Tag Archives: sexuality

Female Orgasm as Mate Screening

Whereas Robinson suggests the evolutionary underpinnings of orgasm lie in the ‘Yes!’ factor of gene continuation, in How Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So Stories: Evolutionary Enigmas David Barash and Judith Lipton believe it could be, at least for the potentially multi-orgasmic female, an “anti-infanticide insurance policy” that spurred women to mate successively with multiple males, or, more likely in the authors’ opinions, an evolutionary mechanism for monogamy (link to chapter five from the aforementioned book, titled The Enigmatic Orgasm).

As Robin Hanson explains quite succinctly, female orgasm could be evolution’s way of allowing females to screen prospective mates—a method of enabling females to discover the most compatible and suitable males.

First suggested by David P. Barash nearly three decades ago, the idea is that orgasm might be a way a woman’s body speaks to her brain, “telling herself” that she has been having sex with a suitable partner—that is, one who is not worried about being displaced by a competitor, who is self-confident and unhurried enough to be satisfying to her. […]

Research on a large captive group of Japanese macaque monkeys is also suggestive. […] During 238 hours of observations in which 240 copulations were observed, female orgasmic responses occurred in 80 (33 percent). Of these orgasms, the highest frequency took place when high-ranking males were copulating with low-ranking females, and the lowest between low-ranking males and high-ranking females. […] Maybe, [female orgasm] is designed to be more than a little hard to get, adaptive precisely because it can’t be too readily summoned, so that when it arrives, it means something. […]

What about faking orgasm? […] Orgasmic pretense might increase the man’s confidence regarding paternity of any offspring, building on his likely assumption that a sexually satisfied woman wouldn’t have sought to mate with someone else. […] [This] would diminish the likelihood that the man will engage in “mate guarding,” thereby facilitating a woman’s ability to engage in extrapair copulations. […]

Rates of extrapair paternity are about 2 percent in many human populations and about 10 percent in traditional societies. … One study has found that women are significantly more orgasmic when paired with men who are more symmetric. […] [and] are more likely to experience ostensibly “high sperm retention orgasms” – that is, climaxes that occurred in close temporal proximity to the man’s.

Sex Without Orgasm Could Lead to Healthier Relationships

One solution to the “widespread disharmony in intimate relationships” is to “change the way you make love”, promotes Marnia Robinson, suggesting that through ‘conventional sex’ we keep our dopamine and prolactin levels “uncomfortably high or uncomfortably low”. Instead, to ensure a stable relationship (through a more stable neurochemistry), we should practice ‘conventional orgasm’-free sex with our partners.

The point is that conventional sex can play havoc with your neurochemistry. Your dopamine levels will be uncomfortably high or uncomfortably low.

This is why the ancient Taoists and other sages throughout history have recommended making love without conventional orgasm. By avoiding the extreme highs that over-stimulate the nerve cells in the primitive brain, you also avoid the temporary lows that accompany recovery. You keep your dopamine levels within ideal ranges. This produces a sense of wellbeing, which promotes harmony in your relationship.

Concluding with:

Both low dopamine and high prolactin make your world look bleak—and increase your craving for better sex or new partners who would raise your dopamine levels (and set you on another addictive cycle of highs and lows). Together these neurochemicals probably account for the “end of the honeymoon,” which nearly all couples experience within a year of marriage. To heal the underlying problem, you may just have to change the way you make love.

Robinson has written a more accessible version of this essay for The Huffington Post, saying

As I learn more about the effects of sex on the brain, I realize it makes sense to take into account how recently, or intensely, we have climaxed. It appears that frequent, or especially intense, orgasm can create tolerance (a need for increasing stimulation to achieve future orgasms). It can also lead to satiety and habituation, which may show up as subconscious irritation, out of sync libidos, performance demands and insecurities. And it may promote the use of risky sexual enhancement measures as lovers try to overcome their built-in biological brakes with force. […] Perhaps we are pressuring ourselves to reach unrealistic benchmarks.

Addendum: Being one who is particularly fond of charts and lists, I rather liked the author’s Feelings & Behaviours Associated with Various Dopamine/Prolactin Levels chart.
Robinson’s essay, within the opening few paragraphs, mentions one of my all-time favourite and most discussed experiments conducted on rats.
I wouldn’t mind getting Dr. Petra Boynton‘s opinion on all of this.

The Ambiguity of Sex

I’m not a big follower of athletics, but two news items have somehow made their way to my mental inbox from the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Berlin: how ridiculously fast Usain Bolt is, and the controversy surrounding Caster Semenya.

On the latter, Caster is currently undergoing gender verification tests and in the process has garnered a lot of press attention—attention that appears to come from people who are vastly uneducated on the issues being debated. The Nation looks at these issues and describes how sexuality is more ambiguous than you might think.

Let’s leave aside that being male is not the be-all, end-all of athletic success. A country’s wealth, coaching facilities, nutrition and opportunity determine the creation of a world-class athlete far more than a Y chromosome or a penis ever could.

[…] Gender–that is, how we comport and conceive of ourselves–is a remarkably fluid social construction. Even our physical sex is far more ambiguous and fluid than is often imagined or taught. Medical science has long acknowledged the existence of millions of people whose bodies combine anatomical features that are conventionally associated with either men or women and/or have chromosomal variations from the XX or XY of women or men. Many of these “intersex” individuals, estimated at one birth in every 1,666 in the United States alone, are legally operated on by surgeons who force traditional norms of genitalia on newborn infants.

There are a number of good articles written on this, one of which is this excerpt from Robert Peel’s Eve’s Rib (that discusses the case of María José Martínez Patiño), and the Wikipedia articles I’ve linked to above.

Female Sexuality Research: What Women Want

The question ‘What does a woman want?’ was, according to Freud, “The great question that has never been answered”. One person trying to answer this question, however, is Meredith Chivers—a psychologist specialising in sexual behaviour whose work was extensively discussed in The New York Times earlier this year.

The article, focusing on female sexuality, is eye-opening in many ways, especially in showing the gulf between male and female sexuality.

The men, on average, responded genitally in what Chivers terms “category specific” ways. […] The men’s minds and genitals were in agreement.

All was different with the women. No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, they showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women and women with men. […] With the women, especially the straight women, mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person.

via Green Oasis

What Maketh A Man?

The Observer asks what five ‘brilliant’ writers believe ‘makes a man’. Jackie Collins goes for talent, Tony Parsons votes for pride, and Jonathan Coe says chivalry… and confusion?

If I’m confused about masculinity, in any case, I think that puts me in pretty safe company – the company of every other thinking male in the country. Because after the New Man debacle came the 1990s wastelands of Lad Culture, and where does that leave us now? Our sexual politics are in the same state as our national politics: confused, moribund, rudderless. Is it time to try to recover some essentials, to see if there might possibly have been some virtue in that baby we so ruthlessly threw out with all the chauvinist bathwater?

It’s actually a good question to ask of yourself; What makes me a (wo)man?

As I said last month, according to Esquire I may not be all man.