Naturally, today being Valentine’s Day lots of commentators are being asked to churn out an article about love, romance and sex.
Yesterday’s effort by reconstructed sex-therapist Bettina Arndt was predictable. Anecdotes about women exerting their sexual powers through dress, and the confusion that some men feel in dealing with what appears to be deliberate sexual provocation.
The course of true love was never about profit
“People only manage to get together and raise children courtesy of a most remarkable evolutionary adaptation: romantic love.”
Valentine’s Day. What’s not to love about overpriced roses, overbooked restaurants and overstuffed soft toys? Today is the day we render the most multifaceted and untameable of human passions as flat and commercialised as a Kardashian marriage.
Perhaps my attitude’s not surprising for a scientist who studies sexual conflict, the intriguing but somewhat depressing idea that male and female evolutionary interests can never, exactly, coincide.
Human coupling and relationships seethe with conflict. We disagree over when to start having sex, how often to have it, and how quickly to fall asleep afterwards. Couples differ on when to have children, how many to have, and who is going to get up at night when the screaming starts. Economists model the simmering tensions about who does what household jobs, how much money is needed and how to spend it.
If all of this is too dark and unfamiliar to you, that is because only a small fraction of these ever-present conflicts breach the surface of our conscious awareness; most relationships feel happy most of the time. But the conflict between our interests, even within the most loving couples, means that people only manage to get together and raise children courtesy of a most remarkable evolutionary adaptation: romantic love. (Read entire article here or read a longer version as well as other articles on his website here)
There is a line there which is the nux of the entire “problem” of relations between the sexes:
“male and female evolutionary interests can never, exactly, coincide”
Human behaviour is strongly influenced by biological and psychological strategies that are encoded in genes, which have provided reproductive advantage in the past. Most people “get it” that if seeing in colour provides a survival advantage to an animal - say by distinguishing between a poisonous and non-poisonous plant - that animal is more likely to survive to reproduce, and pass the gene for colour vision to its offspring.
Even more complex systems have evolved in higher animals including not just physical capabilities, but behavioural traits which similarly can be a survival advantage. The study of these behaviours and how they might have evolved is the relatively new field called “Evolutionary Psychology”.