Re: Foucault, Freud and Sex--why the secret?

Gerold Firl (
1 Dec 1994 12:55:44 -0800

In article <> (Dan Moerman) writes:

>Heider notes that the Dani observe a 5 year post-partum sex taboo, and seem to
>engage in intercourse perhaps 2 or 3 times a decade on the average. Most
>interesting is Heider's conclusion (convincing to me) that there is no
>particular evidence of "repression" or "sublimation" or any of the other
>things so dear to western hearts regarding sex. The Dani just don't make a
>very big deal of it, and so it is not a very big deal (hormones or no

This appears, to me, like a clear adaptation for over-population avoidance.
If, in fact, there is no resulting repression or sublimation of sexual
urges, we have to wonder whether to attribute this to an extremely
effective cultural adaptation, or if we are observing an example of
sociobiological feedback on genetic evolution. Has Dani culture evolved a
mechanism for training individuals to regulate their sexual activity in
such a way as to avoid the evidence of suppression seen in western culture,
(assuming that Dani physiology, in the area of sex drive, is similar to
that of europeans), or has the requirement of zero-population growth,
operating through cultural mediation, resulted in the evolution of a human
subspecies with a less urgent need for sex than we are accustomed to?
Interesting question.

>The whole thing is just sort of matter-of-fact.

It does sound like there may be a physiological basis for this distinctive
feature of dani culture. It would be interesting to see interviews with
dani boys, aged 14-25, on the subject of their sexual interests. As far as
I can tell, my interest in sex when I was in that age range was very much a
biological effect, and it is hard for me to imagine any cultural system
which could have motivated me to have regulated my frequency of intercourse
to the 2-3 per decade level without leaving some noticable side-effects.

>By contrast along another dimension are the Asian approaches mentioned in
>posts by others where sex is dealt with more in the way we treat food, with
>elaboration, standard schemes, "cookbooks" (like the Kama Sutra), and so on,
>dressing up sex with napery, one might say, to the point that it can be
>carried out in public, perhaps even with children present.

I'm not sure that we should see this as "napery"; sex has been around far
longer than human culture, and it is only recently that sex has been
treated with the level of privacy customary in the modern west. I assume
that sex will be regulated, by social custom, to the extent that it *has*
to be regulated, for the survival of the culture. The avoidance of
over-population is probably the primary factor necessitating sexual
regulation, but more subtle alchemy is also possible, as I mentioned
earlier in this thread. "Perhaps *even* with children present"? Aren't you
being a little ethnocentric there? Aren't children present during sex
between adults in many cultures? I don't think this should be seen as some
kind of exceptional case, or one that requires special cultural
adaptations, but rather as a common feature of human behavior.

>An approach like this one changes the game a bit, and gets us away from
>the notion that sex is always and inevitably hidden and secret, and provides a
>context for considering it in a meaningful cross cultural manner.

Right. Any idea, or suggestions for sources, for cross-cultural surveys of
where and when sex has been treated as private?

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=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf