What was prehistoric sex like? How can we even know? Researchers use several methods to make educated guesses about the sex lives of prehistoric folk, including examining closely related primates, studying what human evolution has wrought, and finding clues in the existing fossil records of early man. From these examinations, a rough picture of primitive sexuality emerges... and it's more than just skimpy loincloths and cave rape.
There's also prehistoric art, which, much like art in the 21st century, reveals a lot about the culture that made it. Some prehistoric art is even (arguably) pornographic. Examining all of these factors reveals that caveman sex was probably a lot more like modern sex than you might imagine. Early hunting-and-gathering Homo sapiens probably engaged in bestiality and inbreeding a bit more than we do (hopefully!), and some experts think they weren't as keen on monogamy, but on the whole, their sex lives weren't totally alien. Read on for some fascinating prehistoric sex facts.
Prehistoric Women Were "Extraordinarily Promiscuous"
Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá’s Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origin of Modern Sexuality argues that agriculture “introduced the notion of property into sexuality,” causing men to start to worry about leaving land and domesticated animals to their biological children. Prior to that, sex for prehistoric men and women was basically a free-for-all, and “paternity wasn’t an issue.”
Women, especially, were “hard-wired to behave like chimps in the bedroom,” to quote Daniel Honan over at Big Think. These “extraordinarily promiscuous” pre-agricultural cavewomen, motivated in part by their ability to have multiple orgasms, had multiple sexual partners in order to up their chances of reproducing. Sexuality in these small groups of foraging cavefolk was shared, just like “food, childcare, shelter and defense.”
Prehistoric men, meanwhile, were not “dragging a dazed woman by her hair with one hand, a club in the other” as in the popular imagination, but were instead more likely forced to wait for their turn.
See how they dominated their partners here.
There's "No Doubt" Prehistoric People Engaged in Bestiality
Anthony L. Podberscek and Andrea M Beetz’s Bestiality and Zoophilia: Sexual Relations with Animals cite about a half-dozen studies chronicling examples of bestiality in prehistoric art, including one from 1968 that concludes there’s “no doubt that our prehistoric ancestors enjoyed frequent and pleasurable sexual relations with animals.”
An “engraved bone rod” from 25,000 years ago found in a cave in France, for example, depicts “a lioness licking the opening of either a gigantic human penis or a vulva.” An Iron Age cave painting in Italy “portrays a man inserting his penis into the vagina or anus of a donkey.” Some of these drawings even had “an integral part in a clan’s family history.”
Prehistoric Statues May Have Been Caveman Pornography
Historians argue about whether the so-called “Venus statuettes” carved by prehistoric man were meant as proto-pornography or were used for spiritual purposes. Team Porn - represented here by historian Rudolf Feustel - thinks the busty statues were an expression of “raw animal lust.”
Team Spirituality, including Jill Cook of the British Museum in London, says they had nothing to do with lust but were instead used as fertility idols for a culture that worshiped pregnancy. Cook says men in the Gravettian culture of 30,000 years ago, for example, "did not comprehend the biological function of sex" and thus thought pregnancy was a miraculous act to be revered. Some of the statuettes even feature “opened vulvas” and bulging bellies.
Cavemen Carved Dual-Purpose Dildos
Even as far back as 30,000 years ago, people were making dildos. Yes, we can’t say for sure that these lovingly-carved phallic objects - which were polished smooth and “notched” to resemble the look and feel of erect human penises - were used for masturbation, but as archaeologist Timothy Taylor says, considering the “size, shape, and - in some cases - explicit symbolism” of them, “it seems disingenuous to avoid the most obvious and straightforward interpretation.”
The phallus pictured above was discovered in the Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany and dates back 29,000 years. Unlike most modern dildos, it did double duty: Chris Wild of Mashable says “it appears to have been also used as a hammerstone.”