Human nature is the composite of human instincts. One such instinct is sexual behavior.
This article summarizes the sociobiological facts about human sexual behavior discussed in Edward O. Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book On Human Nature.
Why did sex evolve? How does human nature shape male and female behavior? What do women want? Why are men aggressive? What does all this mean for feminism? Is homosexuality natural? Below you find the answers to these six questions.
1. Why did sex evolve?
Bacteria can reproduce without sex through cell division (binary fission). Hydras, fungi, and hammerhead sharks too can reproduce asexually. Why not humans? Why can humans not “sprout new offspring from the surface cells of a neutered womb” (Wilson, p. 121)?
Pleasure cannot be the answer because most animal species “perform the sexual act mechanically and with minimal foreplay[, often] without the benefit of a nervous system” (p. 121f.). “Pleasure is at best an enabling device for animals that copulate, a means for inducing creatures with versatile nervous systems to make the heavy investment of time and energy required for courtship, sexual intercourse, and parenting” (p. 122).
Sex evolved is because it creates diversity and thus adaptability. Every individual offspring receives a new combination of genes (50% from the mother, 50% from the father), which enables new generations to adapt more flexibly to changing environments.
But why, then, are there only two human sexes if three, four, or five sexes would increase diversity even more? This is simply because the two-sex system turned out “to permit the most efficient possible division of labor” (p. 123). The quintessential female is responsible for making eggs, whereas the quintessential male provides the sperm for fertilizing eggs. Naturally, this has…
2. Behavioral Consequences
Female sex cells require greater investment than male sex cells. Mammalian females must invest time and energy in copulation, pregnancy, delivery, infant nurture, and child rearing. Males, on the other hand, can simply enjoy the sexual act and move on to inseminate the next female.
Whereas the average woman can create a maximum of about 20 healthy infants in a lifetime, the average man can theoretically impregnate thousands of women. Hence their conflict of interests, which has shaped human behavior.
Evolution made men more competitive, aggressive, dominant, hasty, and undiscriminating, while it was more adaptive for women to be coy, prosocial, submissive, picky, and reluctant to have sex. The asymmetry in parental investment also explains why males are physically larger and stronger, why ‘all they want is sex’, and why they often have multiple wives (polygyny); and it explains why females, who rarely have multiple husbands, desire a providing partner. An additional consequence is…
3. Female Hypergamy
Hypergamy means that a woman wants a man with high social status, which, in hunter-gatherer bands, was linked with “hunting prowess, leadership, skill at tool making, and other visible attributes that contribute to the strength of the family and the male band” (p. 86).
A woman’s ideal man is dominant by virtue of being “controlled, cunning, attractive to the ladies, good with the children, relaxed, tough, eloquent, skillful, knowledgeable and proficient in self-defense and hunting” (p. 86). However, all these traits are only attractive to the extent that they elevate a man’s status and social dominance.
You see the principle of hypergamy play out everywhere in society: with famous actors and musicians getting almost all the pussy, wealthy entrepreneurs having infinite opportunities to get married, and all the high school girls wanting to be with the most popular boy. Hypergamy is the essence of what women want—a high status male willing to make emotional and parental investments.
Hypergamy shows that women only secondarily care about love and a man’s outer and inner qualities, his looks and character. What matters primarily is his status (or proof of his capability to move up high in status) plus, for long-term bonding, his willingness to invest more resources than sperm. This, of course, explains why men are instinctively driven—by testosterone—to acquire high status, which leads to inter-male competition and thus…
4. Male Aggression
Men are innately aggressive; more so, on average, than women. This does not imply that every man on earth ‘must’ (is predetermined to) be aggressive, but every man is genetically predisposed to be. In other words, it is probable for a man to develop specific forms of aggression in specific environments. As always, there are complex interactions between nature and nurture, genes and environment.
Seven forms of aggression can be distinguished (p. 101):
- territorial defense and conquest (today: property ownership, nationalism, mass male immigration)
- assertion of dominance within a group (today: Machiavellianism)
- sexual aggression (today: rape, groping, verbal sexual harassment)
- hostile acts to terminate weaning (today: child molestation by stepfather)
- violence against prey (today: recreational hunting, bullying)
- self-defense against predators (today: martial arts training)
- moralistic and disciplinary aggression to enforce societal rules (today: prison system, police, SJWs)
Aggression, therefore, it not a unitary instinct, and it tends to emerge only in scarce environments: when resources like food and shelter need to be controlled because there are not enough for everyone. Otherwise, the energy costs of aggression and the risk of injury and death would not be worth it from a genetic fitness perspective. This suggests that abundance is required for establishing peace. Yet if we take into account the principle of female hypergamy, some forms of male aggression will always prevail because high status is, by definition, non-egalitarian.
