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Author Topic: Evolution & Sex
QuantumInc
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I recently read “Why is Sex Fun?: The Evolution of Human Sexuality” by Jared Diamond. It is a relative short book, but it is jam packed with convincing arguments and wonderful explanations for many elements of human sexual and reproductive behavior. Throughout the book he reminds the reader of the differences between human sexuality and that of most other living things.

For example there is menopause. Diamond argues that menopause exists specifically to limit the number of children a woman has. Normally this would be an obstacle to passing on your genes. However human females risk death by child birth, and each child requires considerable attention, so menopause forces women after a certain age to focus on the children she already has, and her grandchildren, raising their chance of success.

The answer to the title: concealed ovulation. Without modern technology neither human men nor women really know when human women are ovulating and thus able to become pregnant at all. Meanwhile almost all animals, including our fellow primates not only know when their ovulating, but give clear signals, and ONLY have sex when ready to get pregnant. However the latter behavior is much more efficient and safe. Sex takes time and energy, and in the wild puts one at considerable risk.

Diamond cites a study done on numerous primate species families. The study found that concealed ovulation evolved in promiscuous and harem forming primates first. According to the many fathers theory, this prevents infanticide from rival males trying to replace the children of the dominant male with their own. Monogamy evolved from primates that already had concealed ovulation, which presumably includes us.

Diamond also gets into many other subjects, why men don’t lactate, why women are shaped the way they are and why human penises are over four times larger than that of most other primates, even gorillas.

Though on a larger note, what do you think the relationship is between modern human sexuality, and evolution?

Personally, I think that our sexuality would be the one part of our behavior most directly influenced by the forces of evolution. Sex can be recreational, but ultimately it is key to how we (and most living things) procreate, bare offspring and send out genes into the future. Ancient humans that made certain sexual choices would have been more likely to have more children and thus made more copies of their genes. Sex is important to evolution, and thus evolution is important to sex.

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StrangePudding
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Oh my gosh I have to read that book! A few months ago I read Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson (highly recommended, btw), basically the exact opposite of this in that it's all about sexual evolution in creatures not human (and how strange their sexual practices could seem to us!). I agree that this is a fascinating subject and can't wait to hear people's thoughts!
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Heather
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quote:
Without modern technology neither human men nor women really know when human women are ovulating and thus able to become pregnant at all.
Thing is, that's not really true. Mind, our periods of fertility are not as obvious as they are in, say, baboons, but women for thousands of years -- likely more -- have been able to figure out when we are fertile without the help of anything but our mucus and our fingers. I could, right now, as someone who knows my own body and cycles very well, swipe merely a finger inside my vagina and tel you with a really good amount of accuracy, if I'm fertile or not.

Anyway, I mostly just wanted to ping a reminder here in discussions like this about heterosexism.

Personally, I don't feel very drawn to or convinced by a lot of discussions or arguments about sex that center on reproduction, simply because we have so much that shows up that that is centrally what it's all about for everyone, whether we're talking about those of us who aren't straight, or talking about those of us -- and there are a whole, honking lot of us -- who simply don't nor have ever had sex for that reason. But I do just want to be sure that given this discussion is happening here, that anyone who participates bears in mind that this is an inclusive site, so when we talk about sex, we should know we're talking about it for more than just heterosexual people.

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hunnybunny888
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ah, this topic is so much more fun to respond to than the paper I was writing [Big Grin]

While I understand that the LGBQT community can often feel misrepresented by the "sex is evoltionary" argument, I've never really been convinced that because we have sex for so many reasons other than to procreate, that it is not evolutionary.

I like to use the example of eating, because I don't think anyone can deny that we need to eat to survive. However, if I would rather eat a piece of candy, then a piece of brocoli, or eat more fast food than I do nutritious food- would this be a valid argument against eating to survive?

So while most things that were simply for one purpose- ie. to procreate, or to survive, have evolved past their simple meaning, I don't think we can say that they are not for their necessary meaning- even if the necessary meaning has taken less importance than some of the more recent meanings behind it. Does that make any sense?

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Heather
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So, let me toss an example out there.

Not only am I bisexual, I have never, not even ONCE, in all my 39 years had sex for the purpose of procreating, and I have had a whole lot of sex for a very, very long time. I can safely say it's likely I will NEVER have sex for that reason. There are a whole lot of other reasons I have had all kinds of sex for -- for pleasure, for bonding, for personal expression, just because I could, what have you -- but that has never, ever been one of them. The point is, when we talk about sex per evolution, those theories usually center around what sex may or may not produce as tangible product.

So, what to make of that? Especially knowing I'm hardly the only person like that? What is someone like me producing from the sex I am having per evolution? What about my motivations for sex, my sex life, advances our evolution?

Too, I'd also posit that we still have NO way of knowing that procreation IS the "necessary" purpose of sex, especially when we bear in mind that when it comes to sex, NOT reproduction, the organ in women pretty clearly there for sexual pleasure alone does not serve a reproductive purpose.

But I hear you, hunnybunny, in your saying that even outside of reproduction, there may be evolutionary purposes to sex. I may be misunderstanding the way you're using the word necessary.

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Jill2000Plus
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I'm not arguing that sex is a fun bonding experience for all and you're anti-social if you don't want to have it, but while I do think a not-insignificant component of the reason why we have evolved sexuality is the reproductive aspect, I also would think that, among other things, the fun aspect of sex could be a means of making everyone get along by adding another way of interacting to life, and I would think that, considering what a good stress reliever orgasm is, while some of that is that having it be so relaxing may make you want to have intercourse and make babies, it could also be for that as an end unto itself, being less stressed and experiencing more pleasure will probably lead to lower suicide rates and help one stay focused on important tasks like getting food and finding and building shelter.

Generally, a lot of arguments about evolution and sex (not that I'm arguing against such analysis per se, and I am an atheist materialist, so I'm not arguing for a spiritual dimension to sexual activity, solo or partnered) have problems, for instance, many evolutionary psychologists will argue that because younger women are more fertile, that means that 30 year old straight men's ideal woman will actually be a twelve year old girl, but 12-20 year old girls are not necessarily, overall, more suited to giving birth than older women are (or at least women in their 20s and perhaps early 30s), and while you may say "well even if the mother dies, so long as the baby survives it makes no difference", the track record of men actually bothering to take care of babies properly is not that good (I'm not saying that's an inherent difference), so unless there were a lot of older women around to take care of the baby, they most likely wouldn't have survived.

In addition to such problems with many analyses, there is an ignorance of the large amount of non-reproductive sex we have, even if a considerable part of our having the ability to be sexual is because of the necessity of reproduction for species survival, that doesn't mean that, either on a concious or subconcious level, we are always choosing to have sex or selecting our sexual partners based on whether us having sex will produce healthy children or not, there is also a tendency to ignore the way social taboos and which groups are oppressed/privileged can affect the way we behave and think, even when alone (such as claims that there is an objective reason why less women masturbate and women masturbate less frequently than men that is all to do with what is most likely to compliment reproductive efficiency best, and nothing to do with there being a considerably greater taboo against women masturbating than men, or the way that women are generally not given the same amount of education about their bodies as men are and that their genitals are often viewed as fundamentally unpleasant due to unfounded views that menstruation makes the body unclean, and general misogyny), homosexuality is ignored, with a binary view that homosexuality is a harmless mutation from logical straightness encouraged over the more likely explanation that sexuality is fluid, thus meaning many will have some chance of finding partners of both sexes appealing at least on one occasion, coupled with many having at least 3 children before birth control became widely available (I know this is slightly off topic, but my understanding is that mucus readings can be affected by recent pregnancy? Also, I am not making a value judgement about how many offspring any woman can choose to carry to term, just making a statement about the logical way in which a population will increase in size over time), and ignoring how widespread rape is where it is convenient to do so, and that, if it were not for social pressures, there might be considerably less heterosexual intercourse and more of other kinds of sexual activity with little to no risk of pregnancy.

