Having sex privately is assumed to be a common modesty, but is it?
Length: 3,200 words
Reading Time: 12 minutes
This post will (1) explore the question of why the privatization of sexual expression is peculiar to human nature, and (2) why some people, under certain social settings, do not feel the need to conceal mating. The following article is quoted.
Yitzchak Ben Mocha, “Why do human and non-human species conceal mating? The cooperation maintenance hypothesis“, The Royal Society, (2020 August 5) Alternate source.
Why do Humans Conceal Mating?
The author analyzed sexual practices in 249 cultures from 35 geographical regions by reviewing more than 4,572 ethnographies! Wowzers!
The first section of this paper covers systematic evidence for the wide prevalence of mating concealment across human cultures. He also reviews the phenomenon of concealed mating in non-human species. He takes an evolutionary perspective to review existent hypotheses for concealed mating in humans, and shows that they do not explain why concealed mating evolved as the norm in humans, and is only seldom exhibited by apes.
“In many cultures, living conditions prevent complete sexual privacy, while in others, sexual privacy is not rigorously kept. Nevertheless, pairs from virtually all cultures were reported to take measures to conceal (at least partly) their legitimate mating from the sensory perception of adult conspecifics.”
He mentions one exception, the Goajiro from Colombia, where pairs took no precautions to conceal legitimate mating.
“Despite the extraordinary cultural diversity that has evolved in the human species, humans from distinct cultures have been reported to take active precautions to conceal sexual intercourse from the sensory perception of others. During the last century, scholars argued that the preference for concealed mating represents a ‘human universal’ and is also uniquely human. Others speculated this had a significant effect on the evolution of human emotions (e.g. shame) and cognitive skills (e.g. self-awareness, managing social relationships).”
Get this… Concealed mating is only characteristic among humans, and out of millions of species, only one type of bird (the Arabian Babbler) has been found to exhibit this same behavior. Similar to the habit of wearing clothes, it seems like a trait conjoined with something else unique to humans — sin. I’ll come back to this connection later.
Hypotheses on the Function of Concealed Mating in Humans
“To date, only brief explanations have been suggested for the function of concealed mating (e.g. a few sentences or a footnote). […] the first explanation was proposed in 1930 by Malinowski, who argued that public mating ‘excites jealousy. Hence to make love or to eat in public is to invite rivals to seize that which is being enjoyed’.”
So by extension, the concealment of mating serves to avert envy and jealousy which invariably disturbs the peace and upsets the social order. Women prefer a peaceful society filled with mini-dramas of their own creation.
“Half a century later, Symons repeated a similar argument: ‘Ultimately, [concealed mating] probably is the outcome of reproductive competition. Where food is scarce, and the sight of people eating produces envy in the unfed, eating is often conducted in private. While there are many societies in which everyone has enough to eat, there are no societies in which everyone can copulate with all the partners he or she desires […] The seeking of privacy for sex probably has been uniformly adaptive and hence is virtually universal among humans’.”
In other words, Symons’ theory recognizes that there is a subset of humans suffering from sex scarcity. Presumably, it has always been true that some men and women cannot obtain an ideal pairing. Within the past few decades, this sex drought has increased dramatically for a significant proportion of men. This motivates socially unacceptable pairings and the need for secrecy.
“Building on this interaction between jealousy and reproductive competition, Friedl posited the costly consequence of reproductive competition: ‘the value of hidden sex [is] to protect [the copulating pair] and the social group from the dangers of jealousy caused by competition […] for mates, [as] a degree of social harmony is a prerequisite for an individual animal’s reproductive success’.”
We see this all the time. Let’s take the church as a pertinent example. There is a lot of sexual promiscuity happening within the church, especially among younger singles, and it is assiduously kept secret as much as possible. But if it ever becomes known that a younger woman (or three) was hopping on a young alpha, or that a man in the congregation was shinnying around with another man’s wife, then a scandal will invariably erupt. The scandal will polarize the social atmosphere of the church, and inevitably require one or both of the offenders to leave the church. This throws a monkey wrench into the grander scheme of procreation, since all this drama would interfere with the continuance of the affair. So it is easy to see why everyone wants the whole thing to be kept secret — because the exploration of mating possibilities is tacitly taken to be much more important than preserving sexual purity and maintaining social harmony within the congregation.