Many leftists tend to think that all warfare results from culture and ideology and that we can end all war by changing society on that surface level. In reality, however, warfare is deeply rooted in human nature. Aggressive tribalism evolved not as an ideological ‘mind virus’, but as a means to increase the inclusive fitness of human beings and their close or extended kin. Culture determines the methods and magnitude of warfare, not its substance. Social learning facilitates and magnifies the realization of an aggressive potential written by evolution into the human DNA.
Moreover, it is not true that humans are the most violent species. Hyenas, lions, and langur monkeys engage in much more lethal fighting, infanticide, and cannibalism than men. Wilson writes, “I suspect that if hamadryas baboons had nuclear weapons, they would destroy the world in a week” (p. 104).
5. Implications for Feminism
Is gender socially constructed and culture solely responsible for gender inequality?
“In her study of the !Kung San [a hunter-gatherer tribe in the Kalahari Desert], Patricia Draper found no difference in the way the young boys and girls are reared. All are supervised closely but unobtrusively and are seldom given any work” (p. 130). Yet despite their gender egalitarian upbringing, the boys and girls develop differently:
- Boys are more venturesome and “wander out of view and earshot more frequently than girls” (p. 130).
- Boys “engage more frequently in rough-and-tumble play and overt aggression” (p. 130).
- Girls smile more, associate more with adults, and pay closer attention to social cues than do boys (p. 129f.).
Over time, these and many other subtle differences in development organically lead to a strong sexual division of labor in hunter-gatherer groups. Not their culture is ‘sexist’, but their biology (in modern science, that claim is highly controversial). With that in mind, every society can make one of three choices:
- Traditionalism. Use cultural conditioning to exaggerate the natural differences between the sexes. This would result in male domination of women and likely, though not necessarily, in misogynistic discrimination (social injustice such as the exclusion of women from many activities and professions). On the other hand, a strong sexual separation could raise a society’s spirit, polarity, diversity, and productivity.
- Modern Feminism. Use cultural conditioning to eliminate the natural differences between the sexes. Although this could make for a more just, peaceful, and harmonious society, it would require radical measures of state regulation, which jeopardize personal freedoms and people’s ability to reach their full potential. It would also impair family life and with that children’s emotional development.
- Traditional Feminism. Use cultural conditioning to provide equal opportunities for both sexes. This could be hoped to optimize fairness, individual liberty, and personal development. In practice, however, it would largely manifest biological inequalities on the societal level. This alternative—the mediocre middle way—includes moderate forms of the pros and cons of the two other choices.
Wilson’s conclusion is that “the evidences of biological constraint alone cannot prescribe an ideal course of action. However, they can help us to define the options and to assess the price of each. The price is to be measured in the added energy required for education and reinforcement and in the attrition of individual freedom and potential. And let us face the real issue squarely: since every option has a cost, and concrete ethical principles will rarely find universal acceptance, the choice cannot be made easily” (p. 134). In this sense, the political conflict between the feminist left and the traditional right is a good thing, because it motivates a much-needed dialog.
6. Is Homosexuality Natural?
According to the kin-selection hypothesis of homosexuality, the evolutionary benefit of homosexuals is that they can, unburdened by reproductive efforts, assist close relatives (kin) in rearing more offspring, which increases their own inclusive fitness because they share a large portion of their genes with that offspring.
More broadly, homosexuals often support their entire tribe (extended kin) “in the roles of seers, shamans, artists, and keepers of tribal knowledge” (p. 145). Although the genetic factor might not be absolute, some individuals are hereditarily predisposed to become homosexual in certain social environments.
How to Learn About Human Behavior
What Can Hunter-Gatherers Teach Us about Equality?
Is Feminism Good or Bad? (On the Ethics of Gender Equality)
The Truth about Testosterone: Aggression, Sex, and Social Status