Factors of Sexual Freedom among Hunter-Gatherers in Cross-Cultural Perspective
Among the negative predictors of sexual freedom, cultural complexity has been always mentioned as most important. However, regression analysis revealed the existence of a reverse trend within the interval between 11 and 22 points of Murdock's cumulative scale of cultural complexity. This suggests that it is senseless to try to find a general set of regularities regarding the correlation between cultural complexity and sexual freedom. One would expect to find different sets of regularities for simple, medium-complexity, complex and supercomplex cultures. In this paper we begin with a summary analysis of research conducted on simple societies, suggesting a model of relationships between cultural complexity and female premarital sexual freedom among foragers. We suggest that the underlying variable in this model is foraging intensification. This intensification appears to be one of the most important preconditions for the significant growth of cultural complexity among the foragers. As shown in the ethnographic record, this intensification mostly occurs through the development of hunting and/or fishing practices (i.e. in most cases predominantly male activities). This tends to lead to a decline in female contribution to subsistence which, in turn, appears to lead to the societal decline of female status. This, the general argument goes, contributes to the decrease of the female premarital sexual freedom. On the other hand, we argue that this is not the only mechanism explaining the negative correlation between cultural complexity and female premarital sexual freedom among foragers. The intensification of a foraging economy tends to lead to the rise of the wealth accumulation, and the growth of cultural complexity components such as the development of a medium of exchange and social stratification. This situation seems to “entice” the development of modes of marriage that involve the transfer of valuables/ services. The growth of social stratification appears to have an independent influence on the decline of female premarital sexual freedom among foragers. The growth of similar components of cultural complexity seems to lead to the development of slavery and polygyny, whereas the combined action of these factors appears to entice what we call "bride commodification" which against the background of declining female status appears, naturally, to lead to the restriction of the female premarital sexual freedom. The growth of such components of cultural complexity as political integration, fixity of settlement and community size seems to contribute to the decline of female premarital sexual freedom through the growth of social control (against the background of declining female status).