Modern society continues to be plagued by conflicting ideas about sex practices, how they relate to marriage, and what God thinks of all this. Being the good Samaritan that I am, I thought I’d help out a bit by giving the argument a Jaminological treatment. In this post, I intend to strip Western ideas of sex back to their basic components, identify the common religious assumptions, and consider how a religiously enlightened Jaminist would view sex and marriage.
A quick word before I begin, I am going to be using words which some people will find intimidating, word such as “evolution”. There is no need to be scared. I am not really talking about vertebrates evolving from shellfish in this article, so you can believe whatever you want about whether there were dinosaurs on the ark and so on. I’m mostly dealing with human development from early primitive savannahman beginnings; partially from a pre-human biological development angle and partly from a post-human memetic angle (memetic relates to memes, which are complex ideas that change gradually over time and are subject to natural selection in the same way that genes are). These ideas are consistent with both theistic and non-theistic worldviews and are safe for general consumption.
Nothing happens in a vacuum, this is especially true of cultural memes like attitudes toward sex, sexuality, marriage and religion. Each generation of attitudes is a slight alteration of the attitudes of the previous generation. Even in cases where attitudes appear to have shifted violently, they still shift along the axis established by previous generations of thought. Gay marriage, for example, may seem like a huge shift of perspective, but it is merely a single and very minor alteration to one aspect of the marriage meme (an aspect which has been edited numerous times throughout history). No part of the sexual revolution is particularly revolutionary in terms of new thoughts or ideas. This is all just part of a natural ebb and flow of ideas that are held in tension between asceticism, hedonism and humanism. There is over six thousand years of cultural development which needs to be studied before a person can claim to understand society’s views on sex and marriage. Accepting that social deconstruction and practical reconstruction are ideas which have developed in a modern context, I’d like to skip the degree in cultural anthropology and just break the whole argument into its basic parts and rebuild an attitude toward sex, marriage and religion which is acceptable for a Jaminist.
While it may not have been immediately, consciously apparent to our primitive ancestors, sexual intercourse has a pretty clear function which relates directly to the survival of the species and propagation of genes. Sex isn’t the only way that living things can reproduce, but in complex organisms like humans, it seems to be the most effective way of giving various generational mutations a fair shot at either being useful, or substituted by the partner’s DNA. All things considered, the act itself is an evolutionary marvel, but when organisms become large and complex, having people just wander around and hoping that their genitals bump together isn’t a particularly effective way of ensuring genetic survival. So when a sexual organism shows up with an innate desire to touch its genitals against the non-matching genitals of another member of its species, and even gaining positive neural feedback after the act to teach it to do that repeatedly with as many genitals as it can find, hey presto, we have an effective survival trait. Does this mean that sex exists for the purpose of reproduction? Well yeah, in the same way that the larynx exists to keep food and water out of your lungs, but also happens to have been adapted to also allow speech.
So sex is originally for reproduction. I think a lot of the conservatives are on the same page with me on this point. But here is where things begin to get complicated. Sexuality exists primarily to allow organisms with fairly simple brains to identify their own genitalia as male or female, and identify the genitalia which theirs connects to in order to produce offspring. Sexuality clearly developed after sex (possibly the male thing that developed the ability to only be attracted to female things had an advantage over the male things that were sticking their things into every other thing) and also develops separately in the womb. Sometimes the development of sexuality doesn’t match the sex of the organism, and you end up with males attract to male genital and females attracted to female genitalia. If this posed a significant survival disadvantage to humans it would have died out thousands of years ago. It seems that a tribe may actually benefit from having a few males who aren’t interested in competing for females but are still happy to lend a hand with hunting and interior decorating.
