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A Brief History of Group Sex

Surprising lack of research on group sex.

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Thanks to the surviving cave art of our Paleolithic ancestors, we know that humans have been participating in group sex for thousands of years, yet there is little research devoted to it.
Kate Frank, a sex researcher and author of Plays Well in Groups: A Journey Through the World of Group Sex, told me that there is little data to draw any definite conclusions about the evolution of group sex.

In fact, she says there are no academic texts on the subject that she would recommend. She says it may be that scholars are hesitant to take on such a taboo topic.

Frank’s book, which was partly inspired by Thy Neighbor’s Wife — a Gay Talese book published in 1980 that nearly ruined both his marriage and his career — is based on ethnographic observation, interviews with participants, memoirs, journalistic accounts, academic publications and personal experience. It “offers a cross-cultural look at some of the manifestations and meanings of group sex: who has it, how they do it, and why.”

What Frank can conclude from her extensive research is that group sex has been around since the beginning of human existence, but it has never been completely normative.

Usually, she says, it was part of some sort of ritual or celebration and always a little bit taboo. “Humans have probably always done it. Even in the most conservative societies, people transgress,” she says.
While some modern-day Americans may indulge in threesomes or orgies to experiment or invigorate their sex lives, experts believe our ancestors had different motives. According to Frank, ritual group sex marked natural cycles and transitions in certain tribal societies, such as when couples were married or crops were planted.

“Certainly the Internet has changed people’s ability to learn about different sexual practices or find others with similar interests,” Frank says. “Taboos change, but don’t disappear.”

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