Monday, October 11, 2010

Settling "The Score"

On Friday, I received The Score: The Science of the Male Sex Drive in the mail from Amazon. By early Sunday morning, I'd finished reading it. Yes, it's that good--and that compelling. In fact, I'd venture to say that it's changed my entire life.

Looking at issues related to human sexuality is a hobby of mine. I've read a lot on the subject, but I've never felt much smarter for it. It's a loaded topic, so even when you read one article that provides evidence from studies to back its claim, you can find other articles quoting other studies to refute that claim and swing the argument in the opposite direction. This is true whenever you read much on any topic, but when it comes to most of what's been said about human sexuality, everyone seems to reside in one camp or another, and each camp is wildly and extremely different from the others. Either porn is contributing to the downfall of all humanity, or it's got no negative side effects and may even be saving relationships. Either women don't like sex or they're all just a bunch of wanton harlots who've been waiting for men to pull their heads out of their asses and actually turn them on for once. Monogamy is natural. Oh, wait--no, it isn't. Everyone just picks the outlook that most jibes with their own sexual preferences, but am I alone in feeling like that hasn't taught us anything?

I took two things away from this book. One, most of what we think we know about human sexuality is wrong. We tend to look for the most "natural" mating strategy to answer a good number of our sexual questions. Human beings have developed a wide range of mating strategies, so there's no natural way of being. Some people are inclined toward monogamy. That's their mating strategy. Others are inclined toward polyamory. That's their mating strategy. Some fall anywhere on the spectrum in between. These are just the ways they've developed through evolution, and each mating strategy has it's pros and cons (at least insofar as the goal of passing genes along to future generations is concerned--if you just want to get laid on a Friday night, I can't really tell you which strategy works best). We often look to our ape ancestors to tell us what's more "natural"--I keep putting that in quotations because, honestly, I think most of the time when people are looking to prove what is more "natural", they're really trying to prove that their strategy is best. Our closest ape relatives are the bonobo and the chimp. When I read about the research done on these animals mating strategies, what I found was that we're not really substantially like EITHER OF THEM. I'm officially done listening to anyone who wants to use an ape study to tell me what sexual behaviors are natural for humans. No, I'm not retarded. I can get down with evolution. But we split off from those two species of apes thousands of years ago, so in believing in evolution, I also believe that we need to stop looking at them for "proof" of "natural" human mating strategies. Especially since the bulk of the evidence from studies of actual modern-day humans show that there is such a variety in behavior as to illustrate that a norm may not, in fact, exist.

The second thing I took away from this book is that a lot of our understanding of humanity's past is grossly distorted. Think your life is soooooo much easier than that of the caveman? Think again. They probably only spent about 4 hours a day really working. Once they found their dinner and cooked it up, they had lots of free time. And women weren't just some weak animal who traded sex for protection from their big, burly mens. That's an idea that was unsurprisingly born during the extremely patriarchal Victorian era, yet persists because most of us get our understanding of such matters through popular culture instead of doing actual research. Women were often protecting themselves. The reason they liked the bigger, burlier dudes was because they thought it was sexy, not necessarily because they saw themselves in need of protection. Prehistoric relationships were probably extremely egalitarian. In fact, the description I found in this book pretty much mirrors the relationship I have now except my boyfriend doesn't make my shoes and we don't eat roadkill. Male and female humans are not nearly as different as we are similar. Most of the differences stem from the fact that women have to invest so much more in the reproductive process. Our sex cells are bigger, so it takes more energy for us to house them and expend them. We also have to manage the gestation period. That's why men have to work so hard to get the sex in the first place. It's sort of biological payback. They have to invest more on the front end because we have to invest so much more on the back end.

Ultimately I learned that it's entirely possible that my boyfriend is telling the truth when he says he's perfectly happy being monogamous.

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