Sexual Deviation and Deviant SexualityHow evolution by sexual selection has produced sexual deviance or sexual deviation - homosexual, gay, queer, lesbian or bisexual sex; homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, sadomasochism (s-m), masturbation, fetishism, paedophilia (pedophilia), voyeurism, exhibitionism, transvestism and other paraphilias.
Sexual Deviation and Deviant Sexuality
10.1 The Aims of this Chapter
10.2 Terminology - Perversion, Sexual Deviance or Paraphilia
10.3 Homosexuality, Prejudice and Normality
10.5 Lesbian and Gay Sexuality and the Victorian Fallacy
10.6 An Aside on Sickle Cell Anaemia
10.7 Bioepistemic Evolution and Sexual Deviation
10.8 General Mechanisms for the Evolution of Sexual Deviation
10.9 Gay Sex and Homosexuality
10.10 Bioepistemic Evolution and Homosexuality
10.11 Sadomasochism (s-m)
10.12 Master, Slave Philosophy
10.13 Sex and Social Power
10.14 Bioepistemic Evolution and Sadomasochism
10.15 Rape and Coercive Sex
10.16 Paedophilia (pedophilia)
10.18 Other forms of Sexual Deviation and Sexual Deviance
10.19 Other Common Sexual Behaviours
10.20 Limits to Sex as a Social Glue
The last chapter summarized the ways in which human heterosexuality is modified by the presence of level3, social knowledge. This chapter will suggest that sexual deviations also originate in social knowledge and will attempt to describe the processes that produced these modifications to human sexual behaviour. For this discussion, "normal" is defined as human heterosexuality (although human heterosexuality is quite abnormal compared to that of animals) and "sexual deviance" is any other sexuality. Major examples of deviant sexuality are homosexuality, sadism, masochism, sadomasochism (or s-m), fetishism, rape, paedophilia (pedophilia), exhibitionism, voyeurism and transvestism; no list could ever be complete since many such traits exist, some very rare. Masturbation has been classified as deviant, though it is not a minority act, and the remainder, taken together, probably affect the psyches of half the human population.
Only a few deviations will be discussed and the aim is explanation not judgement. Unless explicitly stated, this essay neither approves nor disapproves; it merely represents sex as a predominantly social recreation and seeks to explain the structure of the sexual responses that drive sex and society. If that implies any judgement, it supports current social policy in the western world, namely that sexuality and sexual relationship are a matter for the personal preferences of the people involved, provided they be safe, consensual and adult. Some actual behaviours, such as rape, paedophilia (pedophilia) and some expressions of sadism, are not safe, consensual and adult. Even these behaviours will be interpreted as probably "natural" but be aware of the naturalistic fallacy. "Natural" does not mean "good"; explanation is not approval and does not imply that perpetrators of illegal, non-consensual acts should be spared punishment. In sexuality, as elsewhere, a legal line must be drawn that grants protection to some parties and understanding to others. While present British law on sexuality might be improved in detail, this author finds its principles to draw that line reasonably well.
This approach adopted here is encouraged by the way sexual deviations seem to mirror the structure of social knowledge. Thus, the political or power structure of social knowledge is mirrored in sadomasochism. Also, unlike genetic (level1) knowledge, social knowledge is genderless, which might appear in sexual behaviour as homosexuality. (Genderless in the sense that, while level1 knowledge is transmitted from man to woman or down the generations via gender-based sexual mating, level3 knowledge can be transmitted from woman to man as easily as from man to woman and can also be transmitted within social pairs formed by members of the same gender; so social knowledge has no actual "gender," rather the general direction of social knowledge transfer is determined by the hierarchical structure of society.)
Sexual deviations are some of humanity's most perplexing traits and very hard to interpret in terms of conventional evolutionary theory. The ideas of bioepistemic evolution would be greatly supported if they proved able to interpret them, a prospect that steered this work toward sexuality. Moreover, there are significant social reasons for wanting to understand sexual deviation; many people subject to these traits experience great difficulty coming to terms with the fact, a problem made worse by reactions from their contemporaries and society. The results are visible in, for example, the high suicide rate among young, homosexual men. Their deaths are a loss, not just to their families but to a society denied members who, if history is any guide, might have become some of its most creative and constructive participants.
Still, though the objective is worthwhile, developing a self-consistent theory of sexual deviation proved hard. Though the structure of sexual deviation mirrors that of social knowledge, identifying a mechanism whereby the structure of rank3 evolution might feed back to rank1 evolution and to the genes controlling sexual biology is difficult.
