesis is disconfirmed by counter-evidence. There are individuals who are sexually uninhibited but nonetheless true believers and preach the wisdom of Jesus of Nazareth. (See Professor Polyamory’s blog in the right column under Blog Roll.) Although it seems intuitive that the more we focus on the body, the less we will focus on the spirit, there is no valid evidence that focusing on the spirit is fostered by mental castration. As far as we know, the opposite may be true: “inhibiting” healthy sexual development in childhood may actually foster the creation of hypocrites, and interfere with an adult’s capacity to sincerely focus on spiritual matters.

Hypothesis #2: Accurate, balanced, and comprehensive sex education would distract future adults from focusing on commercial production and consumption, and thereby harm the economy of communities and nations.

This hypothesis likewise fails due to counter-examples, such as my own personal experience. Despite my early exposure to sex and lack of sexual inhibition, I have always been highly materialistic, constantly looking for ways to increase my disposable income in order to buy the latest toys and gadgets, as well as useless but fascinating antiques. I’ve also spent tens of thousands of dollars vacationing in exotic places (45 U.S. states and 20+ foreign countries), instead of merely staying home and enjoying orgasms.  Although my early sex education was not accurate, balanced, and comprehensive, there is no reason to believe that better sex education in schools now would lead to the creation of adults who are less eager producers and consumers of non-sexual products and services in the future.

Hypothesis #3: Accurate, balanced, and comprehensive sex education would distract future adults from the need for self-defense and national defense, thereby leaving us vulnerable to attack and invasion.

My personal experience again demonstrates the contrary. Despite being sexually uninhibited since birth, I developed a great interest in arms and weaponry very early in life, and eventually became a proficient handgun and rifle marksman who competed against and occasionally beat U.S. military-trained marksmen. Although I wasn’t enthusiastic about volunteering for military service, that was because of the difficulty of being guaranteed a place in Officer Cadet School, rather than any lack of enthusiasm for military service itself. I’ve also worked as a successful firearms dealer and junior rifle club leader, promoting the shooting sports in my community. I have also had a life-long dedication to unarmed self-defense and physical exercise, and even now at a fairly advanced age I can still outperform many young men in calisthenics.

Hypothesis #4: Accurate, balanced, and comprehensive sex education would distract future adults from higher learning and purely intellectual interests.

As a teacher for more than 20 years I have watched many children grow up, and my frequent observation is that the most sheltered children whose parents diligently “protected” their sons and daughters from sex education, have not turned out to become scholars in any sense. Quite the contrary, hiding sex from children seems the surest way to produce a generation of young people who are sexually dysfunctional as well as being wholly superficial and even anti-intellectual in every field or topic. This hypothesis is also refuted by my own character: my early exposure to sex and lack of inhibition have not prevented me from becoming a life-long learner and regular consumer of non-fiction books, scholarly journals, academic conferences, and professional web casts. If anything, my early exposure to sex seems to have cultivated my intellect.

Hypothesis #5: Accurate, balanced, and comprehensive sex education would create future adults who are less dependent for gratification on institutions and elites, and thereby create adult citizens who are less vulnerable to manipulation and control.

This hypothesis is consistent with the primary function of modern schooling. In the distant past education took the form of apprenticeship training for a specific craft or trade. In English-speaking countries churches offered the first organized instruction outside the home or workplace for indoctrination into religious dogma. Initially there was resistance to the idea of government providing free schools to the poor masses, and that resistance was overcome only with the rise of the threat of revolutionary movements spreading in continental Europe in the 19th century, hence the perceived need to indoctrinate English children politically against “foreign” ideas, beyond any need to train young people for future jobs.

Although there are now many competing interests against school reform, the hypothesis that government-directed schools seek (whether successful or not) to control and manipulate children is the most plausible explanation for anti-sex education. The widely acknowledged failure today of conventional schools (even among “successful” students who have been “well-schooled”) to cultivate citizens who are able to think independently and creatively, lends support to a sinister and conspiratorial rationale for opposing sex education, and calls for a re-evaluation of the traditional goals and values of schooling.

In a future post I will consider the confused content and methods that traditional schools are burdening children with instead of utilizing modern audio/visual technology for accurate, balanced, and comprehensive sex education. It’s hard for me to imagine that effective sex education someday could be worse than what traditionally inhibited teachers and parents are already doing to children every day in the here and now to “distract” children from sex.

