Before you say, “Ooo…, my favorite subject”, let me tell you this is not about Jenna Jameson or the Pocket Sex Guide book or its ilk, but rather sex in the context of evolutionary biology and psychology. But first, some newest papers from two peer-reviewed journals.
The latest Current Biology reports that scientists have discovered that Anopheles mosquitoes – nasty vectors for Malaria – have a novel mechanism of sexual recognition: they use flight-tone matching by means of altering their wing-beat frequencies, and also uses such means for mate recognition. Scientific findings aside, the experimental methods used by the researchers makes for interesting reading: They tethered wild male and virgin female (and presumably very sexually-frustrated) mosquitoes apart while they measured their flight tones and flight-tone interactions. In another report, the Journal of Evolutionary Biology has scientists reporting that sperms with the longer tails does not necessarily have the best advantages in a competition as to who gets to the single prize of fertilizing the egg. This finding contradicts the conventional wisdom that in sperm competition and sexual selection outcomes, sperm velocity and flagellar length are important determinants.
Ever had the days when you feel that you are from Mars (Venus) and your hubby/missus/lover is from Venus (Mars), and sex is somewhat a tenuous idea hidden on the dark side of one of the Jovian moons? Sex is a seriously complicated, alternately utterly vexing and engaging business, and it has been like that since sex was invented by living beings. Olivia Judson’s tongue-in-cheek book, Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex, tells all there are about why animals invest so much in terms of time spent thinking about sex, planning, wooing, and actually engaging in the act. Sounds familiar? Presumably they are like us too; sex is the most consistent cause of stress, anguish, and anxiety down through the generations. For example, the female Malaysian stalk-eyed fly engages in rampant promiscuity and only seeks out males with the longest…eye stalks. Earlier I wrote about the Sabah land snail which prefers its mirror-image but difficult to copulate mate. In both cases, evolution has driven their sexual instincts and reproductive behavior. See also: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People.
Matt Ridley, in The Red Queen, tells that while there are evolutionary imperatives in the invention of sex – as opposed to the simple transfer of genetic material (essentially what sex is) between two like-individuals – sexual selection is driven by an evolutionary arms race, not only between the same sex but also between male and female, that follows the “Red Queen Theory”, a theory after the chess piece in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass which runs but stays in the same place. Gender differences – the fact that male and female have many different and divergent imperatives in the way they seek to reproduce – are rooted in biological and evolutionary history. And that includes us, humans.
For men and women, why does sex hold more misunderstanding than any other human endeavor? For starters, we are biologically-wired differently. This fact is scientifically proven, a subject well-treated in the book, Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps. Both sexes’ sexual behavior and our mating game (and much resultant aggravations), whether instinctual or otherwise, are products of our evolutionary psychology. To make it worse, no other species has so definitively uncoupled sex and reproduction as us.
Take for example mate selection, a subject central to many evolutionary psychologists’ research: Women want an older man with actual or potential means; men want an attractive, younger woman – she with the famous waist-to-hips ratio that makes men lecherous; and men have a much greater proclivity for promiscuity than do women. If you are a Caucasian, you may be interested to know why blondes – much like Tiger Woods’ – have more fun: This paper proffers the finding that intense sexual selection is the primary reason for the high prevalence of blondness (which is less than 20,000 years old), and the unusual diversity of hair and eye color among Northern and Eastern Europeans.
Females are by no means passive partners in this evolutionary fandango. In fact, selection theory imbues female choice with responsibility for decisions about power and family far more sophisticated than what Charles Darwin envisioned (read The Evolutionary Biology of Human Female Sexuality). According to Leonard Shlain, in Sex, Time, and Power: How Women’s Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution, because women evolved concealed ovulation and does not show a distinct period of estrus, she became the first female of any species to override her instinctual sex drive and gain the power to refuse sex when she ovulated; men, in turn, have to coevolve to win the amorous attention of women. In The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, Geoffrey Miller tells us that it is this arms race of sexual selection that drove the brain size and intellect of humankind. (If you are a lazy reader, you can opt for the similarly-themed audio book, Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa’s Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters.)
And finally, ladies, that farting, vexing, exasperating, and frustrating man of yours? He is going to die earlier than you because of the one thing that cause you to find him sexy in the first place – Testosterone (Men: Evolutionary and Life History).
Should you have finished these reading assignments and it left you somewhat confused, allow me to comfort you with the words of Nobel Prize winner, James Watson, the co-discoverer of the famous double-helix structure of DNA, who said, “If I had been married earlier in life, I wouldn’t have seen the double helix. I would have been taking care of the kids on Saturday. On the other hand, I was lonely a lot of the time.”
Note: Worth reading too.
Robert S. McElvaine ‘s Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes and the Course of History
Scientific American Mind (July, 2009), Your Sexual Brain