Laurel and I have become fans of “Big Love,” the HBO series about a Salt Lake City polygamist and his three wives. From my male perspective, the most interesting aspect of Big Love is the central question asked on the show’s web site: “Think having three wives is a dream come true?”
We’re an episode behind in our watching, but I’ve seen enough of Bill’s life with mature first wife Barbara, shopaholic second wife Nicki, and youthful sexpot Margene to be pretty certain of my answer.
Bill has triple the sexual variety of the typical husband. However, he also has triple the nagging and complaining. At the moment, and, indeed, every moment that I can remember during our marriage, Laurel has had a “honeydo” list affixed to the side of our refrigerator with a magnet.
The chance that I’ll ever come to the end of that chore list is as great as the probability that the universe’s electromagnetic force will stop operating and the magnet will fall to the floor.
For my thirty-four years of matrimonial experience, spanning two marriages, has led me to conclude: While the man may get the proposal ball rolling, after the vows are said it is by and large the woman who proposes what needs to be done around the homestead, and the man disposes of those chores.
Or not. Depending upon his capacity for procrastination, which for me is great. And for Laurel, not so great.
Thus while being able to rotate between three attractive women in the bedroom is appealing, having three chore lists affixed to three refrigerators decidedly isn’t (Bill has three homes in his suburban polygamy compound, one for each wife).
Turning to the subject of semen scraping dragonflies, a National Geographic article about “Dragonflies Strange Love” casts light on why Bill can more or less peacefully coexist with three wives, while it’s difficult to envision a woman having three husbands. More accurately, I can envision this happening briefly—but soon two of the three men would be driven away by the third.
Males are possessive and aggressive when it comes to mating. Dragonflies more so than humans, admittedly. Yet the male Homo sapiens possesses his own dragonflyish qualities. My psychotherapist wife can supply many examples of men stalking women who wanted to break up with them and favoring their own offspring over a new mate’s children.
Similar stuff goes on in the dragonfly world, according to National Geographic.
A male dragonfly uses his penis not just to transfer sperm to the female, but also to remove sperm left in her storage organ from previous matings. When he curls into that wheel position and begins his energetic genital thrusting, he’s actually using his rigid, spoonlike, and sometimes spiky, penis to scrape out rival sperm before he deposits his own…Males want their own sperm to prevail, so they have evolved strategies for purging other sperm and for discouraging mates from copulating with rivals.
(Spiky? Ouch.) Evolutionary theory doesn’t explain everything about men and women. It sure points to some obvious truths, though. When a woman gets pregnant, she knows it is her child. After all, it is growing in her womb. Conversely, a man has no idea whether that child is the product of his own, or another man’s, copulation.
So a woman is assured of passing on her own genetic heritage no matter who gets her pregnant. If she has one mate, or three, or a hundred, it doesn’t matter: her DNA passes to the next generation. However for a man, he needs to be damn sure that the woman is bearing his child and passing on his DNA, not another man’s.
Thus there is great evolutionary pressure on men to be possessive of their mate(s). You don’t want to share your woman with another man. As a presentation for a college class on Sexual Selection says, competition between members of one sex for “breeding rights” usually is between males.
I don’t want to share my wife sexually with another man. Still, I can see some benefits to a sort of non-sexual polyandry. This week, as I was struggling to disconnect and drain an old hot water heater, I would have liked to have our household include a plumber. A carpenter often would come in handy too.
With guys, though, these sorts of helpers are called “friends.” In Big Love, Bill’s women have female friends who also are sister-wives. That wouldn’t work with men. The semen scraping instinct is too strong.