Where Masturbation and Homosexuality Do Not Exist

That’s the provocative headline of an Atlantic piece about two tribes in Africa. The piece begins:

Barry and Bonnie Hewlett had been studying the Aka and Ngandu people of central Africa for many years before they began to specifically study the groups’ sexuality. As they reported in the journal African Study Monographs, the married couple …

  1. Rachel Lu
    C

    Catholics aren’t the only crazy ones.

  2. Devereaux

    What caught my eye was, “…the bottom line is that the tribe relies on reproduction for its survival, so conjugal, life-producing sex is very important. And when that’s the case, masturbation and homosexuality don’t seem to be present in the culture (even though these tribes are aware that other groups engage in homosexuality).”

    The implication of that is that western civilization is so decadent that they have little use for reproduction for survival. While I can see that possibility, it hadn’t struck be so before – at least not in that manner. Homosexuality was certainly present in the dying throes of Greek and Roman culture, but I simply didn’t connect that fact.

  3. Fred Cole
    Sex is referred to as the “work of the night,” as distinguished from the work the tribe does during the day. It’s a really interesting read but the bottom line is that the tribe relies on reproduction for its survival, so conjugal, life-producing sex is very important

    Good money says there’s extremely strong cultural taboos against both in that culture.

  4. Tom Lindholtz

    The reason masturbation doesn’t exist is that they’re too tired.

  5. DocJay

    So the boys go straight to procreation upon entering manhood and are told never to masturbate? Teenage boys that achieve repeated high levels of arousal and do nothing anout it, primarily because of religious instruction, often wind up with physical issues later. I’m skeptical of that claim of no self pleasure. What do those guys eat for their trifectas by the way, Congolese oysters and pineal glands? My guess on gay folks is a few % at most.

  6. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    After working all night, these guys have no energy for work on the side.

  7. Fred Cole
    Devereaux: 

    The implication of that is that western civilization is so decadent that they have little use for reproduction for survival. 

    Or that we live in a modern civilized society, stable enough that we’re not merely scraping along, clinging to existence  that we have enough organization, technology and resources that all sex need not be procreative just as all eating need not merely be for basic nutrition.  

    We can eat for social purposes and pleasure and ritual, not merely to survive.

  8. Salamandyr
    What can we learn from this study? That since Margaret Mead, anthropologists have not gotten any less gullible.
  9. Fred Cole

    And, at the risk of being culturally insensitive, these people live a stone age existence,  so fat lot of good their lack of masturbation and gay people has done them.

  10. Foxman
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.:

    What, if anything, can we learn from the Hewlett’s study of these tribes? · · 25 minutes ago

    People lie?

  11. Crow

    Well, with a headline like that you’re guaranteed to get attention.

    The short answer to Mollie’s concluding question is: how fascinating, this requires more study! Nevertheless, we ought to be extremely cautious about concluding anything about human nature from this one isolated example. 

    I am very skeptical of any article or argument, biological or sociological, that has discovered that a certain breed of animal has sex in a certain way, or that a certain tribe somewhere has a certain practice, and therefore draws a universally valid conclusion (especially if it is of the “noble savage” variety). Th Atlantic article does not do that, but precisely for this reason we should be on our guard against conclusions that seem to present themselves in sentences like this one from Mollie above:  And when that’s the case, masturbation and homosexuality don’t seem to be present in the culture.

    At most what we can say is that “here, in this place”, not “when” that’s the case generally. Or, two tribes without a word does not a proof make. That conclusion overreaches the evidence.

    Another question: at what age is marriage consummated among these tribes?

  12. Valiuth
    Fred Cole

    Sex is referred to as the “work of the night,” as distinguished from the work the tribe does during the day. It’s a really interesting read but the bottom line is that the tribe relies on reproduction for its survival, soconjugal, life-producing sex is very important. 

    Good money says there’s extremely strong cultural taboos against both in that culture. · 7 minutes ago

    And if you read the article you find out there aren’t. Nor are they highly isolated in small groups. Each individual can know anywhere between 400-500 other individuals. 

    I find it rather fascinating. There is of course one very simple biological explanation that could account for this. If proclivity to such practices are genetically determined these people could be genetically isolated enough that they lack the the proper alleles for both masturbation/homosexuality. In fact this makes me wonder if the same alleles confer both traits? This of course is the most simplistic and deterministic model possible. 

    But hey the existence of a population that lacks homosexuality is genetically fascinating and provides a much needed negative control for trait association studies. 

  13. DocJay

    Baby, 13 is my limit on schnitzengreuben.

  14. DocJay

    It’s twoo, it’s twoo!

  15. Mantis9

    Why assume this is a lie? Or, impossible? Or, the anthropologist are gullible? Sure, in the Good Ol’ U.S. of A. But why with an African tribe? That just seems cynical

  16. Mantis9
    Valiuth

    And if you read the article you find out there aren’t. Nor are they highly isolated in small groups. Each individual can know anywhere between 400-500 other individuals. 

    I find it rather fascinating. There is of course one very simple biological explanation that could account for this. If proclivity to such practices are genetically determined these people could be genetically isolated enough that they lack the the proper alleles for both masturbation/homosexuality. In fact this makes me wonder if the same alleles confer both traits? This of course is the most simplistic and deterministic model possible. 

    But hey the existence of a population that lacks homosexuality is genetically fascinating and provides a much needed negative control for trait association studies.  · 3 minutes ago

    I know of identical twins, one is straight and the other gay. It may be genetically predisposed, but homosexuality isn’t predetermined. 

  17. Barkha Herman

    I did read that article, Mollie.  It is interesting.

    To me it’s more like Maslow’s hierarchy – when subsistence is at a premium, then yes, sexuality is utilitarian.  However, anything beyond that and behavior patterns change – as in the Bonobos.

  18. Israel P.
    Salamandyr: What can we learn from this study? That since Margaret Mead, anthropologists have not gotten any less gullible. · 22 minutes ago

    As well as people who read anthropologists.

  19. Michael Kelly
    @DocJay You are making a German spectacle of yourself.
  20. Sumomitch

    So, a high infant mortality rate is part of the divine plan that is violated by masturbation and gay sex? We could return to paradise if only we quit treating children with vaccines, antibiotics and medicines in general. Perhaps Don Imus’s wife is the herald of a new, more truly naturalistic religion. If you abhor unnatural sex practices, get rid of unnatural interventions in children’s disease.

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