Human babies are possibly the most pathetic organism in the world. A horse foal is up and walking within a few minutes of being born. Baby sea turtles dig their way out of the ground and fight their way to the ocean in their first minutes of life. The only responsibility a sea turtle mother has is to dig a shallow grave for her unborn children and to leave them in it. Human babies on the other hand are completely dependent in their parents for up to thirty five years. During the early years in particular, these resource intensive, food powered poop machines require constant supervision at a degree that is well beyond the level of what a single parent can provide without the aid of stimulants and government a pension. So to keep these screaming lumps of flesh alive long enough to produce their own screaming lumps of flesh, humans developed basic pair bonding. This creates a love feeling between two humans for up to around two years, which is generally long enough to get the child past the most labour intensive phase. After this the partner bond could break down and the father could wander off and produce children with other partners. A process of elimination would then find that fathers who developed a love attachment to their newborn child and stuck around to help raise it would increase the child’s chances of survival, so that ended up becoming a secondary pair bonding effect. This didn’t actually happen in a narrative form by the way, it is just a bit easier to comprehend when it is taught this way.
So sex and love are still mostly about producing healthy babies at this point. Commitment and fidelity are weak memetic survival traits. Parental attachment to offspring is a strong survival trait. So far we have only talked about individual selfish gene style survival of personal DNA. That would be fine if we were talking about animals which live solitary lives, but in terms of human development, we also need to consider the tribe. Tribes form something of a macro organism for humans. In the same way that many cells sacrifice personal interest to become part of a larger organism like a human, humans give up individual autonomy and personal survival for the benefit of the tribe. People who don’t want to believe in evolution have trouble getting their heads around this point so I’m going to take a moment to spell this out carefully. An individual human can probably survive on their own in good conditions, foraging in the forest, making their own clothing, etc. When food gets scarce though, a tribe has a significant
advantage over a lone individual because it only takes one very good hunter to sustain a whole tribe with less effort than sustaining themselves (if the other tribe members take care of turning animals into food, clothing, shelter, etc). Even without a division of labour, a tribe is far stronger than an individual in terms of warfare. So there is a lot to be gained by being part of a tribe. In fact, in an area where humans have developed into tribal groups, refusing to be a part of a tribe is likely to mean extinction. Since the majority of interpersonal human behaviour is going to develop in a context of people who seldom encounter members of other tribes outside of a context of war, one would expect social meme selection to favour prosocial behaviour or, at the very least, behaviour which appears to be prosocial. Since the majority of modern human behaviour seems to be supportive of people deemed to be part of one’s own tribe (whether that is family, college group, religious group, sporting organisation, ethnic/sexual identity and so on) at the expense of the out group (people who are not members of a person’s perceived tribe) it seems that tribes are still a part of daily human life. The size of the group an individual can identify as their tribe does seem to expand as they develop psychologically (self, family group, church group, whole church, whole denomination, all members of the religion, all humans, all animals, all living things, all of God’s creation) but that is a topic for another article.
To recap our progress thus far: Sex exists primarily to produce children. Sexual attraction exists primarily to facilitate sex. Romantic love exists primarily to keep a couple together long enough to produce a child and keep it alive long enough to survive with only one parent. Parental love exists to bind the parents to the child to increase the individual child’s chance of survival. Tribes exist to create a secure, cooperative environment for their members, and are generally strengthened by larger numbers (and are therefore beneficial toward raising children and also benefit from the production of children within the tribe). So now we have a very basic understanding of the forces involved in the creation of the memes of sex, marriage and religion. Now it is time to complicate things.
So far I’ve only mentioned primary functions of most of these factors. The fun thing about evolution is that it takes things which have an existing purpose and sometimes edits them to develop new functions and meanings for them. The example I mentioned earlier, is your voice box. Its primary purpose is to allow air to enter into your lungs while keeping water and solids out so that you don’t drown in your own saliva. It does this by a method involving two constantly vibrating flaps, which also happens to produce a constant humming sound as a side effect. Over time, air breathing animals have developed the features of their heads (such as nasal cavities, teeth, tongues, beaks, lips, etc; each with their own different primary functions) into sound editors and amplifiers which are then used for communication over distance. The degree that humans use and rely on speech in daily life can make it difficult to intuit that the organs which allow us the ability are actually coopted from other purposes. That is, of course, until we get home from a sporting event or concert and discover that our voice really isn’t particularly good at extended use for high intensity shouting and has been reduced to a faint crackle while the larynx concentrates back onto the primary business of keeping us alive.