Any analysis that starts with heterosexual intercourse as *the* sexual act is going to run into problems. It's an additional problem with notions of rape as a biological adaptation, along with the unlikeliness of rape being on any conscious level about reproduction as for a very long time, it was not known that sperm, contained in semen, and effectively transferred to a woman's body where it could join with eggs through penis-vagina intercourse, was how pregnancy (mostly, I know that any contact of living sperm with the vaginal opening is enough to allow the sperm to swim up and join with an egg if the woman has an egg and some form of spermicide or other contraceptive such as a sponge is not being used) occurred. It is also questionable that rape is about reproduction as there has never been any solid data correlating, without other explanation, rape victims with fertility or with any given beauty standard.

There are also a lot of dubious claims about what men find sexually attractive that tend to stem from unfounded assumptions about which women are most fertile or most capable of producing sufficient breastmilk for an infant to survive and thrive, not to mention the ignorance of the wide range of women that men fall in love with and are aroused by every part of, and just generally are sexually attracted to (plus, wouldn't having big enough breasts to cause back problems or other pain have disadvantages in evolutionary terms anyway?) Sorry if this isn't the most beginning-middle-and-end of posts, but it's a starting list of objections I have to evo-psych explanations of sexuality. That and the way that it claims to base itself on how other primates act, but ignores the social aspects and fairly matriarchal living arrangements of many primate groups (I'm not in favour of matriarchy any more than I am in favour of patriarchy ie NOT AT ALL, I'm just using the best word I can think of to describe the behaviour of another species).

About why women are shaped the way they are, first of all, which shape do you mean, because if you mean big hips, peachy bottom, inny waist and relatively large breasts, then, unless they starve themselves and have plastic surgery, most women don't look like that. I'm not saying that there aren't physical differences between women and men (women having wider pelvises, for instance), but the popular notion of what a woman's shape is is not in line with the reality of what women's varying shapes are, and that starving women would look like starving women actually do, ie. like many women in third world countries and anorexics, not just plump in all the desired places and skinny in all the desired places (which I bring up because otherwise someone will feel the need to argue that women didn't have an abundance of food and therefore would have been thin in the past, thus making them look exactly like porn stars... yeah, it doesn't make sense to me either).

Not that I'm saying that anybody said all of that stuff in this thread, but I wanted to bring it up.

Edit: and, as Heather brought up and I just lost in the frenzied typing and discussions with my friend about what was left to eat in the kitchen and the merits of meditation techniques as ways of managing ADHD, there is the clitoris, while it could be argued to be the means of ensuring that women get sexual pleasure from sexual interactions, therefore making them more likely to want intercourse because they are generally enjoying themselves with their partner, even if that doesn't lead to orgasm alone, and for all one knows, there may have been a point when men actually listened to women enough to know to provide clitoral stimulation when wanted, the clitoris is not merely an undeveloped penis, it is a separate orgasmic structure which has probably evolved the way it has because sexual pleasure has evolutionary benefit beyond reproduction, there's a tendency to think of it in terms of why the clitoris when only the penis is necessary for reproduction, instead of thinking of a penis as sacrificing some of the advantages of a clitoris (compactness, more nerve endings in a smaller area, less vulnerable) in order to allow for penis in vagina intercourse and hence a reliable method of reproduction that could become popular without the majority even knowing that it caused pregnancy. I got some of this stuff from Shere Hite's writings BTW, and I'm sure I picked some of it up from various feminist sources.

