Pro-Sex vs Anti-Sex Societies

Gender equalityGender-equal societies are more likely to celebrate both life and sex.

Dominator cultures are more sex-negative — especially for women. And they are prone to celebrating suffering and death.

Gender-equal “partnership” societies

Our earliest societies were forager, gender-equal “partnership” cultures. Some still exist today.

Venus, born

Fertility goddess, Venus

They commonly live in fertile, plant-based areas and are less inclined to attack foreigners to get their stuff. Some early plant-based societies had no weapons designed to kill humans.

“Partnership” peoples worship both goddesses and gods, who are revered as life-giving forces. Sex, life and women — who bear life from their bodies — are seen as good.

These people are truly pro-life.

Sex-Negative “dominator” cultures

Most of the world today is patriarchal. In patriarchal “dominator” cultures men are more valued and have more power. They are more worshipful of death and suffering. And they are more sex-negative. Especially toward women.

What happened?

These peoples commonly originate in harsh conditions where it’s difficult to grow crops. Like the environment they live in, their gods are punishing and harsh.

The people want strong leaders who can keep things together. That’s partly why they are dominator societies.

Thor's Hammer

Thor’s Hammer

But the bleak landscape also encourages violence as warriors raid villages to gain wealth.

As a result, men are valued since their size and strength make better fighters. Warrior traits (called “masculine”) are valued, too: strength, toughness, domination…

Death is extolled, along with the weapons that bring it. Some are even worshiped. Think: Excalibur and Thor’s hammer.

No surprise that their gods are male dominant.

Dominators invade partnership societies

The world today looks more like those dominator societies (although we are moving toward partnership, with some backlash.)

What happened?

Evidence suggests that violent, dominator peoples like Indo-Europeans eventually conquered  more peaceful partnership communities.

Before patriarchy, Hera had been a great goddess, with many temples devoted to her. After patriarchy, the warrior god, Zeus, took her as wife, and made her second to him. In fact, a whole hierarchy was created with Zeus on top.

Zeus, Thunder God

Thunder god, Zeus

In the mortal world, laws were enacted to severely punish women who sought to keep their past equality. And women were assigned separate and unequal living quarters, to which they were confined in order to preserve sexual purity — and decrease their political power. Fathers had power over life and death of children. Some fathers left newborns (usually daughters) exposed to the elements, leading to death (usually) — or enslavement, if “rescued.”

And both gods and humans held a sexual double standard.

Mortal men could have sex with pretty much anyone they liked. But women certainly could not. And homosexual men were celebrated because they had sex with their equals.

Amongst the warrior gods, Zeus had many lovers while virginal goddesses were celebrated.  And gods raped goddesses without punishment — putting the goddess “in her place.”

And so the Greeks, and their gods, became male-dominant, anti-sex (for women) and pro-death.

Humans and human societies are complex

Now mind you, humans and human societies are complex so there aren’t always straight lines, with a variety of factors in play. And fertile societies may still make war, perhaps over a scarcity of land.

The gender-equal Iroquois celebrated life and sexuality, even though they could also be fierce warriors. But women controlled important staples of corn, beans and squash. Property passed through women. And female power was created because the women of each family lived together. And the old women had great power in appointing chiefs.

Or, although patriarchal, the fierce Viking warriors had a fairly high level of gender equality and love of sexuality, even for women. Perhaps because some women were warriors, too, suggested by women buried with what appear to be their weapons. Scandinavian folklore and mythology also talk of warrior “shieldmaidens.” The chieftain’s wife also helped with strategy — although they called it fortune-telling. The “Veleda” discerned the future of suggested war plans and acted to influence the outcome through magic.

So with exceptions we do find a large pattern of war being associated with patriarchy, a celebration of violence and death, and sex-negativity — especially for women.

