7 things we can learn about love from prehistoric humans.

Some of the lessons are funny, some are weird, and some are a relief!

There's no time like the Valentine's Day season — a time when "traditional" love is celebrated — to ask, "What even IS traditional love?"

Sigh. GIF via MTV.


We're taught that it goes something like this: Be a virgin, find a soulmate, get married, NEVER CHEAT, share resources, have kids, and dance at your 50th wedding anniversary.

It's a lot of pressure. And, frankly, if it really worked that way, divorce rates would be at 0%.

Love, as we know it, doesn't work the same way for everyone.

Chris Ryan, co-author of "Sex at Dawn" puts it like this: "You can choose to wear shoes that are too small, but you can't choose to be comfortable in them."

In other words, our outdated beliefs about the nature of sex and relationships could be hurting many of us.

Image by Lori White.

"Sex at Dawn" was published in 2010, but people are still talking about it.

The book looks into prehistoric human sexuality — it studies the behavior of bonobos and other primates in order to get at the true origins of human love. Though readers loved it for offering a more positive vision of evolutionary psychology than ones proposed by Darwin, Hobbes, and Freud, the book isn't without its critics.

Still, as a filter for anyone trying to make sense of modern love, "Sex at Dawn" has a lot to offer.

Some of the insights in "Sex at Dawn" might surprise you, some might comfort you, some may shock you. It's an interesting journey into the prehistoric past, and it might sound more familiar than you'd expect.

So let's enter the shame-free zone and discover seven things about love that everyone — single, married, and everything in-between — really needs to know.

1. Competition was never about who was the biggest, strongest, or richest.

GIF via Disney's "Robin Hood."

Competition for mates didn't happen in our everyday actions, according to "Sex at Dawn." It all took place inside ... not our heads, but our bodies! The competitive advantage for males, prehistorically, wasn't decided in the ring of life, with men competing for wealth, status, and resources to woo a lady.

It was decided ... INSIDE THE FEMALE BODY. From the book:

"Rather, paternity was determined in the inner world of the female reproductive tract where every woman is equipped with mechanism for choosing among potential fathers at a cellular level."

So ovaries are the original matchmaker? And what they're matching is the right biological match from prehistoric ladies casting a very wide sex net?

The book is right when it states that this theory "turns the standard narrative inside out and upside down."

2. The friend zone isn't real.

GIF via "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure."

Though the book mostly offers observations, it does posit one solution to the problem many societies have with thinking of female sexuality as property. You know the kind — frustrated Internet commenters complaining about being put in the friend zone (as if they had some prior claim to sex with a woman but the zoning commission came and denied that access to them).

According to the authors, there's a way out.

"If you’re unhappy at the amount of sexual opportunity in your life, don’t blame the women. Instead, make sure they have equal access to power, wealth, and status. Then watch what happens."

GIF via NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

3. It's totally natural to miss or still have strong feelings for your exes.

GIF via "The Notebook."

Back in the prehistoric day, it's believed that there wasn't really any such thing as an ex, because there wasn't really any such thing as a relationship.

In the olden days, a man wouldn't have even known for sure if he was a child's dad. He (and every other dude — and lady for that matter) would have more likely just assumed that they were each child's parent and provided and cared for them accordingly.

"... we hypothesize that Socio-Erotic Exchanges [forms a] crucial, durable web of affection, affiliation, and mutual obligation. In evolutionary terms, it would be hard to overstate the importance of such networks."

So if you find yourself getting that old feeling, just chalk it up to some prehistoric memories of communal village life, in which overlapping relationships were more like a '70s rock band tour bus.

GIF via "Almost Famous."

"For professional athletes, musicians, and their most enthusiastic female fans, as well as both male and female members of many foraging societies, overlapping, intersecting sexual relationships strengthen group cohesion and can offer a measure of security in an uncertain world."


4. Ladies make the first move.

Just not in the way you probably think.

GIF via "Grease."

It's all biology, baby. Meredith Small, an anthropologist cited in the book, suggests that during fertilization of a woman's egg, the egg actually may be reaching out and enveloping the sperm.

How's that for making the first move?

She goes on to emphasize:

"Female biology ... even at the level of egg and sperm interaction, doesn't necessarily dictate a docile stance."

5. Sexuality can be selfless.

Sex, in prehistory, was a way to bond your community together and provide a stable place for all the community's kids to grow, according to "Sex at Dawn."

I know. I'm a little scandalized by this as well. I'm a Methodist girl from Missouri; all this monogamish stuff is blowing my mind. But bear with me.

A story of elite World War II pilots stands out as an example of prehistory bumping into modernity.

Images L to R 1, 2, 3 via The Library of Congress

In World War II, the book notes, elite pilots were facing the highest fatality rates in the military. They had wives and families; they had a community. But every time they went to fight, they risked abandoning and possibly hurting that community in their death.

How'd they respond? These elite fighter pilots started to ease up on the strictness of their marriages and began some of the first "key parties" on record. Rather than being scandalized, author Chris Ryan was moved.

"It was so moving to think about what motivated them to open their marriages with other couples. They were cultivating these webs of love, or at least real affection, because they knew that some of the men wouldn’t survive the war, and they wanted the widows to have as much support and love as possible. This confluence of selflessness and sexuality seemed to connect so directly to the hunter-gatherer groups, where men also have a high mortality rate from hunting accidents, falls, animal attacks, and so on. It was an unexpected yet very clear reflection of the distant past."

6. The whole "women want resources and men want novelty" yarn is kind of contrived.

It's more subtle than that. And also, rude! This myth implies that all women trade sex for stuff, and that's not cool.

“As attentive readers may have noted, the standard narrative of heterosexual interaction boils down to prostitution: a woman exchanges her sexual services for access to resources."

Monogamy and relationships are assumed a default in our world. But they're not — they're a convenience born out of humans switching from hunter-gatherer mode to agriculture mode. The authors explain:

"... upheavals in human societies resulting from the shift to settled living in agricultural communities brought radical changes to women’s ability to survive. Suddenly, women lived in a world where they had to barter their reproductive capacity for access to the resources and protection they needed to survive."

GIF via NBC's "Friends."

Interesting. And totally outdated.

The good news is because this possessiveness isn't an innate human thing, that means just as we were conditioned INTO objectifying and commodifying women, we can condition ourselves right on out of it.

7. Sex doesn't have to be so serious.

As Ryan said in an interview with Dan Savage, "We hope [the book] encourages and empowers people to give themselves a break, to cut themselves and their partners some slack."

"We need to chill out. Like music, sex can be sacred but it doesn't always have to be. Sometimes we hear God in a Bach toccata, but sometimes we're just dancing and having a good time listening to the Rolling Stones. Nothing sacred about it."

If you try sometimes, you get what you need. GIF via The Rolling Stones.

This book is an interesting read, and it definitely provides a different lens on the way human sexuality came to be.

And during this existential Valentine's Day season, new perspectives and no judgement are just what the world needs I think.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

via Pexels

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