Love, Sex, and Marriage in World History

My two sections of world history were assigned a primary document set of readings that focus on the concept of love, sex, and marriage during the Post-Classical period — circa 600 CE to 1450 CE. I asked students to read excerpts on this topic from the following works:

Students were asked to answer a set of questions that require them to compare and analyze the concept of love, sex, and marriage from the point of view of Asians, Europeans, and Middle Eastern Muslims.

Although some people believe that relationships have changed over time, I do not think that is completely true. I realize, at least in Western European society post 1750 CE, that the Enlightenment and the birth of the industrial age transformed the concept of love — but only slightly. The same emotions and desires that challenge modern relationships also existed during the pre modern mark. However, with the dawn of science and the birth of various social science fields, humans are more equipped to analyze the role relationships play in a more modern setting.

Modern secular anthropological studies have indicated that humans are not meant to marry or mate with one person for life. Love, although a part of some sexual relationships, is not the core. Humans desire experiences; it has nothing to do with love. A person can love but seek sexual experiences with others, including members of the same and/or opposite sex. Of course this creates a number of problems for society. This view, if expressed by many, can bring about a new definition of relationships. Furthermore, this definition adds a strain on global governments as they fight population issues, the spread of diseases, and social conflict between jealous individuals. This topic is one that social historians continue to address. I wonder if global society is moving in a different/ new direction with the advent of new technology: Internet, TV, etc. Religious members throughout world society are taught to be monogamous.

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12 thoughts on “Love, Sex, and Marriage in World History

  1. This is a copy of a comment I left on my own blog in response to your reference to your post above:

    Eddie, my response to your comment about what others have to say about anthropological studies finding that humans were not meant to be monogamous and that it is about seeking experiences and not love is this:

    I am a follower of Jesus Christ and I believe the Bible is the Inspired Word of God. If you are with me on these two things you can continue with my thoughts here. If not, the rest of this will likely be considered foolishness.

    I would contend that no experience is truly satisfying without love. Love has so many connotations that I need to clarify that I am speaking of divine, unconditional, all-consuming love. A love that seeks not its own desire over another’s. A love that is righteous and humble. (1 Cor. 13 love) Although we may think something without this love is satisfying (or at the least satiating) it is because we haven’t tasted true satisfaction.

    “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8

    When we truly partake of the Lord’s love we find that it is this alone that our soul has been earnestly seeking through every other experience we’ve addictively pursued.

    Some of Psalm 63: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water…because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you…my soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods…”

    The point is really not sex…it is desire. Our desires hit home when we talk about sex because sex is probably the most tangible thing almost all of us can relate to that is a strong unity of both the soul and the flesh. It is a place where our deepest desires are manifested physically.

    And yet I urge you to consider that God himself is indeed more satisfying than sex. And even further, I would claim that the taste of ultimate bliss that lasts and does not produce guilt or emptiness that is found in monogomous sexual union is a taste of God himself.

    I passionately feel that God Himself is what everyone’s really looking for.

  2. I would expect to hear nothing less from a “modern secular anthropologist” than that human relationships are nothing but actions and reactions between biological constructs.

    You are right, Eddie: the above train of thought really does open a can of worms for society.

  3. I think it’s interesting that an anthropologist would say that. I’m a liberal, and a scientist, and it is better, scientifically speaking to be monogomous. There are far fewer health risks associated with having one or no sexual partners than with promiscuity. But hey, I just read my textbooks.

  4. I think love has changed over time. Like you said, with technology and the ability to travel more, people are exposed to more that they might not have know or met in their small world. Love only exist at the start of a relationship. I think it is just work after that. I am not bitter. I just do not see how history can teach us about this. Technology has changed too much.

  5. Berry, how old are you? Because love isn’t that feeling at the beginning of a relationship that makes you want to be around someone. Love is the work that comes when you’ve found the things about the other person that drive you insane, and you still want to be with them. It’s the part of you that is willing to pick their socks up out of the floor again because you want to protect your relationship, and it’s the thousand other things you do that make you give of yourself when you want to be selfish. There’s not love when you are still thoroughly enamored with the other person.

  6. Much like what ecky said above, okay, very different, I think moral guilt vis-a-vis religion is what kills human interest and curiosity. This is a constant in history.

  7. Carson,

    What is your understanding of how different societies and governments have rgulated marriage? It sems as though Islamic societies would be pretty strict. Thoughts?

  8. Do you think that the Christian outlook of love will change in some denominations to agree with having partners (plural) like the Muslims? Do you think that what society portrays about having multiple sexual partners will ever have an impact on the church? Martin Luther started the reformation to change what the Catholic church was doing? Do you think that that could happen again based on what society portrays in TV shows, music, and other media?

  9. I definitely do remember learning about this stuff last semester. It was really interesting to compare the standards of love, sex, and marriage from those reading assignments you gave us to today’s standards. I agree with your statement about love not being the core. It seems like in America today, many people are not getting married for love but for material things like money, but there are some people that get married for love 🙂 A good example of this would be Hollywood today…the majority of the marriages don’t even last over 5 or 10 years. This is kind of relating to Elizabeth’s comment. The media does have somewhat of an impact on what is going on today. There are many shows that involve cheating and other scandalous acts. What kind of impact does this have on the younger generation? Maybe some day people will think it is okay to cheat? Some peopole already do…

  10. I remember when i read these articles i thought they were very interesting. and i definatley think that love has changed over time, marriage used to be about loving your spouse and devoting your life to them, and these days divorice is very commen and marriage is alot about sex. And like vivian said, hollywood is setting very bad examples with marriage and relationships, because none of them work out and it is all over the news when they divorice. and that to me is setting a bad example.

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