In an effort to understand promiscuity, Wednesday Adams sought answers on a sexual adventure observing spider monkeys in the Maderas
For as long as I can remember, Spanish has for me been the language of freedom, thrills and sex. As a teenage exchange student in arid Castille, I fell for a dark-haired guy who wore Armani cologne and lisped his Zs. The following summer, at a lesbian cafe in Girona, I longed to put my hands on a chic local woman laughing with her friends. Years later, at Madrid’s famous Pacha nightclub, a handsome older man I had never seen before kissed me, then disappeared forever.
I went on to have a long relationship with a man whose family lived in Puerto Rico. It left me unsure whether it was him I loved, or the beautiful island where I first heard Trio Los Panchos. There was also a tryst with a Rimbaud-quoting taxi driver in his light-filled apartment near the Parque del Buen Retiro. Afterwards, I remember hopping on a plane home feeling at once sordid, guilty and alive with a secret. I was in my twenties and had done exactly what I wanted to my perpetually cheating boyfriend in the States.
‘I was sure something was wrong with me – women are supposed to want intimacy’
I struggled with monogamy throughout my entire twenties, falling into a familiar pattern: date a guy, have great sex, fall for him, get serious, get bored. Hypocritically, I wanted to have affairs, but I didn’t want my partner to do the same. I was sure something was wrong with me − women were supposed to want intimacy, closeness and commitment. So it was a relief when, in my mid-thirties, I found someone I could imagine settling down with. He was curious, open and adventurous. He was also solid and reliable, and wanted marriage and kids as much as I did. But several years into my marriage, my old pattern re-emerged with crushes on wholly inappropriate people – men who were married, or too young for me, or too old for me, as well as women. Looking for answers, I once again found myself in a country that spoke the language of sex.
In an effort to understand my non-monogamous tendencies, I travelled to Costa Rica to observe spider monkeys. Primatologists believe non-human female primates, who are frequently promiscuous, give us clues to the evolutionary origins of human female sexuality. Once there, I learned that for millennia, human women hunted and gathered, roaming far from men to find provisions for the group. This gave women both the clout and opportunity to have dalliances. What’s more, ‘promiscuity’ and mobility served us well: women who dared to travel away from the group to mate with numerous males reaped benefits monogamous women did not, including upping their odds of a healthy pregnancy and baby, and creating a far-flung network of male protectors.
‘I realised I pined for another body – my husband, a younger woman, that married work crush’
One morning on my trip in 2016, I woke at 4am with a start in my cabin in the Maderas Rainforest of north-eastern Costa Rica. Howler monkeys wailed eerily above me and I realised I pined for another body. I imagined myself entwined with my husband; a younger woman I had glimpsed weeks ago at a party and then a married work crush; my mind endlessly flitting from one fantasy to another, unable to settle on just one.
‘Monogamy is not the only romantic strategy for women’
On some level, lying there alone in the rainforest, I suddenly knew that I was destined to journey and to seek, in more than one language, the thrills of several as much as I was the comforts of the one. As a woman, I may have been socialised to think that females are somehow designed for monogamy and domesticity. But we evolved as flexible social and sexual strategists, and our sexuality is closer to promiscuity than it is to singular devotion. At that moment, I comforted myself with exploits past and perhaps to come that monogamy is not the only romantic strategy for women, and that’s fine.
In light of what I’ve learned, ‘commitment’ means being true to not just my husband, but also myself. Finding the balance can be the work of a lifetime.
Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., is author of Primates Of Park Avenue and Untrue, published by Scribe (£14.99)