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Part III

 

Sex: Yes, No, Maybe

 

The Cultural vs. the Biological

      Recent research has discovered some findings related to human sexuality that sheds light on certain sexual behaviors and predispositions.  These findings help explain why some of our popular culture-based attitudes about sex are at odds with biological realities.

For example, both a male and a female propensity toward having multiple sexual partners have been well documented in social psychology and are in large measure explained from an evolutionary standpoint. This propensity is largely responsible for the enrichment of the gene pool and the vitality of the species.

For males this tenacity is more self-evident, of course. Clearly, from the male evolutionary perspective, the more females he can impregnate the greater chance his genes will survive, and, in turn, have a chance to procreate.
 

Is There a Genetic Predisposition

Toward Female Infidelity?

      Professor Tim Spector of the Twin Research Unit at St. Thomas' Hospital in London, reports he has discovered a genetic component to female infidelity.

To help factor out extraneous variables, Professor Spector studied twins and concluded that if one twin had a history of infidelity, there was a 55 percent chance that her twin  would also—a figure that was more than twice that of the surrounding population. The high correlation among women with the same genetic makeup seems to rule out environmental factors.

At the same time, this evolutionary propensity is often overshadowed by religious, cultural, and legal restraints. Even so, it clearly exists, and recent research sheds light on the evolutionary aspects.

In most species the female is not receptive to having sex at times when she cannot conceive. This is not the case with human females. There has been speculation on why the human species differs so radically. One theory is that during very early times females used their ability to have sex at most any time as a way of keeping males around them to ensure a source of food and security for themselves and for their offspring.

In addition, the female tendency to have multiple sexual partners also serves biological goals.

        According to Dr. David M. Buss, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, recent research seems to support the evolutionary advantage of females having multiple sexual partners. Dr. Buss says, "In evolutionary terms, having more sex with more partners made it more likely a woman would reproduce."

This is reinforced by recent research indicating that males have been biologically equipped to deal with mates who have multiple sexual partners.

It was long assumed that all male sperm were the same. According to some recent research, there are three types of sperm, each designed to serve a specific function.

First, there is the sperm simply designed to impregnate the female. Second, there is the type of sperm designed to combine and physically block sperm from a different male.  And, finally, there are sperm designed to kill or incapacitate sperm from a different male. The seeming necessity of the latter two types of sperm indicates that the tendency of females to have multiple sex partners must have been well established in the evolution of the human species.

        But, at the same time, the female also developed evolutionary counter-mechanisms. The male sperm defenses are counteracted by the female's tendency to more readily reach orgasm with a new male. Endoscopic research shows that the female orgasm makes conception more likely. Thus, the female is more likely to get pregnant with a male other than her regular mate—or, in later terms, her husband. From the female evolutionary perspective, this, of course, would serve to enrich the gene pool, and that has clear biological advantages for progeny.

It should be noted that even today some societies do not try to impose rigid controls over female sexual behavior and even within a committed relationship females are free to seek out younger, more virile males.
 

The Genetic Predisposition

Toward Pair-Bonding

    paragraph  There is another aspect of genetic predispositions that seems to be at odds with the tendency toward extramarital sex: the predisposition to pair-bond; i.e., to stick with one mate.

Possibly we should amend that to read, "Stick with one mate at a time." What we often see today is sequential pair-bonding or "serial monogamy."

A few thousands years BC the human males and females found it advantageous to stick together, both to serve as helpmates for each other and "for the sake of the kids." Over a few thousand years this seems to have also become a part of our DNA. And, of course, it was later legalized and sanctified through the marriage ceremony.

If you are not a romantic, you might trace heterosexual love to just a pattern in our DNA that evolved over the centuries. Following this train of thought, where there was not love to hold things together, families tended to dissolve; the children were not cared for and possibly met an early demise—a fairly easy thing to happen in early history—and thus didn't propagate.

So, we seem to have a collection of genetic forces that at times seem to work against each other that are all responsible in one way or another for the survival or even "success" of the human species.
 

Peak Sex Years for Males and Females

      An aspect of male-female sexuality that used to be a bit of a mystery was the significant differences in peak sexual interest years between males and females.

For men, the ages of about 18 to about 25 are considered the years of peak sexual interest and ability. For females, there is data to suggest that peak sexual interest starts at about 25 and go up to the mid-30s.