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Polyamory: Origins of Jealousy

Traditionalists claim that monogamy is inevitable for human beings because jealousy is an inherited instinct, so polyamory  (multiple mating) is unrealistic. But I believe that the reality is quite the contrary: the traditional problem of jealousy is an effect rather than a cause of monogamy.

Toddlers are innately possessive of objects but they learn the benefit of sharing rather quickly from older teachers. Children learn to share their toys, meals, bedroom, bathroom, sidewalk, street, park, playground, school, public transportation, etc. Infantile possessiveness is largely unlearned very early through experience with teachers and other models. Possessiveness is fostered by scarcity: when desired objects or spaces are scarce, possessiveness and jealousy are more likely.

In contrast, interpersonal jealousy is learned. In a three-person relationship jealousy is primarily learned from observation of older models. A small study 15 years ago claimed infants exhibited jealousy when their mothers showed affection for other babies, but that finding has not been replicated. Other experts believe early jealousy results from the prior experience of being the only child: older sibs are jealous of younger sibs. What causes jealousy is upsetting the individual’s prior status. Jealousy is less likely among twins, each of whom was never the only child.

In a polyamorous family two wives who live together may synchronize their menstrual cycles and become pregnant at the same time, thereby producing children of the same age, without the risk of complications of twins in a single pregnancy.

A nursing infant is not jealous of an older sibling nursing on the other breast. But a small child is banished from the parents’ bedroom and thereby learns the monogamous principle of “odd man out.” While two young siblings are amazingly willing to share an adult, jealousy usually enters the equation when there are two or more adults involved. In a small monogamous family where there is only one child and two adults, jealousy between the adults is likely; or when there is more than one child and only one adult, jealousy between the children is unsurprising. Scarcity fosters jealousy.

Jealousy is especially likely when there is a scarcity of opposite-sex members in the group: two or more females and only one male, or two or more males and only one female. More than once I’ve had the personal experience of a mother and her daughter literally fighting over me. The child didn’t hope to possess me exclusively, let alone hope to be the prima-donna. The child merely wanted mom to share, which the latter was quite unwilling to do.

More typically, whenever I hug and kiss a mother, the daughter carefully watches my every move out of curiosity, just as a young girl will watch and listen to an older couple talking to each other. But whenever I hug and kiss a daughter, the mom keeps us under subtle surveillance out of the corner of her eye. Monogamous moms also keep tabs on how much a mate spends on gifts for her vs. how much he spends on daughter. The monogamous adult’s interest is not to protect the child from “sexual” abuse; mom wants to protect herself from losing her official position as prima-donna.

A glaring example of motherly jealousy was once when I was sitting in a large armchair and my girlfriend’s daughter came and squeezed in alongside me. Mother objected that the chair wasn’t big enough for two people, so daughter moved to the couch. But then mother contradicted herself by coming over and squeezing in the armchair alongside me. Daughter naturally observed: “If the chair isn’t big enough for little me and him, then how come it’s big enough for you and him?” Mom simply replied: “It’s time for you to go to bed!”

Another common scenario is a boy who reaches the age when he no longer wants to sit on mom’s lap, and begins to prefer playing with his big sister. The mom pretends that she needs to keep the sibs at a proper distance to prevent them from becoming “too close,” but in reality mom wants to prevent her son from straying “too far” from herself. Recently a ten-year-old boy and girl (close friends since preschool) asked their parents if the boy could sleep over at the girl’s house. It was the boy’s mother who refused permission.

Freud claimed a small child wants to kill one parent in order to possess the other parent exclusively (the “Oedipus complex”), but I have observed the contrary: one parent often wants to kill (divorce) the other parent in order to possess the child exclusively. Freud confused his own pedophobia with human nature or instinct. Parents feel jealous and behave possessively toward their children in traditional monogamous groups, but not necessarily in other circumstances.

Even children’s friendships are often monitored and fostered or inhibited according to the monogamous parent’s fear of competition for affection. A constructive and responsible parent accepts a child’s affectionate feelings for a friend, and at most guides a child to choose friends who contribute to good social development. But many parents actually choose a child’s friends according to the parent’s political or religious preferences or other parental idiosyncrasies, which are irrelevant to the child’s interests.

