Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

How did intimate functions come to be considered intimate?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) September 29th, 2009

I was walking back to my office just now, and the following train of thought ran through my mind. As usual, since I work on a college campus, there are many beautiful young women to see, and my thoughts went to where they usually go when I see them.

Then I began thinking that most of these women are probably having sex with someone (since, alas, I can’t be the only man in the world), and in looking at all the people, I realized that there had to be an awful lot of sex going on. I then imagined them all doing it at once, together, in some sort of intergalactic orgy.

Then, I thought that this couldn’t happen because people tend to be private about sex. And not only sex, but functions of elimination are considered too intimate to share with others, if privacy can be arranged (it takes a certain amount of wealth to arrange for single room occupancy for an outhouse).

As usual, I began to question this, wondering why these things are considered intimate. They are natural functions, and everybody does them, so why do we want to do them in private? Then, attached to the “why” of it, came the question of how it came to be that we seek privacy; that we even conceive of “intimate” functions.

Was it always thus? Is this an instinct? If so, why? How did it develop? How does it help us? Does it help us? Would we be better off if we didn’t have a notion of intimate privacy, and we all did these things in public without a second thought? Would demystification serve any good—like reducing shame?

So fluther, I leave it to you to supply me with your thoughts about this.

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18 Answers

SpatzieLover's avatar

My first thought is that we were once all tribal, and that doing “intimate” things in a public way allows predators to attack.

I’m pretty sure that Native people “do it” in their tent/hut in privacy so that their kids don’t see, and for privacy from their tribe.

As for elimination, again, publicly your defense literally go on auto pilot whilst you are “going” so you’d be setting yourself up for vulnerability.

whatthefluther's avatar

Interesting question.. I suppose there are many factors at play, everything from cultural sensitivities we are taught to individual shyness. We are also taught that certain things are not dignified and should be done in private. Influences can come from parents, teachers, literature, television shows, etc.. Also, we tend to protect ourselves by showing our strengths and not exposing our weaknesses so perhaps things we consider private functions are those that we feel expose things that are something less than the way we wish to be perceived by the public. Just some initial thoughts.

dpworkin's avatar

Evolution favors the continuation of the genome, and since females have far more investment in the actual production of progeny, they must therefor (in all species) be intelligent selectors of mates.

For that reason, females will be very restrictive and demanding in their choices, and will not be interested in any scenario which might tend to stimulate indiscriminate mating.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

I’m thinking with my caveman brain here but I would guess elimination is now an intimate act because originally it was a risky act, a vulnerable to attack position.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

the 60s called they want their conundrum back.

wundayatta's avatar

If elimination is vulnerable—wouldn’t you want to do it together with people you trust?

@pdworkin How would public copulation lead to indiscriminate mating? You could still do it exclusively with one person.

dpworkin's avatar

@daloon Individuals can always refrain from any behavior, but public copulation increases desire and provides the opportunity for indiscriminate mating.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

@daloon: you’d think but watch animals eliminate, they like to be alone also. I wonder if it’s to do with stuff coming out of the body rather than going in? Good question, better than chicken and egg stuff for sure.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@hungryhungryhortence Some animals eliminate publicly (elephants come to mind). By doing so they communicate with the herd as to where they’ve been and what they’ve eaten.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

blame it on religion. I do.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I would assume it had to do with the Victorian Era, those people were uptight about everything.

Zuma's avatar

I think it all has to do with the invention of the chimney, which allowed houses to have heat upstairs and in rooms other than the common room where everybody did pretty much everything we now consider “intimate” in front of everyone else. Once the idea of bedrooms took hold, so did the idea of “get a room.” Once people could get their freak on in private, they became, well, more freaky; then guilt-ridden, then circumspect and discreet. This allowed the idea that there are “just some things” that ought not be publicly observed to evolve. And, so “intimacy” was born.

One could make a similar case for the invention of the privy. Once people stopped using chamber pots and started going outside to relieve themselves a special room apart from the main living quarters, the idea was able to take hold that elimination was an activity that ought to be done in private. It must have been somewhat shameful not to be able to afford a privy at some point.

SpatzieLover's avatar

“It must have been somewhat shameful not to be able to afford a privy at some point.”

@Zuma I can say with certainty, it was shameful in the early 1900’s here in my area to be an “outhouser”. I have German heritage in my background, and my family members were amongst the first to have indoor plumbing. Relatives shared with me that they’d make fun of other school kids that used their own or the school’s outhouse. And, they said they’d go home for lunch to potty & wash up.

I think you’re about right with your invention hypothesis.

ccrow's avatar

@Zuma , “One could make a similar case for the invention of the privy.”

Another thought comes to my mind; namely, “Arg!! Couldn’t you do that outside?! Gahh!” (runs out for fresh air) Just sayin.

faye's avatar

i wonder if the smell had anything to do with privacy? i would want you to go somewhere i wasn’t to go. and sex intimacy-wouldn’t it be unpleasant to try to whisper sweet nothings with a cheerleading squad? and most men don’t want some other guy getting to see his woman, or anyone seeing if the sex act is no good, doesn’t work….

MrBr00ks's avatar

I think it was some woman who was embarrassed by her man’s “Oh!” face that decided sex needed to be in private.

Just_Justine's avatar

perhaps the great plague of London reminded us that sh**t in public causes more sh**t

brotherhume's avatar

It’s all fine and dandy to theorize on a college campus filled with beautiful young members of the opposite sex. Now go to your local senior home or visit your parents’ house. An intergalactic orgy would be the last thing on your mind. I’m sorry if you are a visual thinker or you have a good imagination.

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