This would seem to present a couple that married at about the same age with a mismatch in sexual interests.

For a possible explanation, once again, we must start with the survival of the species theory. In earlier eras men tended to die at an early age due to death in battles or succumbing to disease. Most of them didn't reach the age of 33.  Thus, their time to make the female pregnant and pass on his genes tended to be a bit limited.

        Females didn't have the same problem with battles, and if they survived disease and childbirth, they could then get pregnant with a young, virile male, who probably mated with several females.

But since she often had to compete with younger women, she had to be more sexually aggressive to become pregnant. (Remember children, particularly male children, were important to family survival in those days.)

Centuries later, when the male life expectancy was much longer, this genetic predisposition continued. Just as his sexual interest was waning, his mate's was increasing, which tended to extend the years of procreation.

For their own reasons, which we cover elsewhere, the priestcraft would later try to control this biological programming.

        We appear to see one aspect of this theory in the married Canela women in Brazil who, until a few decades ago, would have sex with 40 or so men in festive rituals to narrow down the field of prospective fathers for their children. When these women decided to have a child, they would select their favorite dozen or so men from this group for sex and impregnation. The father of a resulting child was not known.

Thus, fatherhood and the responsibilities of raising the child extended to numerous men, and the husbands, who sometimes died before the children were grown, put their children and family first by welcoming the commitment of the other men to see that their children were taken care of.

In analyzing historic data, it appears that promiscuous women tended to also be more fertile. In addition, they had children with a genetic mix that give their children a better chance of survival.

Thus, from a "survival of the species" standpoint, monogamy could be considered counter-evolutionary.

As strongly as they might clash with religious and cultural views, these discoveries about male and female sexuality tend to explain the age-old quest for sexual variety.
 

Rather than, "The Devil made me do it," it might be somewhat more accurate to say, "My genetic programming made me do it."


 

Male Sexual Performance

and Age of First Sex

    paragraph  Although it's too early to claim that the following is supported by anything like reliable scientific data, anecdotal evidence suggests a relationship between the age of first sexual experience and male sexual performance in later life, primarily erection firmness.

Males who have their first sex after about age 21 seem to be associated with a higher incidence of erectile dysfunction (ED) in later life. Clearly, there may be other associated variables, but trying to gather additional data on this will be difficult because research funding tends not to be awarded for studies that could result in findings that run counter to prevailing political views.
 

Penis Size, Testicle Size, Breast Size

      Before we leave the topic of evolutionary influences, we need to mention that the human male has a penis size that is significantly larger in proportion to body size than any other primate.

It is assumed that this was "seen" (especially back when clothes didn't cover this up) by females as being related to the male's ability to impregnate her—which, physiologically speaking, is true.

Females that were more often impregnated, had more children, and more children meant that more were apt to survive to pass on this particular attribute. 

        Before we leave the male's reproductive equipment, we need to mention testicle size.  Among primates males that have small testicles tend to stick to a specific mate. Primates that have large testicles tend to mate with many females—and thus the need for testicles with large capacities.

The human male falls in between these, and thus, it is assumed that while bonding with a specific female was central to the success of the species, the males also mated with some females outside the pair-bond.

Human females also tend to retain larger breasts than animals of comparable size. Once again, this this size difference is related to sexual desirability. Females with large breasts tended to be more often selected as mates, thus passing on their genes.

Of course, in more recent history the desirability of large breasts has at times fallen out of favor. This was evident in the U.S., for example, in the 1920s.
 

Breast Implants

      Breast implants date back to the 1940s. Various techniques were used, including silicone injected directly into the breast -- generally by women working in the "sex industry."

However, it was soon alleged that these techniques resulted in serious health problems.

The first capsule-type silicone breast implants are developed by two plastic surgeons from Texas in the 60s. Since it was assumed to be safe, thousands of women started having this type of cosmetic surgery. In some cases it was reconstructive surgery, but in most cases it was done just to increase breast size.

Studies showed that the self-concept of most women who had implants improved -- along with their love lives.

      After a scare in the 1990s about leaking silicone from breast implants and numerous multi-million dollar law suits, the U.S. government banned them, except in special cases.

However, by 2000, it was realized that the negative effects of silicone breast implants weren't nearly as widespread or bad as had been assumed. 

The uproar about the hazards of implants had been deflated by a number of studies.

