The Myth of Exclusive Monogamous Morality (Part II)

By Corey Gilkes
June 17, 2010 –

Bride and groom join hands at a Hindu weddingThis is the second instalment of my attempt to address the oft-asked question as to why people, especially (mainly) men “cheat” or seem unable to “commit” to our spouses/partners. The short answer is of course because we can; we made the rules – for us – and because there is very little about monogamy that is natural or moral anyway. The longer version of this answer – the one I hope people read – should hopefully shed some light on the complexities of human sexuality and the diverse streams that went into the moral ideas we hold today.

Since childhood, certain ideas about human sexual interaction have been drummed into our heads that equate sex with narrow definitions of love, loyalty, commitment and fidelity, all revolving around the exclusive, closed relationship – ideas, implicit and explicit, that sex can only be between two people who are involved with each other in a marital union although nowadays that rule has been forced to take a back seat. However, although premarital sex does not have the same social stigma as it did before the social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s, marriage remains the moral benchmark: sexual interaction is still spoken about in the contexts of being either pre-MARITAL or extra-MARITAL as the case may be. In spite of all that sex is still viewed with a fair degree of schizophrenia and in the West – particularly the US, (where for some unknown reason we Trinis now seem to take our ideas of morality and modesty; first the British now the Yanks, when will it stop?) sex is at best tolerated. It is true that there are numerous books, magazines, journals and inspirational speakers who encourage people to have an active sex life on the grounds that it is natural and that it aids in mental and physical well-being. However, as Marilyn French pointed out in “Beyond Power”, the mere fact that that is said to be natural indicates that there is a school of thought suggesting – or saying outright – that sex is unnatural. The writings of the early Greek and Christian philosophers who continue to influence our attitudes regarding sexuality and relationships do seem to bear that out.

Some reading this may argue that our society is much less sexually repressed and much more open with sexual themes; that young people are bombarded with sexually explicit images in magazines, on TV, Carnival, to say nothing of the Internet, in ways never before possible. There has been a gradual acceptance of liberal sexual interactions between men and women since World War II, largely because of the social realities in Europe and the US following that traumatic (civil) war. However, I maintain that that preponderance of sexual themes is for the most part in response to that deep-seated sexual repressiveness. Sex, nevertheless, remains tolerated because it’s still the means by which the human species can maintain continuity. (No less than Sigmund Freud made similar observations in the pre-war period although he himself remained in favour of that sexual restraint so as to maintain the industrialisation ethic of that time). However, given that history is a cycle, there are and will always be attempts by those who hold patriarchal ideologies to place the human species back to the near-asexual, puritanical, hypocritical lifestyle that they feel is what is needed for society to be “saved.” Within the last 25 years alone we have seen in the US systematic attempts to reverse the gains made since the 1960s regarding women’s rights, control over their reproductive organs and their very sexuality. And thanks to the propaganda of the (not always) combined forces of the US-based evangelicals and the Vatican, we still belabour under certain beliefs that sexual openness and sex itself – even within the confines of marriage – is dirty, polluting, corrupting and sinful. It is SAID that we must have a healthy sex life but to discuss sex or to openly celebrate sexuality and eroticism is another matter. Sex and eroticism are not subjects good, upright people speak about in any great detail or engage in outside of the boundaries established by a “civilised” society informed by Judeo-Christian/Muslim/Hindu values.

Therefore, with regard to that last point, in spite of the so-called Sexual Revolution, we still have no term or expression for extra-marital sex that does not convey ideas of sin, guilt, disloyalty, disrespect or, well, “cheating.” Our ideas of morality remain firmly embedded in the notion that marriage/romantic relationships, monogamy and sexual exclusiveness are one and the same. However, as I outlined in Part I most of our moral values stemmed from certain ideas that viewed people as possessions. Specifically, it had to do with a group of men who wanted to take and maintain possession of women, their offspring and reproductive capabilities as well as tangible assets given that that indicated wealth and power in that society at that time. To maintain control over those “possessions” value systems were created or redefined that was maintained by manipulating insecurity and irrational fear. In other words, the emotive feelings unleashed when one’s spouse is found to have engaged in an “affair” or have intimate relations of any kind with someone else are built on ideas that had nothing to do with any respect for women and the “sanctity” of the family or god or divine proclamation. It was about economics, materialism and authoritarianism, not piety. It was about fearing loss of status if one’s possessions were taken away. The “god” aspect was only employed to ensure conformity – through fear and guilt – and thus provide justification for what were clearly secular interests.

In this second essay, I hope to go further to show that along with that economic aspect, much of our attitudes about sex, sexual exclusiveness and “genital ownership” also came about because of certain anxieties and insecurities these same men had about women, sexuality and the natural world. Their response was to create customs and beliefs that redirected their fears and insecurities to the very people they were afraid of, women, so as to control them and nature. Along the way they created a mindset that succeeded in getting women to uphold their ideas of morality, which is why today women are among the staunchest defenders of it.

Sexuality became more rigidly regulated and an idealised image of the “perfect” man was developed that fostered a belief that men were somehow disconnected from and above sex. In other words, sexual interaction for them was merely another avenue to express valuated ideals of power, control, ownership and aggressive subjugation. A lot of our mores and rules restricting sexual intercourse to within the confines of marriage go back to the ancient Greek model of the ideal man who was the epitome of self-control. This meant he had to be in control of all aspects of life; his house, his servants, his wife and his sexual desires. As the centuries passed and Christian ethics took hold that idea of control and possessiveness was extended to impact upon both men as well as women. It also incorporated the patriarchal ideal of permanence. The notion that marriage was an institution till “death us do part,” for instance, was neither “pagan” Greek nor Roman but Roman Christian; the stigma of divorce and remarriage, the restricting of one man to one woman (who had already been restricted to him) were Christian ideas. But the basis for those ideas goes back to secular Eurasia by way of Greece and its valuated ideals of control and permanence long before Christianity ever existed. So before the reader smugly assumes that this is a testimony to the “purity” of the faith, s/he should keep in mind that for all its pretensions to moral superiority over the “pagan” faiths, the ideas that informed Christian views of sexual interaction – including notions of guilt and sin, the stifling of sexual desire even within marriage – came from “paganism.”

