I was recently out at a birthday party in Philadelphia with a bunch of fellow 20-somethings, when the conversation (as it will) turned to sex and relationships -- specifically about whether or not it would be "dramatic" if two mutual friends of ours ended up hooking up that night, considering that each had only very recently gotten out of serious relationships and were by no means over their exes.
As most of us in the group shook our heads with variations of, "That seems like trouble," one of the guys authoritatively spoke up with the classic, "We're all just animals, and animals have sex. What's the big freaking deal if they do?"
Now this isn't the first time I've heard this argument -- one implying that our culture's aversion to "no strings attached" hookups is just a sign that we're totally repressed, because "we're all just animals, man." In fact, I know a lot of people in my pretty homogeneously liberal bubble in NYC who would assert the same exact thing if asked to give an assessment of our culture's sexual mores.
And while I, too, am in complete agreement that humans are "just animals" and aren't by any means special in the scheme of creatures on this planet, "people are just animals" has always been a bizarre, and downright illogical, rational for a hookup to me.
Because anyone who knows anything about animals will tell you that they are diverse. All species on earth have evolved differently to maximize their chances for survival, and so all species -- humans included -- have unique and species-specific qualities.
As for us humans, it wasn't speed and agility, brute strength, or the ability to hide really well that's gotten us this far -- it was sheer intelligence and the ability to communicate ideas and important information through complex, nuanced thought (like, for example, "It works a lot better if you build a shelter like this," or even, "Here's a map I made to a pond of fresh water. Pass it around so everyone can see.")
In fact, us humans use 20 percent of our metabolism just to support our big old brains, with the chimpanzee, our closest relative, using considerably less. We are also the only species to have complex language, art, and belief systems, and the only species able to think about, write about, and conceptualize things we have never seen or touched. It also means we are highly sensitive, and privy to nuanced feelings of hurt, jealousy, possession, and attachment.
So to me, claiming that we are "all just animals" and thus should follow our "basic animal instincts" is ironically the greatest act of repression of all, as it fails to acknowledge that -- just like all animals -- humans have qualities and features that make us uniquely human, all of which have helped us survive for hundreds of thousands of years (and from a purely anthropological perspective, emotional attachment to a mate made for a better chance of survival). It makes about as much sense as asserting that elephants should carry their young on their backs, because that's what sloths do (because they're both just animals, man).
So the next time you hear someone say "we're just animals" to rationalize what will at best lead to an uncomfortable situation, and at worst actual hurt feelings, consider reminding them that they're absolutely right, and that's why it's probably a terrible idea.