Simon Sheppard explores some biological
They say sex is like air – only noticeable by its absence. To an evolutionary psychologist, sex is the paramount process in our development, influencing both our physical form and our behaviour. Such was acknowledged by Darwin in the title of his book, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. This article may stoke the fires of controversy because some esoteric aspects of sexual relations will be described. It will be necessary to delve into regions seldom explored. Those of a squeamish disposition may prefer to look away, for we shall be discussing biological fluids, sufficient perhaps to bring a washing-powder salesman to the brink of perilous excitement.
Sex has always been a fertile area for taboo, and these taboos themselves are a fascinating topic for analysis. (For what purpose have they evolved? Whom do they benefit? and so on.) We live in an age when we can say practically anything we like about sex without official censure. Actually, if we probe deeper we find only that different limits apply; the taboos have merely shifted. Many of the issues raised here rarely, if ever, reach open debate in our supposedly liberal, “tolerant” society. This was an early discovery of mine – that despite the oft-proclaimed tolerance of a feminine society, it is actually the masculine that is truly permissive of radical ideas and free discussion. This is not to say that the ideas will be adopted: only that they can be debated without attracting vehement obloquy.
Consider, for example, that although our society allows, even encourages, sexual practices which were formerly strongly discouraged or prohibited (e.g. sex outside marriage, same-sex relationships), there is probably less sexual activity now than there has ever been. A phenomenon which has been discussed recently in both the US and Britain is sexless marriages – marriages in which the couple have stopped having sex. Jung said that people should have sex every week to maintain their psychological health, and there must be some truth in that.
I should stress at the outset that much of what follows is from a European, particularly British, perspective. The author is British and spent several years in Holland. It is possible that North American women are exceptional, seeming to exhibit many masculine traits. When North America was colonised women were a minority, with perhaps several dozen males for every female. The more feminine, stay-at-home-type women did just that – stayed at home. The women who ventured into what was then dangerous and unknown territory were atypical, countenancing danger and hardship. It will be from this subset of adventurous (i.e. in some ways masculine) women that today’s White American females largely descend.
Man’s attitude to woman, broadly speaking, involves two major factors: affection beneath (AB) and deference. AB is the mechanism underlying the caretaking and protective instincts. Children express it toward teddy bears and domestic pets, we express it toward children and AB is manifest in a myriad other ways. The object of AB must possess some vulnerability or weakness, which is the origin of the instinct – it is plainly absurd to express AB towards someone or something more powerful than you. We may look upon tigers as an endangered species with justified AB; it would be inappropriate if we were locked in a cage with one. The instinct is perverted in many modern contexts (e.g. a soldier feeling protective towards his female commanding officer).
Regarding deference, in The Woman Racket Steve Moxon quotes a report of the behaviour of female lemurs. The females of certain species of lemur help themselves to food from males’ hands and the males carry on as if nothing had happened. (Incidentally I knew one of a couple of Dutchwomen who spent an afternoon in a bar doing just this, taking drinks out of men’s hands.) The report’s authors interpreted this as female dominance, but Moxon pointed out that it was actually deference. This deference is based on the essential female role as carrier of eggs and nurturer of young, and is instinctive in these lemurs just as it is in us. Hence gentlemen hold doors open for women, traditionally tip their hats and, in extremis, give them priority in the rush for the lifeboats.
All the mechanisms of interaction between the sexes originate from the disparities of egg and sperm. Eggs are a finite resource (girls are born with about 400) and the female makes a large investment in resources to bring one to term. Then the young must be nurtured. Consequently the female seeks a single male who will devote himself to her and support her during pregnancy, childbirth and after. In contrast, males continuously produce sperm and so a genetically good strategy for him is to spread his seed as widely as he can. Following a few minutes of intense pleasure he can simply walk away.
Because of their opposing interests – high investment in an egg, low investment in sperm – the female instinct is to raise the cost of sex, the male’s is to lower it. This however is just the starting point and the ‘Game of Opposites’ is a recurring theme. At this level of purely theoretical behaviour analysis, males and females employ diametrically opposing strategies. How much this model, called Procedural Analysis, accords with real life is left for the reader to decide.
Taking antipodal positions then, applying the Game of Opposites, men enjoy physical sex and women do not. This is the psychologist Glenn Wilson in The Great Sex Divide: “I led some group discussions among ordinary British women about their attitudes towards sex. I was amazed how frequently expressions like ‘My husband’s very good – he doesn’t bother me too often these days’ cropped up. Other women would proudly describe the tactics they used to avoid sex with husbands and boyfriends – pretending to be asleep, feigning headaches, etc.”
Physical sex is always limited by females. Incontrovertible evidence is provided by the high rate of promiscuity among male homosexuals (some homosexual men have admitted to 1,000 sexual partners per year). In this context, none or few of the mechanisms females employ to limit sex, in other words raise its cost, apply. Confirmation from experiments involving heterosexual subjects is not hard to find.
In accord with her overall policy of raising the cost of sex, females employ many, hitherto mysterious, means to restrict it. Most things when scarce become more valuable. Women love to talk about relationships and sex, advertise sex and evoke it in multitudinous other ways, but frequently not actually do it if it can be avoided. This is because the promotion of sex raises its value (equivalently, the cost that can be levied for it) but actual provision lowers it.
Truth be told, sex is much more important to women than it is to men. The primary sexual expression of the female is relationships, which to her is sexual activity. To reiterate this important point: when a female has a relationship with another, be they a friend, a child or whoever, this is sex to her. Relationships are her expression of sex. In Procedural Analysis everything is either sex or business, the latter being a male activity. Anything beyond a strictly impartial business transaction involves a relationship of some kind.
Woman in her pure state (i.e., without male influence, be it societal, personal, or hormonal) is incapable of operating on any other than a personal, i.e. sexual, level. The natural domain of the female is the relationship, the natural domain of the male is the thing. It is the male who is capable of operating non-sexually, for he can sacrifice sex in pursuit of some objective, though of course he would usually rather not. Women will never give up relationships, for relationships are at the core of her being. Witness the emotional and sexual undercurrents which inevitably arise whenever women become involved in any sphere. Relationships of some kind will be maintained, even if only with domestic pets, which to her are substitutes for children.
Darwin proposed “the equal distribution of characters in mammals” whereby traits or features acquired from male competition (particularly for mates) are shortly acquired by the female. If not for the equal distribution of characters, Darwin wrote, woman would be as intellectually dull compared to man as the peahen is to the peacock. Females may use the mastery of instinct they have acquired from males by this evolutionary process to deprive themselves of sex. This is proposed as the origin of a Fundamental Female Neurosis: that females, at least sometimes, desire physical sex, but their whole strategy relies on raising its cost, which involves denying it to males. Deep down she longs to be relieved of this conflict, to have the decision taken out of her hands and to be able to abandon herself to sexual pleasure. This theme sometimes surfaces in art and literature.
It seems that in the English-speaking world, British men fare particularly badly. In 2006 the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy published a survey involving Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The age of the sample – people between 40 and 80 – may have been less than ideal for our purposes, but the important comparative finding was that British men had the worst sex lives. Thirty per cent of British men reported that they had not had sex in the previous twelve months, compared to 26% in New Zealand and 20% for the rest.
One taboo I have explored is that, until fairly recently, women were not supposed to enjoy sex. Purportedly a ‘Good Wife’s Guide’ published in the 1950s advised a wife who enjoyed sex to give at most a quiet, satisfied moan when her husband had finished. Although this source has never been confirmed there have been similar reports. There is a catchphrase, now only used ironically, “Lie back and think of England.” We can regard enjoyment of physical sex as a male trait – in fact the clitoris is an unformed penis.
Marvin Harris in his highly enlightening book Cannibals and Kings explained that all taboos have an origin, and this one in particular gives an insight into how evolution theory works. Invoking the theory, the reason women who enjoyed sex were advised to remain coy becomes obvious – it meant that in the long run, they got more. More sex means more children – the taboo confers reproductive advantage.
It is easy to think back to historic times, which might as well be yesterday in the context of our entire evolutionary past, our phylogeny. A woman had to be supported by a man, because earning a living demanded practical ability and physical strength. Often a man’s main motivation for taking on the encumbrance of a wife was that it brought to an end the sexual frustration that had been his burden since adolescence. If nothing else, at least in marriage he was guaranteed sex.
Consider his state some time later, perhaps after ten or twenty years of sleeping with the same woman. Now his frustration is of a different sort. Sex has lost its novelty; his wife no longer glows with the bloom of youth. Children and other responsibilities weigh upon his shoulders. The obvious target for his frustrations is his wife, but the aggression he might direct towards her is otherwise expressed in violent, forced sex. Inevitably the act leads to further bonding between the two, and the absence of this physical outlet now has resulted in some couples living in marriages in which sex has not taken place for years.