Sex in ancient matricentric cultures

That, however, was not how many ancient societies viewed sexual interactions. William Irwin Thompson argued in his study that in very ancient matricentric societies and civilisations procreation was not even the primary reason for sex. It was tied into recreational and social activities which, no doubt through long observation of human behaviour, were connected with mental and physical well-being. It would, however, be quite simplistic to state – as some are wont to do – that this meant that they were always engaging in wanton promiscuity with little time for more “constructive” industrious activities (it should be noted that our economic and industrial models are themselves based on ideas connected with ancient anxieties concerning death and filtered through Calvin’s ascetic ideas). Neither is there evidence that it lead to societies torn apart by wanton violence. In fact, Evelyn Reed argued that the rules of exogamy were stricter than what exists for us. Industriousness and entrepreneurship, much of which was controlled by women, did exist and was encouraged. Additionally, although wars were fought and many customs involved human sacrifices, many matricentric societies were for the most part much less defined by conflict than what exists in contemporary times. It’s just that sexual relations for the most part did not have the baggage of jealousy – a by-product of the idea of private ownership – or the taint of “looseness.” In many ancient civilisations, what we today call “friends with benefits” or “sexual friendships,” seemed to have been practically a matter of course, if the erotic love hymns of Sumer are any indication.

Judith Ochshorn made somewhat similar finding in her examinations of Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylonian literature written before patriarchy had come into its own. From the documentary evidence she noted that social and individual differences were viewed with more importance than sexual distinctions. She also noted that the exercise of divine power was not limited to the deity of one sex and that the giving of power to a deity of one sex did not mean the inferiority of the other deity. Most importantly, fear of female sexuality and biology (i.e. the vagina or menstruation) was completely lacking in the literature of that time.

Sexual intercourse was also a means by which they attempted to gain closer union with the divine. Much has been written – albeit often with patricentric prejudice – of the ancient sacred “prostitutes” of Egypt and Sumer, to name but two of the better-known cultures. Stone, Lerner and Walker in their respective works spoke about the much revered and powerful priestesses of the temples who were considered the earthly representatives of the Divine Feminine. Among their titles were “en,” “entu,” “naditum” or “qadishtu,” depending on their rank. They were consulted for guidance in political matters and were revered for their learning. They were also entrepreneurs in their own rights; independently of men they entered into binding contracts, owned arable land, livestock, kept economic records as well as performed religious functions. Part of those functions included sex; as earthly representatives of the Great Mother who “gave” sex as a gift to humankind, many of these priestesses participated in sexual – sometimes including orgiastic – rites (“orgy,” from the Greek “orgia” – secret worship). It is generally understood that a lot of these sexual customs – one of which is still celebrated as Easter in the Christian tradition – were intertwined with beliefs about the fertility of the earth as well as motherhood. Priestesses of these sacred orders were free to take lovers as they chose and they made love to those who came to the temples to honour the goddesses. Some of these priestesses were married and some were not. Stone informs us that children born to the qadishtu were also eventually initiated into the order. So highly respected were the position of these priestesses that daughters and wives of the aristocracy were also initiates. An important point to note is that most of these priestesses were called virgins. Virginity in the very ancient world was based on a state of consciousness and purity and had little to do with a woman’s sexual experience.

Another title of these sacred priestesses was one that is familiar to most of us. Some priestesses were called “hor,” “horeb,” or “horae.” It is believed that this title may have come from the Egyptian priestesses, particularly those of the deity Ra. Each ruled a certain hour of the night and protected Ra’s symbolic boat as it passed through during its mythical passage to the Underworld. The Dance of the Hours began as a “pagan” ceremony of the Hourae who kept the hours by dancing, the same way Christian monks kept the hours of the day by prayers. The oldest Hebrew dance is known as the “hora” after the circle dances of the revered harlots. The Hebrew word “hor” means “cave” or “pit” which were common synonyms for the Goddess, her earthly representative and the sacred vulva. Many references to “dive into the water” were allegorical directions to engage in sexual intercourse and thus receive spiritual enlightenment or “horasis”. Walker informs us that this word appeared in the New Testament in Acts 2:17 but was misleadingly translated as “visions.” She also pointed out that the Horites in Genesis 36 traced their descent from the Great Mother Goddess “Hora.”

All of this means that Judaism, the line “ancestor” of Christianity, was by no means exempt from any of this. In fact, not all of the Hebrews worshipped the warlike, authoritarian Yahweh/Jehovah principle; that came later, mostly due to Babylonian and Levite influence. The Hebrews were essentially diverse tribes some of whom worshipped Divine Feminine principles manifested as Cybele, Astarte, Asherah or the Shekhinah, to name but four titles. Monarchs participated in what is often called the Hieros Gamos which was essentially a sexual union with a high priestess representing the Goddess. In the Old Testament we read of Gomer, wife of Hosea, who was free to make love with other men in the temple. Although the story was written to condemn her actions and those who considered this kind of lifestyle, it reveals that she represented women who belonged to cultures in which this was practised with no social stigma. It also indicates that she and those like her engaged in this of her own free will and maintained her right to do so. It was unacceptable to Levirate men because in their cultural traditions women had to be subject to men’s interests. Levite Judaism – which informs much of the Old Testament and Christian traditions – insisted on knowledge of paternity which was impossible in the older matricentric orders. Inherent within matricentric sexual attitudes was a lack of concern for the children’s paternity, which we saw in Part I was a principal means by which men secured economic and political power.

