The existential angst of a gang bang

Also, I'm basically a hypocrite

A bowl ful of keys.
If you don't know what this image means, you might be too young to read this. (Image from the movie The Ice Storm)

"So you figure that she wants to organize another gang bang with you, her boyfriend, and a couple other guys, because it's her way of arranging it so that she can see you again?"

It's a Starbucks on an average afternoon, I was studying Japanese and bumped into a friend, who in turn happened to know this other guy in the room, and we fell into conversation. I just met this guy twenty minutes ago, but the conversation quickly escalated from basic introductions to discussing the group sex he had a few nights ago, because this guy seemed to have a need to talk about it. He's confident that his friend's girlfriend wants to be with him in particular, and the gang bangs are just a cover. Which in my estimation is a self serving, if not self saving, take on the situation. I'm fascinated and repulsed all at once. Not repulsed because of judgement. If a woman and four dudes want to all fuck each other all at once, and everyone consents and no one is damaged, then more power to 'em. The thing that repulses me is imagining myself in any similar situation. That kind of scene is almost opposite in every way to what I want out of sex.

On a theoretical level, I get what's hot about a bunch of dudes fucking a woman. I've seen that scenario played out in porn and whatever, and to me it's symbolic of a woman taken to the extreme of sexual appetites. I think some people interpret it as being a way to debase a woman, that she becomes a sort of machine, the receptacle of the basest desires of men who essentially want punish her by over-indulging her. And, I'm no connoisseur of the genre, but I'm sure some porn is set out to deliberately play into that perception, and I find that gross. For me, in an ideal of the fantasy, the woman who is the centre of focus in a gang bang is elevated, in a sense, to being a goddess of sexuality. That she both wants and can satisfy so much sexual action presents her as having capacities above and beyond. What could be more symbolic of a woman of a higher order of sexuality than being capable of exhausting, effectively overwhelming, multiple men?

Still, as much as I can construct a fantasy around the image of a woman of indefinite sexual capacity, the thought of participating, for real, in anything like that scenario freaks me the fuck out. I just have no place in my sexuality for the other men. As physical entities, no problem. Hell, looking at porn involves seeing other men have sex with women that I'd like to have sex with, so how it all looks and the tangible realities of other men doesn't bug me too much. It's men as emotional entities, the actual people in possession of all the dicks in the room that I can't deal with. I'm too jealous of what their presence means for the woman's validation of me. For me the ideal of sex is to be with a woman who wants to be with me as much as I want to be with her. A mathematical impossibility with three other dudes in the room. And yes, the opposite situation has the correlating effect, which is that with more women in the room, I would feel more validated. That makes me a hypocrite in terms of reciprocating fantasies, but at least from an algorithmic point of view, it's logically consistent.

This was a few years ago I met the gang-bang guy, and I'm thinking about him now because I had my brain blow up when I recently read a book called Sex at Dawn. The book makes a convincing case, as far as I'm concerned, that a lot of very fundamental assumptions about sex the culture I'm from are totally fucked up and out of alignment with what we are evolved for. Bottom line is this, which I'm just going to outline without getting into why you should believe it too, because I'm here to talk about me, and I don't want to lose focus by doing the job that the book does. What I'm taking as axiomatic is, before agriculture and before humans started fighting over owned land and resources and wanting to preserve hereditary lines, and all sorts of stuff that has to do with property and power, we were in small groups that foraged within a context of reasonably abundant resource. In that world, humans went around in groups of a few dozen to a about a hundred and fifty people. People didn't compete over resources too much because the global human population was small enough to make the world so big that fighting over shit was a pointless exercise. Just move down the valley and pick the fruit off the trees over there. That alone removes a fuck load of all the need for alpha males and hierarchy and shit, because what do you need a leader for if there are no causes? Anyway, within groups, sex was a shared resource as much as anything else, and men and women all had multiple sex partners within their groups. When any one woman got pregnant, all the men she had been with were all thought to be literal biological fathers. Early humans had no way of knowing a child was the result of only one sperm cell from one man. All children were considered equally everybody's children. Sex might sometimes have been one on one, with multiple male sex partners over time, depending on circumstance. But, it seems that it was equally likely that in a single instance, women, capable of longer sessions of sex, would have sex with multiple men, more suited to quick performance.

Forget all the bullshit that so much sexual politics rests on, from cynical Pick Up Artists talking about how men need to spread their seed, to religious doctrine about faithfulness. The whole model that men accrue resources, or the appearance of having resources, to appeal to females, that women seek stability for child rearing from men... none of it is biological imperative. A social imperative, maybe, something that has been forced on our interactions in the thousands of years that we made agriculture, land, and hereditariness into things that mattered. At least, in the cultures that went that way. There are still tribes today where they still think of sex and parenthood as being something the whole group shares. Nonetheless, while social concerns are strong and important motivators themselves for pack animals like us, they're not on the level of what we are biologically wired for. I'm sold on the idea that what we've often taken for granted about human sexuality, that our biological impulse is to be like gorillas who have alpha males and harems, is wrong, and that we evolved more like bonobos, who are constantly fucking everybody every which way all the time. Men did compete, but on a cellular level, and there all these weird details about how sperm and ejaculate and the route to fertilization are all set up to make it so the best man, in terms of how awesome his sperm is, wins. But, on the outside, day to day, men had little need for sexual jealousy, since exclusivity didn't have that much value.