A minimum, successful theory must do three things: first, it must use the structures in social knowledge as the source for different forms of sexual deviation; second, it must suggest a mechanism whereby the properties of level3, social knowledge can be transferred into sexual behaviour; third, it must explain why different people exhibit different sexualities. The author tried several unsuccessful approaches before the model to be given here and feels that a coherent theory of sexual deviation cannot be constructed from the evolutionary hierarchy alone; the postulate that the traits enabling people to take part in social pairings are modified forms of sexual pairing is also needed. The discussion given in the later sections of the last chapter was included to support this additional postulate.
Both genders exhibit sexual deviation though, apart from masochism, they are more common in men than women. Readers are referred to Storr (1964), for a popular psychiatrist's view and to Allen (1962), for a more academic description. These are old references and psychiatry is not really explanatory; however, beyond such writings, there has been little progress in understanding the origins of these traits, though the social climate has moved toward a belief in tolerance rather than censure or pathologization. Foucault, a homosexual and philosopher, saw sadomasochism as an eroticization of human power instincts and several workers have speculated on the origins of homosexuality. (Bem (1996) and Bagemihl (1999) will give access to the literature.) The author knows no general evolutionary discussion of their origin and, rape, male dominance and female masochism aside, conventional theory offers few insights - reason enough to examine sexual deviation in the light of the novel evolutionary perspective of this work. In its light, they will appear as similar to other human sexual traits such as cryptic ovulation or the menopause - as consequences of human adaptation to knowledge.
The man-woman social pair was achieved by modifying sexual biology in ways that mean most acts of sexual intercourse are not "intended" for procreation. Human heterosexuality maximizes cultural reproduction and the transfer of knowledge from parents to offspring. Our sexuality is modified to stabilize families and enhance knowledge transfer across the parent-child, social interface. However, the fact that sexual biology is modified to enhance the man-woman and parent-child social pairs allows the postulate that other social pairs are achieved through similar modification. This postulate can, potentially, transform our perspective on sexual deviation.
During the cultural life cycle, knowledge must transfer between many social pairs, some being more important than others. Group selection means that the inclination to form these pairs will be heterogeneously distributed, so that a stable population will contain a mixture of people inclined to enter different social pairings with different roles. The suggestion is: first, the social traits needed to bring people into these pairs are modifications of sexual response; second, desirable social trait will be matched by sexualities in the other gender to provide the necessary evolutionary arrows.
This proposal creates two possible sources of deviant sexuality. First, a deviance may arise by being the sexuality in one gender that creates the evolutionary arrow producing a social trait in the other gender. An example may be female masochism, creating an evolutionary arrow for male aggression and dominance. Second, it is suggested, sexual deviations can arise as by-products of the modifications of sexuality that produce social pairs. This is a more general mechanism and will be described in section 10.8.
In either case, sexual deviation is seen to be intrinsic to the evolution of social groups. It will be argued that coevolution between knowledge and genes leads to a proportion of the population being sexually deviant and the deviances will be matched to characteristics enhancing group knowledge flow.
The terminology used for these traits has a controversial history. Kraft-Ebbing (in Psychopathia Sexualis) regarded them as arising from disease processes as did Freud (1977), who in Three Essays on Sexuality discussed Sexual Aberrations and used the term perversions. Such assertions had little theoretical or observational base and, while their work opened the subject to discussion, it also led to all deviant expressions of sexuality, including masturbation, being seen as having a disease aetiology. They were often taken to justify compulsory but ineffective medical treatment or even criminal penalties.
Havelock Ellis, who was married (apparently happily) to a lesbian, rejected the disease aetiology and used the softer term deviation rather than perversion. Today, activists find even the word "deviant" unacceptable, arguing that it implies abnormality.
Nowadays the word paraphilia is often used as an alternative to deviance. The prefix para means beside, altered or amiss - so the word paraphilia implies that these traits are somehow peripheral to human sexuality. This work argues otherwise, that they are intrinsic to a human sexual makeup that is necessarily heterogeneous. Accordingly, the term paraphilia will not be used here and the older term, deviation, will be adopted.
However, this work uses "deviant" to imply minority rather than abnormal, a usage that seems technically correct. Ever since Durkheim, it has been recognized that deviations from normal behaviour are an important part of the makeup of any society and necessary if it is to progress. (For comparison, innovation, such as the creation of new scientific theories, is a recognized form of deviance.) Accordingly, given that heterosexuality is the norm, one can describe homosexuality as deviant without that description being a negative comment or implying that homosexuality is not natural. Deviance is a neutral word that just means not following the norm.
