By Lauren Simenauer > Sex & Dating Blogger
For centuries, people have been quoting other, more eloquent people to make themselves seem smarter. Yet there comes a time in a person’s life when grand allusions to antiquity may be inappropriate. This time—or rather, place—to which I refer, of course, is the bedroom. One Bill Shakespeare turned to me, earnestly, and paraphrased the wise words of the Bloodhound Gang: “You and me, baby. We’re nothing but mammals.”
Regardless of the strength of his argument, I had to admit: the guy had a point. While the woman in me was reeling with disgust, the biologist in me was nodding vigorously, glowing with pride. (The biologist, incidentally, makes most of my mating choices.) Nothing kills the mood like a guy making a distinction between Homo sapiens and other animals. But just how similar to our animal brethren are we? After all, we are the only primates that, for the most part, refuse to have sex in front of each other. And I blame culture.
In fact, many members of the animal kingdom are unrelenting exhibitionists. In “Lek” mating systems, females flock to the sexiest male on a territory, who exerts his dominance not through aggression but by mere virtue of being sexy. Accordingly, the other males surround him, hoping to get a piece of the action while Mr. Hot Shot is gettin’ busy—publicly. The rather ugly “Prairie Chicken” practices this mating system. Most lesser primates also copulate in public. A popular explanation for this is that a promiscuous female in a population where the males commit infanticide needs to confuse her paramours into not killing the kids. If you’re a male chimpanzee, and you copulate with a particularly slutty female, chances are, you’re not going to kill her offspring on the off chance they’re yours. Anyway, rarely among baboons does a scientist observe one exclaiming, “That kid doesn’t even look like me!”
It would appear that humans do not need such precautions, because we have social rules, and, in absence of adherence to said rules, Maury Povich. One argument against having sex in public is that society evolves much faster than the human species, and so we construct social mores like “don’t have sex in front of people” to uphold a standard of civility and morality. Yet I question what private intimacy contributes to the greater good. If anything, it facilitates negative behavior like cheating—and I’d take indecency to infidelity any day. Plus, it is a social rule that is prejudiced against a certain minority demographic: voyeurs.
Nicolas Cage, unrepentant destroyer of many movies, was quoted back in May as stating a preference for eating animals that mate in a “dignified” manner. Cage said, presumably on a break from stealing the Declaration of Independence to trade it for the original Ten Commandments: “I actually choose the way I eat according to the way animals have sex. I think fish are very dignified with sex. So are birds. But pigs, not so much. So I don't eat pig meat or things like that. I eat fish and fowl.”
Nicolas Cage is living proof that humans are so preoccupied with decorous sexual behavior that we project our own ethic onto organisms with brains the size of walnuts, for whom relocating is optional prior to going to the bathroom, and killing your brother for a piece of seaweed is not uncommon practice. And to that, I say: lighten up. I don’t expect that the tradition of private sex will change anytime soon. I am optimistic, however, that with a better understanding of culture and science, we will be better able to reflect on why we do what we do rather than falling victim to immediate visceral reactions.
And perhaps, in the interim, I will pioneer the cause.