Another Jewish tradition that went back to older Goddess-veneration was the agape, euphemistically called “free love” by many evangelicals today. What it was apparently was an orgiastic rite. John Allegro informs us that this tradition dates back to the Canaanite beliefs under which many Hebrews worshipped as we mentioned earlier. It was passed on to certain Gnostic sects such as the Phibionites who associated semen and menstrual blood with the divine Substance in as powerful form as it was possible to find on earth. They incorporated this in their sacred rituals. At least one scandalised Christian bishop, Epiphanius, apparently witnessed this ritual and we reproduce his shocked words here:

The shameless ones have sexual intercourse, and I am truly abashed to say what scandalous things they practise…Following coitus in uninhibited lust, they proceed to blaspheme Heaven itself. The man and the woman take the ejaculated sperm in their hands, step forward, raise their eyes aloft, and with the defilement still on their hands, offer up prayers…They present to Him who is the Father of us all, what lies in their palms, saying, ‘We offer unto Thee this gift, the Body of the Messiah.’ They then proceed to eat it in their infamous ritual saying, ‘This is the Body of Christ, and this is the Pascha [i.e. the Passover Meal]….They behave similarly with a woman’s menstrual blood: they collect from her the monthly blood of impurity, take it, eat it in a common meal and say, ‘This is Christ’s blood…..’

When they read in the apocryphal writings [Revelation 22:2]: ‘I saw a tree which bears twelve fruits in a year, and he said to me, “That is the Tree of Life,”‘ they interpret this allegorically to mean a woman’s menstrual discharge…..

What was especially repugnant to him was the fact that,

They do not allow children to be conceived during intercourse. They indulge in their pernicious customs not to beget offspring, but for pleasure, for the devil toys with them and makes a mockery of mortal creation. Although they allow their sexual pleasure to reach a climax, they save their impure seminal ejaculation before it can flow into the womb and beget children, and eat the abomination themselves. If, however, one of them allows the semen to penetrate the womb so that the woman becomes pregnant….if they can reach the embryo with their fingers, they tear it out, take the dead foetus, pound it in a mortar with a pestle, and flavour it with honey, pepper and other herbs, and with anointing oil, to avoid being sick. Then they come together, these devotees of a cult of pigs and dogs, and each of them takes a morsel of the pounded embryo. And having consumed this cannibal feast, they pray to God: ‘The Archon of Desire has not deceived us; we have collected our brother’s sin.’ Apparently they believe this to be the perfect Passover meal….

When, still in the grip of this frenzy, they reassemble, they smear their hands with their shamefully ejaculated semen and, rising, lift their polluted hands in prayer, standing completely naked, as if to demonstrate their sincerity before God. Both men and women pamper their bodies day and night, anointing themselves, bathing, feasting and sleeping together after indulging in their drinking parties. They despise those who fast, and say that fasting is an offence since it was ordained by the Archon who created this world. One should eat to keep up the body’s strength so that it can give of its fruit when required.

Right up to the early Christian era there were vestiges of the old order; one of which was the Baptae or Baptised Ones. They were a mystical group of priestly initiates whose writings extended from about 500BCE to 100CE and were believed to be priests of Cotytto, the Tracian Goddess of nocturnal sports. Feasts were celebrated at night and in great secrecy. It must also be noted that there were sexual elements regarding many solemn oaths and consecrated rituals even in the Christian tradition, as paranoiac and misogynist as that faith eventually became. Any reference in the bible to men swearing solemn oaths by placing their hands on the “thigh” of another actually refers to that man’s placement of his hand on a penis. Words like “testify,” “testament,” and “testimony” still atTEST to solemn oaths sworn on the testicles. Additionally, Margaret Starbird pointed out in her examination of the ritual anointing a Messiah or Christ (a temporal title meaning the “anointed” one) that the “head” that was anointed with oil was not the man’s head on his shoulders at all, it was the head of his penis. Again, there was nothing considered carnal or obscene about any of this; that came later when early Christians, influenced by Manichean, Greek and Roman attitudes, took those attitudes to a whole different level.

It should be evident that much of what is being described had clearly survived and was observed for hundreds of years into the patriarchal dispensation. Such was the power and influence of the ideas of the nurturing, benevolent mother figure, the sexual female and the customs associated with them, that the older customs could not be easily discarded. In fact, patriarchists found it necessary (and still do) to incorporate selected aspects of matricentric counter-culture into the new order to lend a sense of legitimacy to the patriarchal position as well as to win converts.

Fear/contempt of sex

In Part I we saw that changes in ecological conditions in the Eurasian steppes brought about changes in the political structures. Certain institutions like marriage and lineage were also redefined in order to benefit masculine interests including such pursuits as hunting and warfare. It also contributed to the change in the ways sex and intimacy were conceptualised. In the earlier, collectivist cultures women – and most probably men as well – were closely associated with nature. That association largely stemmed from their ties to agriculture and horticulture which, so far as is known, they invented. It also had to do with their maternal capabilities and the menstrual blood. In matricentry these were celebrated; spiritual beliefs and rites were developed around their maternal and menstruating functions as the devotees sought to maintain a sense of consciousness that man existed in harmony with the natural world.

The elevation of patriarchy to the point where there was no counterbalancing matricentric tradition of equal stature gradually reversed all of this. Sedentary, stable, routine living that was common among agrarian communities gradually gave way to more dynamic lifestyles. It is very likely that this may have originated out of very real threats to the existence of whole communities. Nomadism became the preferred way clans lived; hunting and war became the main means to procure food and labour. Women, particularly those with babies, were now considered hindrances and liabilities and as such diminished in stature. The older more settled lifestyle, by extension, also lost high value.

The increased tempo that came with hunting and war led to the elevation of a type of mentality commonly known today as the warrior instinct. Anyone involved in highly competitive sports or with the military, particularly Special Operations and undercover intelligence units, knows about this mindset. People engaged in such pursuits condition themselves mentally and physically to be constantly at the ready, to respond to a threat or attack that may often come without any warning. Part of the cultivation of this warrior mentality was the distancing of oneself emotionally as well as physically from anything that could compromise or blunt “razor sharp” reflexes. It is believed, and the military customs of ancient Greece and Rome do lend support to this belief, that any activity that took away from military or hunting activities was re-conceptualised as corrupting or not conducive to the survival of the community. This explains why in the Greek and Roman armies men never spent an entire night with their wives until they were around the age of sixty. Even when they were home displays of affection was unthinkable, especially in public. Homosexuality was encouraged in the Greek army as a way of building espirit-de-corps among soldiers. Plato used a famous athlete Iccus of Tarentum as his model. He wrote admirably about his passion for victory, his self-command of his character and that he never once approached a woman when he was in training.

