Mea Culpa … then more on sex!
First - A Personal Defense
My previous post, Why Women Can’t Enjoy Sex, was originally written in response to an article of the same name. The comment section allowed 300 words and my original response was 296 words long, however my comments must have been deemed “off-topic or abusive”, since it was never published.
But that is why that the content of that post was - deliberately - reductionist. I felt in the limited space available, hyperbolic exaggeration would offer a rhetorical challenge to the author and her readers, and have them consider a different perspective from their ideological and very traditional feminism. My philosophical and personal approach to life is precisely the opposite of reductionism - I continually study alternative explanations and accounts, and find truth about human behaviour has many facets and is an incredibly subtle and nuanced. And I believe any explanation which claims something complex is “nothing more than…” is immediately suspect.
So my own more considered thoughts on the topic of sex, love and marriage are far less simplistic. Having an appreciation for the biological antecedents of human behaviours, and of evolutionary influences, does not mean I believe they are good or right, or that we are necessarily (let alone morally) bound by them. After all, a reductionist evolutionary biology would say weak or sick humans “naturally” succumb to illness, yet my professional life is spent treating such sick humans, and medical science is a magnificent cultural achievement, standing in defiance of the “pure” or “raw” biology of “Mother Nature”.
Evolution tells us nothing about what is right or wrong - only what has offered survival advantages or reproductive advantages across populations and across time. It therefore has to have some relevance to any exploration of modern cultural issues. It is not binding in any sense, but it is best to be aware of biological systems and how they work before we commit ourselves to potentially hazardous behaviours. An example would be benefits of understanding the biology of human ears before embracing prolonged and loud volume use of an ipods with earphones.
Next - A Personal Disclaimer
Now as a male writing about feminism I am always in danger of causing offense where none is intended. And as a non-professional writer I am always in danger of expressing myself unclearly. Particularly when the subject is as emotive as sexism, as complex as biological “roles”, and evolution, or topics with such an enormous weight of cultural “baggage” as the institution of marriage; it is likely impossible not to cause offense.
Sorry in advance. Please, reader, believe my intention is to be fair - though I will admit a bias in favour of protecting and enhancing the opportunities for women (I am, after all, husband to a clever and loving woman, who has much more to offer the world than our children, as well as a father of a multi-talented daughter for whom I desire every wonderful opportunity life can offer).
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”.