• Powering up the female libido, evolutionary style

    hanleyBrianBy BRIAN HANLEY

    I’m totally pro-right-to-choose, etcetera. But, as a biologist, I think that Mike Huckabee is unwittingly supporting evolution when he says that women can’t control their libidos.

    Getting sperm to fertilize eggs is what is going on in this world — evolutionarily speaking. A libido plus a uterus, equals finding some male (could be any male) to impregnate said uterus, or the chain is broken.

    This is called evolution, and the most successful reproducers shall win. When females have no control, then the reproductive pattern tilts toward rape. Which means that what those guys are supporting in evolutionary terms is the rape tendencies of human males.

    As a biologist who has taught evolution, I must point out that evolution predicts that the more control over her own reproduction a female has, the stronger her libido will evolve to be — because she must initiate. (This pattern has reached a pinnacle in hyenas, where the female cannot be impregnated against her will, and the females have become larger, more aggressive, and dominant over males.)

    Conversely, the less control over her reproduction, the more likely it is that a female without interest will reproduce. A female reproducing without interest, or even with negative interest, is how it is in many species. (And let’s not get started on bedbugs, who have evolved a rape style of reproduction that no longer even bothers to use the female’s reproductive tract.)

    Thus, curiously, what Huckabee is against is the implementation of an algorithm (female control over reproduction) that, over generations of time, results in increased female libido — which he believes victimizes women by forcing them to reproduce.

    Control over carrying the pregnancy to term will result also in decreasing accidental reproduction, and hence it should result in females choosing better mates to raise the children. Except! There is a curious twist in all this.

    That twist is that in other species, female choosiness leads to polygamy, or else simply hit-and-run flashy males — if the environment can support it. (This is the case with many birds — peacocks for instance, or lyre-birds in Papua New Guinea.)

    The evolutionary driver for pair-bond mating is difficulty raising children to maturity. And what we see is that the more fecund the environment, the less likely it is that males will pair-bond with females to raise the kids. As one moves from the tropics to the temperate climes, one finds animals more likely to pair bond. In Australia, the echnida uses both patterns. Southern (e.g. temperate) echnidas pair bond. Northern (e.g. tropical) echidnas do not.

    We see this in humans. Those who live in the tropics need less participation from males to raise the kids — and we see more polygamy there. In fact, the current world record holder for number of wives lives in the tropical belt of Africa, and he is a verrah flashy guy.

    As we go into temperate regions, we see pair-bonding more or less for life (with sauce on the side). And in the high Himalayas, where life is extremely harsh, we see something unique — a fair amount of polyandry. It makes sense in a place where it takes more than one strong man to ensure the kids will make it to adulthood.

    The modern world is making all places in the world more “fecund” in the sense that a female alone is more able to raise children by herself. (Welfare and food stamps are a significant part of that. Without employment or AFDC, human females must find a sugar-daddy.) If that ease of raising children alone increases, females will have less and less reason to keep males around for anything besides mating dances, which should have interesting effects — effects that I have to wonder if these old Republican guys like Huckabee are dimly perceiving.

    There is another curiosity here about humans, though. Our sexual pattern is unique. It is, in fact, bizarre among mammals that female humans are virtually always ready to mate. It is even more bizarre that human females are virtually always attractive to human males to mate with.

    I will grant that frumping out can cut into that ‘virtually always attractive to human males,’ and once mated, many human females appear enjoy frumping tremendously. But frumping merely hides their continued attractiveness. It does not change this truly strange feature of human females. It is very odd that human males are hard-pressed to tell the difference between a fertile and infertile female. We write learned papers on evidence for possible unconscious signaling, perhaps through pheromones. But that just underlines how hard it is.

    This indicates (at minimum) that in our deep past we had, shall we say, an “interesting evolutionary period.” What exactly drove the development of our always-on female sexual attractiveness pattern is a rock upon which many an evolutionary biologist has broken his (or her) teeth. It isn’t just “always-on” from the female side, it’s “always-on” from the male side too.

    There is a theory put forward in “Scars of Evolution” by Elaine Morgan that this was driven by a period during which we lost our pheromones by being forced to live in the water, which meant that the only males (perhaps even one) that reproduced were essentially psychotically aggressive sex-fiends. It’s one of the ideas that I think holds some water. (Her theory is anathema to the evo-devo establishment. Imagine that.)

    Bottom line though — it’s interesting that in humans, the female libido is unusually strong for a mammal, and is so most of the time. As Germaine Greer observed, girl children require a great deal of supervision to get the desired result.

    How did we get here? It indicates that some different history happened for us in the deep past. At the very least, there was a period during which female human ancestors established control over reproduction to some degree.

    One of my more speculative thoughts is based on Morgan’s ideas of how water may have driven evolution. Those sexually aggressive males would tend to be dangerous, and that could have driven the development of language in females: In order to help and protect each other, and to outwit the insane males. That would tilt, over evolutionary time scales, toward females establishing a kind of dominance by guile and intelligence. Unfortunately for them, it would be nearly impossible to evolve smart females without also smartening up the males.

    Which, circles back to Huckabee, who is doing his best to oppose the evolutionary strengthening of the female libido. But that must inevitably favor its evolutionary opposite.

    At least I think so.



    Brian Hanley has publications on terrorism through West Point and a range of papers in biosciences, economics, and policy. He obtained his PhD in microbiology with honors from UC Davis, has a bachelors degree in computer science, is a multiple entrepreneur and guest lectured for years to the MBA program at Santa Clara University.