Such reasoning led to, or perhaps was part of, the creation of two separate behavioural categories that would be later refined by Greek philosophical thought: things associated with nature and things considered above or superior to nature. Progression was gauged in a straight or linear fashion. Following on from that was the development of an ideal image of how a man should be. The main feature of this idealised man was self-control. The ideal man transcended or rose above nature; he possessed such qualities as a sense of permanence, rigidity, individualism, endurance and stoicism. This idealised man suppressed emotions considered weak including crying – particularly displays of grief, compassion and even bodily functions (it is said that the ancient Greek philosophers even competed against each other to see who could hold in their bowel and bladder discharges the longest). Since boyhood he was taken to be raised in age-graded all-male groups and subjected to extreme acts of pain and humiliation which he had to endure until it was determined that he was “born again” into that image of the super-man, the man who was no longer a part of nature. This form of initiation went back to earlier matricentric cultures but under the patriarchy it was elevated in a manner that disconnected the boy from his mother and the women of his community.

In contrast stood the natural world with its wild, “chaotic,” often unpredictable characteristics. Into this category women were assigned; the features that were once their pillars of power, maternity and menstruation, were now considered polluting. Also, certain types of behaviours and emotions (in fact emotion itself: certain “masculine” traits are emotions but were simply not idealised as such) became associated with femininity. This included gaiety, spontaneity, playfulness, compassion, crying, flexibility, love – specifically the non-egoistic, non-discriminatory kind associated with mothering – and communalism or openness. The attitudes and behaviours associated with masculinity were idealised as superior, rational, progressive while those associated with nature or femininity were looked down upon as impulsive, irrational, animal. Constant societal and peer pressures ensured that the “remade” man did not revert to the “primitive” womanly state. Among the Greeks all power and honour hinged on the ability for the citizen to maintain that facade of manliness. Any hint of compassion, passivity or vulnerability – in short, any display of femininity – and he forfeited his manliness and so forfeited his rights and privileges as a citizen. Here is the proof that that idealised image – and hubristic opinions that we are innately superior and are always supposed to lead – was by no means natural and explains why even today we have to be flooded with images geared to reinforce what are the approved roles and mannerisms of the “male” man.

The behaviours associated with femininity were further sub-divided into what Marilyn French called “in-law” and “out-law” behaviours. Sex was the main determinant for what was considered “in-law” and what was “out-law.” By the time Greece and Rome dominated the Meditteranean the “good” or “in-law” woman was a woman who was virginal (in the narrow sense we know today), was ignorant of anything sexual until her husband taught her, was disinterested in sex even after she had been introduced to it, was embarrassed to talk about sexual topics, “faithful” – read, sexually exclusive to her husband – and lived to please her husband. She was also expected to be demure, hold no independent opinion and defer to her lord – first her father then her husband. Her only desire was to be mother and wife – which was her expected goal (in both Greek and Hebrew, the same word for “woman” was the word for “wife”). These qualities were instilled in her by her father who controlled every aspect of her life until she was passed onto her husband who, along with his male relatives, continued to maintain that rigid control.

Lest the reader think that this thinking went out with the Greeks, in the 19th century the Victorian authority on sex was Dr. William Acton. His educated opinion was that as a general rule, a modest woman seldom desires any sexual gratification for herself. She submits to her husband, she lived to please him but, for the sake of maternity, would rather be relieved of his (sexual) attentions. Even in contemporary Trinidad, remnants of that social expectation still can be found; many young women, regardless of their accomplishments, are often judged according to whether or not they have been married and have a child by a certain age but judged harshly if they are too sexual. To this day Catholic doctrine on sexuality remains firmly embedded in the view that the primary purpose for sexual relations is procreation: regardless of the many Catholic websites and writings encouraging sexual pleasure among couples.

The other woman was the “bad” or “out-law” woman. She was openly sexual, opinionated, initiated social or sexual contact with men, spurned marriage or made love to men other than her husband; she was the harlot, the prostitute (which by this time had been de-linked from the earlier temple functions); “whore” took on the base, negative meaning we know it to be today. A close examination of the qualities that made a woman “out-law” or “unladylike” however, show all the qualities or traits that made her independent or at least possessing the behaviours that were considered exclusive to men. A sexually open woman was inappropriate, indecent, but a sexually aggressive woman was dangerously masculine. In fact, in the laws of Rome and in the Old Testament, women were condemned and punished for behaviour allowed for men.

Paradoxically, such was the suspicion patriarchists viewed women, whether they displayed the approved or disapproved qualities they were all considered out-law. Patriarchal thought held that even the “in-law” or “good” woman was a bad girl who was just under the firm control of either her father or husband. Should he relax control just a little, she would revert to her “natural” corrupted state, which in turn would lead to the disintegration of the ordered society that was carefully created by the patriarchs and the annihilation of all humanity. What made women so innately corrupting, sinful and dangerous was sex and her body. Early Greek, Roman and Hebrew writings reflect this mindset. The same parts of a woman that in the earlier dispensation were treated with great respect were now considered corrupting and magical. Her hair, limbs, wrists, ankles, sex organs and breasts came in for particular attention. The tradition in Islam, Judaism and Christianity of equating the covering a woman’s hair during prayers with modesty goes back to very ancient superstitions regarding a woman’s hair. It was believed that a woman’s flowing hair could manipulate the weather and summon powerful, mysterious spirits. Likewise her limbs, breasts and genitals were thought to be innately corrupting and had to be covered up in order to contain their immense power.

Much of this attitude may have come from feelings of inadequacy in that unlike women, men could not produce life in the form of a child. In cultures venerating the Divine Feminine principle much of the society revolved around motherhood and mothering. Additionally, the sexual performance of a woman is generally greater than that of a man but somewhat harder to arouse. In patricentric cultures where everything became competitive, this caused much consternation among warrior/hunters who prided themselves on their prowess in all things. What, however, scholars believe caused the greatest anxiety was the menstrual discharge and the orgasm.

