Sexuality

In conformity with their mild passive temperaments, according to Mead, the Arapesh viewed sex as a gentle and peaceful act. Rape was all but unknown. At the expense of active enjoyment of his own sexuality, a man was taught to approach his wife gently to ensure that she was well prepared to receive his advances. As a result of this enculturation, sex was not viewed as arising from a spontaneous internal desire but rather as a response to external stimuli, arising in situations culturally defined as sexual. There was no emphasis on satisfaction; the emphasis was "on preparedness, the completeness of the expectancy." Sex with a spouse was simply a more final and complete expression of the same affection one felt for one's child or sibling. That said, Fortune provided evidence that both sexes thought sexual desire was like a hunger.

Because sexual feelings emerged only in culturally sanctioned contexts, the Arapesh were unconcerned about young people experimenting with sex. This was thought likely to occur only between a betrothed couple, who were therefore lectured about the dangers of premature intercourse in stunting their growth and development. Once the pair were fully grown, this danger passed, but sex was still associated with significant danger. On first consummating their marriage, husband and wife had to purify themselves of the act's "heat" on pain of destroying their future ability to perform their adult roles. Once their child was born, a post-partum sex taboo was observed until it could walk and talk in order to avoid endangering its health. Subsequently, sex was also avoided as dangerous during various rituals. Adultery was considered dangerous to men because their semen could be used for sorcery against them; it is not known whether women entertained similar fears.

According to Mead, there was no recognition of men as the natural initiators of sex; females were just as likely to initiate intercourse. Indeed, the verb, "to copulate," could be used with both male and female subjects. Apparently, there was no recognition of female sexual climax; women talked of preferred sexual partners not in terms of their ability to satisfy a desire but in terms of ease and lack of difficulty in sex. Male climax was phrased simply as a loss of tumescence.

Information is sparse, but there appears to have been no excessive modesty about the body. Men, for example, would move their loincloths to one side, even in public, to scratch their testicles.

Boys were given to expressions of ease, warmth, and "much giggling puppyishness," but homosexuality was not institutionally cultivated. Nor, to judge from the fact that Alitoa locality was apparently undisturbed by the homosexual behavior of two of its young men, does it seem to have been actively opposed or condemned.

Men who had abandoned any attempt to maintain their economic and ceremonial standing were called alomato'in or "male women." These men exhibited no female manner or dress, nor were they homosexual; indeed, one of their characteristics was heterosexual irresponsibility. They failed to observe taboos, they were regarded as greedy and exhibitionist, they ate game which they themselves had killed—an act tantamount to incest— and they were regarded with contempt. It is doubtful, however, that alomato'in represented a transgendered category. Rather, the designation "male woman" likely referred to their failure to live up to the expectations of manhood. In this regard, they were like women, and it is probably significant that Fortune also translated alomato'in as "male wastrel."

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