A major disadvantage of monogamous jealousy is that one adult can pretend to be interested in a third party (with the implicit threat of future abandonment) precisely to make her “only” mate jealous and value her more, with misery generated that is not only unnecessary but absurd – a pathetic spectacle that impressionable children can observe and imitate.

Feminists originally demanded more help from males in childcare, but once economic and other concessions were granted, and women discovered that children (especially girls) tend to become very close to fathers, feminists backtracked and now complain that fathers and daughters must keep their distance to avoid “sexual abuse,” i.e. what is often merely sex play such as tickling, playing horsey, etc., which is officially defined as “abuse” regardless of the characteristics of the specific experience. The supposed negative effects of early sexual experience may also be confounded by the jealous or hysterical reaction of adults after the experience is over. One practical result of the new “gender equality” is a generation of women who are sexually dysfunctional.

The frequent result of monogamous jealousy is a child deprived of physical affection and emotional intimacy. Dad isn’t allowed to cuddle with daughter, so daughter isn’t allowed to cuddle with any boys. Hence, the spectacle of children allowed to cuddle with pets or stuffed animals but not with each other or the opposite sex parent. Kids are allowed or even encouraged to obsess over objects made of metal or plastic, as if possession of a “safe” inanimate object will bring you the same happiness as “dangerous” interpersonal intimacy. Instead of learning the pleasure of skin contact and self-stimulation of the female erectile organ (clitoris), girls are mentally castrated and forced to suffer the complete sexual isolation required by adult jealousy.

Boys are less damaged because the penis is wholly external so surreptitious self-stimulation is easier to get away with. I suspect that parents (especially mothers) are also more tolerant of boys being “naughty,” possibly because adults know that a sexually dysfunctional son is far more destructive to eventual sex roles than a sexually dysfunctional daughter. Female sexual pleasure is not indispensible. Through cultural distortion and miseducation, sexually dysfunctional women are considered “normal” or even “morally superior” to boys (and especially girls) who are sexually functional.

In contrast, adults who repudiate jealousy in a polyamorous family become models of shared intimacy. Healthy children are allowed and encouraged to express their sexual desires and enjoy sexual pleasure with whomever they please. Instead of hiding one’s feelings and behavior and feeling guilty about it, polyamorists accept and welcome open expressions of healthy sexual function. Female sexual dysfunction is not normal or morally superior to natural enthusiasm for sex play and sexual learning at the earliest age. It’s also normal and healthy to desire, enjoy, and prefer sexual pleasure (rather than object pleasure) throughout life.

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Polyamory as Multiple Parenting

A polyamorous family consists of more than two adults and may have several children who are not necessarily related to each other biologically. What makes a family polyamorous is sexual non-exclusion. Polyamorous parents and other adults practice sexual inclusion. In a polyamorous family the adults attempt to repudiate possessiveness and jealousy, and may even enjoy the presence of multiple members who share intimacy. In polyamory you don’t love someone else instead of your primary mate; you love someone else in addition to a primary mate. Polyamory is not a form of rejection of your “true love,” but a form of wider acceptance.

In contrast, the modern monogamous family is a simple model: one father, one mother, and usually one or two children produced by that father and mother. In the past a monogamous marriage used to include an average of about four children, with four grandparents, several aunts and uncles, and many cousins all living nearby. There were several adults or older siblings available to care for, stimulate, and protect the younger ones. Homes were usually filled with people so kids received stimulation from many different sources: same age, older, and younger members. Children slept in the same room and often in the same bed. But nowadays monogamous families are much smaller and more mobile; relatives often live far away so the children suffer relative isolation and neglect. It may be no coincidence that behavioral and developmental problems have been increasing over the past 50 years.

Children living in the contemporary, small, monogamous family suffer a form of social deprivation. Spacing two pregnancies far apart is typical and may be convenient for the parents, but not for the children. When there are only two sibs wide apart in age, they don’t have as many common interests as children of the same or similar age.  The learning benefits are usually for the younger sib rather than the older sib, although the older sib may benefit from observing parents model care of a younger sib. In later childhood traditional schooling with children segregated into overcrowded groups of same-age (and sometimes same-sex) peers, an antiquated curriculum, and an authoritarian teacher, is certainly not an ideal form of group interaction and in any case does not compensate for early social deprivation.

