Patterns of Love

In the center of old Amsterdam there are some unusual window displays. Some of the narrow streets that run alongside the famous canals are lit up at night with splashes of red. Each red patch, on closer inspection, is a small shop window in which sits a scantily clad young woman. As with all shop window, the contents on display are for sale, for this is Amsterdam's notorious red light district where, for a small fee, these women will copulate briefly with any man who is prepared to pay for the service. There are several thousand of these window-girls and, despite all the recent anxieties about the risk of contracting Aids, business is still booming, as it is in the brothel districts of almost every major city in the world.
            Consider what happens inside one of these red-light cubicles. This is human sexuality reduced to its bare minimum. It is more like a quick visit to a dentist to relieve a pain than a romantic interlude. The man is washed, excited, inserted, climaxed and dispatched. It is a brief, efficient extraction, leaving the patient feeling better, but strangely ill-at-ease. Even the most dedicated visitor to these haunts must know that what is being performed is a mere remnant of human sexual life. This unconscious  sex knowledge creates within him, not gratitude for the service performed, but an odd kind of resentment, an unspoken hostility that sees the girls concerned treated, not as doctors or nurses curing an unfortunate condition, but relegated to the fringes of society as somehow unwholesome.
            Why should human sexual behaviour express itself in this way? Why is the strange phenomenon of prostitution such a global industry? Human beings feel happy and secure inside a loving family unit, so what is happening here? How can the sexual encounters offered by these girls have any meaning for a species that forms lasting pair-bonds?
            Part of he answer has to do with the size of modern-day communities. Prostitution and many of the other unusual human mating arrangements were only possible when the primeval villages in which our species evolved, over a million years, grew into bustling towns. There, in unnaturally crowded conditions, all kind of sexual experiments were able to flourish. Each adult was faced with a huge variety of possible partners and the human urge to seek novelty did the rest.
            In primeval times it had not been like that. Back in the prehistoric past, when tribes were compact, technology was primitive and our human numbers were few, the choice of a partner was severally limited. As the voices of the boys deepened and the breasts of the girls became swollen, the changing hormones of the young adults spurred them on to find a mate. And they did not have far to look. Nor did they have many qualities to weigh up. If a member of the opposite sex displayed the biological gender signals male beard and wide male shoulders, or female breast and wide female hips then thee was little more to consider.
            We can only guess at precisely how this primeval scene was played out, but a clue comes from those tribes that still, today, live in small groups in the comparative affluence of the tropical forests. The Baka pygmies from West Africa, for instance, retain many of the characters indeed many of the advantages of our remote ancestors. When they pair off at puberty they encounter few of the restrictions or controls that modern urban teenagers must face. All that is needed is some from of incest avoidance, and beyond that there are few obstacles to overcome. We often talk of 'tribal taboos', but the truth is that there are far more 'urban taboos'. Boy-meets-girl in the forest is a joyfully straightforward business. Boy-meets-girl in the city is another matter altogether.
           
Meeting the Opposite Sex

All over the world the simple business of meeting the opposite sex has become a special challenge, if only because of the sheer size of the human communities. How do you start to search for a suitable mate?
            In many countries around the shores of the Mediterranean there is an old tradition that helps. It sees young people gathering together each evening as the sun sets and the relentless heat of the day recedes. They stroll up and down in a misleadingly aimless way, taking the evening air and at the same time carefully weighting up the possibilities that the opposite sex has to offer.
            Many of these young adults are in one-sex groups, still clinging to their earlier, child-hood gangs, which will soon fragment under the growing pressure of sexual interest. As contacts are made across the divide that separates these groups, couples split away ad adopt that unmistakable mood of exclusivity so characteristic of young lovers-to-be. Pair-bonds begin to form and new attachments start to gain momentum. For these fortunate young people, modern society ; has failed to complicate the process of pairing to any great degree and they are able to move smoothly from childhood groups to adult couples without any serious interference.
            In the bigger cities today young adults are more likely to need some kind of assistance Professional organizers step in and the casual parade becomes a specially structured event, an event at which there will only be socially appropriate members of the opposite sex present. It is as if, from within the city super-tribe is cocooning itself against outsiders. Social class is supposed to be a thing of the past in our modern, egalitarian world, but when it comes to the serious business of finding a mate, the old class prejudices resurface and vigorously reassert their unwritten rules of 'belonging' or 'not belonging'. In romantic fiction up-down girls may fall in love with down-town boys, and vice versa, but in reality such mating are rare and seldom successful.
            Specially arranged events where boy and girl can meet are more common at the upper levels of the social scale. At exclusive dance and balls organized for the young of the rich, the participants can let themselves go in the safe knowledge that everyone else attending the event is from the same background. There will be no embarrassing mistakes, social gaffes or awkward moments. Within the safety of the new tribal net, restraints can be lifted and safe risks can be taken.

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