Opinion

Happy Valentine's Day! Now, allow me to ruin it for you...

If a happy couple is dressing up for a posh candlelit dinner on Valentine’s, it might not be quite as classy as it seems on the surface

Two toy dinosaurs share a lovely, loving bath

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To all satisfied spouses, singletons and star-crossed lovers everywhere, I bid you a happy Valentine’s Day. You may have already heard that Valentine’s Day began as a medieval feast day celebrating a handful of Christian martyrs all named “Valentine”, then slowly transmogriafied into a holiday for aristocratic lovers during the Renaissance, only to be shoved down the throats of the general public in the 19th century by industrialists who were mass-producing greeting cards. 

But history is capable of ruining much more of the holiday for you than that. Here are a few factoids from my book, The Shortest History of Sex, to further dissect and butcher the holiday for your perverse enjoyment.

Sex itself is thought to have evolved two billion years ago during a period called ‘Snowball Earth’, when ice extended from the equator to the poles and our previously asexual and cloning microscopic ancestors starved and started eating each other. There may have been an accidental exchange of DNA during the microbial devouring process and, hey presto, the advantages of having genetic diversity in evolution may have given rise to all the amorous feelings any creature has felt ever since. In other words, sex may have started with cannibalism.

The instinct of a gentleman to traditionally furnish a lady with gifts on Valentine’s is derived from the past two million years of monogamy, where a man had to demonstrate his abilities as a protector and provider in order to be selected as a mate. Prior to that, for most of the past 40 million years, female primates just mated with the most dominant and genetically robust ‘alpha males’ while most other competing males were sexless and simply wiped out of the gene pool.

We still see this behaviour in baboons, orangutans and gorillas. Even two million years ago, when monogamy evolved, females still found the majority of males to be inadequate, so the gents had to bring a little something extra to the table as potential mates and fathers. And chocolates, flowers and jewellery are still a thing.

If a happy couple is dressing up for a posh candlelit dinner on Valentine’s, it might not be quite as classy as it seems on the surface. The man might wear a suit jacket, again signalling his money-making provider abilities, but also with shoulder pads that make him seem a lot more physically imposing as a ‘protector’ than he really is. He might even wear a tie, which, having long since lost its practical role holding a shirt collar together, now just hangs there making subconscious references to his genitalia.

The lady, meanwhile, might wear a tight, form-fitting dress showing off a well-forged posterior and ample cleavage. The importance of the lady’s hindquarters dates back 55 million years to the first primates and beyond, as a major target for copulation. The breasts, meanwhile, contrary to popular myth aren’t just showing a facsimile of the buttocks to attract the male gaze, but rather to show off fat stores that a woman could burn while feeding her offspring during a period of starvation. F

at stores in the bosom, rump and thighs all show off that potential, with it being important not to have too much fat elsewhere on the body that could impede mobility in a nomadic hunter-gatherer species. The lady might also wear makeup, to display red lips, flushed cheeks and wide eyes, all of which are meant to simulate sexual arousal.

If the dinner date goes well, then the lady and gentleman in question might retire to a domicile for an evening’s fornication. And while the man’s orgasm is all but assured, there is a greater disparity on the female’s side. If the happy couple have just begun dating, the odds of the female attaining orgasm are around 10-15%. And even if the couple have been together for a while, the statistical odds of her reaching a state of satisfaction rise only to approximately 60%.

This is another cruel quirk of evolution because, while the male orgasm usually accompanies the ejaculation required for a successful fertilisation, the female orgasm plays a more mysterious role in evolution and is not strictly speaking prerequisite to sire offspring. The reason why the odds rise to 60% in a long-term relationship is because in the past two million years the female orgasm has taken on a major role of facilitating pair-bonding in an (imperfectly) monogamous species.

And if those low odds of orgasm seem disheartening, remember that it can always be worse. And, in our case, it definitely is. As a result of dating apps and social alienation in the modern day, young people are more single and sexless than ever. Three-quarters of Gen Z’ers over 18 are single, and roughly a third of them are virgins or haven’t had sex in the past year. It’s a significant deterioration in both relationships and amorous activities compared to Millennials, who were already “cold fish” compared to Generation X.

This phenomenon continues the downward trend since the sexual revolution of the 1960s. The marriage rate has been cut in half since then, and the UK fertility rate has been in the toilet since 1973. If current trends continue, the longest and most successful sexual relationship anyone in the British Isles will soon have might be with themselves and the nearest digital device they have to hand. Happy Valentine’s Day.

The Shortest History of Sex by David Baker

The Shortest History of Sex by David Baker is out on 6 February (Old Street Publishing, £14.99).

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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