Just as the larynx, cranial cavities, lips teeth and tongue have developed into more than merely a correction of the early design flaw that put the breathing and eating holes on the same tube (which would have been fine for animals with gills), the functions of sex, love, and tribalism in humans have developed into a lot more than just facilitating the production of more humans. And that is what I plan to look at next.
While sex (as in the kind of genitals and chromosomal composition possessed by an individual) is something which is fairly clear from birth in the majority of cases, sexuality and gender identity are both much more fluid concepts which relate to sex but are not exclusively defined by it. I won’t go into detail about gender in this article, but sexuality does have an important point to add in a discussion about the function of sexual intercourse. Sexual preference is a biological level feature which would have originally increased the likelihood of an individual organism selecting a mate with which it would be able to produce children. It seems that the biological hardwiring functions on a sliding scale, and (in men at least) is determined largely by antibodies that develop in women to combat the development of heterosexual sexuality in unborn male children. Whether this is a feature which developed in early mammals to prevent any single female from dominating the gene pool (which would potentially lead to inbreeding and localised relative species weakness in groups which lacked this immune response) is a matter of speculation. The observable reality is that sexual activity between partners who would be incapable of ever producing children through the act still produces the psychological and physical health benefits that sex between partners who are capable of producing children creates. It is also something which occurs frequently in many species of air breathing animals. It therefore has not been a sufficient problem for survival to be bred out of existence.
Romantic partnerships, also, will often occur between people who have either no intention or no ability to produce children. These relationships, which may originally have developed in primates for the purpose of protecting young children, come with many other benefits which remain even when the possibility of producing children is removed. Men, in particular, become much more relaxed when they are in a romantic partnership (regardless of sexuality) and the impact of a stable relationship can increase their life expectancy by up to five years. In a modern, Western environment, where cultural engineering has caused a breakdown of the smaller tribal unit, romantic partnerships are able to form a kind of micro-tribe where resources can be shared, allowing the couple to survive on fewer resources together than they could separately. There are also numerous psychological and health benefits to having a romantic partner.
The benefits which sex and romantic relationships provide to individuals and communities have now come to be the primary purpose of relationships, with child production becoming a non-essential feature. The invention of contraceptives/abortion and the existence of IVF, child support and single parent allowances has placed the relationship between sex/romance and parenthood at an increased distance; both now being able to exist comfortably without the other.
So where does marriage come into all this? From an individual perspective, monogamy offers very little to either partner. Mating with multiple partners would provide more opportunity for diversity of genes for a male. A system where one dominant male has many female partners would be much more favourable for females, being able to have access to the strongest genes. The fact that male humans are slightly taller than females indicates that this was at some stage in our development the standard relationship model. So what changed? Monogamy seems to be a tribal development to sooth tensions within a tribe and reduce jealousy based in-fighting. Marriage has a similar role, drawing clear lines of which women belong to whom. In patriarchal societies, marriage is also used to subdue the sexual power of women by limiting them to a single mate/master for life. Religion does come into this as well, but it is important to note that the gods tend to agree with the personal opinions of the male priests and seers (and the idea of celibate clergy did not feature in Western religion until around 200 BCE unless you count ritual castration). So marriage is a social institution created to make heterosexual men feel loyalty to the group and secure that they could go on long hunting trips without somebody else knocking up their missus while they were out. Initially, marriage was not a lifelong commitment on the man’s part, but when tribes grew to the size where individual wealth took the place of tribal wealth, it became too easy for men to marry young virgins and then discard them when they got a bit too old, so the til death do we part addition ensured than all unwanted wives would be disposed of without becoming a burden to the community. The tradition of burying/burning wives alive with their dead husbands has a similar origin.
