Thursday, October 12, 2006

Evolutionary Biologists Lack Imagination

Years ago when I thought it might matter to somebody, I used to ask the question “why do men have a refractory period after orgasm?” This question was the completing half of the more interesting question (for me) “why can women have multiple orgasms?” Scientists of the evolutionary stripe have tried to answer the question of why women have orgasms and when they talk about it even the folks who think like Desmond Morris and decide that it is so the cervix will dip into the semen pool and get a better shot at fertilization seem to miss the point that there is little evidence that this matters in the least. Women who don’t orgasm get pregnant pretty damn well. That would have to be the truth given that apparently something like 75 percent of women do not regularly have orgasm during sex. Something like 10 percent never have orgasms, and they get pregnant with no apparent difficulty.

Besides the obvious point that the EB researchers never seem to consider that patriarchy might have something to do with the success rate for female pleasure, the question of women’s ability or inability to have orgasms and its evolutionary advantages have to been seen in the larger context of the evolution of culture. And I can see a really obvious and supportable hypothesis that Sarah Blaffer Hrdy danced around in her book called “The Woman Who Never Evolved.” She pointed out that some primate males will not kill the offspring of any female they have mated with. Females that mate with multiple males end up protecting their offspring. More pleasure might equal more sex might equal either females needing more rogering for orgasm or maybe more orgasms period.

But if you extend this to a cultural analysis rather than simply a mechanical one, you might suggest as I will that females were the centerpiece in the development of better male relationships. Males that are hypercompetitive are freaking dangerous. And males that find ways to share stand a great deal better chance of working together as a team to survive and prosper. The development of the tribe does not go together real well with nuclear families. To wit: if you make sexual behavior a group activity you end up with an extended family of males who, by not over stressing on sexual availability get to focus on other behaviors that enhance the survival of the group. If a female can nail multiple men (which is something that some women can and enjoy doing) she becomes a very culturally valuable creature. Ramón Gutiérrez in his book “When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846” points out that one of the first things that Spanish clergy noticed and had to “fix” when they met up with the Pueblo Indians is that they didn’t seem too possessive about their women and they didn’t really freak out properly when their women laid the Spanish soldiers. Shame had to be taught. There is a reason they call it the missionary position, dumb asses!

Beyond this crazy speculation, there is the work of those scientists who point out that sperm behave in a manner that shows they figure they have to fight off other flavors of sperm to get their uber boy to the egg. Some cohere and create plugs to wall off the passage to the gamete while others sprint to the goal. And then there is the issue of why women bleed every month. Simply they do so because it is good for them. Semen is a disease vector. Blood is a cleansing agent. And women who have sex with only one partner actually adapt to that reality and biochemically make it easier for those boys to come home. Which suggest that less is not more from an evolutionary point-of-view.

Given our obsessive issues with fidelity and virginity and the attendant ownership issues, we might just stop for a moment and decide if all that bullshit has made the world a better place or not. This all ties into heaven and especially hell, and the freaked out masculinity that needs to be assured and coddled and told that the kid really is theirs and that in some psychic way they do get to live forever. Living in the sexual regime of the male has defined our human history. The evolution of sexuality has a role to play in figuring out where we went astray and headed on into making violence a copartner with sex. If you don’t believe me this is the case, ask a Bonobo. Or go to your local women’s shelter.

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