It only takes two parents to create a child, but a polyamorous family has more caregivers or “alloparents” available to care for, stimulate, and protect the dependent children. Ideally, all the adults in a polyamorous family contribute to the loving care and protection of the children, and the adults may not even know who the children were produced by. Children, like fathers, never really know who the biological parents are even in a monogamous family. We commonly assume that the legal parents are also the biological parents, but that is not always or necessarily the case even in monogamous families.

Some polyamorous families may choose to be “childfree,” but I think such pedophobic groups would not be serious alternatives to monogamy. As I suggested in previous posts on pedophobia, disliking children is misanthropic. To quote de Sade: “True libertinage abhors progeniture.” (“120 Days of Sodom.”) Some macabre authors like Emily Dickenson were childless.

Polyamory is inappropriate even for adults who do want children but for no other reason than pride of ownership. It was very satisfying to me recently to learn that a woman writer who previously said she “chose” to be childless, now admits she actually did want to have a child but turned out to be physically unable to become pregnant. Why didn’t she adopt? Who knows how many other adults supposedly uninterested in children are likewise hiding their medical infertility?

The adults and children in contemporary monogamous families are typically obsessed with the constant threat of infidelity. In some cultures calling someone a victim of infidelity is the worst insult in the language. Monogamous couples waste considerable time and other resources in mating competition and/or mate-guarding. In contrast, a successful polyamorous family is a model of more harmonious intimacy; mature polyamorists view attraction to others as natural and an expression of healthy sexual function, not something to feel guilty or angry about. (More on infidelity below.)

A biological advantage of polyamory is that gene flow across groups is useful to avoid the potentially deleterious effects of inbreeding, and genetic change is important to combat our greatest enemies: bacteria, viruses, and fungi. There is good reason to believe that speedy change of the immune system (not necessarily improvement but mere change) is beneficial in keeping ahead of our quickly evolving micro-enemies (1). There is likely to be more gene flow and genetic variation in multi-mating groups than in fixed-pair mating, contributing to the genetic health of the next generation. In view of the worrying appearance of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms, the tendency of some individuals to be selfish and pass on his/her own genes exclusively is less likely to promote successful survival than more rapid genetic change.

There is some evidence that children benefit from the stimulation of being in multiple relationships, i.e. having siblings. There is also some evidence that children with multiple (two) parents are more advantaged than children growing up with a single parent. Epidemiological data suggest that growing up in a single-parent home is a risk factor for behavioral and developmental problems just as growing up with parents who are alcoholic, abusive, drug addicts, etc. An extreme example is the tragic early life of only-child Mary Shelley who grew up with a widowed parent and subsequently wrote her macabre story “Frankenstein.”

Polyamory offers many advantages but the greatest potential advantage of a polyamorous family is the presence of multiple caregivers or alloparents. An experiment in massive stimulation sent professional adults (males and females) into homes to spend time with children around the clock, and the kids achieved significant improvements in their I.Q. scores in a relatively short time. In the long term we should also expect other improvements in children’s intellectual and social development, such as creative thinking. As with learning more than one language, the child’s brain develops more flexibility as well as accumulating experience in a greater quantity and wider variety of social situations.

There is a well-known physiological process of activity-dependent synapse formation. When the brain is developing during childhood, more synapses are formed the more stimulation the child’s brain receives. The reverse process is neural pruning: if the developing brain doesn’t receive much stimulation, then many neurons are pruned and die, possibly resulting in some form of dysfunction, including organ dysfunction. These processes are widely accepted in brain science and in no dispute. I have previously suggested that these well-known processes apply to sexual function as well, specifically clitoral function (see Clitoral Erectile Dysfunction).

Most children today tend to fear instability because it seems to threaten neglect and abandonment, but in my experience when kids are confident of receiving competent care from somebody or other, they get bored easily and actually prefer a variety of fresh caregivers. Monogamous parents traditionally terrorize kids against “the wicked step-mother.” However, when a healthy brain is developing it needs stimulation, so an abstract concept like “loyalty” is of secondary importance to a child before indoctrination into monogamy. The high-sounding word “loyalty” in this context merely means exclusiveness: excluding “outsiders” from physical or emotional intimacy.

Healthy children are strongly attached to primary caregivers, but confident kids are also very practical and flexible. Children are great believers in the practical principle: if you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with. To a child exclusiveness has value only if and when it avoids interpersonal conflict, not because exclusiveness has some abstract ethical value in itself. Children are extremely “loyal” to their parents as long as the latter are in the same room.