Which means the guy I was talking to at Starbucks is having sex the way humans have for most of their evolution, and it's me, and probably you, like most people in globalized society, who are doing it the new and weird way. I not only don't want a woman to have sex with other men within the same time and space as a sexual encounter with me, I don't want her to have sex with any other men during a period of time that spans what I would label "a relationship." I'm not playing the game that humans are wired to play.

... but so what? Humans did lots of stuff in our earlier evolution that I don't want to recreate. I'm not about to go around scraping grubs out of tree bark to eat, I like wearing clothes when it gets cold, and I like to shower on a regular basis. Most of the time, the way we've used our technologies to shape our environments and cultures to suit our needs feels pretty good. In a lot of matters, the effort to find a more "natural" way of life would just be counterproductive.

Not everything we've taken on board as we've "advanced" sits so easily, though. I have never stepped out of a shower feeling like maybe I should have stayed dirtier longer. But I have been in relationships were I felt that even though all outward appearances indicated that I should be happy, I wasn't. Sometimes, even though I go about getting into relationships for what feels to be intuitively appealing reasons, and follow all the socially prescribed protocols for facilitating a relationship happening, I find myself getting to a place where it feels like what I'm doing and what I really, really want are different things. It feels, sometimes, like there's something in me that wants something different, but it's nebulous and shifting. Maybe my internal feelings and my external circumstances seem to go out of alignment sometimes because there's a disconnect between them, based on some wrong assumptions.

It feels like knowing what exactly is going on inside me would make me more able to find a harmonic balance between how culture and technology can elevate me and how primal wants can satisfy me. The goal, as I see it, isn't to find out what makes me tick and then give into that. I already know, for instance, that if I eat everything I want, as the instinctual side of me would opt to do, I will end up with a body that creates too many costs in other realms of my life. No one part of me should be indulged to the dissatisfaction of other parts of me. Or other people. I mean, sometimes a part of me wants to express myself by punching people who annoy me, but I'm way happier living in a world where we all agree not to do that. The freedom to impose my non-verbal impulses on the world is not worth the costs. And so it goes with sex and sexuality. I feel, or hope, that the more I can build an accurate model of what it is the body I reside in is fighting for, the more I can train it to work within the reality I live in for more benefit than I would get by either letting it run free or by subjugating it completely. A middle path, built out of complete understanding, seems to bring out the best in me, and the best returns for me.

The book Sex at Dawn.
I've read the criticisms of this book, but I think the important part isn't the specifics of what might have been, but the dismantling of assumptions about what is.

What's been bending my brain, though, is the degree to which I find the theoretical model of the sexuality humans evolved for so viscerally unappealing. My body may not care if a woman fucks another man, but my mind sure as hell does. I've been trying to reconcile how it is that I came to feel such revulsion to sharing sexual partners when, it seems to be the case that I'm built for it. I haven't experienced this kind of dissonance when dealing with other revelations about how the animal that I am lives in the modern world. For example, I used to wonder why it was that all the food I liked was so unhealthy for me, and felt so much guilt about wanting to eat unhealthy things. When I learned how humans evolved in an environment where high caloric foods were scarce and our desire for them could never be satiated to an unhealthy degree, then that helped me be more comfortable with my bodies urges for food. Making sense of it removed the guilt, and allowed me to negotiate with my impulses more effectively. So far, I haven’t achieved that kind of helpful insight when it comes to sexual jealousies.

Is it just that I have been socialized so strongly that my thinking is distorted almost beyond repair? I know people who buy into polyamory who might think so. I'm just held back be a heteronormative, vanilla model of sexual relations that was imposed on me so hard that I can't see reality anymore. If you took a dog and electrocuted his dog dish you could eventually train it to fear breakfast in spite of how natural it is to eat in the morning. Am I just engineered to live out Pavlovian responses directed by nobody?

I don't think so, and here's why. Sex may be an unlimited resource, and so may love, but intimacy is not. It depends on how you define these things and what your goals are, but I have to put words on my ideas, and those are the ones I'm going with, so bear with me. If you just think of sex as being a route to an orgasm, where thrusting and grinding are mutually assisted activities for getting there, then there's no reason to not have sex with multiple people. That sounds base, but I don't judge it as being any less noble than any other relationship. If that's what you and your partner want, where sex is of no more consequence to you than a massage, then off you go. I know people like that, and in some ways I think their approach has advantages over mine.

For me it's more though, it's the embodiment of an emotional connection that shares something more than sensations transmitted through nerve endings. That takes us into the territory of love, and some would argue that love, too, is an unlimited resource. A parent can love many children equally, a child can love two parents equally, people love relatives and friends in all sorts of dimensions, so why should sex suddenly close doors instead of opening them? Further, when you invite all your friends to a party, isn't the collection of individuals greater than the sum of the parts? You can talk, laugh, communicate, and enjoy the company of many people at once and the increase in numbers can potentially make it better and better. Why can't sex be the same?

