Group Sex – Is it natural?

Group Sex – Is it natural?

Are we actually designed for sex in groups?

The orgy. The threesome. The dream of group sex between consenting adults- why is it such a pervasive desire?

Though this might be dismissed as the ever-numbed senses of generations increasingly exposed to more and more extreme pornography, history does not bear this out.

The depictions in art of many periods and countries, from the Romans to the English renaissance, show that most cultures throughout history have, at least at one time, normalised the act of consensual group sex. Despite a predominantly surface-monogamous modern world culture (with several areas also practising regimented polygamy) there is something in us humans that has always been drawn to the act of multiple mating.

Let us examine a few features humans have evolved that indicate maybe group sex is the natural way- the way we were always supposed to be doing things:

Photo credit: Little Black Books

Sexual vocalisation

Why are we noisy during sex? If you think back to Neolithic times, the act could be risky- drawing predators. Women vocalise more (female copulatory vocalisation), and more loudly on average, than men. It is considered ‘hot’. The louder, the better, for many. This is not just something humans do- our closest relatives, chimps and bonobos, are the same. What purpose does this serve if not to attract other humans to the mating pile?

As attractive as this notion may sound, studies actually show that drawing others to a mating pile is not the purpose. When we examine the behaviour in chimps and bonobos more closely, vocalisations are almost always by females, and only when mating with a high status male- if the animal is mating with a lower status individual, they tend to keep quiet about it. It’s more akin to bragging- if you have sex with the movie star you are going to want to tell everyone about it – less so the one you wake up next to with a sense of shame. Why do we do this? The same reasons as our closest cousins. Mating with high status individuals implies power, status and desirability to others. It is as simple as that, and copulatory vocalisations, therefore, unfortunately do not help support the notion that group sex is the natural way for us.

Killer sperm, mate guarding and adaptations

The killer sperm idea was widely espoused following a study in 1996, and still holds sway with pop science culture, yet was actually debunked in 1999 for humans, and no further studies have followed this up. Here is the theory: The majority of semen produced doesn’t contain sperm with direct fertilisation capabilities- it contains ‘killer sperm’ – sperm designed to target and destroy the sperm of other males before it reaches the egg. This assertion of human reproductive adaptation indicates a long history of women having successive male partners in a very short space of time, given the window of fertility.
Though there are species, especially insects, which do have killer sperm, there is currently no evidence for this in humans. There are, however, a number of physical and behavioural adaptations we still possess which link into the theory and support a notion that group sex may be more natural for us than modern relationship ideals currently indicate.

Mate guarding is common in humans as with many other species and is seen to be stronger in men at women’s fertile times. This is known as strategic mate guarding and exists in many animals. There are resource costs to continuous mate guarding – less foraging time, the risk of injury from fighting off other males and the loss of abilities to trade one’s mate for resources from other males (this doesn’t sound very enlightened, but exists in many pair-bonding or polygamous animals and also both primitive and modern human societies). Strategic mate guarding during fertile times only reduces the investment needed by the male in securing their mate to only the times when the woman can actually produce offspring from him, while making her a more useful and lower investment resource throughout the rest of the month.

Scent masking by males after copulation is also seen in many animal species – many humans have a sense that they might be able to smell whether their partner has had sex with another man and there are demonstrated studies in other species that the semen contains a strong scent or hormone and pheromone cancelling compound that makes the female less attractive to other males after copulation.
Sperm removal is also a physical means of removing the semen of other males from the vagina- the male human penis has evolved a shape that has been shown to act like a plunger and remove most of the semen from recent matings with other males. The shape of the coronal ridge of the penis has been shown to disperse previous seminal fluid while thrusting sexually and may be part of why human matings have evolved to take much longer than other primate species. Men also thrust faster and more deeply with their partner after a period of separation from them. This is proposed to have evolved to displace the potential sperm of other males.

The rather saucy ‘cream pie’ aficionados may also consider that the oral removal of another man’s semen could have ties in evolutionary history that makes it a natural and genetically advantageous behaviour. A similar strategy is seen in the dunnock, a small bird. Before mating with the polyandrous females, the male pecks at the cloaca to remove the sperm of her previous sexual partner.