In early childhood education a common belief is that a child benefits from having a primary caregiver assigned to that child, but there is no hard evidence for that belief. As far as we know, multiple “primary” caregivers may be better. Of course, there may be a point of diminishing returns: 5 parents per child may be better than 10 parents per child, and 2 or 3 languages may be better than 5 or 10 languages. That remains to be seen.

Mothers and other females traditionally invest more time and effort in childcare than fathers and other males, especially in other species, but there is no reason why that pattern must persist in humans of the present and future. Beyond gestation and breastfeeding there is no reason to believe that childcare by females is always and necessarily better than childcare by males. It is obvious that in humans the best childcare depends more on the behavior rather than the gender of the caregiver, and experiencing the different behavior styles of males and females may be conducive to broadening children’s perspective. A mother with three husbands may be just as useful to children as a father with three wives.

Traditionally the stay-at-home mother is the preferred form of monogamous family, but it is far from ideal. Children have so much energy that one adult can’t keep up with even one child, let alone more than one child. Fatigue, neglect, and/or boredom are probable unless there are more caregivers who can take turns resting and care-giving as would be easy in a polyamorous family with multiple adults.

Fluidity of membership in a polyamorous family may be considered neutral or even constructive because individuals naturally change over time. New and different caregivers may mean improvement in childcare. An important thing is that the terms of membership in a polyamorous family are clearly specified and agreed to in advance of becoming a member and investing in the family. Violent conflict often results from one person unilaterally changing the rules formerly agreed to. Monogamous couples usually begin with the mutual agreement “till death do us part,” but within a short time one spouse may unilaterally declare “I’m not dead yet but I’m parting anyway.” A kind of initial contract specifying terms of dissolution of agreements (and consequences for unilateral violations) would minimize violent conflict later.

The reason infidelity often causes a violent reaction is because it is dishonest. In contrast, when extra-pair contact is agreed to in advance, there is no real “infidelity.” Dan Savage has used the phrase “ethical infidelity” but that is a contradiction of terms. When extra-pair contact is agreed to in advance, it’s not “infidelity.” Although possessiveness and jealousy are commonly thought to be instinctive and inevitable, a very young child with flexible models eventually realizes that the dream of exclusive possession can become a nightmare if the person she wants chooses somebody else for an exclusive relationship instead. Sharing loved ones is a safer and more reasonable compromise that is easily accepted when a young child’s personality is forming.

Much interpersonal conflict is due to competition for an exclusive relationship. So when relationships are shared, there is less need for such competition. Changes in the make-up of the monogamous family due to divorce, death, or other reasons are usually very disruptive and stressful for the adults and especially for the children. But lacking models of possessiveness and jealousy, children in a polyamorous family may grow up more resilient and better able to withstand natural disruptions in social relationships when disease, accidents, or other sudden changes are forced on them.

The children who grew up in a successful polyamorous family should become adults who get along smoothly with other families, both monogamous and polyamorous, rather than forming enclaves or tribes in isolation from the larger society. I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t expect that. The major obstacle would be possible rejection and ostracism by individuals and groups with vested interests in protecting monogamous marriage, what Chris Ryan and Cacilda Jetha’ have called “the marital-industrial complex” (2). Much misery in childhood is due to disputes over custody of children when monogamous couples separate. In contrast, polyamory offers the hope that children will have a buffer of many close relationships that are unaffected by a change in one caregiver.

The first successful polyamorous families to go public would face the greatest challenges. There are a few videos on YouTube of polyamorous families, some of whom feel a need to hide their polyamory from the children, possibly because of a perceived need to avoid public disclosure. There are also many polygynous Mormon families in which the polygyny is not a secret. The children seem to grow up in the same home although each mother has a separate bedroom (3).

Intimate relationships are often problematic. The place you are most likely to die a violent death is in your own home. That may not change in a polyamorous society. There is always a risk of envy, dissatisfaction and resentment in social relationships. But I suspect that across generations the individuals who grow up in the socially rich environment of a polyamorous family will be better equipped to compensate for human frailties, than those individuals who grow up in an average or even “ideal” monogamous family. Although there are many cases of failed monogamous mating, they may be explained by problems other than monogamy itself. But some successful polyamorous families would disconfirm the traditional belief that monogamy is the only viable formula for raising strong and healthy children.

