Fooling Us Into Breeding?

One of the unusual features of the mammal Homo sapiens is that her oestrus appears to be relatively concealed, and much ink has been spilt on the question of why. One theory is that the concealment is designed to deceive men; that is, to afford women greater control of with whom they conceive. For excellent reasons of overall reproductive success, this is often the lover rather than the husband. Selection pressures, however, should equip men to detect the oestrus that women were endeavouring to conceal, in one of the “arms races” so typical of evolutionary adaptations. And indeed, when Geoffrey Miller tested lap-dancers in Albuquerque, he discovered a very high correlation between their being in oestrus and their earnings. Menstruating lap-dancers, on the other hand, plus women on the Pill, earned hardly more than half what the ovulators raked in. It is plain that the customers were responding to the sexual scents, alternatively to the greater self-confidence, of a woman at the peak of her cycle. At any rate, if concealment of oestrus were a device to deceive men, it would probably be a thumping failure in a pre-industrial society that still retained its sense of smell.

In contrast, the Burley Hypothesis suggests that in a species that had achieved self-awareness and so forth – but not yet contraceptive technology – knowledge of the perils and pains of childbirth might otherwise lead to a woman’s opting-out of the whole reproductive process. The theory suggests, therefore, is that all modern human women are descended from foremothers who did not know when they were fertile, the other lineages having refrained from sex during oestrus and gone extinct. What is wrong with this? Let me count the ways. First, birds also have concealed ovulation, and no one is suggesting they are self-aware. Second, women often do know when they are ovulating, some describe it as a sharp pain. Third, even if they miss that “pop”, most women are at their horniest around ovulation, so they can work it out from there; for example, this is when a wife is most likely to take a lover. Mother Nature, the bitch, has her own agenda, which is not remotely about either fidelity or prudence; self-awareness is not in the driver’s seat, but merely the hood ornament. Fourth, we do not remember physical pain very accurately after it has ceased, which is a mercy to us, and so women’s post-partum declarations that “they will never go through that again” may be safely discounted; experience shows that they generally do go through it again. Combined with the shutdown of the higher faculties that sexual desire causes in both sexes, the inability to remember pain is a far, far better trick to ensure the perpetuation of the species than ignorance of one’s own ovulation.

Moreover, there is no particular reason why natural reproduction requires a lack of awareness solely in women. The infamous Patriarchal Revolution of the Gimbutas school of herstory may thus have been the result of mankind’s cognitive development: perhaps one day the males realised that they were merely women’s genetic assay devices and rebelled. Rather than stop breeding, as in the Burley Hypothesis, they took control of the breeding arrangements so that women no longer chose with whom they would mate.

Posted on October 17, 2009 at 11:05 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: AGAINST NATURE, Distrust Of Sex -- The Better Reasons

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