Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Vive la difference?

In a typical tittle-tattle piece for the not-so-enlightened "elites", Oliver James of the Observer shows how an impressive ignorance of genetics can lead to further support for that old "theory": men have sex on the brain all the time, women are simply more virtuous... It's badly written and Oliver James sounds dazed and confused. I thought we'd left this kind of plumber-reasoning regarding genetics behind us some time ago but there's always an idiot here or there that thinks it will still make good copy.

This is an old and very tired story that has been successfully dismissed by several authors like Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) on theoretical grounds, as well as by many empirical studies.

The idea that males have an innate greater sexual appetite than their female counterparts is practically a contradiction in terms, because it cannot lead to an evolutionary stable strategy of reproduction, a viable equilibrium. In both male and female populations an entire span of sexual behavioural modes occurs, from "extreme monogamist" to "extreme polygamist", with these modes following probably more or less Gaussian ("normal") distributions. Any discrepancy between the male and female distributions of sexual behaviour would quickly be corrected in the offspring of that generation, to ensure equilibrium. Bluntly put, if some females suddenly started to behave more monogamously, other, more polygamous females would quickly spring up to restore the balance. The same holds true of the male population.

In humans, this discussion is from a genetical point of view quite futile because we cannot separate nature from nurture. In modern society, up to the advent of contraception women did indeed have a strong incentive to moderate sexual behaviour, as children aren't always desirable. The existence of female prostitution could be attributed, at least in part, to this cultural female sexual reluctance. Today, contraception has freed women sexually (no, it hasn't, but that's a different discussion) and female promiscuity, including prostitution, stripping, pornography etc, catering for women, is strongly on the rise.

But the innate equality of male and female sexual desire can clearly be seen in our closest cousins, the higher primates. A recent study of sexual behaviour in a particular species of Chimpanzees was pretty revealing. This was one of several species where dominant males tend to keep a harem of females, for their own delectations and to ensure these cannot be impregnated by males, other than their "owner".

But what the study showed was that many of these "bound" females carried babies resulting from sex with partners that didn't even belong to the same tribe, let alone sired by their "owners". Talk about sneaking out of the bedroom and into another lover's arms. Good on you, ladies.

Heart-warming then to know that these female "sluts" were at least as devious as their male bonking "stud" counter-parts... Vive la difference? Sure, but this isn't one of them.

Oliver James, go write for Heat magazine or something equally unchallenging, that sounds about right for the intellectual capacity of the Baboon that you actually are...

Originally published as a comment on this post by Ed Strong. Edited for the post you're reading.

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