Patriarchal cultures the world over seem to share a common phobia of blood. Scholars like French argue that menstrual blood created confusion among men who spent much of their time hunting and fighting and so were away from the women but accustomed to killing. The confusion stemmed from the fact that unlike wounded animals that died after the loss of so much blood, no such thing happened with women save perhaps, changes in moods and behaviour. The changes in mood may have caused much angst in cultures that were beginning to place a great emphasis upon predictability and order as a means of establishing control. The response was to view such behaviour with great suspicion and apprehension. Myths were created that asserted that menstrual blood had the power to corrode metal as well as inflict diseases upon men. All this went into the re-idealising of menstruation as a polluting substance and why a woman in her periods was considered unclean. It is in that context we must understand the custom, still observed among Orthodox Jews and Muslims, where the touching or shaking of a woman’s hand is forbidden in the event that she is menstruating; mere contact with her renders the man unclean.

Add to that the terror evoked by the sight of a blood-smeared penis being withdrawn from a menstruating woman if they had intercourse during her period. Another common fear among patricentric thought is the fear of castration, the vulnerability of the penis. Because it is an organ that is essentially attached to the body, the possibility always exists that it may be ripped off during a struggle. One of the oldest fears in patriarchy is that of castration; an ancient superstition held that a woman engaged in sexual intercourse with a man took away his energy or his life force. A man who climaxes during intercourse is usually physically drained after that experience. In societies defined by militarism where the warrior had to always be at peak combat readiness and where attacks could come with little warning, such a condition was dangerous. According to the superstition a woman’s vagina was her second mouth that sucked the life force away from the virile warrior and “ate” his manhood. There is even a term to describe it: vagina dentata. Certain words we use today are related to or come from the root words that describe such a condition. Words like ‘consume,’ ‘consummate,’ relate to the man being ‘consumed’ by the voracious female. The spurning of emotional attachments to women led to the development of that mindset that sex with women was corrupting. Activities such as lovemaking – and the emotional bonds that went with it – meant that warrior/hunter was distracted from the hunt and the warring expeditions. As such it had to be discouraged. What we call sexual passion was described by the ancient Greeks to be a wild animal residing in the sexual organs. The ideal man kept this animal suppressed and docile, obedient. When “it” was aroused or stimulated, however, it overwhelmed its master. Women possessed that power.

It also produced another mindset; of all the insults that can be levelled at a man (almost all of which either are references to a woman, some part of her body or the sex act) the worst insulting label in the West is ‘cunt.’ No other word or expression quite conveys the sting, the impact of that word. However, it is interesting to learn that prior to patricentric relabeling, the word cunt and words relating to it – far from being slang – referred to the much respected goddess Kunti. Words like ‘kin’ meant matrilineal blood relation as well as a cleft or opening: such as a vagina or sacred vulva.

Further, the action of a man’s body when he ejaculates essentially makes a mockery of the facade of the transcendent man. The body goes into uncontrollable spasms and the man essentially drops his “guard” or comes from behind the emotionless mask of supreme self control to reveal a side he had spent so many years trying to suppress. The ideal man who epitomises self-control could not now be seen to show what he was in front of his wife who he was supposed to be superior to. What all this indicates is that patriarchists redirected their own hang-ups about sexuality onto the women of their communities. Thus, women became the seductress, the temptress, the one who kept the ideal man away from his higher calling of hunting and fighting either through her wiles and charms. In the Homeric writings sexual desire is dangerous for a man but in a woman, always a sign of the corruption of the social order. The misogynistic writings of Hesiod, Plato and Aristotle fed into the streams that made up later Greek philosophy and Christian thought. Always the fear that by becoming emotionally involved with a woman the transcendent man would thus become submissive to her. Should that happen it was only a matter of time before society descends into decay and is eventually swallowed up by the hostile world of nature.

Not surprisingly, Greeks, particularly those in Athens, possessed a marked disdain for their wives. Marriages were principally out of a sense of duty: to foment political alliances and to produce offspring, mostly sons, who would grow up to be future warriors. Girls were routinely married off around age fourteen to men who were in their thirties. Therefore, the young bride who already in her short life was under the rigid control of her father, had none of the education and worldly travels of her much older husband and so had almost nothing in common. There was very little love or sentimental attachment between them; “true love” was reserved for and apparently could only be found with young boys. She was often sequestered at the back of the house or upstairs where she only had the servants and children to keep her company. Doing so also served to establish that she was his sexual property to his friends and guests. The home of the Greek elite citizen was the venue for many a social gathering. There was much drinking and socialising between both sexes. For sexual release, and for intelligent conversation without the emotional ties, her husband had the courtesan who was a prostitute who enjoyed more freedom although Greek law still placed certain restrictions, the slave girl and the servants in his own house. During the merriment in that part of the house, known as the men’s quarters, courtesans, slave girls retained for sex and musicians, some of whom also were retained for sexual purposes, would mingle with the elites. Neither they nor the guests had access to the rear parts of the house where the host’s wife and daughter were sequestered and likewise these women took no part in the social gatherings.

Aversion to nudity

It seems strange to state that our phobias surrounding nudity can be attributed to ancient Greece and Rome. Much of their art revolved around nakedness as they, particularly the Greeks, obsessed over creating the so-called perfect body. But this perfect body was the body of a man. Greece, being very patriarchal and fiercely competitive, could not be expected to have portrayed the image of a woman with the same perfect symmetry as that of a man. To do so would have meant that the Greek woman was on equal level with the Greek man which was unthinkable. Aristotle had written that a woman was “a natural deformity,” an imperfect man; her flesh was wet, cold, soft and passive whereas a man’s flesh was dry, hot, hard and active. Of course, it goes without saying that the sight of a woman’s naked body could be sexually arousing. This then meant that the ideal man could be tempted by an attractive, alluring woman, thus losing the veneer of self-control he was supposed to posses. But the Romans were the ones who seemed to have had the real hang-ups about nudity. Ancient Rome was noted for its public baths which were used by both sexes. It is apparent – judging by the protestations of Greek travellers like Plutarch – that there were mixed baths although it is not known if all were mixed or if there were different days for different classes. Nonetheless, there was much social interaction at the baths and it goes without saying that there was obvious potential for sexual arousal. However, the Romans also had a particular obsession with visible symbols of power and high station; clothes really made the man. As such nudity made it difficult for one to tell the social and intellectual level of everyone else. Thus, the idea that the nude body was immodest or obscene stemmed in part from ideas about displaying visible signs of wealth and status.