    He has a recent book on radiation:


      • davidlacy

      • January 30, 2014 at 3:20 pm
      • Reply

      This is a great response!

    • I disagree about humans being polyandrous. It is much more common for men to have more than one woman in their life than vice versa (there is both anecdotal i.e. Abraham or King Solomon in the old testimate, or polygamous mormons, and sociological evidence suggesting this). I can see how we have the potential to be polyandrous, but socially that is not what has occurred. It is not uncommon for many men to court one woman. Sperm is much easier to come by in humans than eggs, so women are a coveted biological resource (typical of polyandry). Furthermore, women ARE able to choose between suitors, based on many attributes, and it is very clear that sexual selection IS at work in humanity. The competition between men for female mates has led to sexual dimorphism. However, when a woman chooses a suitor, she usually has all of her children by the same man… This is typically the case for men too, even if sexual activity occurs on either side outside of the marriage. Illegitimate children do occur, but the exception does not make the rule. The same can be said to the proposition that there are societies where there are two acting fathers for one child. That is certainly not the norm outside of isolated societies. Just because it is a practice of certain societies, we cannot say that is how we are “made.” In evolution we have to acknowledge the dominant forces occurring, and reproductive monogamy is typically a dominant force in most societies, even if sexual monogamy (or what I would call social monogamy) is not.

      • Humans are not in general polyandrous. It only occurs in the Himalayas in a very harsh environment and husbands are usually brothers or cousins. But, polyandry is not the only implication of our semen fraction makeup. What it is probably more indicative of is that humans in our evolutionary history had a fair amount of either rape or orgiastic activity. Y chromosome distribution in Eurasia is certainly consistent with rape going along with warfare. But that has not been the only way it has gone. And who knows what went on in tribal groups. Eskimos are well known for sharing their wives with friends. That probably improves tribal relations on average.

        Yes, females also choose. No question about it.

        I would disagree that historically a female mate would have all her children with the same man. In general, female monogamy is not great for the species, and becomes more problematic, the more inbred a population is. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-185X.1999.tb00040.x/abstract

        I suspect that on average, at least 10% of human children are born of different fathers from the same woman. Some women have every child by a different man. Women lie about this. That is why DAs typically require paternity tests to verify claims of fatherhood. I was one-step removed from a woman who seduced the son of a friend and filed a paternity claim. When the test showed otherwise, it came out she had done this to cover for the real father, who had social reasons to avoid being identified. But since the woman wanted child support she concocted her plan.

        i don’t have a study in hand, and don’t know if anyone has tried to do one. Obviously, it would be quite a touchy matter in our society. But I don’t think it is realistic given the evolutionary evidence.

      • Jesse

      • February 4, 2014 at 6:28 am
      • Reply

      I’ve never really thought about how humans are different from many other mammals in regard to reproduction. So you are saying that females and males are both “on” in receptive mode, which is not so odd for the male, but really odd for the female of the species because most mammals have an estrus cycle with signals. I digress to thinking about when my brother in law raised cattle and inseminated them. There was always a clean-up bull with a paint patch on his tummy. If he mounted a female, he left a big paint mark so my brother in law could track the genetics.
      I guess it is really weird that females can have sex for pleasure, past time, or boredom, or even just to keep the relationship calm. But doesn’t that happen with primates in general? I don’t think all primates have a big swollen bright red vulva flag to signal the male.
      Lastly, in regard to the Germaine Greer quote, do you think the taboos of sex exacted of women through religion are in part, meted out just to control the unruly, beautiful female libido? I mean, come on, virgin birth? It’s oxymoronic.

      • One can argue that Bonobos, which have sexual contact constantly, may beat us. But for the most part, one needs to go to the ocean to find a female that is always receptive. One can argue that certain male mammals, such as tomcats, exhibit this behavior. Some will rape other male cats. But females will fight them off and will not be receptive. A female mammal that is sexually receptive pretty much all the time is quite unusual.

        I will take the Heisenberg on the religion question. When Werner Heisenberg was asked why he didn’t quantum mechanics, he answered, “I didn’t want to derail my career in epistemology and religion.” (It was in regard to the quantum wave collapse, and how it requires an observation, and whether there can be an observation without consciousness. Or – so I was told by Arthur Young, a lifetime friend of Werner.)

      • Jesse

      • February 4, 2014 at 9:21 am
      • Reply

      I just wanted to reply to Betty Cochran. Betty, much of Western Civilization is monogamous, but that isn’t the way it is in the rest of the world. Additionally, it might be a common practice to pair bond, but with living longer, less social stigma, and marrying later, people are more often serially pair bonded.
      I remind you, the author said, “The evolutionary driver for pair-bond mating is difficulty raising children to maturity. And what we see is that the more fecund the environment, the less likely it is that males will pair-bond with females to raise the kids. As one moves from the tropics to the temperate climes, one finds animals more likely to pair bond. In Australia, the echnida uses both patterns. Southern (e.g. temperate) echnidas pair bond. Northern (e.g. tropical) echidnas do not.”

      We are evolving and adapting to our environs. We might adapt to something else in time.

      As for now, in Indonesia, Africa and other parts of the world female children are often starved or killed because make children are valued more. The argument that her limited eggs make her more valuable doesn’t apply to cultures that do not see women as valuable, worth educating, or worth feeding.

      Do you really think men court one woman and then stay monogamous? You probably don’t listen to rap music. LOL.

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