2020 studies are indicating that human eggs (ova) can choose sperm with chemical attractants- and that those chosen are not necessarily those of the primary partner.

Group matings for male benefit

Male humans have evolved the ability to perform sequential ejaculation- though the time to recharge varies with men, and is usually faster in younger men, the testes themselves only ejaculate a small quantity of their total sperm with each orgasm. It is the other seminal fluid, much of which comes from the prostate, that is depleted first and usually contains enough for 6 orgasms per day. Without the need to have multiple daily matings with different females, this adaptation makes little evolutionary sense. Studies show that it is more common for a man to be able to have multiple orgasms (or more rapid sequential orgasms) if he goes from woman to woman, rather than staying with one partner.

Males of many species demonstrate a behaviour known as ‘lekking’. This is where several males group together to display themselves for females and has the advantage of making them all (or most of them) more successful in being able to attract a mate. We also see this in different forms in human societies. The Wodabbe tribe in Africa has an annual fertility festival (known as the wife-stealing festival) where the men decorate themselves and perform together to be selected by the women for a night of passion. The men are selected based on a variety of criteria, but large, white eyes and teeth are among the things the women find most desirable. We also tend to find men at parties more attractive if they seem to have a group of other attractive male friends, and steer away from those who stand alone.

Difference in time to orgasm

Generally, men orgasm faster than women. Although some men can go again with a short delay, many are finished for quite some time after a single round if they only have one female partner present. Women, however? Women can go over and over. This makes women perfectly suited to enjoy group sex far more than one-on-one heterosexual sex.

The animal within us

Most other apes are group living and polygamous. It is therefore likely that early humans were the same. We have pronounced secondary sexual characteristics- something we have in common with our closest ape relatives, who demonstrate promiscuous sexual or pseudo-sexual behaviour rather than fixed pair-bonding (the bonobos use sexual touching more like a hug for group bonding and reassurance than full sexual copulation, despite their reputation). Human males have a large penis to body size ratio compared to the other apes, another factor linked with non-monogamy, and the ability of women to have sex all the way through the menstrual cycle is most closely followed by bonobos, who are available 90% of the time, with the more monogamous species sexually available far less. Humans have sex naturally an average of 1000 times to make a child, the same as bonobos, and the more monogamous species, like gorillas, average around 12 times.

What does all this mean?

It indicates that, when you look at our natural biology and sexual behaviours, unfettered from moralistic overtones, shame and guilt, we lie somewhere on a spectrum of the apes. At one end, we have the less sexual, under-endowed, more monogamous species. Then, as you get to our closer relatives, you have the more sexual, more promiscuous species like bonobos. At the far end of this spectrum? That’s us. We are designed by nature to be more promiscuous than bonobos. Let’s let that sink in for a moment.

Why try group sex?

Historically, group sex or orgies tended to be tied up in ritual. In places where there are still elements of group sex considered acceptable in society, they tend to be once a year, at a celebration, and add to social cohesion of the group. We see this in modern western society too, with male-bonding acts like sportsmen sharing women after a win, having sex side by side with each other and contributing to a feeling of trust, shared conquest and equitable distribution of resources (sex and access to women are resources, in an evolutionary sense, although it doesn’t sound very feminist).
Sportsmen demonstrate a strong overlap in these behaviours with those of the bonobo- elements of male bonding, homoerotic behaviours, the link between touch and social group cohesion- and these are also widely replicated in pornography with the representation of the ‘gangbang’.

Those who enjoy or are interested in hotwifing, whether cuckold or stag, are also partially indulging in the evolved responses to group sex. Group sex has many social advantages, including demonstration of prowess, virility, sharing of resources (a safe space, abundant food, visual and pheromonal sexual stimuli). The ‘readers’ wives’ pages of old magazines are enjoyed by those who promote the sexuality of their partner, demonstrating their own status and ability to acquire an attractive or high-status female. Men who can acquire such females show they are not only good at obtaining other resources with which to support their partner (hence status) but that they possess the resource of the female herself- always a tradable commodity if one falls on hard times. Though ‘cuckqueens’ do exist (women who enjoy seeing their male partner with another woman) they are rarer – there is no ancient evolutionary advantage to them to do so in the same way as men, and hence no selective pressure for it to become as widespread.