Psychology often uses a very arbitrary rule of thumb, namely that characteristics are deviant when exhibited by less than 10% of a population and normal if shown by more than that percentage. This rule fails for sexual deviation. Good statistics are rare and clouded by questions of definition but, where figures are known, some sexual deviances hover around 10%. For example, exclusively homosexual males, that is men interested only in sex with other men, seem to comprise about 5% of the male population, which would make homosexuality deviant. If bisexuals are added, the total is 15% or more, thus making bisexuality normal and homosexuality deviant.
Sadomasochism has been subject to fewer population studies but the situation is similar. The Kinsey institute estimates that 5-10% of American couples occasionally engage in sadomasochistic practices for pleasure - the masochist normally initiating them. Comfort, in The Joy of Sex, describes bondage techniques and argues that most people enjoy sex with the responsibility taken away from them. The implication is that masochistic feelings are well in excess of the 10% figure, while sadists might be about that number. Thus, a 10% criterion might make masochism normal and sadism deviant.
Such conclusions are sufficiently ridiculous to justify dropping the 10% criterion but not the word "deviance". A word is needed and deviance is used here, though it is somewhat arbitrary. For present purposes, sexual deviation simply means any sexual practice not regarded as mainstream.
Up to two hundred thousand* homosexuals were killed in Nazi Germany's concentration camps and, in the postwar period, Britain and the USA led the civilized world in the vigour with which they repressed their homosexual communities. For evidence, read Wildeblood's (1955) account of his trial and imprisonment for homosexual acts or Davenport-Hines (1990) for a historical review of Britain's attitude to sexuality. Both the great and small were caught up in this prejudice, including the English mathematician and homosexual, Allen Turing; he was forced to accept "treatment" with hormones, and eventually driven to suicide. That seems a curious way to thank a man who was central to wartime code breaking, who saved thousands of allied lives and undoubtedly shortened the second world war significantly.
Antipathy toward deviant sexual traits is traditionally justified by asserting that heterosexuality is sex as God meant it to be because it can produce children. The Bible does appear to prohibit homosexuality, in the destruction of Sodom, and Freud's arguments enhanced those views (though he, himself, seemed more concerned with anal sexuality than might be considered normal). Normality is always equated with procreative potential which, one might observe, tends to increase not just the population but also the temporal power of current political authorities. Nonetheless, it does seem intuitively natural to equate normal sex with reproductive potential. The problem is that this natural intuition is wrong (see section 9.4); biologically, most human sexual acts are not for procreation, they are for pair formation.
Homosexuality could be compared with left-handedness as both affect about the same proportion of people - around 10% for left-handedness and 5% to 15% for homosexuality, depending on whether bisexuality is included. Both traits have been targets for social sanctions and, in the days of witch-burning, left-handedness could put a person in danger. In English the word "sinister" has two meanings, "evil or base" or "left", the latter being its Latin meaning. The first meaning reflects early and often lethal superstitions against the minority of people who prefer to use their left hand. The French "gauche" also has dual meanings. Today, prejudice against left-handedness has declined but the term "cack-handed" bears thought and some children still develop lifelong stutters through being forced to use their right hands.
The origins of left-handedness and right-handedness can be discussed in terms of the respective advantages of the two. For some purposes, in contest situations like tennis, often in minority win game situations, left-handedness helps as opponents have limited opportunity to practise against the style. At other times, in majority win games, such as being a member of a legion, manual conformity and right-handedness is an advantage. In evolution, this trade-off produces an evolutionarily stable state, an ESS, in which the population has a stable minority of left-handers.
Discussions of sex engage our private sensitivities, and have made similar discussions of sexuality difficult, though this problem has declined in recent decades and comment has become less constrained and constraining. Nonetheless evolutionary debate remains focused on genes, a focus that leads inevitably to homosexuality being perceived as sterile which, in a biological sense, it is. However, bioepistemic evolution raises the possibility that homosexuality might not be sterile in the epistemic sense, because it matches some of the social pairs across which knowledge must flow, man-man or woman-woman. On this basis, homosexuality may be maintained in a population as part of a stable mixture of sexualities.
* Note, 200 000 is the top of the range of estimates for the number of homosexuals killed in concentration camps and many scholars dispute it. For example, Prof. Erwin Haeberle of the Humboldt University, Berlin, advises me that recent estimates put the number at between 5,000 and 15,000. My thanks to him for ths information.
Having concluded some preliminary remarks, we will move on to discuss specific behaviours, beginning with the most common of all sexual "deviations," masturbation.
Technically, masturbation is not a deviation because it is a majority activity and its portrayal as a perversion pathologizes most of the human population from their teens onwards. It is very likely that the people who performed this characterization were pathologizing themselves.
