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How Big Is Your Sexual Ornament?

According to Geoffrey Miller, author of The Mating Mind, in evolutionary terms, the mind “… makes most sense as an entertainment system designed to stimulate other brains …” (p. 155) … but what is he referring to?

Well all species develop what are called ‘sexual ornaments’ to display their fitness as a mate.  Take a peacock for example.  His elaborate display of feathers is a sexual ornament which demonstrates the health of his body and, by implication, his genes.

There are a couple of features to sexual ornaments worth mentioning.  First of all they display fitness because they invest excess resources in order to develop them.  If our male peacock was ill or unable to forage successfully, his plumage would not be so symmetrical or ornate.  He would be using all the resources he had available simply to survive.  So a sexual ornament, in evolutionary terms, demonstrates fitness over and above that which is simply needed to survive.

Second, it is usually the males who develop the most ornate sexual ornaments in order to attract the females to mate with.  In biology, the males are ‘the salesmen’ and females ‘sales resistant’.  But surely this is not true in humans? Think again.

Well according to Miller this might indeed be the case.  In fact it could be argued that the human mind itself is a sexual ornament designed simply for the seduction of a mate.  With the human mind we have the capacity to go beyond simple physical sensory appeal.  Our brains work with ideas and concepts, things that could, if developed, be used to display sexual fitness as a sexual ornament.

If you are struggling to survive you may have fewer spare resources available for the development of the intellect.  A man, who has the leisure to develop his interests, creativity and compete in a wide variety of activities, is demonstrating his excess of resources.  It is argued that such abilities and capacities can, in themselves, be seen as the human male equivalent of the peacock’s feathers.  Our minds, in other words, are there to develop and woo the opposite sex with a dazzling demonstration of competence in the higher pursuits.  Some activities perhaps, like being a pop musician, sportsman, or even stand up comedian, attract more competition from males for this reason.

So if I ask ‘how big is your sexual ornamentation’, don’t necessarily think below the belt, or size of your muscles, think of your successes in business, your profession, the arts, and even how you tell a joke or sing a song.  In evolutionary terms, the art of courtship in humans goes much further than the body beautiful.  In fact it can quickly transcend it.  Which is perhaps why good looking men develop no personality, and the best stand up comedians look like clowns?

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Female Sexual Predators

This is the second of two posts looking at the dark underbelly of female psychology.  In the last post I looked at abusive women, particularly those with Axis II personality disorders.  In this post I look at female sexuality … and ask is it really benign?

Women are supposed to ‘give’ sex, and men are supposed to ‘get’ sex.  In the ‘getting’ men are morally represented as predatory, scheming, abusive and exploitative.  In the ‘giving’, women are represented as victims, innocent, passive and exploited by male sexuality.  The conclusion that women don’t like sex, and therefore men should be grateful for it, is a moral narrative that is so strong, it’s almost a tautology.  But is there a ‘dark underbelly’ of female sexuality?  I think there is.
female sexual predators
One place to start is to look at the differences between male and female sex drives.  Women have a relatively low sex drive in their teens.  As women get closer to the end of their optimum child bearing years (about 30), their sex drive starts to peak then decline again.  Women in need of children can become biologically driven to cut corners on morality in order to achieve them.

Within this lifespan overview of female sexuality is a subdivision concerning any particular sexual partner.  Women’s sex drive is higher at the onset of a new relationship, and this lasts for about six months, before dropping off considerably.  During this ‘nesting period’ women are genuinely interested in sex.  Once the relationship, (and in evolutionary terms, once their first baby) is secured, their interest in sex declines.

These facts of women’s sexual nature demonstrate that women’s sexuality is not in keeping with men’s.  From a bloke’s perspective, we peak around 17, then slowly decline over the life span.  Both are intricately connected with our capacity to reproduce.  Men and women expect different things from sex at different times in our lives and is the source of endless tensions.

Female sexual biology has more surprises in store.  Again from an evolutionary perspective, it is in the interest of a woman, and their children, to secure life long committed fathers who will resource and nurture her family.  Women tend to be attracted to men that are sensitive, stable, wealthy and slightly effeminate, at least most of the time.

This changes for women when they are at their most fertile, around ovulation.  Even though with a committed partner, women’s sexual strategy flips, to one of pursuing ‘alpha male’ types who are more dominant, physically stronger and aggressive.  The strategy ensures she has the strongest and fittest children, with a man behind the scenes to bring up the child.

One in ten men brings up a child they believe to be their own genetic offspring, but is in fact the biological heritage of another man.  In fact a survey in the Manchester Evening News (December 2008) revealed that 53% of women would lie about the paternity of their child.

What about the idea that men are promiscuous but women are not?  This is another cultural stereotype that does not meet the facts.

I have posted before about the histocompatability complex.  It is the part of our DNA vital to the immune system.  If our partners ‘smell’ right, our histocompatability complexes are different, and therefore more likely to produce offspring with a healthy immune system.

Research in the journal Animal Behaviour suggests that women with a more diverse histocompatability complex, and therefore more ‘compatible’ with a wider variety of men, are more likely to have more sexual partners.  Monogamy, or so it seems, is not ‘built in’ to women after all.  In fact for some women, promiscuity might be ‘hard wired’, and reproductively advantageous.

Moving on from socio-biology to morality, one of the most upsetting things I encounter in my work with men is helping them to come to the point that they want to finish with their current partner, only to discover that the women has ‘mysteriously’ become pregnant despite taking oral contraception.

Under the emotion of becoming a father, the man often ‘stands by’ his woman, and tries to make the relationship work.  In the 2004survey in the Manchester Evening News (December 8th), it was revealed that 32% of women would pretend to use contraception, like the pill, if they wanted to get pregnant, but their partners did not want a child.  The sooner the male contraceptive pill is marketed, the sooner we can protect ourselves from this kind of predatory behaviour.

Then what about ‘love’?  Women, after all, are more ‘tuned in to their feelings’ than men (or so the gender myth goes).  You can put biology and the morality of child bearing to one side, surely a woman marries primarily for love?  Wrong.  Again the survey in the Manchester Evening News (December 8th) revealed that 23% of women would marry just for money alone.

In reading this post, of course, you could argue against the ‘just so’ nature of the science, or the reliability of the statistics.  My point is not that this is simply ‘the truth’, clearly more research needs to be done, but to highlight that female sexuality is far from morally neutral.  Women are sometimes not only the victims of male sexuality, but men sometimes, can also be victims of female sexuality.  Women may become sexual predators for different reasons to men, but they do so none the less.

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