References

  1. Ridley, M. The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature. Penguin, 1993.
  2. Ryan, Christopher and Jetha’, Cacilda. Sex at Dawn: How we Mate, Why we Stray, and What it means for Modern Relationships. Harper, 2010.
  3. For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7G0acYVjSU and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcH3XyobtBw
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Kids’ Bill of Rights

http://www.freerangekids.com/the-free-range-kids-parents-bill-of-rights/

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Polyamory vs. Selfish Genes

Many traditionalists believe that monogamous marriage and the nuclear family are best for human beings, and even necessary for the survival of modern civilization as we know it. Hence, alternatives to monogamy – such as polyamory (multiple wives/multiple husbands) – must not be tolerated. In contrast, some other people believe that polyamory may be more conducive to human satisfaction and may ultimately produce children who are better adapted to survive and enjoy life.

In 2010 Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethà published “Sex at Dawn,” which presented some evidence for our multi-mating past, with the implication that monogamy isn’t inevitable for modern humans so we may consider alternatives like polyamory (1). The book was a best-seller, in part thanks to the glowing praise of syndicated columnist Dan Savage. But that thesis provoked some strong criticism in a later book “Sex at Dusk” by the apparently pseudonymous author Lynn Saxon, which claimed Ryan’s evidence was distorted, and presented counterevidence that suggests our ancestors were monogamous or polygynous (one male with multiple wives), and also claiming that monogamy offers more advantages than multi-mating – especially for women (2).

One problem neither book confronts adequately is that regardless of our past, modern human females are living in a unique environment. Saxon does say: “Most of the situations modern females find themselves in today are ones that our ancestors never knew.” True, but she says that in the context of disputing evidence of women’s apparent sexual fluidity, rather than acknowledging that women today have more and better opportunities for sexual enjoyment.

Saxon says she is not advocating evolutionary psychology, but claims natural selection results in the passing on of certain “traits.” That slippery term is not specifically defined but seems to refer not only to such things as eye color, but also sexual behavior patterns which in simpler species seem to be inherited instincts rather than the result of learning. However, there is some evidence that young monkeys deprived of social interaction in early development become sexually dysfunctional, so there may be a need or benefit of early sexual learning even in non-human primates. There is no evidence that human sexual behavior is strictly determined by genes, and calling “traits” tendencies or inclinations rather than instincts or compulsions merely changes the terms of the problem, but does not avoid the pesky lack of clear evidence.

After Saxon argues that the rosy view of multiple mating in the past presented in “Sex at Dawn” is misrepresented and unrealistic from a deterministic biological standpoint, she then seems to contradict herself by saying: “Whatever people choose to do in the modern world is up to them.” Despite Saxon’s apparently feminist agenda, she seems to arrive at the odd conclusion that young women today should not choose to be sexually uninhibited; girls should save their precious virginity until they find romantic love in a traditional monogamous marriage to Prince Charming.

Another problem neither book confronts adequately is that the important influence of hormones on human behavior is widely acknowledged, but few realize this is the first time in the history of our species that women go through hundreds of useless menstrual cycles without getting pregnant. This is also the first time that most women don’t spend most of their reproductive lives breastfeeding (excluding occasional periods of famine in the past). The hormonal state during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding (or their absence) may profoundly impact not only the individual woman but the whole family, group or community. We have no idea what impact this radically different modern environment may have on men and women’s sexual desires, feelings, and behavior compared to the past.

The new availability of effective contraception and safe abortion (safe for the mother, at least) means whatever was natural or best in the past is not necessarily relevant today. Unlike other species or our own ancestors, people today can separate sex from reproduction. In simpler species, sex or mating means reproduction, but that is not the case for modern humans. It seems incredible that anyone today can simply ignore that fact and believe women and men will (must?) go on behaving the same way our ancestors did.

Regardless of the historical debate, evolutionary theory offers arguments for monogamy as the best way to ensure the survival of certain (selfish) genes through natural selection. That theory purports to explain why most men and women tend to be jealous and attempt to be sexually exclusive. However, evolutionary theory is based on observations of many species – including insects, worms, fish, and birds, in which mechanistic explanations for behavior are more appropriate than in complex human beings. In simpler species living in environments with extremely limited food resources and even limited space, the mere number of individuals reproduced translates into successful survival; but in complex human society the quality of offspring is just as important or more important than quantity in survival.