In the field of sexuality, objective statistics are very hard to obtain but Kinsey showed clearly that masturbation is very common. Rather than hand out questionnaires, which might not be taken seriously, his technique was to ask people, in as non-judgemental a manner as possible, about their sex lives. Either he, or a close associate, interviewed subjects, one to one, thus slowly accumulating statistics. His work, and all other studies, indicate that virtually all males masturbate during adolescence, the incidence being in the region of 95 to 98%. Among males, masturbation is statistically more normal than heterosexuality. Shared masturbatory experiences, involving two or more young males, also occur and are not particular indicators of future homosexuality. Masturbation is less common among women, with an incidence of about 60%.
As dog and cat owners know, many mammals engage in self-stimulation of the genitals. Chimpanzees masturbate both alone and mutually. For example de Waal (1982) describes a male, exhausted from previous encounters, inserting his finger into the vagina of an eager female. Masturbation is now seen as a normal but biologically irrelevant form of sex.
Given its incidence, one must question the idea that masturbation is biologically irrelevant. Mutual masturbation is commonly practised by married couples and, remembering that the main purpose of sex is pairing not procreation, mutual, heterosexual masturbation might be almost as able to maintain a pair as intercourse. Sexual selection occurs at the point of pairing and maintenance of stable sexual partnerships and an individual proficient in masturbating a partner is more likely to be selected or retained than one who lacks that skill. These circumstances seem to create the unexpected possibility that proficiency in masturbation could enhance biological fitness and so influence the evolution of those organs involved in the act, the arm, hand and genitals.
The idea that masturbation might have a biological function seems, to put it mildly, unusual but the logic has no obvious fault and has the merit of explaining why so many people engage in this biologically "fruitless" activity. The suggestion is left for readers to consider.
The British legal system prohibited homosexuality in the 19th century in statutes sometimes known as the "buggery laws" and applied to sexual acts between men. For nearly a century those laws were used to pursue many perfectly harmless men (Davenport-Hines (1990)). Somewhat oddly, British law never banned lesbianism and an amusing, though possibly apocryphal, story explains the reasons for this glaring gender bias.
Queen Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert must have been one of the happiest in the history of our royal household. They adored one another, she being especially besotted by the handsome and gifted German prince whom fate and European politics had made her husband. Queen Victoria was happily and passionately heterosexual. The point of the story is that she was also quite unable to comprehend the idea that any woman might be sexually attracted to another woman.
Then, as now, new British statutes required the monarch's signature before becoming law. Then, as now, the monarch could not withhold that signature into the teeth of parliamentary will but courtesy tends to smooth the processes of government and proposed laws were discussed with the Queen before being passed through parliament. When the laws against homosexuality were being discussed, she set herself against prohibiting lesbianism, seeing no need to ban something, she felt, could not possibly exist. Parliament was not primarily concerned with female sexuality and deferred to the Queen's feelings so that, while Britain prohibited male homosexuality, lesbianism remained legal.
Whatever the truth of this story, the underlying attitude will be called the Victorian fallacy. One form of this fallacy is the belief that because you, yourself, do not experience a particular sexual urge, that urge should not be experienced by other people and must be an invalid form of sexuality. This is plainly wrong; one might just as well say that, because one has blue eyes, nobody could possibly have brown eyes. The more extreme form of the Victorian fallacy, exhibited more by the Victorian law-makers than the Queen, is to hold that because you do not experience a particular sexual urge, that urge must be depraved, perverted or otherwise damaging and must be prohibited and punished.
Actually, everybody is in Victoria's position. Nobody can be subject to every sexual urge; everyone must look at some traits and uncomprehendingly wonder how anyone could feel that way. Nonetheless, denying the possibility of those feelings in others is misguided. These traits are real and are, mostly, harmless recreation between consenting adults. In such circumstances, onlookers need do no more than try to understand. Only if a trait is actually or potentially damaging, or involves nonconsensual relationships, should outsiders become involved. Even then, drawing practical lines is difficult.
Nature and Nurture
Another common fallacy about sexual deviations is that they arise from upbringing. For example, fetishists sometimes attribute their sexual inclinations to early exposure to the target of their fetish, such as rubber or leather an explanation that may interpret their own feelings but does not explain the phenomenon. Even if every boy exposed to rubber subsequently developed an adult sexual attachment to it, and fetishism is a predominantly male trait, the existence in the human psyche of the potentiality to be so affected would still need explanation. Why would, indeed how could, a trait survive that transforms trivial childhood exposures into radical and biologically unfit alterations in adult sexual psychology?
Without intending to belittle or deny personal experience, "I played with rubber once as a child," cannot adequately explain rubber fetishism and, as a historic record, invites questions about why human psychology should be so organized as to allow minor exposures to produce such effects. Similar comments could be made concerning common explanations for other sexual deviations. Accordingly we need to examine a known mechanism whereby evolution can establish a biologically unfit trait in a minority population.