A parent may love two children, but if one child wants to play hockey and the other wants to perform in a ballet, you can't just combine them into one activity and create the same interconnected benefits that exist at a party. It's not just the mechanics of space and structure that make hockey and ballet exclusive activities. It's that your child who performs as ballet wants to be acknowledged for their dance and your child who plays hockey wants to be celebrated for the goals they score. Your capacity to love them is absolutely equal, but the relationship you have with each is unique. A uniqueness that is diminished to the degree that you seek to make their collective presence in your life a unified reflection of your capacity to love. One night when both the ballet performance are hockey game are both scheduled, you'll have to make practical choices even if you can simultaneously make empathetic assurances. If you choose the hockey game, doesn't your dancing child have a right to wonder if the choice means anything?

And so it goes, or can go, with sexual intimacy. When sex goes beyond thrusting and grinding, you have a world you create with the person you're with, an intimacy that acknowledges their quirks, fetishes, needs, embarrassments, and everything we don't just casually discuss over dinner or announce when first meeting someone. The things we say and do in bed are a side of ourselves that is exclusive of other contexts as ice skates on a ballet stage. It's something that is created out of the uniqueness of the person you're intimate with and acknowledges everything that a modern human has evolved to be. When we were evolving, and, presumably, fucking a lot, this kind of intimate world created between lovers probably didn't exist. We didn't have society and culture and contexts in which our brains could actualize into the people we are today. Our hunter gatherer ancestors didn't have musical preferences or favourite books or hobbies, much less religious views or political stances or cultural habits. No sexual fetishes, no favourite colours, not even names. Their lives were as simple as the sex they had. They hunted and gathered by day then thrusted and grinded at night.

So, the source of my sexual jealousy isn't about the kind of physical sex we evolved to have over hundreds of thousands of years of being hunter-gatherers. The core of my jealousy resides in the intimate relations that exist because of the expansion of our identities since the advent of society and culture. But what exactly am I jealous of?

If we take out all the social and psychological dimensions, and just think about the physical, then in one sense, if a woman I am with has sex with another guy, then maybe she just wanted sex at that moment. She wanted a dick inside her, she wanted the orgasm, and as a means to an end, any one guy is the same as the next. I know some people would get jealous over potential physical comparisons, especially penis size, but assuming she came back to me for sex the day after, or alternated between us equally or something like that, all evidence would indicate she was equally content with both our performance, and nothing she does with him diminishes what she does with me. Because, bottom line, the bodies we have do the same things.

But, the minds we have don't do the same things. If she has an emotionally connected relationship with me, then I take that to be an indication that what she wants is a person, a personality, like me. If she starts seeing another man, then I have to wonder if she wants different things than who I am, or that who I am is not satisfying to her, because there is no way that the other man is the same as me in the ways that I use to define myself. In the best case scenario, she wants a variety of experience, she's with another man sometimes precisely because she wants to experience intimacy in ways that are separate but equal to mine. She wants to experience ballet one night, hockey the next. But, don't I have a right to wonder if the choice means anything?

My ego is just too big to want to be another flavour of jelly bean in someones variety pack. I'm also a total hypocrite, because I could see myself making the argument to multiple women that I value each of them individually but differently and so there's no need for them to be jealous. There's a problem of asymmetrical knowledge. I can know in my heart the level of sincerity when I tell a person to what level I value their intimacy, but it requires a huge helping of trust to take someone else's word for it. I'm sure someone in the polyamorous community would tell me I need to learn how to trust more. Someone in the "pick up artist" community would tell me I need to accept my hypocrisy as an evolutionary inevitability. Someone from a more traditional marriage-is-the-goal community would tell me I need to aspire to a higher sense of self beyond default impulses. I think all of those viewpoints are unsatisfactory, and as I write this, I'm still not totally sure if I've got a great solution to connect my body and mind in the context of a relationship.

What I do know, though, is that the degree to which you engage in emotional intimacy is at odds with casual physicality. The guy I met at Starbucks that one time, at some level, was trying to make the physical experience of his gang bangs connect with his emotional need for validation, and you can't have both. Either enjoy the gang bang for its flight of physical fancy, or engage the woman on a deeper emotional commitment, but expecting both is designed to fail. Not that I'm so much smarter than that guy, because it's happened plenty of times where I expected complete emotional fidelity and that got broken by physical impulse, either by me or my partners.

I don't have a perfect and final model for how to balance the evolutionary being I am with the self aware, sentient being that I am. They have fundamentally different goals, on one side to reproduce and propagate the species above all else, and on the other hand to create a singular identity that wants to matter in a universe that doesn't care. This might be an ongoing internal struggle without a tidy solution. I don't know... at least I'm not standing in a room watching a woman blow another guy and trying to convince myself it's me she really wants.