Although such inherited “traits” are claimed to be principles that “potentially apply” (Saxon’s careful wording) to humans, there are some unusual species in which the females are sexually aggressive and/or the males take care of the offspring. Even when certain kinds of behavior are widespread across species including mammals, there is no real way to verify if they are inevitable for human beings. Giving high doses of sex hormones to rats doesn’t have the same effects as humans taking high doses of sex hormones. Assumptions about what occurs in other species are often based on sparse observations or even a single study. Other forms of possible bias should weaken our faith in reported findings, such as ideological (e.g. feminist) prejudice and academia’s “publish or perish” rule, both of which give researchers an incentive to selectively report, exaggerate, or even lie about their findings (3).

While discussing Angus Bateman’s early genetic research on fruit flies, Saxon declares: “The sex – male or female – which has the greatest variance in numbers of offspring is the sex most eager to mate.” When females invest more in parenting they are more selective about mates. In sex role-reversed species where males do the parenting, females are more eager to mate. What does that have to do with humans? In human pair contacts the individual more eager to “mate” is the one who values the other individual more, based on real or imaginary qualities or momentary whim, regardless of who (either parent or some third party) might do the parenting, what gender category that individual belongs to, and what the reproductive variance might be. I’m not doubting the “principles” of evolutionary theory, but human beings don’t behave like fruit flies.

Although human mothers traditionally devote more time to babysitting (it would be an exaggeration to call what some mothers do parenting), men often provide the essential material resources. In modern humans throughout child development girls are the gender more eager to “mate.” Traditionally, little boys are notoriously unenthusiastic about girls. Only around puberty when there is massive neural pruning and most girls discover they have been mentally castrated and are sexually dysfunctional, do boys become the gender more eager to “mate.” It’s my frequent observation that when most people talk about feminine desires, feelings, and behavior, they conveniently point to mature women after cultural indoctrination, rather than the more natural or less indoctrinated behavior of girls in early childhood. As one mother and colleague of mine intimated, the behavior of little girls doesn’t count because they are “sluts.”

The males of many species are observed to be less adverse to “indiscriminate” mating than females, but in humans the supposedly selective females are often careless about mate choice or extremely poor judges of a potential mate’s qualities as a provider or co-parent. That is apparently due to poor education rather than any genetic “traits.” I think most people would agree that we should not rely on our sexual or reproductive “traits.” Better parent education for both men and women is the best way to prevent poor mate choice or indiscriminate mating – a luxury that is not available to most other species and was not available to us throughout most human history or prehistory.

Saxon admits that true sexual monogamy is rare; many species are socially monogamous but the partners try to cheat if they think they can get away with it. The law of the jungle is: cheat but discourage your mate from cheating. Is that strategy inevitable for humans? Is jealousy inherited? Jealousy is sometimes an expression of insecurity. A major advantage of monogamy that Saxon missed is that if you turn out to be incompetent as a spouse or parent (or both), you need not worry about possible competition since – by definition – monogamy officially disallows other possible spouses or parents. Another attraction of monogamy is that it’s a relatively simple formula with simple rules (compared to the alternatives), which doesn’t require juggling multiple relationships. Hence, monogamy appeals to individuals with simple minds who would rather not complicate their lives with “too many” variables.

Saxon argues that a male often tries to appear interested in parenting in order to persuade females to have sex with him (his only real interest). But that “principle” is disproven in humans by high-status adoptive fathers (e.g. a doctor I know personally) who devote themselves to their infertile wives and unrelated adopted children, instead of looking for other mating opportunities (abundant if you’re a doctor or other high-status male). After continuing to disparage males as single-minded sex fiends, Saxon claims that females are only interested in trading sex for resources, i.e. females are ascetic saints forced by their genes into prostitution. Incredibly, she suggests if women had free access to resources, they would have no incentive to engage in sex! Or females are receptive to sex when not ovulating primarily to avoid male aggression. Such claims are precisely what we would expect if the speaker is sexually dysfunctional and can’t imagine any women enjoying sex for its own sake.

Saxon also suggests that men are only eager to have sex with highly desirable females (young and healthy), so in shared polyamory men would need “plenty of Viagra” to perform with the least attractive women. This again suggests an assumption of sexual dysfunction. As I described in a previous post on mental castration I didn’t need any Viagra recently when an older woman who was obese and mildly handicapped took a liking to me. Spending too much time studying other species seems to distort Saxon’s perception of our own species. Do female fruit flies experience clitoral erections? Do insects even have a clitoris?

