From polyamory to hand-drawn porn.
Imagine prehistoric sex and you probably picture something along the lines of a club-wielding Neanderthal dragging a woman back to his cave by her hair. Captain Caveman was a lot of things—funny, hairy, charismatic—but how was he in the sack?
While obviously, no records exist of what sex was like before human civilization, paleontologists have been able to glean a surprising amount about what early humans got up to.
Monogamy doesn’t seem to have been a huge concern for early humans. Until agriculture came along and people started living in discrete family units, they generally lived in tribal units of twelve or so adults and whatever children they had. The 2010 book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá suggests that it was a bit of a sexual free-for-all, describing prehistoric women in particular as “extraordinarily promiscuous”. It was only when the concept of property was introduced in the advent of agriculture (around 8000BCE) that individual paternity became an issue—once people owned land and things, they wanted to pass them on, and the family as we know it today was born.
Stone Age sex education
With agriculture and farming came slightly more knowledge of what sex could lead to—it is thought early humans saw no connection between sex and, sometime later, a child appearing out of a woman’s body. With this improved knowledge came a newfound focus on sex – there are enormous-phallused statues and detailed cave paintings from that kind of time that suggest a fascination with it. The La Marche caves in Western France are adorned with 14,000-year-old drawings—the authenticity of which is, admittedly, not without question—that have been compared to “prehistoric bathroom graffiti”, showing oral sex and doggy-style couplings.
Nookie with Neanderthals
Homo sapiens and Neanderthals didn’t let a little thing like not quite being the same species stop them from getting it on. Between 80,000 and 30,000 years ago there was a lot – a LOT – of interbreeding between the two, which has led to Neanderthal genes living on in modern humans, who have about 3% Neanderthal DNA. It’s also highly possible that hooking up with a Neanderthal involved a reasonable amount of making out – studies of oral bacteria (never let it be said paleontology isn’t sexy) have shown microorganisms were passed back and forth, likely via the mouth, for thousands of years.
Grinding in the grotto
Cave-dwellers were no strangers to taking a bit of time on their own to, you know, think about things. One Neolithic clay figurine unearthed in Hagar Qim, Malta, depicts a woman laying on her back and masturbating with one hand while supporting her head with the other. There are also plenty of early creation myths that involve some sort of celestial being ejaculating the world into existence, er, single-handedly. Some of the earliest figurative carvings ever found are “Venus statues” of women with exaggeratedly large breasts, thought in some circles to have been used to masturbate to. And, of course, there were the dildos.