On the other hand, NOT keeping it secret is just as destructive, if not more so. Just imagine a scenario in which it became the custom of making all the illicit sexual liaisons within the church a matter of public knowledge, and it was also expected that everyone should forgive and accept the offenders. Then eventually, everyone would come to view the congregation as a de facto swingers’ club, and the church would mutate into the same. Even if the need for repentance is emphasized and required, the die would already be cast.
In either case, as you can see, the problem of how to deal with sexual immorality within the church is a conundrum, but the easiest way to deal with it is simply to deny it. This is why pastors and elders refuse to discuss or deal with such matters until it blows up in their face. We can also see why it is not uncommon for people who become privy to the prevalence of sexual immorality within the church to leave, either to escape the influence of promiscuity, or to engage in promiscuity more freely and without the risk of expose and consequent damage to the church fellowship.
“Similarly, van Schaik recently hypothesized that ‘the benefit for the man is that it prevents overt contest competition for access to potentially fertile mates, which would threaten male–male cooperation’.”
In common language, if beta Billy was fully aware of how his buddy, alpha Axel was using him to meet and F all his girlfriends, then Billy and Axel would not be friends any longer. Since it is advantageous for both men to remain friends, Axel must do his clam digging on the underground railroad.
“These explanations share the view that avoiding overt reproductive competition is the main function of concealed mating in humans, while differing in the importance ascribed to cooperation. Malinowski and Symons neglect the importance of cooperation altogether, Friedl invokes the cost of reproductive competition on ‘social harmony’, and van Schaik points out the importance of male–male cooperation.”
Although all of the above explanations may be true, it does not explain why this whole paradigm is almost totally unique to humans. As the author says,
“However, if these hypotheses were true, I would expect to find habitual concealment of matings in many other social species. Specifically, I would expect to find concealed matings in our phylogenetically closest living relatives, the social non-human great apes (bonobos Pan paniscus, chimpanzees Pan troglodytes and mountain gorillas Gorilla beringei beringei). In these species, within-group reproductive competition is common, while social cohesion is crucial for between-group competition and, at least among chimpanzees, male–male cooperation is vital. Nevertheless, dominant individuals from these species seldom conceal matings from the view of conspecifics…”
The author discusses the example of primate mating behavior to support his hypothesis, given the following section.
The Cooperation Maintenance Hypothesis
Ben Mocha presented the Cooperation Maintenance Hypothesis (CMH), which seemingly applies across species and cultures. The CMH is based on the following argument:
- Sensory stimuli of mating between conspecifics evokes sexual arousal and trigger mating behaviour in witnesses (hereafter, the sexual arousal premise).
- X (a male and/or a female) tries to control mating access to his/her partner(s) (hereafter, the mating control premise).
- X depends on cooperation with group members that he/she prevents from mating with his/her partner(s) (hereafter, the cooperation dependency premise).
Public mating between X and his/her partner will evoke sexual arousal in group members (males and/or females). This, in turn, will increase the likelihood that aroused witnesses will attempt to initiate mating with X’s partner when possible (the sexual arousal premise). These attempts will violate X’s efforts to control mating access to his/her partner (the mating control premise) and will trigger social conflicts that will harm the cooperation between X and his/her group members (the cooperation dependency premise.
“By contrast, sensory concealment of X’s mating with his/her partner will not evoke sexual arousal in group members. Hence, the act of mating will not induce extra-pair mating with X’s partner and will not affect X’s cooperation with other group members. I therefore suggest that concealed mating by individuals whose mating is not subject to physical interruption by conspecifics is a relatively non-costly strategy for avoiding unnecessary sexual arousal in group members (proximate explanation). At the ultimate level, concealed mating allows an individual to maintain two needs that would otherwise conflict: mating control over his/her partner(s) and cooperation with those group members that are prevented from mating with these partner(s).”
The Cooperation Maintenance Hypothesis is illustrated in the following flowchart.
Ben Mocha offers further argumentative support for the CMH.