Since sexually functional women are relatively rare in modern Western culture, we don’t expect a woman to experience clitoral erections when stimulated, let alone spontaneous clitoral erections. Some women have no memory of ever feeling or seeing a clitoral erection even though there is good reason to believe that all little girls experience spontaneous clitoral erections in early childhood, although many individuals appear to lose that function around puberty, probably due to sexual neglect during development and consequent neural pruning. We may hypothesize the existence of some form of mental block that women who are sexually dysfunctional suffer when considering the topic of clitoral erection and female orgasm.

In a later chapter Saxon includes a section titled “The female orgasm,” but the section is mostly about immune-compatibility and sperm competition and only includes a few sentences that barely mention female orgasm. She does say: “Human females do tend to be more sexually proceptive, more spontaneously aroused, and can more easily achieve orgasm when ovulating.” Nonetheless, women are only interested in exchanging sex for resources or avoiding male aggression? Saxon doesn’t seem to think that glaring contradiction merits any extensive discussion, possibly because healthy women’s capacity for sexual pleasure contradicts much of what Saxon says about female sexuality throughout the book.

Some other species exhibit some incredibly bizarre mating behavior, so it is unreasonable to say polyamory in humans is unlikely to be successful because it seems bizarre compared to other species. An important difference between humans and many other species (including our closest relatives: chimps and bonobos) is that in many other species fertility lasts until death, while in humans fertility declines significantly in old age in the male, and disappears completely in the female after menopause. Knowledge and education may take precedence over supposed genetic predispositions in human behavior especially in advanced age, even if such precedence is not observed in most other species that lack culture. Even some young humans (e.g. who are permanently infertile) are often eager to become step-parents or adopt and become dedicated, loving caregivers for unrelated children. What do we care if that never happens in worms or even bonobos? In many areas the demand for children available for adoption far exceeds the supply.

Sexual preference, mate choice, and preoccupation with paternity in humans are strongly influenced by values learned through early education and reinforced by culture. Choices and preferences may even vary between different families in the same culture, and even between different generations of the same family. Evolutionary “traits” are not overwhelming to humans as in other, simpler species. Although genes may predispose us to suffer certain diseases, in many cases those effects may be avoided by learning about and avoiding environmental triggers. No individual is forced to behave in such a way as to promote the passing on of his or her genes. We may decide to seek the survival of somebody else’s genes, because we like another person’s genes better than our own.

Such behavior may not result in the individuals passing on their genes to the next generation, but that doesn’t matter if the choice is cultural rather than genetic. If a culture promotes love of beautiful and healthy children, such a culture may thrive and flourish (produce many high-quality children) regardless of which individual genes are being passed on – assuming that the individuals who are born are then culturally educated to promote the successful survival of children. Someday when we are able to design beautiful, healthy children, we must ask: Who (other than a chimpanzee) would be so self-centered as to want his “own” ugly or disease-prone genes reproduced anyway? If children could have chosen who their parents would be, would they have chosen you?

Both “Sex at Dawn” and “Sex at Dusk” are worth reading. They are informative and thought-provoking books, even if the authors disagree with each other. Science progresses through debate, and neither Ryan/ Jethà nor Saxon has written the final word on monogamy vs. polyamory. The scientific spirit is to be humble and experiment, and evolutionary biology is hardly an exact science. I think we should be suspicious of anyone who claims that observations of fruit flies, shorebirds, and other species have revealed certain reproductive “traits,” and evolutionary “principles” that suggest polyamory would be great for primitive male sex fiends but not for pure-minded women. In my next post I will argue that although monogamy may be best for a selfish adult and his or her selfish genes, polyamory as multiple parenting may be better for the health and safety of children.

References

  1. Ryan, Christopher and Jethà, Cacilda. Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships. Harper, 2010. See my review at: https://sexhysteria.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/sex-at-dawn-challenging-prudish-dogma/
  2. Saxon, Lynn. Sex at Dusk: Lifting the Shiny Wrapping from Sex at Dawn. (No publisher, 2012)
  3. Ioannidis JP (2005) Why most published research findings are false. PLoS Med 2: e124.
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