Monthly Archives: April 2012

Earthling Bulletin #4

by Piter Kehoma Boll

The first eukaryotes to appear about 1 billion years ago may have looked similar to this little pal from Norway. Photo by UiO/MERG via sciencedaily.com

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Heroes and Whores, a sexual selection syndrome

By Piter Kehoma Boll

Hi, guys, today I’m going to talk about a polemic subject related to human society, but before I start, I’d better explain that I’m not a sexist, male chauvinist or anything else similar to that. This post is intended only to show how the different ways society sees promiscuity in males and females can be explained as a by-product of sexual selection in animals.

So, let’s start with a brief introduction of what defines an individual as being male or female. Typically, a female or feminine organism is one which produces the larger gamete, called ovum or egg, and a male or masculine organism is one which produces the smaller one, called sperm.

The difference in size between a sperm and an egg lets clear enough how the female has a higher investment.

So, as we can obviously see, the male gamete usually contributes only with its genetic material, while the female has to do all the hard work by itself since it invests a lot to ensure that the embryo will grow.

Well, these different approaches in reproduction by both sexes lead to different ways to behave during copulation.

As females invest a lot of energy in reproduction by producing larger gametes and usually raising the embryos, they tend to be very selective. If you spend a lot of resources in reproduction, you’d better choose the best mate to fecundate your eggs, right? Why would you risk losing all your investment by choosing a mate that would not produce healthy and strong offspring? So, if you are a female, you’ll try to find a good male to be the father of your children, so that you won’t copulate with the first one that appears in front of you. You are looking for quality.

Now if you are a male, you do not invest that much in your gametes, but you produce a lot of them and, since you are not the one responsible for raising the kids, the best option is to spread your seed as much as it’s possible, i.e., you’ll try to copulate with as many females as you can. That’s the best way to pass your genes to the next generation if you are a male. You are looking for quantity.

But since females are usually very selective about the males they let fertilize their eggs, it’s not that easy for a male to copulate. You gotta be the best male available to be chosen. So here we reach the central point of all this talk.

If you are a male and get to mate with a lot of females, it means that you are quite a male, the best one, the one all the females chose. You may be proud of it. You are a hero.

Image from polyamory.org via iamnotsohappy.com

Now if you are a female and get to mate with a lot of males, something is probably wrong. You are not choosing the best option, you are open to anyone, so your eggs are probably the worst among all females, since any male is good enough. You are a whore, you may be ashamed of yourself. You are not worth any effort.

This biological view of reproduction, arising from sexual selection by females, is usually reflected in human societies all around the world. A man that gets laid with many women is usually seen as an admirable man, while a woman that does the same with a lot of men is considered a whore, a bitch, something very low in society.

Image taken from phoenixpsbgbm.com

Now, again, I’m not defending this point of view. Actually I think we should not view things this way, specially because in our species the sexual intercourse is not used exclusively for reproductive purposes. Indeed, it’s more used as a kind of pleasant entertainment than anything else, and so we cannot go on judging it only through the reproductive side.

The purpose of this post is just to show that the idea of a promiscuous man being something desirable, while a promiscuous woman is depreciative, has a point when we look things in a biological and evolutionary way, but as a cultural species, we went a step further and we can deal with our lives through different approaches. Just as we don’t let deficient children die as a cat or bird would perhaps do, we don’t have to treat the number of sexual partners of anyone, male or female, as a feature to judge their character or their value as a person.

If you want to know more about how sexual selection and sexual investment shape sexual behaviour, I recommend the famous book The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins.

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