The Institute of Medicine released a 400-page report prepared by an independent committee of 13 scientists. This study concluded, along with a number of other reputable studies, that although silicone breast implants may be responsible for localized problems such as hardening or scarring of breast tissue, implants do not cause any major diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. (The hardening or scarring of breast tissue can now be avoided in most cases.)

Saline implants weren't as much of a concern because, even if they did leak, the "salt water" involved was not seen as harmful to the body. At the same time, in terms of such things as holding their shape, saline saline implants have disadvantages.

      Large breasts, which were seen as undesirable in the 40s, became desirable in the subsequent decades. By 2006, television shows -- and even many women news anchors at the local TV station level -- were wearing clothes that emphasized and partially revealed their breasts. Having breast implants had again become popular and cosmetic surgeons were reaping the benefits.

Originally, when most breasts became hardened because of scar tissue, it was easy for men to tell if the woman they were making love to had real breasts.  Not surprisingly, many men felt hard breasts were undesirable.

Once this problem was solved, along with the ability to virtually hide the scars involved (often in the armpits), it became much more difficult to determine what was real and what wasn't.

      Having breasts augmented is a painful process involving several weeks of recuperation -- especially if the silicone capsules are put under the chest muscles, which is thought to be best. Even so, thousands of women each year feel it's worth it.

Several studies have tried to study the connection between breast implants and suicide. The results have been mixed. A U.S. study found that women who had breast implants had a lower suicide rate. However, a Swedish study on a limited number of women in that country found just the opposite.

By 2009, most of the original health-risk fears had disappeared and young girls, even at age 16, were starting to save money to have later implants. Within the course of one year the number of breast augmentations had tripled.

 

Sex Drive in Women

      Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the father of human sex research, started a firestorm of protest when he first published data on the sexual inclinations of U.S. women. Certain people—primarily conservative men with political influence—simply didn't want the fact revealed that women, in general, had a much more active sex drive and sex life than had been assumed. The backlash was so great that these forces were able to shut down Dr. Kensey's  research center.

Although more than 50 years have passed, research into the area of female sexuality still lags far behind studies and data on male sexuality. This topic has mainly been brought into public awareness by TV shows.

        In my work I have been amazed at how much women vary in their sex drive. Some women state they could "care less" about sex, even preferring to avoid it altogether, while at the other extreme, some women talk about feelings of acute physical discomfort that accompany intervals of sexual deprivation and how difficult it is to manage their sex drives.

The effects of sexual repression are particularly evident in women, and research suggests that many women have been so inculcated with negative feelings about sex that they feel that their anti-sex attitudes are virtuous. At the same time they may be unaware of resulting negative physiological and psychological effects.

The article, Overdue Sexual Emancipation on this site takes up another aspect of this issue.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

-William Shakespeare


 

Early Sex

      One often-cited pre-2000 study found that more of 70% of young women who had premarital sex say they regretted it and wished they had waited. This was consistent with the finding that for many women "the first time" is often less than ideal, especially when major guilt ensues.  

Another study found that depression was more common in girls 14 to 17 who had early sex. However, the study did not control for factors, such as home environment, socioeconomic status, or drug use, all of which may have had an influence.

At the same time, there is evidence that this type of sex-related depression is not a significant factor in girls that evidence a strong self-concept and a good level of psychological adjustment. There is also evidence that the negative results could be traced back to original psychological factors, and not factors that resulted from the early sex.

Girls who started sex early also tended to date older men/boys.

        According to Laura Vanderkam, who researched the issue for USA Today, girls typically have more of an emotional investment in a sexual relationship than boys, and when the relationship frizzles, the girls suffer more guilt and have a harder time healing. The societal condemnation of premarital sex, adds to the guilt and difficulty in moving through the experience.

According to Vanderkam, "Few teen boys are considerate enough lovers to guarantee their partners a good time." Thus, the disappointment and regret. Later, as they encounter more experienced lovers, this can change.

Sex-ed programs rarely tell girls about the downside of early sex with hormone-driven, inexperienced boys whose commitment—despite what they may say or even think— can be shallow, fleeting, and rather self-centered. It may be some time before they discover how to meet a woman's sexual needs.

Although the boys and men in these studies seem to suffer no psychological consequences from early sex, this does not mean they don't face sexual problems.

