Our Genetic Memory

Our collective consciousness dates from a non- and pre-christian past

Although my book Return of the Tribal (1997) is mainly concerned with body-adornment and -modification, chapter 7 deals with contemporary form of sexuality that may to be also seen as a return to tribal ways ... as rising from our genetic memory. The following is an excerpt from the book.

In our genes, and/or in our collective unconscious, we carry a racial memory of a million nights ...

Just as a new appreciation of nudity is winning ground from the idea that the body has to be hidden, and just as new forms of dance have led to people shaking all their flesh and bones rather than their legs only, so also have forgotten forms of sexuality arisen. Rather than copulating half dressed, with shame and the lights out, a great number of women and men have learned and recognized that sexuality is the most beautiful and powerful expression of the life force, a knowledge that has been suppressed and almost forgotten during the last two millennia.

This particular expression of the tribal impulse started manifesting in what is now known as the "sexual revolution" of the 60s yet which, in fact, had already begun in the 50s among members of the so-called Beat-generation. The 60s, however, aided by the new music and the influx of Eastern teachings, brought a first large scale breakthrough in which the then prevailing culture of shame had to give way to a then radical liberation in terms of human sexuality and gender-relationships.

Although there is no reason at all to glorify this decade, because much in it was as immature as it was passionate and heartfelt, all subsequent developments are indebted to those who then started to experiment with they thought of as "new" forms of sexual expression. Extended families, communes, multiple partner relationships, orgies; a long list of liberations from earlier do's and don'ts concerning homosexuality and promiscuity.

Considering that sexuality is - next to the survival instinct - the strongest of energies in all that is alive, it should come as no surprise that it is on this level that the tribal impulse manifests most strongly - and to many perhaps most shockingly. The very development in this area that has started in those 60s is still evolving further. Looking at the social landscape with open and non-judgmental eyes, what we see today is no less of a revolution and it may, in fact, become known, among future sociologists, as the second sexual revolution; set in the explosive 90s.

From hundreds of Tantra workshops to the infamous dark rooms of party centers and nightclubs from Paris to New York to Amsterdam, people are rediscovering human sexuality as something altogether

The sexual impulse, as human history shows us abundantly, has little care for monogamous love relationships merely centered on the creation of new life. What we see in most civilizations, societies, cultures, or tribal groups of the non-Christian or pre-Christian past is the fact that sexuality was used not only for creating children, but in other ways as well: relationships and lifestyles involving many lovers and types of sexuality not based in relationships at all.

Whereas nude, erotic, or outright sexual encounters in the context of more than two people are often regarded today as strange or - depending on the interpreter - even perverse expressions of an over-sexed hedonism, past generations often held a different view. What is and has been almost forgotten and/or suppressed is the fact that sexual activity in the presence of others, or in mutual sharing, is a deep-rooted experience of humanity.

From cave-man to late Homo sapiens sapiens, during a history of little change but the introduction of more and more technology and urban agglomeration, we have lived in close touch and in very close proximity to members of tribe, clan, and family; in caves, tents, brick houses and tiny apartments; and often with promiscuity as a most usual and fully accepted behavioral standard.

In our genes, and/or in our collective unconscious, we carry a racial memory of a million nights of listening to - and often seeing - others make love, and of being watched and listened to ourselves.

Consciously or unconsciously, we also remember the endless cycle of fertility festivals and other rites of life in which all of us - as our own ancestors - have taken part in hundreds or thousands of times. Our past lifestyles, at one time or another in many cultures and on all continents, have included situations in which three, four, ten, or hundreds of men and women have joined and mingled sexually and charged one another erotically, sharing love and desire, tension and trust, lust and pain, competition and friendship, existential aloneness and the warm sense of belonging.

Part of the motivation which makes some people want to be with others while erotically and sexually active is the wish to share - not necessarily one's partners but the very sense of love, pleasure, excitement, love, lust, trust, and abandon.

The motivational and emotional spectrum of making love in the presence of others, and seeing others making love nearby, is wide. It contains elements of exhibitionism and voyeurism, but it also harks back to the deep memory of our species, which remembers and occasionally dreams up sexual group activities. Today, the many advertisements in which couple seeks couple for erotic adventures testify to a genetic memory that proves to be much stronger than any past attempt at reprogramming humanity in the guise of so-called moral education.

Today's apparently new sexual practices, so beloved by tabloids thriving on the scandalous, range from sex with an unknown partner to sharing and exchanging partners to loving and/or living with more than one partner to the dark-room practices of the trendy gay and/or BDSM scene, which may be anonymous and public.

All these expressions of the sexual impulse were well known to the ancients, from Greece to China and from India to South America.


Most ancient civilizations, being more fully cognizant of human nature, made room for such multiple, anonymous, public sexual activity from time to time, at least for a few days once a year.

The above examples, selected from many more, will suffice to show how widespread and fully human such practices are, and they also show that such types of sexuality do not at all have to be at odds with religion and morals. It all depends on the set of morals employed and the degree of wisdom achieved by a given religion and society. Although it may seem that little can stop this trend toward more and more freedom of sexual expression, the opposition to it from the moral majority is understandably strong.