Sickle cell anaemia (SCA) is a disease caused by a mutation in haemoglobin, the red, oxygen-carrying protein that gives blood its colour. This disease is the classic demonstration of how population genetics interprets a stable, heterogeneous population and shows how deleterious traits can be stably present in a population - hence its relevance to a discussion of sexual deviation. Red blood cells, which contain haemoglobin, normally have a discus shape but those from SCA sufferers are deformed into crescent moons or sickles, so giving the disease its name. The deformation occurs because the mutant haemoglobin forms long fibres that deform the cell. Normal haemoglobin does not form these fibres and allows the red cell to adopt its familiar, discus shape. The oxygen carrying capacity of sickle cell haemoglobin is quite normal but this sickling damages the red cells and patients with SCA soon have these cells removed by the liver, leaving them with reduced oxygen transport ability and impaired life expectancy. (In the west, patients receive blood transfusions but still suffer problems because iron from excess haemoglobin accumulates in the liver, impairing its function.)
SCA mostly occurs in people of African descent and, in Africa, its distribution almost exactly matches that of malaria, a disease caused by infection with a protozoan called a plasmodium. In human hosts, the plasmodium lives inside red cells and feeds on haemoglobin. The plasmodium finds sickle cell haemoglobin unpalatable being, presumably, unable to digest the fibres it produces. The result is that people who suffer from SCA have the consolation of being immune to malaria, though they still die young.
Some people have the best of both worlds. Humans are diploid organisms, and have two copies of the genes for haemoglobin. In a population containing genes for both sickle cell haemoglobin (HbS) and normal haemoglobin (Hb), some people will be homozygous for Hb, (that is they will have two copies of that gene) and be susceptible to malaria, some will be homozygous for HbS and be immune to malaria but die young from sickle cell anaemia and some people will be heterozygotes, they will have one copy of the HbS gene and one of the Hb gene. These heterozygotes are very fit indeed; not only are they immune to malaria, they do not suffer from sickle cell anaemia. As individuals, they are fine but, and this is a matter of statistics, if two heterozygotes mate, only half their offspring will be heterozygotes like themselves. The other half will either be susceptible to malaria or suffer from sickle cell anaemia.
Depending upon the relative advantages of these various traits, which will depend upon the incidence of malaria, an evolutionarily stable state (ESS) will emerge in which the population will be heterogeneous. A proportion will be homozygous sufferers from sickle cell anaemia, a proportion will be heterozygous, healthy carriers of the sickle cell trait and a proportion will be normal and subject to malaria. Sickle cell anaemia, itself, is not an adaptation, it is a by-product of an adaptation that is of benefit to other members of the population and that is the point of this story. A similar situation exists with cystic fibrosis, a single copy of the gene for which is carried by about 4% of the British population. These carriers are thought to benefit by being fairly resistant to enteric infections, such as cholera - not very important today but a real advantage when such diseases were commonplace. The much rarer homozygotes become very ill with cystic fibrosis.
It is tempting to interpret homosexuality and bisexuality in these terms, (e.g., see Gould (1982)) bisexuals being seen as heterozygotes, but the approach has weaknesses; it is unclear how bisexuals might gain a reproductive advantage over heterosexuals and this mechanism for generating population heterogeneity does not obviously relate to sexuality. Still, the point of this aside is that sickle cell anaemia shows that evolved populations can be heterogeneous and that reproductively disadvantageous traits can be stably present as by-products of other adaptations.
Geneticists have discussed the differences between human and animal sexuality at length (Ridley (1993) and Miller (2000)). Such explanations of human sexuality point to the lengthy human childhood, the time and effort involved in teaching and raising children and the advantages of a stable parental pair. This means, in the terminology of this work, that level3 knowledge has shaped human sexuality. Bioepistemic evolution makes this point automatically, by noting that human evolution involves two pools of knowledge, level1 and level3. Level1 knowledge formed our ancestral, animal sexuality but level3 knowledge converted that sexuality into an instrument of socialization and communication to enhance group culture.
One can imagine a group's culture being enhanced in three different ways. First, the quantity of knowledge could be increased; second, the accuracy, effectiveness or "truth" (whatever truth might mean) of the knowledge can be improved; third, the ease and speed with which knowledge is transferred between the social actors who use it can be increased.
It is suggested that sexuality is mainly modified to do the third of these things. If we are to transmit or receive knowledge effectively, we must feel fulfilled by the activity, meaning we need a social glue to keep us together and engaged in the social intercourse needed for knowledge transfer. Our sexuality is adapted to provide a part of that glue.