Although it might seem that compared to earlier generations "the pill" and the morning-after pill would free young women from many sexual worries, they face new pressures. For one thing, saying "no," based on "I might get pregnant," is harder -- especially in circles where "everybody's doing it" and there is great social pressure "to do it."

Many girls have thrown out all reservations and have sex on a regular basis with different  partners. Many parents have just had to accept this.

 

Teen Sex In the Home

     After discovering their teenage daughters were having sex in the back of a car on a dangerous lover's lane, some parents have said they must meet their dates in the home. But, of course they don't want to be under the parents' watchful eyes.

In one town parents admitted that once teens start sex, stopping them is almost impossible. The problem in this case was that the only place teens had privacy was in a car on a remote and dark lovers' lane. But a young boy had been murdered there and his date had been beaten and raped.

Given this, and after heated discussion (when some parents said "'no way"), some of the parents decided that it would be safer if dates took place in their house -- even offering a closed bedroom door.  

Of course, given the fact that some teens were under legal age, the legal aspects of this are questionable. But as one parent said, "They are going to do it anyway and I don't want my daughter some place that's known to be dangerous."

 

Secret Mother-Daughter Alliances

     After discovering their daughters were sexually active to the point of having sex with a number of partners -- not unusual today in some places -- some mothers have opted to "be there in person."

Although the concept has yet to become widely known (not to mention accepted), in some circles mothers and daughters double-date and even have sleep-overs where they share dates and sexual partners. Dates are given a "package deal." In this exchange the daughter may get an older, more experienced lover, and the mother a younger more virile lover.

Then they conspire to keep it a secret from the husband/father, who, since he knows they are together feels that are safe from "trouble." Thereafter, they may cover for each other when they date separately.

Although this might be hard to accept, there is considerable data supporting these "mother-daughter alliances." There are several first-hand accounts on this site.


New Sexual Pressures on Men

      The rapid changes in sexual attitudes in our society have taken a toll on men. In the last decade there has been, in the words of one therapist, "an epidemic of male sexual problems."  

Undoubtedly much of this "epidemic" is because it's now acceptable for men to talk about these problems. In earlier years, many men did not admit or seek help for such things as erectile dysfunction (ED) or premature ejaculation.

And there is also another issue. With women now rather openly comparing the sexual performance of men—and with it even being a topic in popular TV sitcoms—men are feeling pressure to be "good in bed," if not "great lovers."

To make things worse, some men apparently assume that porno films represent some sort of standard, and in comparison they just don't "measure up."

        One attractive young woman, who had dated a well-endowed porno star for some time, found that afterwards dates were almost impossible to get. Men simply felt that by comparison they would be seen as sexually inadequate.

At the same time, the same men probably don't feel that men in sports such as boxing, weight lifting, football, etc., constitute the "requisite male standard" expected by women. This e-mail letter talks about many of these issues.
 

The Treatment of Sexual Problems

Today, the overall success rate in treating sexual problems is greater than 80 percent.

    paragraph  More than at any time in history, individuals and couples are seeking professional help in solving their sexual problems.

One of the reasons is because of the high rate of success that can be expected. According to Masters and Johnson's early work, "The greatest cause of [sexual]   dysfunction is fear." Even so, recent research points to the fact that physical problems play a much greater role than previously thought.

In the case of males under 45, the success rate in treating sexual problems is especially high, reaching 97.8 percent for the problem of premature ejaculation.

The success rate for male problems is highest when a trained sexual surrogate is used.

        For women, the most common problem is orgasmic dysfunction. Although statistics dating back about three decades put the problem as high as 48% of the female population, a more recent study drops this percent to about 25%. This difference may be due to a problem with the research in the original study, or to the fact that most of today's women have grown up somewhat less hampered by guilt and inhibitions.

The success rate for women in treating this problem today is about 80.7 percent. Unfortunately, many do not seek help; but, given the new openness of discussing sexual matters in today's media, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore these issues.

        It should be noted that not all people who advertise themselves as sex therapists have undergone specialized training in an accredited program. The field is relatively new, and until recently, even most medical doctors were poorly prepared to understand or treat problems of sexual dysfunction.

In looking for a sex therapist, you will want to be assured that he or she has gone through a specialized accredited program in sex therapy. If in doubt, call a psychologist or psychiatrist and ask for a referral.


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