To read more about all of this see: The Chalice and the Blade, Sacred Pleasure, When God Was A Woman, Joseph Campbell’s Goddesses, Great Courses: Myths In Human History

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on June 6, 2016, in feminism, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. I wish equality will be restored, soon, all over the world. Though, it looks like a distant dream…

  2. I found this reading to be very interesting and also quite discouraging at the same time. Reading about how low women were once valued really strikes a nerve with me, how could they belittle their creators? Now of course I know they weren’t derogating the ones that gave them life directly, but their views towards a gender that gives life sickens me. Looking at the course of history, it is clear that if women chose to wed she not only gave herself to her husband but also her value as a human in society. What I mean when I say this is that as soon as you were to be married women were giving up their identity, instead of being know for who they were they were known by who they were married too. For example Goddess Hera was on top until she was wed to Zeus she automatically was bumped down a class. Another example was how the gender-equal Iroquois kept power within themselves by keeping it an all women culture. I do agree that we have a dominator culture but I also believe we have some gender equal underpinnings which still protects women and our society from becoming a full blown sex negative dominator. Despite the wage gap between genders our country has moved dramatically on becoming more of a partnership culture. Having a women as one of our options to vote for as president is a gigantic step forward, its also affected our community, now in varies areas if a man was to make derogatory comment about women they are now most likely to be looked down on by both genders.

    • I am sometimes amazed at how hurtful we can be to one another. Luckily, we’re finding a lot of improvement in much of the world.

      BTW: some are happy to learn that there have been times and places when men and women were equal.

  3. I learned so much from this article. This is truly my first exposure to how women are treated historically, and what roles they have played in different societies. I find it truly interesting that the gender-equal societies seemed to be the ones who already had everything necessary for life at their disposal.

    It almost seems that if the basic needs of a society are met, the need for anger, aggression, and dominance fade. My initial thought is that nature is determined by nurture. If you live in a beautiful place, that is kind to the human species, the society in turn becomes more kind, open-minded, and view each other as equals. And the opposite is true, where harsh conditions breed a harsh society.

    So, my final thought is what kind of society do we have currently? In California, I feel that the weather is kinder, more sun, more vegetation, and the people seem to view each other as equals, with more sexual fluidity. Whereas, in conditions like the midwest, I feel the weather, and area can be more grueling, and fuels a more male dominated culture, where patriarchy is king (almost literally).

  4. “Pacific Islanders before contact with Europeans… They commonly live in fertile, plant-based areas and see no need to attack foreigners to get their stuff. Some of these societies had no weapons designed to kill humans.”

    Tonga had a bloody civil war in the 1400s. The first time Europeans came into contact was a brief trading visit by the Dutch in 1616.

    The first missionaries in Samoa described them as warriors who had a predilection to head hunting.

    Some tribes in Papua live in houses 40 meters high as a protection against warrior head hunters.

    Tahitian oral history is rich in stories of warriors and warrior gods, celebrations of war and stories of launching voyages against distant lands.

    The history of pre-european warrior clans attacking each other in Hawaii is quite well documented.

    The idea that Minoan Crete was a peace loving culture is an old discredited theory. Ideologies of war are shown to have permeated religion, art, industry, politics and trade. For example, weapons such as daggers and swords show up in Minoan sanctuaries, graves and residences. Combat sports were popular for men, including boxing, hunting, archery and bull-leaping. Hunting scenes often featured shields and helmets, garb more suited to a warrior’s identity than to a hunter’s. Preserved seals and stone vessels show daggers, spears and swordsmen.

    In Indian culture, traditions for dealing with captives predated the arrival of Europeans, and involved either adoption or execution by torture and Iroquois Indians routinely slowly tortured to death captured enemy warriors.

    • I’ll have to be more clear in my writing in the future.

      It’s true that “see no need to attack foreigners to get their stuff” overstates the case. And I would write it differently if I felt like rewriting it. Maybe I will.

      It’s certainly possible to live in fertile areas and still have reasons to attack. Perhaps an not enough land for all of the people, for instance.

      The point is that more fertile areas were generally less prone to celebrating war, even though there could be other reasons for war — simply because less fertile regions are less likely to feel forced into it, and appear to have been less often inclined.

      And while Minoan Crête, Iroquois Indians and Pacific Islanders were gender-equal (not all Pacific Islanders), they did still engage in war. So I needed a better transition instead of moving straight to the Indo-Europeans.

      Otherwise, I didn’t feel like devoting so much space to your other comment — it was awfully long, especially when I don’t see how you could have read what I wrote and made that comment — what I read of it. And I don’t post comments I haven’t read. If you want me to read comments it’s helpful to make shorter ones. See my comment policy I do make exceptions sometimes for “Bob” because I have actually ended up using a lot of his stuff in my blogs, or even turning some of his comments into actual posts.

