sexual signaling peacock

Sex in a Sustainable World Part 4: Sex-Related Competition, Polyamory, & Our Environment

Does Skewed Sexual Energy Contribute to Environmental Destruction?

Some individuals have examined how environmental issues impact sexual well-being, e.g., how pharmaceuticals and personal care products that find their way into water systems impact our sexual functioning. For example, why are more sex-ambiguous fish turning up in some rivers and streams? These are important questions.

It’s also important to take the questioning in the opposite direction. For example, how is sexual energy, on a societal scale, repressed and misdirected in ways that contribute to ecological destruction?

See all posts in this series.

While some of Freud’s sex-related thoughts were off the mark, he hit the nail on the head with concepts like sublimation: the redirection of sexual energies into activities or goals deemed to be more socially acceptable. The catch is that we’re still often seeking physical intimacy—sometimes in and of itself, but often as an element of a broader intimate companionship—when we pursue those things that seem more socially acceptable.

In Sex at Dawn, Ryan and Jethá put it this way:

“Human nature has been landscaped, replanted, weeded, fertilized, fenced off, seeded, and irrigated as intensively as any garden or seaside golf course…Our sense of the full range of human nature, like our diet, has been steadily reduced. No matter how nourishing it might be, anything wild gets pulled…Pull them if you want, but they’ll just keep coming back again and again.”

Again, in our present culture, we take a private property ownership model, and apply it to almost everything: my house, my car, my land, my partner, my children. And this feeling of possessions that are exclusively ours, including a partner, can provide us with a false sense of security. I’m not saying I’ve been able to free my mind of this yet—just pointing it out!

Alongside this, through various media, we’re taught that the one with the greatest material riches–the biggest toys–gets all the love, sex, and other social rewards. There are some gender differences and double standards here, but that’s another whole topic. So, somebody who really may just want more affection and intimacy, including sex, focuses instead upon accumulating material goods.

In the case of a heterosexual male, the real appeal of a red Porsche may be the vision of a woman sitting next to him in it. The real appeal of a million dollar house with a pool may be the thought of women sleeping with him in its bed. It’s like a male peacock flaunting its feathers to win over the female–“signaling,” as economists call it. This can result in a lot of waste. And for the poor couples involved, they could enjoy much more time together if it weren’t for all the time spent accumulating all the “stuff.”

George Carlin’s talk on “stuff,” by the way, is one of my all-time favorites. Perhaps it’s not coincidental that he also enjoyed talking about sex.

How Might Polyamory Impact Competition, the Environment, and Wellness?

Obviously, all this consumption has environmental impacts, because it takes many resources to build and ship all this stuff. Of course, this creates jobs, but would we need to work so much if we didn’t need so much stuff? Would we need to work so much if those profiting most from the system didn’t feel they needed so much stuff either, leading them to share more of the pie?

Let’s take our questioning a step deeper: How might all of this competition and accumulation of stuff change if we included polyamory in our range of accepted family structures?

Take a few seconds to breathe if the word “polyamory” freaked you out. I’m still getting used to the word myself. Societal programming, especially in the realm of sex, is very strong indeed.

To be clear, we’re not talking about women and men who have more than one partner for just sex, but who may also provide companionship and support for one another in other ways as well. They might not all live in the same household, but some households could have families consisting of several men and several women, or several men or women. Some of them might jointly raise several kids. What might the ecological impacts of this be?

Several possibilities come to mind; perhaps you can think of more:

  • We might have fewer houses, because there might be more people living together in some houses. This aligns with elements of the growing cohousing movement.
  • We might have a lower average number of children per person, which helps with population issues. Any person wanting to parent multiple children could still do so by raising their own biological child while also co-parenting the children of a few other individuals. There would obviously need to be a lot of communication between co-parents, but you get the basic idea—consider that most kids today are “co-parented” by dozens of daycare providers and teachers alongside their parents anyway. (By the way, we’ll be addressing co-parenting along with non-traditional sexuality and family preservation in upcoming posts.)
  • There might be less fast food and other relatively wasteful and unhealthy consumption, because economic and parenting burdens would be more distributed and lowered. This would mean more time to prepare home-cooked meals, do planned-ahead shopping trips, and so on. This fits right in with the Slow Food Movement.
  • Because multiple parents can share responsibilities, kids would get more parent-child face time. This could result in parents purchasing fewer materialistic substitutes (expensive and excessive toys) to compensate for lack of time to spend with their kids. The kids may be more likely to become happy adults who fully contribute their gifts to the world.

I’ve known a few people engaged in polyamorous or otherwise non-monogamous lifestyles, and they’ve generally been very kind, civically engaged, and highly intelligent people who give a lot of thought to relationship ethics. In fact, they seem to spend more time thinking about relationship ethics than most “standard relationship” people do.

This runs contrary to the common stereotype that a more liberal sexuality is often equated with lesser ethical standards. This is likely because such arrangements are not just a quick and easy way to gratify one’s every desire; if anything, they require even more effort, honesty, and consideration for others. Indeed, I’ve heard about cases of such arrangements failing miserably, but I don’t know that the success rate is any lower than the success rate for traditional two-person marriages.

Outlining a Few Important Distinctions

Before going further, several important distinctions are in order. Some of these tie back to the previous posts in this series.

First, we previously discussed Ryan and Jethá’s (Sex at Dawn) arguments that humans once lived in small, relatively egalitarian communities where our intimate relationships were more fluid and sexually open. Such communities are not to be confused with communism or socialism, which involve engineering sharing dynamics on a much larger scale. Once a given community gets beyond around 150 people, anonymity starts to set in and personal accountability starts to break down.

In relatively small communities, if someone treats another person unfairly in any way, or behaves in a non-teamlike fashion, word will get around quickly and the person will experience consequences. So that tends to keep people in check.

With very large communities, people have a harder time keeping track of who’s doing what, and so abuses of power are more likely. Also, people become more reliant upon governmental entities like police to keep things in check.

In other words, some of our social issues have stemmed from us becoming disconnected and relatively anonymous to one another. Sex is one important part of the puzzle. Fortunately, many gifted individuals have given attention to ways in which we might become more interconnected. You might check out, for example, The Connection Revolution. We’ll be addressing the topic of  interdependence in more depth soon.

Another important distinction: This sexuality within our ancestors’ small and mobile communities, where most people also related on other levels, was also different than a “free love” kind of approach, which implies having sex with many other people with little or no other type of attachment. Due to lower population and lack of transportation technology, groups interacted with outsiders relatively infrequently.

While a “free love” approach might be even more possible in today’s world, it would demand many other considerations, such as greater public health precautions.

See all posts in this series.

Dave welcomes phone-based life, career, and transition coaching clients from around the world.

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