Level3 knowledge is not gender-determined and is associated with groups and hierarchies, rather than individuals. In a prototypical family hierarchy, communication is within social pairs of man down to woman, woman down to child, child down to pet. Larger groups also contain pairs of man down to man, woman down to woman and woman down to man, where "down to" shows the hierarchy relations involved. It is suggested that evolution has modified sexuality to create the traits people need to form these social pairs. The evolutionary benefit of that process is the improvement of level3 knowledge and the phenomena we call sexual deviation are produced as by-products. Although genetic and gender-based in origin, the attributes of human sexuality have moved away from the level1 model to be driven by the distributive and power properties of level3 knowledge.
Looking at sexuality in a bioepistemic way means seeking traits in sexuality that reflect the properties of social knowledge. Traits such as cryptic ovulation and the menopause were so derived and, it is argued, sexual deviations such as homosexuality, sadomasochism etc. also arise this way and are products of evolutionary history. Like sickle cell anaemia, they are part of some evolutionarily stable state that sacrifices the biological fitness of some individuals in return for benefit elsewhere but here the benefit concerns group fitness and level3 knowledge transfer.
This leads to a general feature of sexual deviations, namely that, except for masochism, they mostly affect males. Homosexuality, fetishism, physical sadism, paedophilia and many other traits, do occur among women but are more common in men. The reason is likely to be that, while human sexual changes may be driven by culture, they are restrained by biology, and a group's reproductive potential depends on its population of fertile women. Since one man can fertilize several women, men are reproductively disposable and can be given traits that make them biologically unfit in return for greater group fitness. This argument about male disposability is similar in principle to those explaining why males are willing to adopt higher risk life strategies than females (see, for example, Dawkins (1989) ch. 9), Ridley (1993) ch. 6). A male risks his life trying to take over a group because the risk is worth taking - victory would enable him to fertilize many females. Risks are less worthwhile for a female; whatever her social status, she can only have so many pregnancies.
Section 10.1 noted two possible sources of deviant sexuality. The first was simply the sexuality in one gender that produces a social trait in the other. The second possible source arose from sexuality being modified to form social pairs. This needs to be explained in more detail and the mechanism proposed is shown diagrammatically in Fig. 10.1. At the top right is sex, the primordial socializing force. Sex requires animals to have traits that draw them into social pairs lasting at least long enough to assess one another as potential partners. In the course of evolution, this basic, sexual pairing becomes modified to create whatever social pair is needed. If mammals are to form groups, social pairs must form to handle the circulating social knowledge. Sexuality becomes adapted to further these other social pairs.
In principle, sexuality might be modified to do this in two ways. Animal sexuality might first be copied, then the spare copy modified to create the traits inherent in the pair. Such a "copy then modify" process would make everyone normally heterosexual independently of social traits. However, "copy then modify" does not seem to have happened and, probably could not as the initial "copy" implies an evolutionary plan.
The second possibility is that each person has only one sexuality, which becomes modified and extended to create the traits necessary for social pair formation. These modification might be separately coded in genes or might result from a malleability that allows sexuality to respond to environmental factors. Therefore, this mechanism does not specify whether any particular deviant sexuality arises from genetic or environmental factors but, in either case, people are left with sexualities modified by feedback from the forms of social pairing required by group selection.
We will regard sexual response as divided into the three layers summarized in Fig. 10.2. This organization should not be taken too literally, because humans are actually far more complex than this diagram and the properties we require could be possessed by many structures.
1. A target recognition device (TRD); this is a device that encourages people (or animals) to examine other individuals or objects to identify those with whom they might wish to relate or socialize. This is a shallow layer, easily modified and freely communicating with other parts of the brain.
2. An amour generator (AG), causing attraction and/or emotional affection. If the TRD finds a target meeting specifications, the AG triggers sexual desire. This layer is only partially controlled by the target recognition device and can independently retain a degree of genetic preference, for example, heterosexual preference. The AG is a deeply ingrained structure; it can be modified but not so easily as the TRD.
3. A biological mechanism (BM) to produce the hormonal and biological responses of sex. It is the most deeply ingrained of the three layers, can be modified only over many generations but is controlled by signals from the amour generator.
This picture allows a general model to be developed for the formation of sexual deviations according to the following steps.
1. A social animal must develop the traits needed to form social pairs and these come about by modifying the traits in the target recognition device. The effect of the modifications is that people enjoy one another's company or enjoy different ways of interacting with one another.
2. A desirable social trait will produce results that are attractive to the opposite gender and cause its possessor to be sexually selected. The most common result will be social success, causing promotion up the social hierarchy and biological fitness, so producing an evolutionary arrow that strengthens the modification of sexuality that originally produced the desirable social trait.
