Paradise Lost

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Among the !Kung tribe of the Kalahari Desert and the Mehinaku of Amazonia, they do. The same is true of young girls in the Trobriand Islands, in Samoa, and on the island of Mangaia in the South Seas. In fact, if a !Kung girl doesn't grow up relishing sex, she is considered mentally ill. Sexual activity is taken for granted as a vigorous and essential joy of existence. Like food, it enriches and sustains life. These are almost totally egalitarian societies, where premarital love is accepted and encouraged; both men and women have multiple partners, and sexual pleasure is considered a divine gift. Sex is not sold, but celebrated; and since there is no coyness or even foreplay, the concept of "romance" is unnecessary.

When Captain James Cook made landfall on the island of Tahiti in 1769, he discovered a delightful, ingenuous people blissfully uninhibited about their sensuality. Life and love were glorious. As a proper European, Cook was a bit shocked to see children romping in sex games and teenagers fondling one another out in the open. And Tahitian women giggled with surprise when the British sailors insisted on dragging them into the privacy of bushes to make love under cover. Why cloak such a natural act with subterfuge? Not long after the island was discovered, missionaries and other foreigners arrived, shouldering their oppressive burden of Western guilt and "morality". They denuded sex of its ecstasy and replaced it with sin. The Tahitians had no defense against such an ethological holocaust; they lost their will to live. Within half a century of Cook's discovery, almost three quarters of the island's population had died out, not from disease, but from the decimation of their natural way of life.

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