What role would sexual activity have if suddenly a major part of mankind were wiped out by illness, war or genocide?
Apocalyptic prophecies abound, dangers are usually greatly exaggerated, but the fact remains that dangers for humans, animals and plants do exist and survival scenarios in which large numbers of living beings get killed are plausible. Mass extinctions are part of our planet's history and can take place entirely by natural causes or – as is the case now – by the mistakes that we humans might make.
There are some who fear what would happen in 2012, or in the event of an alien invasion or other things with little or no basis, and such beliefs somewhat tarnish the concept and preclude any serious debate on the matter, but history does tell us that such events do happen from time to time: the Holocaust and the Black Death are two examples that indicate that in less than one thousand years several mass extinctions affecting humans might take place.
And what happens when a society, a culture, suddenly becomes an endangered species?
It tries to heal itself, and survive. This is usually achievable by following three courses of action:
Getting away fron danger
Getting away of any impending danger or repairing the causes of the problem. For example, after the Holocaust, the State of Israel was recreated and shortly after its renewed independence, it acquired considerable military power in order to dissuade or destroy its enemies. The implacability of the IDF against the enemies of the Jews has a lot to do with the view as a survival tool that the Israelis generally have upon their armed forces. Surviving is to kill in order not to get killed.
Reproducing people and cultural artifacts lost due to the crisis in order to regain the identity of the group and make it viable in the future. Due to WWII Poland lost about one third of its population and a significant proportion of its infrastructure. Since 1945 the country began its reconstruction, trying first to achieve the levels in terms of population, industrial growth and culture it had in 1939. Population growth, which might seem the easiest thing to do, in reality had to go on only at the speed of the housing reconstruction. You simply cannot have homeless people, so giving birth to too many might end up being worse. At the same time, the Polish state embarked itself into a long-term policy of restoration and reconstruction of the cultural heritage of the nation, regardless of ideology, for between 1945 and 1989 this policy was administered by a socialist regime, and from 1989 and on, by a capitalist regime.
The relative success Poland had at its reconstruction tells us that biological reproduction, while desirable, has to be controlled in a post-apocalyptic survival scenario. As counter - proof of this we might remember the case of Paraguay, a country that lost a terrible war against its neighbours in the late nineteenth century. Its population was decimated and its infrastructure, almost wiped out. As a survival mechanism, the Paraguayan society adopted new traits regarding the formation of families, in order to increase population again. However, infrastructure did not keep the same pace, and the result after decades of this lack of sync is that Paraguayans are on the average, poor and the country is far less developed than Poland, by comparison. Clearly, the role of sexual activity after an extinction is fundamental but it cannot be left entirely at its own devices.
Changing social rules and cultural traits to allow the two prior courses of action to take place if there is a contradiction between the new needs and old customs. Having extended families within a society might seem advantageous in an extinction scenario, but that is only a superficial perception because lack of resources to sustain an unchecked increase in people might be a real problem. On the other hand, Victorian traits might preclude reproduction in numbers enough to sustain the group. Both trains are related generally to conservative cultural outlooks: families with large numbers of children are often very religious, while "Victorianism" requires also strong moral values. Thus, any society of survivors must become truly liberal, particularly in sexual and reproductive matters.
This reminds us of the fact that shortly after the bubonic plage that we know as the Black Death, in the fourteenth century, European kingdoms and religious institutions that lived of the taxes collected among the population ,found themselves in a dire problem: the number of victims of the plague was so large that there was a significant decrease in the amounts of collectable money. On the other hand, increasing taxes among survivors was not a viable solution. Thus, both secular and religious authorities had to find alternative funding sources, and for a while gambling and betting, as well as prostitution became officially sanctioned and promoted by the Church itself.
Needs have the ability of turning anyone into a heretic.