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Are Humans Inherently Polygamous? I Asked an Expert to Clear Up a Few Sex Myths for Me

Are some people really born with absolutely no natural disposition for giving head?

This article originally appeared on VICE Romania.

When I was in year 11, one of my teachers had me write an essay on sexual perversions. We didn't have the internet in Romania back then, and "porn" was only available in its softest form at the VHS store. Instead, I turned to a friend's parents' library, where I found a book detailing a bunch of sexual perversions and deviant sexual behaviour. It started with homosexuality, of course, meandered through fetishism and ended with some stuff about zoophilia and necrophilia. This was all our sex ed at the time.

Annoncering

Luckily, things have changed since then. Today, BDSM and foot fetishes – much less oral sex and homosexuality – are just some choices on the menus of porn sites and hardly considered perversions by the majority of the rationally-minded these days. They're just things that some people like to do in the privacy of their own dedicated torture dungeons. But this made me wonder: what other myths are there still around?

Humble brag alert: I have an MA in philosophy, applied to issues of gender and sexuality. But these are mostly speculations in evolutionary psyhology, so I employed the help of Dr Alina Rusu – a biologist and psychologist specialising in the psychobiology of sexuality, ethology and evolutionary psychology – to help clear up some of the sexy stuff I keep getting hung up on. Here is some of that stuff.

COMMON BELIEF: ORAL SEX IS AN ACQUIRED TASTE Few people still believe that oral sex is a perversion or somehow deviant sexual behaviour, but some still seem to believe that the preference for oral sex is an acquired taste and that oral sex is learned behaviour .

Some people think touching somebody's excretory organs with your mouth shouldn't be a pleasant thing to do ; they're the holes that piss and shit and discharge choose to escape the warm clutch of the human body, so it makes very little sense to actively explore them with your tongue.

Of course, some humans tend to enjoy receiving oral sex, but not giving it, which might seem one more reason to believe it's not a biological preference we all have.

Annoncering

My thoughts: Oral sex must be a natural behaviour that we're biologically programmed to seek out and enjoy, like food or children's play. Maybe its function is to establish intimacy and reduce stress – the exact reasons primates groom each other. Or perhaps it somehow contributes to bonding in a couple, or establishing the bonds of dominance and submission necessary for group cooperation? Dogs smell each other's anuses; humans lick each other's anuses.

With that in mind, maybe this works both ways – maybe some people just don't have that biological inclination or it is inhibited by educationin conservatives countries.

The expert's opinion: We really don't know if an entire species is obsessed by this behaviour. In evolutionary psychology we talk about how common this behaviour is in a number of cultures, and also for some animals, if it has the character of universality.

There are no studies to establish the advantages of this behaviour for the individuals who manifest it, compared to those who do not. There are some studies which show that oral sex is perceived as an element of diversification of someone's sexual repertoire in the couple, and that it correlates with a higher degree of sexual satisfaction for couples.

COMMON BELIEF: THERE HAS TO BE EXPLICIT VERBAL CONSENT BEFORE SEX

This is just as much an issue of values, as a factual one . In liberal societies, sex between two consenting adults is generally viewed as a fun, pleasurable thing to do and the only kind which is morally permitted. However, some have taken the "consent" part of that sentence to dizzy new heights: among the most liberal thinkers of these liberal societies, there's a growing consensus that romantic or sexual interaction should be proceeded with explicit verbal consent.

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For instance, in order to reduce the number of rapes on its university campuses, last year the State of California passed the "Yes Means Yes" law, replacing the older "No Means No" maxim. In case you can't work out what that means, here's a summary: one person hoping to initiate and complete a sexual act needs the other person to tell them, verbally, that yeah, they're OK to go ahead and put a finger inside them.

My thoughts: Bit of a buzzkill. Imagine having to ask your partner any of the following during an ordinary sexual interaction: "Is it OK if I put my hand on your waist?" "Is it OK, now our bodies are pressed together, if I allow my penis to involuntarily expand?" "Is it OK if, while penetrating me, you also slap my buttocks with a light-to-medium intensity?"

Kind of sucks the spontaneity out of everything, doesn't it?

The law in California was passed with 100 percent the right intentions, but it ultimately seems a little futile. The language of seduction is physical, not verbal. Unless you end up making out with someone who's totally inept at reading these normally pretty obvious physical cues – somebody unbuttoning their trousers, say, or lifting your hand from their butt and placing it firmly behind your back – having someone ask permission for every move they make is literally the quickest possible way to kill the mood.

Sexual interaction can't be conditioned by consent, because consent is the result of flirting and seduction. Uncertainty and risk play an essential role when two people flirt. Sexual interaction is a process of negotiation through communication, which is mostly not verbal and implicit.

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The expert's opinion: Studies of the psychobiology of sexuality that investigate the factors associated with a higher degree of satisfaction in a relationship show that a couple's satisfaction improves with an increased level of communication.

Psychologists who specialise in couple's counselling recommend using verbal communication in the early stages of couple formation, and also later on, especially in order to prevent or reduce commonly stressful situations, or a low level of comfort for one of the partners or both.

COMMON BELIEF: HUMANS ARE EITHER INHERENTLY MONOGAMOUS OR PROMISCUOUS This debate has raged for decades among the kind of people who debate this kind of stuff. Are humans like penguins, inclined to choose only one partner for their entire lives? Or like bonobos, the most promiscuous of all primates?

One recent best-seller in evolutionary psychology, Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, states that humans had multiple sex partners for most of our evolution, based on evolutionary arguments having to do with sexual dimorphism, testes size and our appetite for novelty.

On the other hand, even though not all humans end up in stable relationships, plenty do in most known types of societies, and that can't be a mere coincidence.

My thoughts: It is most likely that sexuality and human relations have more than one mode of functioning, and that those differ not only from one society to another, but from one person to the other, from a certain age to another and from a situation to another for the same person.

Humans simultaneously have two modes of functioning, like an AC device which can both heat or cool – the tendency to form stable couples and that of having multiple sex partners.

The expert's opinion: Behavioural and evolutionary sciences work with the notion that reproduction systems [monogamy, polygamy, etc] are the result of selection pressure from the environment, such as access to food and resources, climate, space and time, potential mates, etc.

The simplest answer would be that the reproduction system of a given society depends on the kind of selection pressure former generations have met. There are a few patterns emerging for our species, such as the one identified by Robert Trivers in his theory of parental investment: in species which reproduce sexually, males have the potential to produce a much larger number of sexual cells than females can produce over a lifetime.