Eusebius McKaiser, Dr Eve and the future of sex.
By Roydon Frost.
At the end of November last year, radio talk-show host Eusebius McKaiser was in his usual weekly conversation with local sexpert “Dr Eve”. The two were discussing a book by American cultural anthropologist Wednesday Martin, titled “Untrue: Why nearly everything we believe about women, lust, and infidelity is wrong and how the new science can set us free”. As you can tell from the title, the book purports to shatter the standard thinking that infidelity is the domain of men, and women are biologically prone to fidelity. On the contrary, her findings show that female infidelity is on the rise, that women are in fact biologically prone to promiscuity, that they find long term relationships more difficult than men, that women are not looking for emotional connection or intimacy, and that they are attracted to other women.
I haven’t read the book, and so I can only comment on what I heard. I think it’s fair to say, that on the show, the results were not merely presented, they were celebrated. The book was labelled “fantastic research” and Dr Eve admits to having a crush on the author and her work. The reason for the celebration is it seems, once again, in the title: these findings set women free. They are freed from the stereotype of fidelity and the normative shackles it places on their sexual behaviour. As Dr Eve put it, “Monogamy has been pushed down our throats as women.” The results were also celebrated because they describe a cultural shift in an apparently desirable direction. One listener commented that all she wanted for her birthday was a threesome. She was encouraged to give herself permission and hailed as “the future of sex”. Indeed, Eusebius closed the show by leaving his listeners with this charge: “Give yourself permission to follow evolutionary biology.” So, the results were celebrated.
The promise is this: follow the path of infidelity and it will set you free.
Where to start? Maybe the best way to approach this is with the many questions it throws out. First, do we have to accept the premise that this shift has been proven? I’m on thin ice here, because I haven’t read the book. But if I did, I would approach it with some of these questions. What exactly was the research methodology? Cultural anthropology is a fairly narrow foundation on which to conclusively prove such a claim. And in fact, cultural anthropologists often begin their work with an apology for the limitations of their method (participant observation). I would ask, is there any robust statistical analysis across countries, over time, that has conclusively shown, with the kind of confidence I heard on the show, that rising female infidelity is an established fact? The largest sample size I heard referenced was 100. Now if those 100 are all from Manhattan New York…well then, surprise surprise… At one point, Dr Eve herself conceded that we, as a culture, are stubbornly clinging to monogamy (I wonder why?). But I haven’t read the book and maybe all my questions relating to the research are easily refuted. Let’s assume they are.
Next, I would poke around under the presuppositional bonnet. It’s fascinating to notice what has actually changed. Apparently, what has changed is our reading of evolutionary biology. Early on Eusebius outlined a view from evolutionary biology that argues for female fidelity as a biological predisposition. Now, the same evolutionary biology is arguing for female infidelity. It seems that evolutionary biology (at least at this popular level) is a bit like a pond in which to go and see your own reflection. If you are going to “follow evolutionary biology,” prepare to change direction, and fairly soon, because the winds of culture don’t blow in any one direction forever.
The third question. When you are offered the sure chance of winning a Ferrari on a scratch-card, you immediately ask, “Yes, but how long is the seminar on holiday timeshare going to take?” In other words, what’s the catch? We could ask the same here. We would expect a balanced analysis of social change to highlight a few potential dangers, pitfalls or costs. Well, apparently, when it comes to the “freedom” of infidelity, there is no catch. No caveat. Not a single potential negative was raised on the show. This seismic shift to the future of sex comes without a single aftershock. It is entirely cost free. “We promise.” Mmmm…
A social change of this magnitude without a single adverse effect? It smacks of ideology. So, what’s the agenda? I quote here (as close as I can without a transcript) from the actual conversation:
“[This has been a conversation around] making sense of and embracing inherent fluidities that we have, that have been constrained just by contingent histories of sexuality in the world… It is quite interesting that we come back to the ways in which we have been raised to think about sexuality, can be really difficult to form new habits…Habits require us to unlearn and undo things through practice.”
“Ja, and with a lot of permission-giving because we have been very constrained by very significant bodies, mostly religion, also by medical institutions, and by law. Law tells us who we should and shouldn’t be having sex with… So it takes a lot of courage to break through… and its happening right now… really interesting things are happening in this new world of sexuality.”
If I am hearing it correctly, this is about breaking through and breaking down traditional morality around sexuality, especially the morality promulgated by religion. I imagine the Bible would be right in the crosshairs of this agenda.
So here is my fourth question: is the biblical view really as oppressively anti-sex as is assumed? The Bible starts with a naked man singing a love song over a naked woman in the presence of God! In the middle there is a whole book given over to the celebration of sex. At the end God himself is compared to a bridegroom. God is not embarrassed by sex – it was his idea. So how is the biblical view of sex different to the future of sex? I can see primarily two differences: 1) the Bible advocates that the best sex happens inside the security of covenant relationship where the primary ethic is not “how can I have my needs met?”, but “how can I serve?” 2) Sex is not God. It will not satisfy you the way only God can. If it could, then why the frenzied need for never-ending novelty? In the Bible sex is good, but it is not the ultimate good. It points beyond itself to the ultimate good: the security and intimacy of covenant relationship with God in Christ. And so, there are things like, dare I say it, fidelity – honouring the trust people have put in you, protecting and cherishing your most important relationships, keeping your promises – in the Bible these things are worth more than sex.
This leads me to my final question. It comes, not from inside the show, but just outside it – the other side of the ad break, to be specific. Just before his show with Dr Eve, Eusebius was bemoaning power failures as the fruit of State Capture. My question is this: how can we expect our public officials to be faithful to the social contract, when we are encouraging them to be unfaithful in the marriage contract? How can we ask them to honour the oath of office, and yet abandon all promise-keeping in their private lives? How we can demand fidelity in the public domain, while we are celebrating infidelity in our most intimate relationships?
It seems our brave new world will be hollow at its core.