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Sexy monkey

18 December 2011

"I might LOOK silly, but at least I know how to behave."

Us humans are a strange sort. We got these huge brains capable of some remarkable feats, like figuring out how the universe works or how to get the cellophane off a newly purchased DVD. Yet, on the other hand, we’re so easily distracted by the prospect of sex that it’s almost comical.

What’s that all about? Why are we so obsessed with sex? Other animals don’t seem to be, or at least not all the time. They have seasons when they’re in heat, and alright, they can get a little silly, but it’s only for like 2-3 weeks per year. Humans are silly all year around.

It is odd that humans should have such a strong sex drive, perhaps the strongest of all animals*. What could be the reason (if any) for that? To get to the bottom of this mystery, we’re going to have to compare humans with other primates and see what differences we find.

Just like other mammals, primates only reproduce during certain times of the year when they are in heat. When not in heat, they are essentially de-sexualised and only concern themselves with day-to-day problems like foraging for food, avoiding predators and climbing the social ladder within the group.

Not so with humans. We are an always-on kind of species, always ready for sex with no extended period of celibacy (except of the “I can’t get any action, I’m such a loser”-kind). Why? What could be the benefit of wasting valuable energy on chasing potential sexual partners all year long? Or, putting it a slightly less promiscuous way, why are we fertile all year long?

One thing that separate us humans from other primates is that we can be found all over the world. We’re everywhere. And there’s plenty of us, too. This has not always been the case, and only some tens of thousand years ago we almost went extinct. There might have been as few as a few hundred humans left in the whole world. But we bounced back, just like we keep bouncing back after each horrific disaster that threatens to snuff us out for good. And at least one of the reasons for this must be our capability to start reproducing no matter what time of the year it is. And for this to work we need to be mentally ready for sex all year round, which means we’re always thinking of sex. Sex is on our brains.

I know. It makes you think of sex, doesn't it?

We have, like all primates, a rather extended juvenile period. It takes more than 12-13 years before we’re sexually mature, and even longer until we’re mentally ready to couple up and start raising a family. This is obviously a drawback if we’re trying to repopulate the earth, but it has been offset by the extended life span of (female) humans to long after we’re able to reproduce. This has given rise to the grandmother phenomenon, where the grandmother takes over some of the care of her daughters children to help her have additional children she wouldn’t have been able to manage on her own – even with the help of a trust-worthy life-partner (if one is around).

But I believe there is another reason for our hyped-up sex drive. Being as intelligent as we are, we would not necessarily be interested in sex, but rather focus on the latest flint knapping technique or the newest trends in wall paintings (think Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory). Also, the concept of reproducing and becoming responsible for a child for 15-20 years might cause us to hesitate to engage in any sexual activities. To counter this, our brain is flooded with sex hormones. They make us want to have sex no matter what – consequences be damned – and is essentially a logics override, making us single-track minded and focussed only on sex. This effect is strongest in our teens, but we’re never really immune to it, even later in life.

So. We are indeed sexy monkeys, and there are good reasons for it. But still, that’s no excuse for behaving like a over-sexed baboon. Especially since the baboon probably would take that as an insult.

* The one exception would be the Bonobo or Pygmy Chimpanzee. They engage in sex on a regular and frequent basis, and often use it as a means of paying for services or climbing the social ranks in the group. They also practice make-up sex and sex as a conflict resolution method. They are totally the other sexy monkeys.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. 18 December 2011 18:14

    For some reason, I am thinking about sex now.

    Like

  2. 18 December 2011 18:37

    I feel, after reading this, that I don’t think about sex enough… I shall endeavour to fix this from now on and offer my deepest apologies for not being sexually active enough.

    Like

  3. 18 December 2011 18:38

    This explains a lot. Their logic hijacked by their DNA, promising politicians text pictures of their penises.

    Like

  4. 18 December 2011 18:39

    P.S. Can you DM me some more of those office pictures? They are for a friend. Thanks.

    Like

  5. debihen permalink
    18 December 2011 19:03

    Now that the cat’s out of the bag about the Bonobo or Pygmy Chimpanzee, you know that is going to be the next “Richard Gere/Hampster” sex scandal. Pervy people everywhere will be seeking these little monkeys out…poor little monkeys.

    Like

  6. 18 December 2011 19:20

    That office didn’t do much for me. That is, until I noticed the magazine title: “POV…” Now I am definitely thinking of sex.

    Like

    • 18 December 2011 22:07

      Excellent! You have just demonstrated the sexually obsessive, single-tracked mind mentioned in the post.

      Thank you!

      Like

  7. Andrew Lawrence permalink
    18 December 2011 21:52

    I do wonder if the rate of sexual desire could be a result of an arms race with the complexity of the social rituals for pairing off.

    Humans have an ever increasingly complicated set of ritualised behaviours for evaluating a potential mate ( and the goal posts for what makes a potential choice worthwhile are ever shifting) competition is fierce, but paradoxically being a social animal capable of working with, and as part of a group, towards goals otherwise unachievable by indiviuals, is a vital survival trait and key indication of suitability as a mate.

    A driven sex drive is natures best-carrot-on-a-stick reward system for making all that effort of competatively tiptoe-ing between the lines of socially acceptable behaviour attempting to win a mate, seem worthwhile.

    Like

    • 18 December 2011 22:11

      I would probably argue that the increasingly complex mating rituals in human society is our way of organising (and to some degree controlling) the chaos caused by our over-active sexuality, rather than the other way around. But I could be wrong, as I’m a bit distracted thinking about sex right now.

      Like

  8. Andrew Lawrence permalink
    18 December 2011 22:50

    and i would argue that you are not too distracted by sex to consider my theory, but are instead not distracted enough by my theory to get your mind off sex!

    Like

  9. 19 December 2011 04:36

    Was reading Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works. He said something about how men create great works, like scientific achievements and art, to increase their status and get the most desirable mate possible. I used to think it was ironic they worked so hard to get computers in people’s homes, only to have them used for porn. Now I see it as inevitable.

    Like

    • 19 December 2011 06:55

      Hmm. Interesting, but I don’t think I agree with that. Humans of both sexes seem to have the urge to create things, both tech and art.

      I think creativity one of the other great obsessions that our sex drive is competing with, and not just a precursor to sex.

      On the other hand, once the creative phase is over, there’s nothing to stop you from using your success to impress potential sexual partners.

      Like

      • 19 December 2011 10:46

        Now I am up typing from my Steven Pinker book to prove I am right. But then I started thinking… WHY am I up at four in the morning typing from a Steven Pinker book? Is is for sex? No, it isn’t. Then… @heinakroon is right, dammit. Go back to bed.

        I hate it when I lose a debate with myself. However… this isn’t over. I feel a blog post coming on.

        Like

        • 19 December 2011 11:18

          Isn’t the non-sexual thrill of a heated intellectual discussion just great? We pit our favourite theories against each other, arguing for it’s victory. And still, hoping that our minds somehow will change and accept new truths. Ah, these megamind duels keeps my heart young!

          Looking forward to your blog post, albeit with some trepidation!

          Like

  10. 19 December 2011 20:20

    The comments here are too smart and too funny for me to compete with. I knew I should have commented yesterday when I was thinking of very funny sex jokes. Today I’m just thinking of work, and despite what that misleading photo above implies, it’s not doing it for me.

    Wait, since the photo of work and me currently being in an office aren’t turning me on, am I broken? Also, at the moment, whatever flint knapping is sounds a lot more interesting to me than sex. Dammit, I AM broken. Ugh.

    Like

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