The Christian influence

Whether or not one believes that the Jesus of the Gospels actually existed, it is clear that in the very early years of Christianity many women were attracted to its collectivist message. By the beginnings of the Christian era Judaism had become a religion of the Law and traditional rituals; the Levite influence had all but sealed it as another patriarchal belief system. Teachings of equality under “Christ” as well as the prospect of virginity as empowerment in response to marriage which in Rome and Greece was akin to prison, appealed to many women. Some of the earliest martyrs were women, some even functioned as ministers and bishops, such as Theodora and, according to Pauline writings a church in Phillipi was founded by a woman.

It did not take long, however, for old misogynist views and patriarchal ideas of women’s role in society to step in and become woven into the tapestry of Christian tradition. The Pauline writings (we won’t debate here which ones were authentic) posited that the ideal state was the virginal or celibate state. Failing that, only then should marriage be contemplated. There is some speculation that Paul was not so much a misogynist as a true believer that the second coming of the Christ was going to be soon and so there was no need to procreate. Be that as it may that body of writings – not least of which was the (in)famous command for wives to be submissive to their husbands and to hold their tongues in public – went far in shaping the views that we hold today.

As Christianity became more institutionalised, women were once more pushed to the fringe roles and positions patriarchy traditionally assigned them. Tertullian attacked the presence of women ministers because they were operating in a male space and outside of their approved space, the home. The early Church Fathers were even more disdainful of marriage, sex and women. Greece and Rome may have held women in contempt and Jews may have kept women out of certain intellectual pursuits but at least they all allowed some degree of sexual interaction. Early Christianity carried it a stage further and dressed up their revulsion for the world in the form of asceticism. Christianity placed great value upon asceticism, the devotee who renounced all creature comforts as being “worldly” and thus carnal (a philosophy that originated in the “pagan” Zoroastrian belief system of Persia as well as the dualistic oppositional worldview that informs Western thought). The ascetic did not eat, shunned bathing and cleanliness and most importantly, spurned sex. Among the valuated ideals in early Christian thought, chastity was the highest.

With this in mind the point about the Jews needs to be explored somewhat. Levite influences had streamlined Hebrew worship as well as harden its patricentrism. However, much of Jewish patriarchy grew out of the necessity to establish new clearly defined roles for men in light of the traumatic loss of Jewish independence, first at the hands of the Babylonians and eventually the Romans. Certain pursuits such as reading and study were taken over by the menfolk in a “reformed” patriarchy. Be that as it may frequent sexual relations between husband and wife were encouraged. Further, Jewish custom being what they were at that time, it would have been highly unusual, to the point of generating much talk, for a young man reaching the age of thirty and not be betrothed, far less married. Family life was a main pillar of Jewish life in occupied Palestine. Additionally, in the Mishnah it is explicitly written that an unmarried man may not teach. These are very important points to keep in mind when asking the question why there is no overt mention of the biblical Jesus being married and why it should be so blasphemous to even ask if he could have had normal sexual desires.

The only logical answer is that the contempt and extreme discomfort regarding sex led to the removal of or concealment of any passage that showed that the character did marry and/or have sexual relations. The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is replete with stories of all kinds of sexual acts including what many would consider lewd or incestuous even today. But at least it indicates that the characters were sexual. Examinations of some of the gospels that were not included in the canonical bible, such as those in the Gnostic tradition, show that the Jesus character was intimate with Mary Magdalene. Also, there is evidence, for those who know what to look for, that even within the approved gospels, mention is made of the character’s marital status. The authors of “Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” point to the wedding where he performed his first miracle as being his wedding – to the Magdalene. They also cite the story of him returning to Bethany after Lazarus had died. The Mary in that passage remained in the house while Martha ran out to greet him. Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh establish that this pointed to a Jewish ritual – known as sitting Shiveh – and was observed whenever one’s husband was returning from a trip. The wife was expressly forbidden to emerge from the house until her husband calls her outside.

Robert Eisenman in his book argues that in the New Testament there is evidence of much manipulation of names and stories in order preserve a “perpetual” virginity of Mary; this included some amazing acrobatics that made Mary her own sister. It also accounts for the suppression of James, said to be Jesus’ older brother and any mention of siblings. St Ambrose insisted Mary could never have conceived again because “god” would never have chosen a “woman who would defile the heavenly chamber with the seed of a man.” It would also appear that skilful concealment and distortion hid the significance of the passage in which Mary is visited by an angel of the lord announcing that she is to conceive. In Luke 1:28 it is written that the Angel Gabriel “came in unto her” which is a coded reference for sexual intercourse. In other words, Gabriel was the one who sired the child. If one accepts that the name Gabriel means “divine husband” and that Mary’s story is almost parallel to similar stories from the “pagan” world for hundreds of years prior, then one should have no problem accepting that not only the Jesus character but so too Mary were described in hidden sexual terms in keeping with earlier pre-Christian matricentric avatars.

Combing through the Roman and Greek “pagan” traditions one would be at pains to find evidence that all sexual interaction and the flesh itself was considered dirty, sinful and polluting. They planted the seeds of that thinking but did not reap it; Christians did. The early Fathers insisted, for instance, that the kingdom of god could not be established until after the human race was allowed to die out through universal celibacy. St Jerome regarded everything and anything as poison if it bore within it “the seeds of sensual pleasure,” while Tertullian asserted that the sex act rendered marriage obscene. Tertullian’s writings show how much he, and many others who are now considered saints, inherited the beliefs of Greece and the Eurasian cultures before it, that “sin” was brought into the world by women through sex. He considered all women “an Eve” and wrote in 200 CE:

You (women) are the Devil’s gateway. You are the unsealer of that forbidden tree. You are the first deserters of the divine Law. You are she who persuaded him whom the Devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert, that is death, even the Son of God had to die.

In the 5th century, two hundred years later, similar sentiments were being expressed by another highly revered theologian John Chrysostom:

Yes, indeed: they are all weak and frivolous…For we are told here, not that Eve alone suffered from deception, but that “Woman” was deceived. The word “Woman” is not to be applied to one, but to every woman. All feminine nature has thus fallen into error.