Also, materialist that I am, I will point out that feeling really good and happy is tangible, the result of processes in the brain and chemicals. I see what you mean in that much sexual activity, solo and partnered, does not produce anything beyond our bodies, the chemical reactions in them and the sensations we experience, plus whatever fluids we ejaculate or otherwise expel (such as sweating from warmth or saliva from using our mouths), as opposed to making another homosapien, or, say, producing a plate of vegetable curry, a glass of still mineral water and a pop-up tent (not actually possible).

[ 04-11-2009, 06:27 PM: Message edited by: Jill2000Plus ]

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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QuantumInc
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I personally hate the idea of using evolution to justify ethics. It is wrong to say "this is the way it should be because of evolution". I know some people like to pretend that because of evolution that men and women can only do certain things that reflect their ideas about ancient hunter-gatherers, or that being homosexual is unnatural.

As sentient beings we have an obligation to move past evolutionary drives.

HOWEVER as biological beings evolution does shape our behavior.

Humans that preferred high calorie foods over low calorie foods are more likely to get enough energy to survive, thus high calorie burgers taste better than low calorie candy. Humans who enjoyed sex were more likely to have sex, and more likely to procreate, even today plenty of men and women have sex just for fun but end up procreating accidentally. Men and women who loved their children were more likely to insure their survival, and thus more likely to pass on the same genes that made them love their children.

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Devourer
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quote:
Originally posted by hunnybunny888:

While I understand that the LGBQT community can often feel misrepresented by the "sex is evoltionary" argument, I've never really been convinced that because we have sex for so many reasons other than to procreate, that it is not evolutionary.

Have you ever read any studies involving homosexuality and birth order? It's interesting, the farthest from the first born a child is, the more likely it is that the child will have less heterosexual tendencies than the older siblings.

From an evolutionary standpoint, if two animals procreate and have one, single offspring [such as in the case with most human births] for the sake of their species they better hope that baby will have heterosexual tendencies so they can pass on their [and ultimately their parent's] genes. But once there's a couple babies popped out...the need for more reproductive momentum lessens. There's more mouths to feed, and a single population of animals reaching carrying capacity can burn up available resources and kill them all. So that's how homosexuality can fit into the "sex is evolutionary" picture.

Once a few offspring are popped out and the reproductive line is in much less threat of ending, a couple who produces homosexual offspring after that can be much more succesful in passing on their genes. These new siblings won't make more babies thus putting somewhat of a cap on overpopulation while also limiting the number of baby mouths competing with their sibling's offspring for food and other resources, and additionally depending on the animal these siblings may even help raise other offspring.

I've never seen any studies on how transgender individuals, etc. fit into the picture though...hopefully one day! While there are obviousely genetic fluctuations all the time, as it is the driving force behind evolution, evolution inevitably and invariably will shape our sexuality in my opinion. If it was true that a force that has shaped us from tiny, single celled organisms billions of years ago to what we are today only affects heterosexual couples that procreate, well then maybe evolutionary biology didn't get it quite right.

[ 04-19-2009, 01:23 AM: Message edited by: Devourer ]

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Jill2000Plus
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Devourer, your theory is interesting, though of course one can't generalise, I'm the eldest of two siblings and I'm definitely bi and not all that interested in P-V sex (honestly I'd be quite happy never to bother with it and do other sexual things that will lead to more orgasms), and my sister, so far as I know, is heterosexual (I can't possibly know for sure because they aren't me, but that's the general impression I've gotten), that's actually a question I have, since some are straight but do not have any interest in P-V intercourse, have there been studies done on that and why some women like it and some don't, I know that there are other sexual activities that carry a pregnancy risk (anything that gets sperm inside the vagina where a contraceptive of some sort is not being used, and no contraception has a 100% success rate), but P-V is the major one, and since it's not something that all women get a lot of enjoyment out of, I'd like to know if they've done any research.

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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Hubhub
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"About why women are shaped the way they are, first of all, which shape do you mean?"

