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.
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.