One thing you can say about lust, it sure shows up early. Talk all you want about the honey-sweet face of an innocent newborn, the fact is, from the moment we appear in the world, we're not much more than squalling balls of passion. Our needs aren't many: to sleep, to eat, to be held, to be changed. Satisfy these, and there won't be any trouble. Fail to, and you will hear about it.
Of all the urges that drive us, it's the passion to be held that makes itself known first. If a baby is startled fresh from the womb, German pediatrician Ernst Moro discovered in 1918, its arms will fly up and out, then come together in a desperate clutch. Holding is good, and floating free is bad--a lesson that's not so much learned after birth as preloaded at the factory. In fact, doctors have long known that babies who aren't held simply fail to thrive. Not surprisingly, it's a need we never outgrow. In one way or another, we spend the rest of our lives in a sort of sustained Moro clinch.
Physical contact--the feeling of skin on skin, the tickle of hair on face, the intimate scent drawn in by nose pressed to neck--is one of the most precious, priceless things Homo sapiens can offer one another. Mothers and their babies share it one way, friends and siblings share it another, teams and crowds in a celebratory scrum share it a third. And of course lovers share it in the most complex way of all.
Of all the splendidly ridiculous, transcendently fulfilling things humans do, it's sex--with its countless permutations of practices and partners--that most confounds understanding. What in the world are we doing? Why in the world are we so consumed by it? The impulse to procreate may lie at the heart of sex, but like the impulse to nourish ourselves, it is merely the starting point for an astonishingly varied banquet. Bursting from our sexual center is a whole spangle of other things--art, song, romance, obsession, rapture, sorrow, companionship, love, even violence and criminality--all playing an enormous role in everything from our physical health to our emotional health to our politics, our communities, our very life spans.
Why should this be so? Did nature simply overload us in the mating department, hot-wiring us for the sex that is so central to the survival of the species, and never mind the sometimes sloppy consequences? Or is there something smarter and subtler at work, some larger interplay among sexuality, life and what it means to be human? Can evolution program for poetry, or does it simply want children?