In foraging and traditional hunter-gatherer societies, the community is very egalitarian. Since these groups are constantly on the move, there is no true property as everything is shared, and that includes sexual partners. The reason this came up in discussion of the book is that in these groups, women have as much say in decision making and defending themselves as the men. In other words, they can accept or refuse the sexual advances of others as they like without retribution.
It wasn't until the dawn of agriculture that the concept of ownership came into play and where the "agricultural revolution triggered radical social reconfigurations from which we're still reeling." Males became possessive of not just the land they worked, but everything else they came to acquire in order to supply that lifestyle. People no longer worked in groups for the greater good of all. At that time, women were thrown into the pot of what was possessed, right along with land, housing, slaves and other types of property. So, the author argues that women's status has changed considerably due to the advent of agriculture and are viewed not as equals, but as property and something to control.
In societies that are matrilineal - that is, the property is passed down from mother to daughter - men and women are more sexually free in that they have multiple partners. In patrilineal societies, in order for the males to ensure that their property actually goes to their children (and not someone else's) they tightly control the sexual relations of the women. However, in matrilineal societies, this doesn't matter and it's irrelevant how many sexual partners the female has. She will always know which offspring are hers.
One other thing the author pointed out that I thought was interesting, was that most animals only mate when the female is in heat. There are exceptions and those are humans, chimps, bonobos and dolphins. He speculates that those with higher intelligence are more apt to have sex not just for reproduction, but for social reasons as well. Very few other animals in the animal kingdom bother with non-reproductive sexual acts such as oral sex and the like.
This last bit is somewhat off topic, but something to think about over the weekend :)
Here's a fun quote from the author's website:
When it comes to sex, men may be trash-talking sprinters, but it’s the women who win all the marathons. Any marriage counselor will tell you the most common sex-related complaint women make about men is that they are too quick and too direct. Meanwhile, men’s most frequent sex-related gripe about women is that they take too damned long to get warmed up. After an orgasm, a woman may be anticipating a dozen more. A female body in motion tends to stay in motion. But men come and go. For them, the curtain falls quickly and the mind turns to unrelated matters.
This symmetry of dual disappointment illustrates the almost comical incompatibility between men’s and women’s sexual response in the context of monogamous mating. You have to wonder: if men and women evolved together in sexually monogamous couples for millions of years, how did we end up being so incompatible? It’s as if we’ve been sitting down to dinner together, millennium after millennium, but half of us can’t help wolfing everything down in a few frantic, sloppy minutes, while the other half are still setting the table and lighting candles.
When a female chimp or bonobo is in the mood, she’s likely to be the center of plenty of eager male attention. And the more attention she gets, the more she attracts, because as it turns out, our male primate cousins get turned on by the sight and sound of others of their species having sex. Imagine that.
So, after all that, do you think that human females are adapted to having multiple partners at the same time and, by that, I mean at literally the same time?
Furthermore, are humans meant to be monogamous or are we fighting a losing battle?