3. The modification of sexuality that produced the desirable pair will become stronger over time and begin to exert a greater impact on sexuality, even modifying the amour generator and changing a person's pattern of sexual attraction.
4. If this changed pattern of sexual attraction is reproductively desirable, it will eventually begin to modify sexual biology itself, as seems to have happened with the mother-baby relationship.
5. If the changed pattern of sexuality is reproductively undesirable, an evolutionary stable state will be reached at which the evolutionary arrow strengthening the modification of sexuality is counterbalanced by the loss of reproduction due to its effects on the amour generator.
Two examples will be given, to make this model clearer, the eroticization of the breast, already discussed and arising from the mother-baby social pair, and the development of homosexuality, arising from same gender social pairs, which offers a lead in to the next section.
Eroticization of the Breast
Even before mammals appeared, sexuality will have become modified to achieve the mother-baby pair, causing animal mothers to be attracted to their offspring and want to associate with them. Such responses would be favoured by natural selection so that, over the generations, the modifications to sexuality that produced them would become stronger and reach down into the amour generator, producing sexual feelings between mother and baby. In mammals, with the appearance of mammary glands, this has elaborated into the biological mechanisms of their relationship and an erotic response to suckling that rewards breast feeding. All such changes will predate mankind.
Larger, multifamily groups need socialization between same gender pairs, which is achieved by modifying the TRD so that, for example, males identify other males as targets for socialization. Suitable modifications, limited to the target recognition device, will create same gender social pairs without same gender emotional or sexual involvements arising from deeper modifications.
Once created, the social pair has a desirable social effect and tends to give its possessors enhanced social position, thereby making them more attractive to the opposite gender and improving their prospects under sexual selection. Over time, this selection would strengthen the modification of sexuality that produced same gender social pair. As the modification became stronger, it would begin to change the amour generator so that people would not wish merely to socialize with same sex targets but will become sexually attracted to them, creating bisexuality or even exclusive homosexuality. Such changes will eventually become reproductively undesirable, so preventing further strengthening of this modification of sexuality. An ESS will arise in which a stable proportion of the population are homosexual.
The term homosexual is used here for people who are sexually attracted to members of their own gender. Lesbians are female homosexuals and the word gay has become synonymous with homosexual. Partly in reaction to persecution, homosexuality has become the most conspicuous of all sexual deviations and recent decades have seen the growth of gay rights movements in many countries. Homosexual practices are recorded in many civilizations, stretching back beyond ancient Greece, where it was very common and received support from Plato. Various forms of homosexuality are reported among animal species (Bagemihl (1999)). Many well-known figures have been homosexual, Plato, Alexander the Great, Michelangelo, Tchaikovsky, Oscar Wilde, James Buchanan (fifteenth US president), J. Edgar Hoover and Rock Hudson are a few examples. Gertrude Stein and Martina Navratilova are famous lesbians.
Many gay people report that their leanings arose at an early age, without being the result of any early trauma or experience. The current view is that homosexuality is under genetic control, though the extent of that control is unclear and environmental factors may yet prove to partially determine an individual's inclinations. Either way, homosexual preference does seem to have a natural origin and is not simply a manifestation of humans growing up in, or being deformed by, civilization.
A person is exclusively homosexual if sexually attracted only to their own gender but many people are bisexual, attracted to people of both their own and the opposite gender. About 5% of men and half that number of women are exclusively homosexual but bisexuality is much more common, the proportion depending upon definition. The Kinsey interviewers placed people on a scale running from purely heterosexual to purely homosexual. Bisexuals with a substantial proportion of homosexual leaning, seem to make up about 15% of men and about 10% of women. If taken to include anyone who even experiments a few times, bisexuality in men approaches or exceeds 30% but such a definition seems overly flexible.
Besides their sexuality, only one observable difference seems to have been reported between homosexual and heterosexual males and this does not necessarily apply to humans. The amygdala of the brain of homosexual rams more closely resembles that of ewes than of other rams.
Homosexuality is not associated with any other discernible physical, emotional or psychological trait. Physically and biologically homosexual men and women are in all respects normal and cannot be distinguished from other people. Gay men have a normal balance of hormones, they are not taller or shorter, or more or less muscular, than other men and they have beards and deep voices. Men with high voices or "pretty" faces, men who are quiet, shy or not muscular are not more likely to be homosexual than other men. The same is true, with due modification, for lesbians. A woman may look like a movie goddess, and still be attracted to other women; she may also be muscular, deep-voiced and need to control her facial hair, yet be heterosexual. "Treatment" of male homosexuals with male sex hormones intensifies their desire but does not alter their sexual leanings and they remain attracted to other men; treating normal men with female sex hormones does not make them homosexual, though it alters their voice and makes them grow breasts.