Group sex is on the sexual bucket list for many people. Why is this?

There are many reasons. It seems ‘hotter’. Indeed, given the multiplication of visual and sexual stimuli, it certainly is. Men tend to be more aroused by an aspect of competing for access to females, meaning that the group sex dynamic can trigger a primal enjoyment. Women tend to be more safety focussed (for obvious evolutionary reasons) so creating a group sex dynamic in which the female partner feels safe with all those involved (a serotonin/oxytocin social bond) is often more important than it is for the men (who respond more to the adrenaline/dopamine rush of the situation).

Group sex can be more risky- there is a greater chance of contracting a disease, sexual or otherwise, from close contact with more sexual partners, greater risk of being injured by them and greater risk of affecting the social dynamic between the different parties- yet from a very primal perspective it is also safer- more eyes and ears in the group reduces the risk of being attacked by a predator while distracted, is usually closely tied to sharing of other resources (shelter, food) and it is no coincidence that sex parties and group sex in modern life are often still associated with feasting, luxury and other sensory enjoyments. It is far more resource-effective to have a party in a nice place and share a hot tub and catering than it is for each couple to arrange their own resources for separate sexual liaisons.

Group sex helps to build trust between the participating parties and build social solidarity, engender a sense of safety and create the opportunity (historically) for a rapid spread of one’s genes by the male. Women too, benefit from the opportunity genetically. Not only do they have the ability to access genetic variety for their offspring from the other males without interrupting the resource provision given by their primary male, it helps to confuse issues of possible paternity, making it less likely that one of the other males might later kill her offspring. We’d like to think this doesn’t happen in humans any more, but the actual ratios of who is most likely to commit infanticide does not bear this out. In lions, we also see the females use a similar strategy- when they are fertile they will deliberately mate with all the males, to prevent them from killing their offspring as there is a reasonable chance that any male might be the father. If a new male comes in, he will deliberately kill the offspring to make them fertile again and invest their resources into his own offspring. It isn’t nice- but evolution rarely is.

From a more modern, emotional and intellectual perspective, group sex helps to make it easier to separate the sexual act from an implication of intimacy (historically implying an expectation of resource investment). This dissociation of emotional and commitment expectations helps to keep the sex just about sex for many people, lessening feelings of potential obligation, confusion or future guilt.

How to arrange your own group sex

Arranging group sex is not all that difficult- here is a very basic guide:

  • Find suitable people. You’ll need to have a partner and/or other people who are comfortable with the idea and agree the same rules and style of play (safety and excitement)
  • Arrange a venue. Finding a nice venue that has a touch of luxury works best, with privacy and plenty of space (ritualisation, safety, sharing of resources)
  • Arrange abundant resources. Some nice food, alcohol, a good supply of condoms and other amenities are important to set the tone (social sharing of other resources)
  • Create the magic. Moving an event from a pleasant social situation to one where people feel sexual, relaxed and uninhibited is more difficult- we are conditioned to feel awkwardness, shame, guilt and resist our natural desires throughout our lives. Making people feel comfortable with physical touch with others and designing a flexible but fluid progression from social relaxation to a state in which everyone naturally progresses to group sex is a delicate art form, and the subject of extensive theory, work and a little bit of luck. It doesn’t take much to break the spell – the wrong temperature, one person deciding to bail or any of a hundred unforeseen circumstances can ruin the mood and snap the modern human mind back into more practical and less primal matters.

Ultimately, group sex is a fun, exciting and completely natural way for human beings to enjoy their sexuality. Though it comes with certain taboos and considerations, there is no reason that well-planned sexual adventures like the orgy need to be discarded from one’s sexual repertoire. There is plenty to learn, from the geometry of appropriate play to the preferred styles and stimuli of others, to the boundaries and rules that need to be established. If your first group sex attempt is not the miracle you imagined, there is no need to despair. Sexuality and sexual prowess are lifelong learning curves, and group sex has long held a rightful place in the fabric of our history, society and personal connections.