      But I’ll have to say that this part was ridiculous: “you can’t really complain about the sentence, unless you’re happy for your daughter to do 20 years in prison for shoplifting a pack of gum.” Really? You equate rape to stealing a pack of gum? Rhetorical question. I’m not expecting an answer for that.

  5. I find this kind of history fascinating – especially the Goddess history and how they were subverted and repressed to fit in with the patriarchal ideals of womanhood. I believe that we are slowly entering a feminine age, where balance is being restored, and this kind of knowledge helps us do that.

    • Yes, I have been studying mythology lately and it’s fascinating to see how our ideas of deity have changed over time and how that change reflects the culture. I too am hopeful!

  6. If society values the masculine so much more over the feminine as has been said in some of the comments above, then what happens to men who have a strong feminine side or preference?

  7. I believe that it is almost impossible to have a 100% gender-equal partnership society. I am all for equality and believe that it is a persons right as a human being to be treated to one another, but I also believe that in this era it is nearly impossible to create a whole society where everyone is treated equally. Society has brainwashed people so much that trying to create a society like this now would be almost impossible. Another factor contributing to the rarity of a gender-equal partnership is humans natural urge of competitiveness. Humans are bred to be competitive in order to survive. This plays into one gender always wanting to be “better” than one another, creating a divide that is almost impossible to get rid of.

  8. When you think of it, the bad sides of human nature have biological backings and reasoning. Domination, competition, greed, selfishness can all be traits in survival. You’ve obviously heard of “survival of the fittest”. Obviously partnerships are better and more conducive as people working together are better to build things, find food and such. That’s why such things are big parts of human behavior and I think why friendships have always been a big thing for people. But if a person on their own, and food is scarce to share with everyone, therefore, denying the use of partnership, it seems like it’s a human instinct for one to be out for themselves so they can survive. That’s why I’d like to believe humans can be better, but the scary thing is it seems like if so, it’s a matter of it being because of having resources and things being good. You talk about partnerships and going that way. And countries moving closer to equality.

    But even with that and more democratic ways too, how soon it seems things could go back, because of biology to darker times? You say how it was from those societies not having resources. Well, does that mean most of the cultures on earth, one’s who are like america and others that are trying to improve and have made strides for equality especially towards backwards countries. But can’t that vanish pretty fast say if out power grid goes out world wide from a solar flare and destroys the grids and who knows if ever be fixed or it being a long time. I’m talking about that apocalyspe scenario. If that happens, millions of people would be unable to have food or water because most advanced cultures like America are so dependent on electricity and because of the 300 millions of people in this country let alone the other countries trying to handle things. There would be millions maybe hundred millions of deaths probably from starvation and dehydration, etc. Would this mean something biological could happen and survival of the fittest to kick in with people or men? Would that mean men would rate themselves above women again or even in this partnership cultures still around if they are out of resources now? Would things revert back to patriarchal, hierarchal ways and men being the head of the line and women demoted? Would this spawn a Lord of the Flies manner for human beings if put in such dire situation?

    • Humans have the potential for both partnership and domination. Different sorts of cultures nurture and encourage different ways of being. In partnership societies you will find some people who act in dominating ways. It just isn’t systematized and culturally encouraged, so you end up with much less of it. And you won’t find an entire race dominating another race or an entire sex dominating another sex.

      And then circumstances like having plenty or not having enough starts to affect what sort of culture is created.

  9. In my church we are encouraged as young women (the same goes for the boys) to keep our virginity until marriage. I don’t see it as an oppressive aspect of my religion rather as a beautiful idea. As someone who believes sex is the most intimate way to physically and emotionally connect with another person I would like to save that experience for a person who really loves me for the person that I am, a person who is willing to commit to me for the rest of my life. I know very well that my opinion may change within the years but for now this is my personal view on the matter. And although this is what I would like for myself I by no means expect/think that other people should do the same. I think it really depends on the person. I’m just very grateful that I’ve been raised by a community (within my church and household) that doesn’t view sex as a dirty or shameful thing, rather a special and wonderful part of the human experience.

