Christopher Ryan is the author of Sex at Dawn, a book investigating the evolution of mating strategies of men and women.
In 2013 he gave a TED talk entitled ‘Are We Designed to Be Sexual Omnivores‘, embedded below.
In the talk he argues the classic oppositional monogamous relationship model, where women promise fidelity and in return men provide safety and shelter, is a relatively recent invention, beginning around 10,000 years ago due to advancements in agriculture.
In the 200,000 years prior we lived in hunter gatherer groups, where overlapping sexual relationships were a more successful mating strategy to ensure survival of the tribe.
Our anatomy is designed for mating with more than one person. Unlike any other mammals, human females are available for sex throughout the menstrual cycle, human males have the largest and thickest penises of any primate, and human testicles are external to the body so sperm is always at the correct temperature and ready to go.
10,000 years is a short time in evolutionary terms. Not nearly enough time to re-wire our brains and stamp out all trace of those past behaviours or thought processes.
He doesn’t say monogamy is wrong, just as labelling someone who chooses to be vegetarian is wrong even though humans evolved to be omnivores. But he does describe a conflict between the monogamous relationship style prevalent in today’s society and our sexuality:
“Our evolved sexuality is in direct conflict with many aspects of the modern world. The contradictions between what we should feel and what we actually do feel generates a huge amount of unnecessary suffering.”
I’ve felt this conflict in my own relationships. It’s the guilt I talk about in my nice guy mentality article of wanting to express your desire for sexual variety whilst being under pressure to ‘settle down’, ‘stop playing games’ and ‘grow up’ (little do they know how much more difficult a non-monogamous relationship can be psychologically!).
Christopher Ryan goes on to say:
“Just because you’ve chosen to be a vegetarian doesn’t mean bacon stops smelling good.”
His thoughts are echoed by psychotherapist Esther Perel, quoted as saying in an interview with the BBC:
“You can live in a monogamous institution and you can negotiate monotony, or you can live in a non-monogamous choice and negotiate jealousy. Pick your evil.”
Humans will always have desire to sleep with multiple partners, no matter how much we try to deny it. Only you can decide to go against your internal wiring, accept conventional wisdom and societal constructs, and pair with a single person for the rest of your life, or give in to evolutionary biology and attempt the hardship of creating a relationship structure most people will never understand and may judge you for.
Christopher Ryan’s overall message is this. As a society we need to be more understanding and tolerant no matter what choice someone makes.
He asks that we accept we all have biological desires and should not shame people for experiencing them. A man walking down the street should not be shamed for looking at beautiful women despite having a wife. A woman should not be shamed for having a high number of sexual partners at a young age.
His opinion echoes mine and the philosophy of this blog. Irrespective of societal pressure, you must decide what type of relationship with women your desire deep down, then take action to make it happen. Only then will you be able to build your most satisfying life possible.