I think why our breasts are swollen all the time, while with every other mammal out there they only start to swell when she's far into pregnancy. Although the size of our breasts also increases considerably during pregnancy, they already get quite big before that for no apparent reason.

What I found interesting about the concept of beauty, is that it's mostly a cultural thing, not an evolutionairy one. You can't tell from the outside of a woman if she's fertile or not, and the only thing men find universally attractive about women is the waist-to-hip ratio, which is also the only thing that tells something about the capability of a woman to bear children. Everything else (breastsize, bodymass, skincolor, you name it) is connected to culture, status, and personal taste.
Another thing that's interesting about the concept of beauty, is that it simply doesn't make sense from an evolutionairy point of view. It's counterproductive. For almost every mammal out there it's the male that have to fight for the favor of a female because (to put it bluntly) she'll get pregnant anyway. You just have to make sure it's you she gets pregnant with.

Lastly: The Bonobo (a primate species) and to a lesser extent chimpanzees are known for enjoying sex, and doing it quite a lot. To them, sex is a means of communication, not just for reproduction (seeing as they also have gay/lesbian sex, and sex with infants and infertile bonobo's), and it basically creates friendships, relieves stress, and relieves tension inside the group

[ 05-21-2009, 09:35 AM: Message edited by: Hubhub ]

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bluejumprope
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I know very little about this topic, and really, I find it challenging to conceptualize, but a few things are standing out as not making sense, being heterosexist, or that I'd like clarification about.

quote:
I think why our breasts are swollen all the time, while with every other mammal out there they only start to swell when she's far into pregnancy. Although the size of our breasts also increases considerably during pregnancy, they already get quite big before that for no apparent reason.
Are our breasts "swollen"? Or just larger? Does anyone know any respected theories about why humans have larger breasts in proportion to their body size than other mammals?

quote:
the only thing men find universally attractive about women is the waist-to-hip ratio
Both in my personal experience and in my understanding of sexuality, there is nothing that "men" find universally attractive about "women." Can I ask where you got this idea from? In regard to waist-to-hip ratio I think we can also see that cultural preferences about that have shifted over time (flappers in the twenties, etc.).

quote:
Another thing that's interesting about the concept of beauty, is that it simply doesn't make sense from an evolutionairy point of view. It's counterproductive. For almost every mammal out there it's the male that have to fight for the favor of a female because (to put it bluntly) she'll get pregnant anyway. You just have to make sure it's you she gets pregnant with.
The rape connotation here is making me uncomfortable and I'm not sure what your point is. The concept of beauty is certainly complicated, and I think it maybe doesn't make sense to use the same word for both humans and non-human animals because for humans it's so much more loaded and complex. Can you clarify? Are you saying that every non-human animal female will become pregnant and so her appearance isn't evolutionarily significant? Again, I don't know much about biology, and I'm not even sure what I'm asking, but if someone could discuss this more, I'd be interested (it may just be the language used is triggering).

quote:
Lastly: The Bonobo (a primate species) and to a lesser extent chimpanzees are known for enjoying sex, and doing it quite a lot. To them, sex is a means of communication, not just for reproduction (seeing as they also have gay/lesbian sex, and sex with infants and infertile bonobo's), and it basically creates friendships, relieves stress, and relieves tension inside the group
Just a reminder that homosexual behaviors are common throughout the animal kingdom. Wikipedia has a nice page on that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_animals

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without tenderness, we are in hell. -Adrienne Rich

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Hubhub
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quote:
Are our breasts "swollen"? Or just larger? Does anyone know any respected theories about why humans have larger breasts in proportion to their body size than other mammals?
That's what I meant, and I don't know. But the poster I quoted asked what someone else meant with "the way we are shaped" and that's what I thought she meant. (And if not, it's still something I'm wondering about).