  10. Seems the world order is changing again for the better – equality brings so much of balance in life!

  11. Samantha Hartman

    Even some of the most progressive societies in today’s world are still decidedly anti-sex, as is obvious through cultural rhetoric. “Masculine” traits are valued above all other characteristics, and years of cultural reinforcement leaves men and women alike believing in the righteousness of the sex-inequality. Recently, the United States government passed legislature that allows women to participate in all levels of the army/marines. This created huge waves as the population reacted – some with joy, some with dismay. “Having women in the elite fighting groups will distract the men,” “women are physically too weak to really deserve those positions,” “this is the far-left political correctness that is ruining this country!” All of these are sentiments I have heard in the wake of the legislature. In my opinion, if a woman can pass the same physical and mental requirements that the men must pass, she is capable of being just as successful as the men. Ideologies are slow to change, and there will always be resistors. But there is progress, although small – and we will hear witness to the larger changes this progress creates.

    • Yes, it’s interesting to see that in United States we are still patriarchal, although recovering, but also that the same people who most value masculinity, manliness and the military are the most sex negative toward women. They are the ones who vote against birth-control, for instance.

  12. What about Aphrodite and Athena and Valkyries?

    • These were all originally goddesses from partnership cultures. I’ll have to write about them separately. So thanks for the idea! For now I’ll just say this, and I’ll use Freya to represent the Valkyries:

      Before patriarchy came Aphrodite, Athena and Freya were not beneath any God. After patriarchy they were all beneath a patriarchal God: Zeus (Jupiter) and Oden. Freya teaches Oden magic, which he has not had before. And he is now head of her. The Norse had more gender equality than most, with Freya pretty much equal to Thor (although the mythology is almost all about the men: Odin, Thor and Loki). And Freya did have first dibs on the dead warriors. But she was still beneath Oden. This relative equality is reflected in modern-day Scandinavia, where women are more equal than in most parts of the world.

      Popular goddesses from partnership cultures are often turned into battle goddesses after patriarchy, in an attempt to get the people to take on more the warrior mindset. And so Freya and Athena both become goddesses of war.

      Now let’s take a look at what happens in terms of sexuality. Athena comes to be valued as a virgin. Freya isn’t a virgin but there is a story where Loki tells her that she is too promiscuous. That wouldn’t have happened before the patriarchal gods took over. And a whole bunch of goddesses start to be valued for their virginity. Aphrodite is the only goddess and the Greco Roman pantheon that I’m aware of who still seems to be valued despite being very sexual, without insult, that I’m aware of. But the overall trend is in the other direction and she is perhaps the exception that proves the rule. All of the other goddesses, and women within the culture, are sexually limited. Maybe men wanted at least one goddess to help with their sex fantasies?

      I’ll talk in more detail later as to why it becomes so important to limit women’s sexuality. Much is hinted at here.

      • Jean Claunde

        What about the Amazons in the greek mythology, there’s no patriarchy involved in that story, or how about Diana (Artemis)

      • Diana (Artemis) is a virgin. Showing how female virginity comes to be valued. And it’s so ironic since Artemis was probably originally an earth goddess of fertility — not virginity!

        The all-female Amazons didn’t get much sex, either.

        And thanks to you (really, thank you!) I was also doing a little more research on Aphrodite/Venus and noticed how she was forced to marry her husband, and how he humiliated her and Ares/Mars by revealing their affair. It’s reminiscent of Old Testament times when men could have sex with whoever they wanted, But men were only punished when they took another man’s wife.

  13. And America today is a ‘warrior nation’ that celebrates ‘warriors’ (we used to call them soldiers), ie. a modern day Sparta…

    • Yes, America and our ideas of manliness, and our sex-negative culture that is more comfortable with violence than sexuality, all stem from this patriarchal past (and present).

  14. People are often so quick to deny a double standard being present because of their outlooks or their simple refusal to accept the truth of the matter. This article provides generous insight as to why so many of us believe there to be genuine differences in terms of sexuality, but are simply societal fabrications.
    One argument I have for those who do argue against this double standard is that – if men are supposed to have sex with lots of women and women aren’t supposed to have sex with lots of men, who are the men sleeping with? There is no logic behind this way of thinking.

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