Sex, Culture, and Myth

Sex, Culture, and Myth

Sex, Culture, and Myth

Sex, Culture, and Myth


Human beings, like all higher animals, multiply by the union of the two sexes. But neither conjugation, nor even the production of offspring, is as a rule sufficient for the maintenance of the species. The further advanced the animal in the order of evolution, the longer the immaturity and the helplessness of the young and the greater the need for prolonged parental care and training. It is thus the combination of mating with parenthood which constitutes marriage in higher animals, including man. Even in its biological aspect [as Edward A. Westermarck says], "marriage is rooted in the family rather than the family in marriage."

The biological foundations of human mating

In human societies, however, there are added to the sexual and parental sides of marriage other elements: marriage is given the hall-mark of social approval; it becomes a legal contract; it defines the relations between husband and wife and between parents and children, as well as the status of the latter; it imposes duties of economic co-operation; it has to be concluded in a public and solemn manner, receiving, as a sacrament, the blessings of religion and, as a rite, the good auspices of magic.

Human marriage also appears in a variety of forms: monogamy, polygyny and polyandry; matriarchal and patriarchal unions; households with patrilocal and matrilocal residence. Other forms, such as "groupmarriage," "promiscuity," "anomalous" or "gerontocratic" marriages have been assumed by some writers as an inference from certain symptoms and survivals. At present these forms are not to be found, while their hypothetical existence in prehistoric times is doubtful; and it is important above all in such speculations never to confuse theory with fact.

Marriage again is in no human culture a matter of an entirely free choice. People related by descent or members of certain classes are often

This article appeared in the 14th Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica , 1929, Vol XIV, pp. 940-50 ; reprinted by permission of Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

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