A husband used sex as a “punishment” and if he learnt that his wife desired it, his response may be its withdrawal. That is, the withdrawal of sex and its replacement with less tender violence. Wilson found that 13% of women admit to fantasies about being raped. Women lubricate and can achieve orgasm during forced sex. These facts are evidence of a deep female desire to be taken.
For women to have total control of sex is historically unprecedented. Indeed, the evidence strongly suggests that ancient societies had rituals or practices which involved several men taking a woman in turns. These ancient customs may be apparent now in atavistic form in the almost exclusively Negro crime of gang-rape. Just as most spree-killers seem to be white or Jewish males, the typical perpetrators of gang-rape are Negroes, or others aspiring to and imitating Negro gang-culture.
For us, it may have been not so much gang-rape as stylized ritual, perhaps in a religious guise, but we can only speculate as to its form. Could this have been what went on at places like Stonehenge? Of course back in the mists of evolutionary time there was no mass communication, and the habits of many small, isolated communities must have varied enormously. Notwithstanding, the evidence of our bodies, particularly, the size and shape of our genitals, cannot lie. That evidence is very strong indeed.
First, the penis functions as an efficient pump, displacing previous semen deposits. The distinctive shape of the glans seems to have evolved for no other purpose, and to have achieved such physical refinement means that multiple mating must have continued for many, many generations. The penis, properly applied, is capable of removing 91% of a previous male’s ejaculate. This is also the reason that the male becomes highly sensitive immediately after climax: it prevents him from displacing his own deposit. It is inconceivable that the glans could have acquired this refinement without multiple mating taking place for less than several hundred-thousands of years.
Secondly there is the size of human testes. Another way of gaining advantage in a mixed scramble for the egg is to produce more ejaculate. The ratio of testes size to body weight has been shown to correlate strongly with multiple mating. A single dominant male gorilla typically maintains a harem of females, and his ratio is 0.03%. For chimpanzees, where many males service a female in season, it is 0.3%. Humans, at 0.08%, lie between these values.
Thirdly, though more speculatively, it has been proposed that distinct deposits compete with each other. About 30% of the spermatozoa in each male ejaculate is defective. Two biologists at the University of Manchester, Baker and Bellis, suggest that this defective sperm functions to impede other deposits, acting as “kamikaze sperm.” No confirmation of this theory has been found in humans, yet it seems implausible that these ‘crippled little soldiers’ serve no purpose.
Recently attention has been on “ejaculate adjustment” whereby a male, if he has been apart from his partner, produces more. The reasoning is that she may have been with another in the interim, and he unconsciously increases his production to compete with his rival’s. In Britain it seems that one in six children are not fathered by who they think they are – this from information provided to the author by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (formerly the CSA, Child Support Agency) in January 2012. Between 1998 and 2011 (13 years) an average of 3,035 DNA tests were undertaken per year. Negative results varied from a minimum of 14.2% to a maximum of 20.9%, with a mean of 17.0%.
So the evidence for a long history of multiple matings of females seems unequivocal, considering the shape of the penis and size of the testes. Seminal fluid contains dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin, substances now well known for their anti-depressant properties. In Britain, women will occasionally describe another as being “shag-happy.” A healthy woman can easily have sex every three days, and at this frequency there would be a constant presence of seminal matter being absorbed via her reproductive tract. Of course such sensations as feelings of contentment, well-being and of bonding cannot be measured, but it is beyond doubt that they exist and influence our behaviour. One paper, ‘The paradox of declining female happiness,’ reported that women are now less happy than they were in the 1970s. A French girlfriend once told me “If the sex is alright then everything else is.”
Seminal fluid also contains the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen. Scores of studies have been published over the last few years demonstrating that hormones, particularly hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, modulate women’s perception and behaviour. A Dr H. Ploss, quoted in Women and Socialism (1879), observed more profound effects, although less scientifically: “When an elderly girl is still fortunate enough to attain matrimony, a marked change in her appearance takes place shortly after her marriage. Her shape obtains its former roundness, the roses return to her cheeks, and her eyes regain their former brightness.”
Given that women in pre-history had intercourse more often than they do today, as seems irrefutable, we might speculate on what the aggregate effect on society might be of millions of women not getting the sex they had hitherto. Perhaps the stridency of today’s feminist harridans is just their attempt to work through their sexual frustrations – a woman whose highest aspiration is to emulate a man is incomplete. More certainly, I would say that it was obvious that contemporary women, by their hubris and behaviour, are expressing their unconscious desire to be subjugated and made happy.