Thus, the CMH elaborates factors that were previously proposed to select for concealed mating—jealousy [2,6], reproductive competition [2,3,11] and social harmony/male–male cooperation [3,11]—and combines them as necessary premises of a coherent argument. According to the CMH, explanations that rely solely on avoiding reproductive competition [2,6] are not sufficient, since the question of concealed mating is only applied to individuals who do not expect interference from conspecifics (e.g. dominant individuals). In addition, in social systems without cooperation, dominant animals settle conflicts with aggression and often mate in public (e.g. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep Ovis Canadensis ). But where competitors also cooperate, aggression may eliminate future cooperation (for ethnographic examples in Yanomamö see ).
The CMH differs from previous explanations by requiring both a specific form of reproductive competition (i.e. attempting to prevent group members from mating with one’s partner) and reliance on cooperation between group members. It thereby highlights the need to manoeuvre between these conflicting motives as the crucial selective pressure.
The CMH further stands up to evolutionary critiques that previous explanations failed to address. Namely, it can explain why dominant individuals of non-human great apes seldom conceal mating: because they rarely monopolize a specific partner (bonobos and chimpanzees use other forms of reproductive competition, e.g. sperm competition ) or they do not depend on cooperation with subordinate group members (e.g. mountain gorillas)—at least not to the same extent as humans and Arabian babblers.”
The CMH Applied to Human Behavior
Concerning the sexual arousal premise,
“Visual  and auditory  stimuli of mating activate the reward system in the human brain and trigger mating behaviour in males and females via mirror neurons. For ethnographic examples, see the Goajiro  and Lesu .
Knowing that a desired group member has a legitimate mating tie with another person may also trigger jealousy (see the Muria for ethnographic examples ). Yet, the sensory stimulus of mating is another powerful trigger of sexual arousal that can be prevented by sensory concealment. The benefits of sensory concealment therefore do not rely on individuals being ignorant of the existence of mating ties between group members.”
Concerning the mating control premise,
“Various scholars have claimed that in virtually all cultures, husbands and/or wives try to control mating access to their spouse(s)—at least to a certain degree [1,2,9,36]. Three clarifications should be made regarding this claim. First, mating control should not be confused with monogamy. For instance, a man/woman may marry several wives/husbands and forbid them to have extramarital sex. Second, it has been argued that even in cultures where some extramarital sex is allowed (e.g. in cultures with ‘shared paternity’), husbands and/or wives are still entitled to restrict the trysts of their spouse(s) to specific individuals and/or limit extramarital sex to the greatest possible extent . Third, this premise requires an attempt, not a success, to control mating access to X’s spouse(s). As adultery is evident across human societies , this emphasizes the importance of behavioural strategies to reduce its occurrence.
Although it has been claimed repeatedly that restrictive sexual norms are virtually universal, there is a dearth of supporting evidence (but see [1,9]). Hence, I analysed whether social norms in this study’s dataset entitle husbands and/or wives to at least some control over mating access to their spouse(s), or, in contrast, if both spouses are allowed to have unrestricted extramarital sex. I found social norms that entitle mating control over spouse(s) in 100% of cultures for which data were available (survey dataset: n = 210; SCCS/EA dataset: n = 145). Cultures had diverse norms of sexual control; for instance, norms that forbid both spouses to have extramarital sex (e.g. orthodox Jews ); cultures where wives are required to stay faithful to their husbands, but husbands are allowed to have extramarital sex (e.g. Malekula ); and cultures where husbands and/or wives are allowed to have extramarital sex, but only with specific partners (e.g. Huaorani ). I found no culture in which social norms entitle both husbands and wives unrestricted freedom to engage in extramarital sex. These norms suggest that in virtually all human societies, group members are prevented (sometimes or always) from mating with spouses of others.”
The cooperation dependency is taken as evident, as I discussed in the above commentary.
“In conclusion, visual and audile stimuli of human mating trigger sexual arousal and sexual behaviour in both male and female observers [33,34]; across cultures, husbands and/or wives attempt to control mating access to their spouse(s) ; humans live in social systems where fitness crucially depends on cooperation between group members [40,41]. I therefore suggest that the habitual concealment of legitimate mating in humans is a relatively non-costly behavioural strategy to prevent unnecessary sexual arousal in group members (proximate explanation). This simultaneously maintains control over mating access to their spouse(s) as well as cooperation with group members that are prevented from mating with their spouse(s) (ultimate explanations).”