Marriage has developed into a religious process of sanctifying sex. This concept (in the Christian tradition at least) began in the Jewish tradition with the honourable intention of preventing men from simply raping young girls from conquered towns and forcing them to take care of any girl they raped for the rest of their life. Early Christianity was plagued with platonic asceticism which separated the body and spirit, claiming that the spirit was clean and the body (and with it, sexual desires) were unclean. This was mostly a Gnostic belief, but it permeated the early Christian church until the fourth century, when the orthodox (soon to be Catholic) church distanced themselves from the Gnostics by saying that it was only the priests who had to abstain from sex. Eleventh century thinking brought back the idea that sex was bad and fleshly, but it was decided that sex was permissible within the context of a monogamous marriage as long as it was done for the purpose of producing children and not for pleasure. Since homosexual sex could not produce children, it became stigmatised at that point (it had been previously but this represents the current generation of stigmatisation). The effect is that sex within a marriage is legitimised sex and the baggage of this decision which was made for political reasons has stuck with Western culture even to the present day, particularly among Christians.
Time for another midway recap. While sex and sexual desire originally developed to produce children, the chemical impulses involved have developed into something which is not limited to fulfilling the genetic imperative, and is able to exist independently of child production. Likewise, romantic love has basic roots in keeping two people together long enough to raise a child to an age where it doesn’t have to be carried everywhere. It has now transcended both the need for sex and the need for children, and exists as a social factor in its own right. Marriage developed as a cultural meme to prevent fighting between males and to control women. It has developed into a means of legitimating in-group romantic relationships and marginalising minority romantic expression.
So where does all this leave the Jaminist?
It seems that after breaking down the origins of sex, sex drive, sexuality and reproduction, the act of who is permitted to have sex with whom needs to be reordered. When heterosexual sex was inseparably associated with childbirth, it had to be socially regulated to prevent young girls from being left alone with babies who, let’s face it, take a lot more than fifteen months to raise to independence. These days, with the abundant access to contraceptives afforded to people in most developed Western countries, sex does not necessarily lead to childbirth, and has become instead something between an intimate bond between people who are romantically in love, and a fun recreational activity for those who may not be. Providing that sufficient communication takes place to ensure that both parties are there for similar reasons and appropriate precautions are taken to avoid the spread of disease, this situation meets a Jaminist seal of approval. Homosexual sex has always been in the category of either partner bonding or recreation, and was therefore stigmatised in past ages for being luxurious at a time when having fun was a most abhorrent sin. If non-reproductive heterosexual sex is considered acceptable, it would be hypocritical to hold homosexual sex to a different standard. Homosexual sex therefore also meets the requirements for the Jaminist seal of approval.
Romantic love has also gone through a bit of a revolution in recent years. With the inclusion of the female vote, the female in the workforce, and equal opportunity laws, men and women now have a lot more in common than just sex. As such, loving partnerships can develop which are far stronger than temporary chemical attraction. Sex is an acceptable but non-essential expression of such feelings of closeness. Same sex romantic partnerships have always been capable of this connection, and were seen in ancient Greece as a far stronger bond than was possible between a man and a woman. While modern circumstances may have changed that last point, I have to conclude that loving partnerships of any combination of sexes (genders) with any number of partners is something to be celebrated. Whether or not sex is involved in the expression of that love is up to the individuals involved to determine. The important part there is again, communication and faithfulness to whatever limits are agreed to by all parties.
Marriage may continue to have a place in modern culture, but I think its current form is going to have to change. Modern marriage contracts do not have the security of a business contract. If marriage is to have any level of credibility in a modern world, it is going to have to be remodelled in a way that is clearly distinctive from the archaic models of the past, but also a solid, predictable and stabilising element for society. My suggestion would be to have a variety of standardised marriage contracts which provide couples with a clear understanding of the agreement they are entering and the consequences of failure to uphold their end of the agreement. Obviously it would include homosexual marriage. I would also take it a step further to allow marriage contracts between more than two members. Committed poli relationships do exist and should be recognised with equal legal status.
As always, I encourage feedback. Particularly so if I’ve said anything you disagree with.