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The Threesome: An Appeal With Evolutionary Echoes

“-I like threesomes with two women,’’ Russell Brand, English comedian and actor is reported to have once said.

“-Not because I’m a cynical sexual predator. Oh no! But because I’m a romantic – I’m looking for ‘The One’. And I’ll find her more quickly if I audition two at a time.’’

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Who would have thought that the threesome – consistently the most popular fantasy among even happily married men – has an evolutionary explanation? In fact, the logic behind this sexual act is perfectly sound; evolution shows women had just as much to gain from multiple partners.

Brand’s remark may have been flippant but it contains more truth than he may have intended. The reason is that the threesome – a consistently common sexual fantasy among heterosexual men – has an appeal that extends far beyond the element of sexual excitement.

At first glance, it would appear that men want threesomes only to satisfy their lust. Indeed, how could this sexual act be connected to man’ssexual development over hundreds of thousands of years?Very easily, as it turns out.The key lies in our genes; we, like all other species, are designed to replicate ourselves as often as possible.

Reproduction within a monogamous relationship is certainly the most secure way to do so, but it is by no means the only one.

Scientists have provided evidence that humans were not originally monogamous. In fact, like bonobos and chimpanzees, to which we are closely related, we lived a free-and-easy existence before monogamy developed. Chimps, on the other hand, haven’t evolved in that respect – they are still sexually liberated – and their sexual behavior is an accurate mirror of man’s evolutionary history.
The most obvious indicator of this is penis size; like chimps, man has an unusually large penis compared to other species of comparative height and size. Gorillas, on the other hand, have far smaller penises, despite being physically intimidating.

Scientists have discovered that men and chimps evolved larger penises because males were under evolutionary pressure to impregnate sexually promiscuous females. It was in the male’s interest to have a large penis so he could deposit his sperm more deeply in the vagina than his competitors, thus being the first to fertilise the ovum.A female, on the other hand, needed to copulate with as many men as possible in order to increase her chances of being impregnated by the most reproductively capable man.

Gorillas, however, live in patriarchal societies where a male needs physical strength to intimidate his rivals and keep his harem intact; penis size is irrelevant, as impregnating his harem would not be a problem for a dominant male.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why man evolved, but one reason is that a monogamous couple has a much better chance of raising healthy offspring than a single female who is constantly the target of sexual attention from opportunistic males. Nonetheless, the very nature of evolution is slow moving, which results in species’ characteristics taking thousands, even hundreds of thousands of years, to change.

The result is that even while it makes evolutionary sense for a couple to remain monogamous in order to ensure the wellbeing of their offspring, it also makes evolutionary sense for a man to impregnate as many women as he can. The ramifications of this uneasy balancing act are exposed every time a man is unfaithful to his wife or girlfriend.

While men are far more likely to stray, women are similarly vulnerable to evolutionary pressures. But they express these vulnerabilities differently to men. For instance, there is absolutely no evolutionary advantage for a woman to have a threesome with a man and another woman; on the contrary, she is consenting to share the man’s genes with another woman, and is thus wasting her sexual capacity. After all, impregnation means a woman is sexually unavailable for nine months, so she has to ensure any sexual contact is fruitful.

Conversely, there is much to be gained for a woman in a threesome with two men, as she is maximising her chances of being impregnated by the more reproductively capable of the men. But for the men, there is no evolutionary advantage, which explains why this type of fantasy appears to have more traction among some women than it does among men.

Regardless of the evolutionary response to a threesome, human society has, by means of evolutionary selection, ‘chosen’ monogamy as a lifestyle.

As long as that remains the case – and there is no reason to suggest it will change – threesomes will always be a titillating fantasy, a throwback to our evolutionary past, with little reproductive value.

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