Ben Mocha offers the following chart to predict the concealment of matings. The chart is based on the interaction between attempts to control mating access to partner(s) and dependency on cooperation. The mating behavior of dominant individuals in different social systems are given as follows.
Green = Dominant individuals do not conceal matings.
Yellow = Dominant individuals present a context-dependent concealment of matings
Red = Dominant individuals conceal matings habitually.
The CMH Applied to the Current SMP
According to Ben Mocha’s CMH, concealed mating is a behavioral mating strategy used (1) to maintain mating control over partner(s), (2) to prevent sexual arousal in witnesses, and (3) to maintain cooperation with group members. That is to say, people practice mating in private when…
- They want to maintain mating control over partner(s).
- They are concerned that witnesses might feel envy or jealousy.
- They do not want witnesses who may become emotionally or sexually aroused and possibly interfere with mating.
- There is a perceived risk that cooperation with group members might be lost.
If we look at this theory through a Red Pill lens, we find that maintaining the norm of keeping sexual relations hidden actually supports a matriarchal social order in which women are in full control of social interactions and mating opportunities.
Within such a social order, women are able to choose when and with whom to mate, whether it is socially acceptable or not. According to women’s hypergamous nature, they will naturally gravitate towards the alpha. But because there are relatively fewer alphas, this results in a mating glut (a scarcity of preferred men for women, and a scarcity of women for non-preferred men). This motivates promiscuity which must be kept covert for reasons described above. Those few men who are chosen by females for sex must tacitly agree to be complicit in the deceptive cover up. Men who try to buck against this system are punished by the withholding of sex by women. Chance observers choose to remain silent in order to maintain social cohesion, and thereby become accomplices.
Ben Mocha compares human mating activity to that of the animal kingdom using monkeys as a representative example. Cats (lions, tigers, leopards, etc.) would also fit the argument. Within the animal kingdom, this glut of hypergamy is recognized and accepted, but the control over social interactions and mating opportunities is not covertly handed over to the females of the species in exchange for social tranquility or sexual access, as is done among humans. Instead, alphas must constantly support and defend their territory and pool of mates, and if/when he cannot, then he is no longer an alpha, by definition.
If this scenario happened among humans, then the true alpha males would maintain their sexual dominance by attracting and keeping mates, and repelling competing males. If they cannot, then they lose their alpha status.
The Bible contains stories that describe public and/or unconcealed mating…
- As a display of dominance and/or social status, or to shame the woman’s husband/previous partner. Examples include Reuben sleeping with Jacob’s concubine (Genesis 35:22), and Absalom sleeping with King David’s wives (2nd Samuel 16:20-22).**
- As the joy of intimacy. Example of Isaac and Rebecca being seen by King Abimelech (Genesis 26:8).
As far as I know, all of the examples in the Bible illustrate it as disruptive to the social order.
Even today, this does happen with a very small number of men (e.g. drug lords, gang lords, mercenaries, pimps, soldiers, turd-world politicians, etc.). Furthermore (and if Hollywood is half way accurate), we know these men do have sex in somewhat public spaces (e.g. the corner office, pool side, rooftops, back alleys, nature preserves, etc.). However, this is not broadly accepted as the norm within the vast majority of the cultures of the world today.
Modern culture imposes very loose sexual norms. Yet public mating remains taboo. This may be surprising at first glance. But after studying this paper, we find it’s actually not surprising at all, because the concealment enables promiscuity and supports a gynocentric social order.
In sum, we see that the preference for private intercourse arises from sin in general. But this should be no surprise to anyone who has read Genesis 3:7.
* H/T: Sensuous Curmudgeon: Why do Humans have peculiar mating habits? (2020 August 6)
** The Bible also describes the taking of wives as a seal of political alliances. Examples include several kings, including David and Solomon.
- Σ Frame: A Study of Open Relationships (2015 September 8)
- Σ Frame: What is the difference between Open Relationships (OR) and Friends With Benefits (FWB)? (2015 September 10)