St Augustine, the man who perhaps more than anyone shaped the religion to what we understand it to be today, the man who before he converted (and even after he converted) was a wild one himself, had lived with a woman for thirteen years and had had a son by her, had his own views on sex and women. Influenced by his Manichean teachings and by the cultural ideas of the Greek philosophers, he upheld the notions of the corrupting nature of sex. He said that sexual intercourse is never sinless even within marriage. In The City of God he said that Adam, seeing Eve naked, lost control of his body and thus “the flesh began to lust against the spirit.” Again, the old fear of man’s sexual response becomes the fear of sexuality itself and the woman gets condemned for it.

Nakedness, cleanliness, bathing, et al were all wrapped in the cloak of carnal impurity. It was because of this association of sexual intercourse with base lust why the Christian Church refused to have any involvement in marriage ceremonies until the 9th century CE. Even then, the ceremony was kept on the steps of the church with all doors and windows locked to keep the “taint” of lust out. The ceremony did not move inside the churches until the 12th century. The wedding ceremony and the vows most of us are familiar with were actually pieced together from Anglo-Saxon common-law. After they were married the strictures against pleasurable sexual relations and ideas of the authority of the man over the woman even in sex intensified. Sex was of course for procreation, nothing more. Even then, the bride and groom had set says and periods in which there was to be no sexual relations if they wished their soul to escape damnation; the couple had to abstain from sex on all Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, feast and fasting periods (of which there were 273 in the 7th century, decreasing to 140 by the 16th century), Ash Wednesday, Advent, Christmas and forty days after menstruation or pregnancy. The only approved position was the missionary position, preferably at night, in darkness with clothes on.

The wave of the Reformation in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, like the formative period of Christianity, appealed to many women. Marriage was now seen as freeing women from the confines of the convent and the authoritarian priests and bishops. Like nascent Christianity women founded orders, spread the new message, taught and preached, often alongside their husbands. But, history also repeated itself in other more familiar ways. After many Protestant faiths consolidated their positions, women were pushed back into traditional patricentric roles and stations. Indeed, as early as 1529 one of the Anabaptist leaders opposed women teaching or preaching, while another group supported death for disobedient wives. Neither did the Reformation mean anything in the way of liberating human sexuality; a “good” woman remained one who recognised the authority of her husband and whose sexuality was restricted to procreation and his desires. The reader must keep in mind that Luther and the other reformers were not seeking to create a new religion, just to deal with the corruption and excesses of the old one.


Somewhat surprisingly, while Christianity had a long vocal history of condemning most forms of non-procreative and procreative sex, masturbation did not appear to be as vigorously condemned in Christian thought at first. In fact, outside of satirical and erotic poets, even the ancients in Greece and Rome seemed to regard masturbation with indifference. Aristotle made brief mention but little in his writings actually censured it. In terms of it being “sinful” it was ranked rather low as far as the Church seemed to be concerned. When attention began to turn to masturbation it was attacked by philosophers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau, partly because of its “antisocial” element – on account of it being essentially a private act done for self-pleasure – but it was the people in the medical fields who really attacked it…for health reasons! That they were influenced by predominant Christian aversion to sex and sensuality – even those who were otherwise anticlerical – is understood. Nonetheless, when masturbation became the focus of negative publicity, it was considered a medical and social ailment and not so much a moral one.

In the 18th century there appeared a book with the long title of “Onania: or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and All Its frightful Consequences in Both Sexes, Considered with Spiritual and Physical Advice to those, who have already injur’d themselves by this abominable Practice. And seasonable Admonition to the Youth of the Nation of Both SEXES.” The quack who wrote it gave a list of ailments including blindness (oh, so THAT’S who started it), gonorrhoea, insanity, hallucinations and other mental diseases and ultimately death. By the mid century it was reprinted, translated into several languages and sold widely. The book was followed in 1760 by “Onanism, or a Treatise upon the Disorders Produced by Masturbation” by Swiss physician Samuel Auguste David Tissot. From Tissot’s book onwards medical literature routinely published “learned” opinions and confessionals of people supposedly afflicted by a myriad of bone-chilling ailments brought on by masturbation. It also became linked to feeble-mindedness and thus featured in discussions associated with the eugenics issue.

By the 19th century the hysteria over masturbation had intensified with doctors almost unanimously condemning it as dangerous. Parents were drafted in and given advice on what signs and behaviours to look for that indicated that their children had started this deadly practice. Women were especially targeted; articles began to appear in medical journals of women and girls who suffered numerous ailments from indulging in this “shameful” practice. Circumcision of the clitoris – including circumcision by use of cauterisation – was recommended and a widely used procedure in the US. Again, women’s sexuality was touted as being potentially destructive to the social fabric and was viewed with particular hostility although masturbation of any kind was roundly condemned. Here enters Sylvester Graham who invented the Graham cracker cereal and JH Kellogg who invented the corn flakes. Both felt deeply that all sex was polluting and created their respective cereals as a means of treating said “ailment”. Graham felt that marriage existed to blunt not assist sexual desire on account of familiarity breeds disinterest (he wasn’t wrong there, I can almost hear readers say). The perfectly married couple did not engage in sex more than once a month or twelve times for the year. Anything more than that was injurious to one’s health. Kellogg, in similar vein, regarded all forms of sexual activity as potentially disorderly and sinful: “Illicit commerce of the sexes is a heinous sin, self-pollution (meaning masturbation) is a crime doubly abominable.”

It is generally recognised that sex and aggression are the two most powerful forces that could potentially disrupt a society. Aggression, however, is much more valued and lauded than sex, eroticism and sensuality. The values and ideologies that fostered warriors and hunters remain firmly entrenched in our ideas of progressiveness and strength. The aggressive, competitive, individualistic mindset that once found an outlet in constant warring has expanded to include the corporate boardroom, industrial workplace and political arena. Even in the run-up to our recently concluded elections, certain political leaders were dismissed as being too weak not because of their immense intellect, but because their personalities did not fit into the narrow category of what a “strong” leader should be.