quote:
Both in my personal experience and in my understanding of sexuality, there is nothing that "men" find universally attractive about "women." Can I ask where you got this idea from? In regard to waist-to-hip ratio I think we can also see that cultural preferences about that have shifted over time (flappers in the twenties, etc.).
I read articles about it where people studied beauty ideals across cultures, and this is what they showed. While it changes across cultures and time, this is basically something that stayed static. Everything else is cultural/personal preference.

quote:
The rape connotation here is making me uncomfortable and I'm not sure what your point is. The concept of beauty is certainly complicated, and I think it maybe doesn't make sense to use the same word for both humans and non-human animals because for humans it's so much more loaded and complex. Can you clarify? Are you saying that every non-human animal female will become pregnant and so her appearance isn't evolutionarily significant? Again, I don't know much about biology, and I'm not even sure what I'm asking, but if someone could discuss this more, I'd be interested (it may just be the language used is triggering).
Sorry, I didn't mean it like that :/
I'm starting to think I'm ruining this thread, right now. Looking back on things I really did put things in a rude and dehumanizing way. And this post is probably no better than the last.

It's more to say that there idea of a beauty ideal other than just being healthy, is bull. There is no universal idea of what the perfect woman looks like. Throughout the past 50 (let alone 5000) years it has changed so much and every time you'll see people justify it from an evolutionary point of view, while there is no such thing.

As for non-human females, the reason males most of the time fight for the females (whether it's with eachother or just to win over the female itself) is because males can impregnate more than one female, while females can only carry out one pregnancy of one male in particular. This means that for every male who gets more females pregnant, there's a male who doesn't get to spread his genes at all. Basically, pickiness isn't something non-human males can afford.
quote:
Just a reminder that homosexual behaviors are common throughout the animal kingdom. Wikipedia has a nice page on that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_animals
The only thing I was saying with my example was that we're not the only species out there that have sex for other means than reproduction.

And, although I have other standards to judge morality by than what animals do (not everything that's natural is moral, and not everything that's unnatural is immoral), I never wanted to imply that homosexuality isn't natural. I know it is, and I also know there's nothing wrong with it.

[ 05-21-2009, 04:58 PM: Message edited by: Hubhub ]

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bluejumprope
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Hubhub- I'm sorry if it felt like I was picking on you. This stuff is very challenging to talk about.

I found this about the waist-to-hip ratio thing. I think there's still a huge amount of diversity in what people find attractive though.

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without tenderness, we are in hell. -Adrienne Rich

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marigold
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If one want to put evolution and non-reproductive sex in a logical frame, there it is: because the other aspects are SO very important, evolution has made sex actually very INEFFICIENT for making babies, so we have enough time and occasion to benefit from the other aspects.

In many species, a copulation = a baby, or more, and the number required to get one for humans is astronomical compared to many. It could be more efficient, there are well-spread mechanisms amongst mammals for that, but it wouldn't serve us well, evolutionary speaking. [Smile] It seems, that it has turned out much better to have way more sex than offspring.

Most of us here are afraid of getting [someone] pregnant, so of course we feel like that without protection it would happen in a blink, but there are couples trying and trying and trying...

[Smile]

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Smellycheesebot
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I think I've read some of Diamond's work in a philosophies of love and sex class I took.

I think the concealed ovulation is firstly somewhat of a misnomer since women get some pretty clear signals when we're ovulating (difference in vaginal discharge, feel more horny... not quite as obvious as a swollen butt since ours are permanently swollen in the first place), however, us human females are technically ALWAYS in heat (namely, we always want sex, it doesn't have to do with when we're fertile or not). And secondly, has a lot to do with always being in heat, which probably goes back to wanting to have uncertain paternity.

Though, I think our sexuality shows our relationship with Bonobos mostly. I think they are the only other primate that has sex primarily for pleasure and not for dominance/reproduction/creating uncertain paternity, and are also a good representative of how sex is mostly a bonding ritual.

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Jill2000Plus
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I know you didn't mean it that way, but women don't always want sex, we are capable of wanting sex at all times but that doesn't mean we always do.

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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