Evolution and Human Sexuality
Oh I’ll argue, alright.
Every time I read an article on human sexuality, I find myself deeply troubled and frequently offended. I understand that science presents objective ideas and they are not always what we want to hear. However, I also have somewhat of a postmodernist view of studies of human sexuality in that I feel science has long been a discipline skewed toward male biases and that much of the data acquired in these types of studies serves to reinforce existing ideas about male and female desire.
It seems to me that the social aspect of sexuality, especially female sexuality, is entirely overlooked in the vast majority of these types of studies. For instance, female sexuality does not exist within a vacuum and has not remained the same since the time of our closest ancestors. Some of the earliest written codes of law are explicitly concerned with controlling female sexuality in order to ensure paternity. This system of control of female sexuality has persisted in nearly every society for thousands of years. Although we no longer have explicitly written rules dictating what is and is not permissible sexual behavior for females, we still have deeply embedded implicit social rules that have a significant effect on female sexuality.
Of course the frequency of women who report masturbating will be significantly lower than the men who report masturbating. First, this does not necessarily reflect true behaviors. Women who feel entitled to pleasure and who admit to pleasuring themselves can often experience social consequences because of this behavior. Though attitudes about female sexuality have improved, it is still relatively taboo to discuss sex openly. Second, there are many women who do not feel entitled to pleasure, or who feel uncomfortable with their bodies, or who cannot reach orgasm. Many of these issues have social and psychological components and could indeed lead to lower rates of masturbation.
It is also logical that women would report a lower frequency of use of pornography and a lower frequency of visual arousal. The vast majority of pornography is not designed with women in mind, but is designed specifically to objectify women for the pleasure of men. Many women find pornography appealing and are easily visually aroused, but there is also a psychological component to watching pornography as a woman. There is little camera focus on men (for heterosexual women), there is little indication that the women are enjoying themselves, there is a significant amount of pornography in which women are being degraded. Even if women are visually aroused, it is difficult to find images that are also psychologically arousing for them.
The author of this article contends that the contemporary differences between male and female sexuality support evolutionary theories on sexuality. I am just not convinced that this is true. While there is undoubtedly a biological aspect to human sexuality, we cannot separate social expectations from sex. I also think it’s a little ridiculous to assume that the behaviors underlying sex have not changed since our split from our most recent ancestor. We have continued to evolve for millions of years, why would our sexual behaviors and strategies stop evolving?
I just think human sexuality is far too complex and personal to come up with one overarching theory of human sexuality. Perhaps I am an “evolutionary anomaly,” but I certainly don’t identify with the “relative disinterest in pursuing sex or pleasure” model of female sexuality. I don’t know many women who fit this model either. There is a vast spectrum of human sexual behaviors that are influenced by society, personal choice, and various other factors besides biology. Evolutionary psychology and similar disciplines fail to take these other influences into account. I am also slightly annoyed by the tendency to speak of human sexuality only in terms of reproduction. We have sex for a wide variety of reasons that have nothing to do with reproduction, so I have a hard time believing that all of our sexual strategies are still focused on reproduction.