Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Sexual Psychology and Behavior (Evolutionary Psychology)

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Barash, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Yes, but…” Answers to Ten Common Criticisms of Evolutionary Psychology – The Evolution Institute

The amount of material covered is impressive and the maintenance of academic rigor while producing an interesting, readable text is to be applauded. This is a valuable read for undergraduate and graduate students who will set this book down with a greater understanding of the dynamic nature of reproductive behavior, free from normative language regarding human sexuality and essentialized sex roles found in other published materials. This fascinating text put forth by Gray and Garcia is pleasurable for the layman reader interested in the evolutionary underlining of human sexuality, as well as the advanced evolutionary scholar.

Evolution and Human Sexual Behavior is more than an easily digestible pop-evolutionary text; this book can be successfully applied in academic contexts, and bring a fresh perspective to evolutionary psychology and human sexuality courses. Adair, Human Ethology Bulletin. Gray and Garcia navigate cross-cultural, cross-species, and diachronic data on sexuality and reproduction to illuminate human sexual behavior… Stimulating, useful, and well reasoned. Puts, Quarterly Review of Biology. Even if I was kept awake by knowing how crocodile dung was used in Egypt, and by thoughts of Darwin in my bedroom, I will rely on this book both for teaching in the classroom and entertaining at cocktail parties.

Valente, Choice. It is a superb overview and synthesis of the literature, along with discussion of the newest data from a remarkably wide range of academic disciplines. I am impressed. In recent weeks there has been a flurry of interest surrounding the topic of female sexual desire, stemming largely from the publication and surrounding publicity of a book called What Do Women Want? All of this discussion about the nature of female desire immediately brought to mind my friend Kim.


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Last semester Kim taught a course called Evolution and the Behavior of the Sexes , which led us to a series of lively discussions about how men and women differ in libido, interests, and activity. Given all the hype surrounding these topics, I thought it would be a great opportunity to check in with her formally and share some of her ideas and reactions with you.

Usually when one reads evolutionary accounts of how men and women differ in their sexuality , you hear a lot about how it is evolutionarily advantageous for men to copulate with many partners, in order to spread their genetic material as widely as possible, whereas it is evolutionary advantageous for women to focus on a single partner who will be likely to stick around and help her raise her offspring.

However, you view the evolutionary evidence quite differently. What evolutionary pressures do you see impacting males versus females, and how does this differ from the traditional account? In most species where scientists have looked for it, females mate with more males than are required for fertilization — this is true from insects to birds to primates. Subsequent research has shown that females actively solicit copulation with males other than her partner and that this strategy is, in fact, adaptive — that is, it yields benefits in how many offspring she has and how well they survive.

In addition, in some non-human animals, sex is not only about reproduction but serves a function either to maintain existing relationships in monogamously breeding species or as a social bonding strategy to reduce aggression. Overall, the evolutionary benefits of females having multiple sexual partners has been, and perhaps continues to be, underestimated.

But this is all evidence from non-human animals. Even putting aside issues like culture, isn't there a lot of inter-species variation?

To what extent do you think the evidence from these other species hold weight for humans? Absolutely, no two species are exactly alike. Each has a unique evolutionary history.

How Can Evolutionary Psychology Help Explain Intimate Partner Violence?

But what we can look for are common pressures that lead to similar outcomes across many species. For instance, for species whose offspring take a great deal of time and energy to raise, male or female abandonment would result in reproductive failure. Thus, males and females in these species forego mating opportunities with others in order to maximize the survival of offspring they already have.

Humans are a rather extreme example of this because human babies are extraordinarily energetically costly to raise when you consider both their relative helplessness at birth and prolonged childhood. The implications of this are twofold. In most monogamously breeding species that have been studied, animals adopt a mixed strategy of social monogamy without pure sexual monogamy. That is, both males and females engage in discreet copulations outside the socially monogamous relationship to defray the cost of missed mating opportunities. We expect, then, to have much stronger evolutionary pressures for males to prevent female infidelity than for females to prevent male infidelity.

First - much has been made of this study of heterosexual women experiencing arousal to viewing a variety of sexual stimuli. Can you tell us about that? Why do you think this was the case? As I said before, there is intense evolutionary pressure for males to control paternity, particularly in monogamously breeding species. A variety of strategies are used to combat female infidelity in animals — mate-guarding being the most common. Although anthropology is not my area, it seems to me that from an evolutionary perspective, culture gives humans the unique opportunity to take advantage of a different strategy.

And who controls paternity controls the world! Put another way, if you have a culture that convinces women that 1 they are less interested in sex than men and 2 they are more interested in monogamy, then you create a situation whereby women learn to ignore or disregard their own physical arousal, particularly in situations that are deemed inappropriate.

A Deep Dive into Evolutionary Psychology and Sexuality (Geoffrey Miller Interview)

Of course, other cultural mechanisms work to reinforce this through slut shaming and even physical punishment , but surely the psychological strategy would be the most effective because women internalize it so completely. Let me try to sum this up. Women, however, appear to lose interest in sex in monogamous partnerships.


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In light of recent research, it seems that women have not lost interest in sex; they have just lost interest in sex with their long-term partners. They carry the evolutionary baggage of a time when seeking new partners would have given them a fitness advantage, especially as they approach the end of their reproductive lives. But if men and women are under roughly equal pressure to be attracted to extra-monogamous sex, why this dichotomy?

Why are women losing sexual interest in their long-term partners but not men? This is a bit tricky, but I would argue this a consequence of differences in the basic sexual control mechanisms between men and women. Males still show the hallmarks of their indiscriminate past, i. Females have a long history of choice, such that they developed neural mechanisms to evaluate the quality of their partners and to adjust their level of desire accordingly. If, at some point in their lifespan, quality equals diversity, then they stop responding to their long-term partner and need other stimulation to become sexually interested.

What do you say to the reader who accepts everything you are saying about other species and even about our past hominid ancestors but just doesn't understand how these historical pressures could impact us in our contemporary lives? Just as we bring emotional baggage to a new relationship that results in actions or reactions that have little to do with our new partner and everything to do with the previous one, species carry evolutionary baggage that results in behavior that reflects past environmental conditions and selection pressures.

Now that they are common, we continue to have the desire to overconsume and find it difficult to stop ourselves from indulging especially when the items are in full view, despite the fact that doing so no longer carries an evolutionary benefit and may even carry a cost. Because our bodies respond to these foods in a preferential way - they taste good to us, they result in reward processing in the brain, we crave them when we don't have them.

Similarly, our motivational systems - at the levels of hormones , brain processing, biases in behavior - may be set up to motivate us to approach new sexual partners. It is a ridiculous and flawed argument to say that just because something is "natural", that it is automatically "good". Infanticide is natural!

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Our desire for fat and sugar and consequent weight gain is "natural"! As humans, we have an obvious and strong desire for long-term, steady partners and this is as much a part of our evolutionary history as the desire to engage in extra-partner sex. Understanding our evolutionary baggage and acknowledging that females evolved to be very sexual allows us to approach sexual dissatisfaction in a new way. We need to understand desire to be able to stimulate it.

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I hope that this new perspective will lead to more sexually satisfying long-term relationships for both men AND women. Brown, G. TREE 24 6 pp. Pinkerton, pp. Eagly, A.