Sex, on the other hand, evokes nervous, embarrassed giggles, jokes, or outright hysteria. More books, TV shows and movies with sexual or erotic contents are censored or banned than those portraying extreme and/or senseless violence. Aggression is admired in our culture while sex is tolerated. The main cause of anxiety remains women’s sexuality – whether it is masturbation, lesbianism, pre or extramarital sex. As in ages past the fear is their achievement of sexual pleasure on their own terms with or without men. It represents a challenge if not an outright dismissal of the societal norms that were created by men for their benefit. As much as Tiger Wood’s affairs provoked anger and (self) righteous indignation, the venom and vitriol will pale in comparison to what will be directed towards a female public figure caught doing the same thing or being sexually “open” (recall Madonna of the 1980s and 90s). Here is where one really sees the motivating forces behind the regulating of sex: deep-seated fears of losing masculine hold over the instruments of power. Even today in the so-called Age of Information, manipulations of very ancient fears are evoked in the face of women rediscovering their sexuality. In spite of all the gains made by women and progressive men in politics, on campus and the workplace, patriarchal insecurities call upon the same fears in 2010 CE as it did in the third millennium BCE. As so many times before appeals are made to prevent society sliding down the “slippery” descent to disintegration.

But the enlightened reader must see this for what it really is. The issue of monogamy and non-monogamy, the paranoia of women rediscovering their sexual selves must not be taken in isolation. The calls to see sex outside of “soulmates” and the other narrow ideas of love and fidelity must not be dismissed as someone who jes want excuse to f**k a seta people. These must always be linked with the desire to stifle a self-confident, independent feminine mindset that can and will challenge and dispense with patriarchal assumptions and definitions of hierarchy, priority and progress in politics and economics: the two main pillars of masculine power. We may already be witnessing that; in many countries torn apart by war or some other cataclysmic event women have been stepping into positions of leadership. In Liberia, for instance, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became president and likened her country as a sick child in need of motherly care. Likewise in Rwanda, the majority of parliamentarians are women. In Chile and Germany, to say nothing of our own politics, we have seen the rise of women to the upper rungs of political office. Whether the politics reflects femininity is another matter which I have already touched on (see essays “Well a Woman is Almost There” and “Where have the Women Gone?”), what is important is that the pendulum is swinging in a way that is beginning to favour women and that is not going down too well with many who cannot fathom any other model other than the patriarchal model.

The one important thing to remember about the patricentric ethic is its need to be in complete control of any and all symbols or instruments of power. The strictures regarding sex are only for the purpose of controlling women’s bodies so that patriarchal ideas of progress and power remain in place. Patriarchy is built from the ground up on double-standards, rigid hierarchy and shifting mores – when it suits men. In my research for my book I keep noticing that morality changes whenever WOMEN internalised and championed the approved masculinist morality or institution. Chastity was valued by the early Church authorities only until women became too empowered by it in the form of the convent and the beguine. By the medieval period these institutions were becoming centres of women’s entrepreneurial identity. The authorities then stepped in and curtailed this; marriage then became the approved model. That today women have become the most vocal champions of monogamy and narrow ideas of commitment – all of which came out of patricentric ideas of morality – means a couple things: that the indoctrination of women by men was damn good as it has always been and that within a generation or two the mores will shift to something else favouring patricentrism, as it has done so many times before over the last three thousand years.

Again, we have been witnessing this for some time. If one uses 1965 as the point of departure one will notice that there was a wave of rejection of social norms and conventions regarding sex and corporate commercialising. The Hippy/Flower movement with its (somewhat misguided) free love and open sexuality was not only limited to the US but was manifested in other countries. Roe vs Wade in the early 70s opened the door for women to start back taking control of their reproductive organs. There was also a moving away from mainstream medicine towards alternative remedies and more organic foods. All this caused much consternation in mainstream politics, social organisations, the corporate world, the entertainment world and religion. But since the 1970s corporations began making inroads in the entertainment and health industries and incorporated a lot of the counterculture to serve its own ends. Today a lot of the “alternative” foods and medicines are hybrid products of laboratories while staple foods and water are slowly being controlled by multinational corporations based in the metropole. Liberalised sexuality and alternative living was no less made into a commodity; somehow or the other pole-dancing seems to be a new symbol of empowerment.

When one strips away all the self-righteous moralising, all the talk about the erosion of family values, all the talk about the decadence of society (which is still attributed to women’s conduct), it all comes down to ages old fear of women, women’s morality and society structured along the lines of what women view as priority. Open relationships existed before and families and societies functioned just fine. Monogamy is a great ideal, a great way to live, it’s not going anywhere. Many people can live happily in monogamous unions, many of them ARE living well in monogamous unions, but that in no way means that everyone CAN and SHOULD live like that. It, like open, polyamorous relationships, is not for everyone. As Atwater and the hundreds of women she interviewed established quite clearly, it does not cater for the person who has a high libido; it does not factor in the reality that people evolve mentally, physically, etc as they get older. It is unrealistic in terms of fulfilling all of a person’s emotional, physical, security and sexual needs. Human sexuality is a very complex and diverse set of rules and preferences; in a given community with the same numbers of men and women there are more variances in sexual tastes among the two groups than between them. As we have seen, the framers of the exclusive monogamous model did so to achieve the exact opposite: to counter the diverse nature of the human species. Therefore, as part of the process of tipping the scales back to where there both masculine and feminine principles balance off each other, we need to fling out some bogus ideas about sex, eroticism, sensuality and pleasure inasmuch as they are indisputably integral to mental and physical well-being (with suitable protection of course, AIDS kills).

So let me say it plainly, having intimate or sexual relations with someone other than one’s spouse or significant other is not necessarily an indication of the level of one’s love or lack thereof for that person. It IS possible for one to have deep emotional attachments to more than one person. And doing so does not necessarily take away anything from one’s “main squeeze.” The problem with accepting this has to do with the depth to which the patricentric model has been ingrained into your consciousness. But that model was developed for a completely different time, for completely different reasons and with completely different ecological, demographic and economic conditions. What we need now are parallel models that a person can adopt according to their understanding of themselves. Actually, those models already exist, what is needed is the removal of the shackles of guilt and sin that forces the hiding, the deception and so on.

Return to Part I