Study of Human Sexual Behavior
Human sexual behavior is just one of the many things anthropologist study when it comes to humans. Humans are highly complex and social beings. We often wonder why we do the things we do. Why do some people cheat, while others stay monogamous? Behavior is not an easy thing to study because it is subject to change and is continuously changing. There is no clear-cut reason for human behaviors, unlike mammals, humans can reject or override genetics. We are not under the control of our hormones or genes. We can resist our biology and it is for this reason that human behavior is so puzzling and complicated. Anthropologists solve this problem by looking at our closest living ancestors, the non-human primates. By observing and theorizing their behavior anthropologist believe it will give them some insight into human behavior.
One of the reasons anthropologist study non-human primates is to clue us in on our early ancestors to which we can better understand human behavior today as it pertains to sex. If we take a close look at some non-human primate sexuality we see that they almost always have stragedies when it comes to picking a mate. The males normally seek out females in heat, to ensure their offspring for the next generation. To win the acceptance of the female the male will court her, by grooming her and being attentive and if she has a child, demonstrate his ability to be a good father. The male primate’s main objective is to impregnate a female, and as many females as he can. Once he accomplishes his mission, he will again try to impress another female; this is the male’s strategy for reproduction.
The dominant male almost always impregnates the most females, because he is the superior of the group and this will ensure strong healthy offspring for the next generation; although the females may not always receive the dominant male due to his familiarity to her. The females also have a reproductive strategy and that consists of being very choosy with who they allow to impregnate them. Since females only have 400 eggs their entire lifetime, it is to their best interest to be particular. When new males join their group females will be more drawn to the new comer due to her curiosity and excitement for something new and her boredom with the dominant male. She will pursue him and eventually he will court her, which will ensure the mix in the gene pool.
These sex strategy behaviors explain why humans today often stray from their partners because from an evolutionary stand point females are in constant search for that quality male and males are on a mission to ensure their genes in the next generation. And another reason may simply be of boredom as demonstrated by female Muriquis monkeys who seek out new males. The courting ritual is a big part of human sexual behavior. Human males, just as the non-human primates spend a lot of their strategy time building a trusting relationship so the female will give in to them. And the female will take advantage of the courting and the attention and those with children have temporarily found a male figure to guard and protect her child.
These sex strategies are important part of non human and human behavior, but are they so cut and dry as females do just this and males do just that? For example, most female non-human primate have a tendency to choose quality over quantity, however this is not always the case. Apparently not, as Anthropologist Meredith Small found out. She did a study of female Barbary macaques, and found out that females are very fickle, sometimes they choose mates who are familiar or high ranking or sometimes they go for new comers or sometimes they go for all of the above. There does not seem to be any reasoning behind their choice. This however comes to no surprise to Barbara Smuts who concludes that non-human primates are just as complex and subtle on a social level as we are. Non-human primates from this example can be as complicated and confusing in their actions as humans are. Although, one could also conclude that only female macaques are as fickle as humans can be and this is one of the problems anthropologist encounter. It is difficult to categorize or theorize strategies and behaviors of all non-human primates in a single form. It is for this reason that anthropologist must study all groups of non-human primates for their diversity in social behavior.
First and foremost sex, is a behavior to produce offspring. It is a necessary to mix up the gene pool to create stronger more viable generations. Although this is the case, recreational sex is not unheard of in primates; as Meredith Small points out in article 6. The Bonobo chimps separate sex from reproduction and seem to thoroughly enjoy their recreational pass time. Their sexual activities are very open and have many ways and positions to enjoy sex, very much like humans. “They seem more like humans then chimps” says Small, using the example of face to face copulation which is very uncommon in non-human primates. Just as humans enjoy sex and receive great pleasure, so do the Bonobo chimps. These displays of sexual behavior are prime clues to the origins of human sexual behavior, which is one of the rewards for anthropological studies.
Studies and research of primates have revealed that many of the human sexual behaviors can be traced to non-human primates. Anthropologist do encounter occasional hurdles due to these primate’s “sometimes” -complex behavior. “Sometimes it is just hard to know what they are up to”, confesses Ann Gibbons in article 7. Despite this, observing non-human primate behavior gives us clues as to why we do what we do and where the behaviors came from and what purpose these behaviors served for our ancestors. Because primates are so closely related to humans it is important to study their social behaviors and their evolution through time. It may lead to answers and to further questions as well.
I. Almquist, A; Simic, A; Omidian, P, Human Sexuality, 1995
1. Gibbons, Ann; Article 7 “Barbary Macaques Challenge Theory of Female Choice”
2. Small, Meredith; Article 6 “What’s Love got to do with it? Sex Among Our Closest Relatives Is a Rather Open Affair”
Word Count: 1021