The same is true of people's psychological makeup. In most respects, homosexual men are like other men. They are, for example, both more aggressive than women and more mechanical in their sexual responses so that gay men seek more partners than lesbians. Homosexual men are often more promiscuous than heterosexual men but this difference reflects opportunity, not nature - heterosexual men must invest time wooing prospective partners. By contrast, homosexual women tend to have few partners and it is not unknown for lesbian couples to have a very restricted sex life, neither partner wishing to take the initiative. These characteristics are reflected in the rate at which venereal diseases spread through the two communities. In respect of AIDS, gay men are a high risk group, while lesbians are at low risk.
Some health issues surround the gay life style. Gay men often engage in anal intercourse, one partner's anus becoming a substitute for the woman's vagina. This practice can be questioned on health grounds, since the anus is less flexible, robust and hygienic than the vagina but, nonetheless, doctors seem to think that, in itself, it causes no long term problems and the practice does occur among heterosexual couples. A greater concern is the epidemiological consequence of multiple partners and lack of hygiene in anal intercourse. Among gay men, venereal disease can spread rapidly, as the incidence of AIDS among them shows. Physicians therefore urge gay men either to form long-term, monogamous relationships or adopt safe sex practices.
The bioepistemic interpretation of homosexuality notes that humans inherit two forms of knowledge, level1 and level3, the first gender-based, the second genderless and notes that the genderless pool of knowledge may have driven sexual natures in a genderless direction, that is towards homosexuality. The difficulty is to find a mechanism that could transfer the properties of the rapidly evolving pool of level3 knowledge onto the slowly evolving, gender based, level1 knowledge. Section 10.8 briefly gave a possible mechanism.
Initially, social pairs are heterosexual pairs. As social groupings emerge, sexuality becomes modified to enable other social pairs to form. One modification produces the capacity for same gender cooperation and interactions, such things as the male-male and female-female friendships, organizations and hierarchies that are essential for social groups of any size. The personal traits needed for these same gender social pairs arise by modifying the target recognition module, so that males, for example, begin to see other males as targets for socialization. Although the extent of the modification is modulated to avoid creating same gender emotional or sexual involvements, the same gender social ability it provides will make individuals politically successful and, therefore, more attractive to members of the opposite gender and biologically fitter. Thus, the modification of sexuality will become stronger.
The strengthening of this modification of sexuality will come up against a limit. If it becomes too strong, it will modify the amour generator as well as the targeting functions, and individuals will become emotionally and sexually attracted to their own gender and want to do more than merely socialize with them. If the amour generator is partially modified, bisexuality will result, if it is fully modified, exclusive homosexuality will arise.
Exclusive homosexuals are biologically sterile, so the modification of sexuality that produces homosexuality will be subject to competing evolutionary pressures. On the one hand is an evolutionary arrow that continuously strengthens it, on the other is the failure to breed of those whose sexuality is most strongly modified. The result will be an ESS in which the population contains a stable proportion of homosexuals and bisexuals.
On this basis, homosexuality ultimately stems from the absence of gender in social knowledge. Group fitness requires a maximal range of level3 knowledge transfers which, in turn, requires social communication between same gender pairs. Evolution has achieved this by reducing the gender specificity in sexuality and has produced homosexuality as a by-product. It is also possible that this by-product may, itself, have a social role.
A small proportion of exclusive homosexuals may improve group fitness because their presence, as a minority, would produce a population of males who would be childless. Lacking the concerns of parenthood, they would be focused on learned knowledge and increase group fitness by increasing the volume and quality of its social knowledge base. They might also open up new avenues and intimacies of communication which, according to Foucault (1978), is the kind of argument Plato used in support of homosexuality. An older, presumably dominant, partner can become mentor and advocate for an adolescent lover. One can imagine ways in which such intimacies would increase group fitness by improving the evolution of level3 knowledge but their impact would be hard to quantify.
Because homosexuals are most often males, the loss of their reproductive potential does not reduce the reproductive potential of a group, it being recoverable through polygamy and male promiscuity. Moreover, surveys suggest that many lesbian women overcome their feelings about men out of a desire for children, so that their reproductive potential is probably not lost. The net effect is that homosexuality can increase evolutionary fitness at level3, without impairing it at level1. On this basis, which is not an established fact, homosexuality is neither a perversion nor an abnormality but an evolutionary adaptation that happens to produce a deviant minority. It is, nonetheless, an adaptation, as natural as a brain or hand.
If this interpretation is correct, then homosexuality has been present in our ancestors for a long time, long enough for this modification to have modified the biological mechanisms of sex. Some facts seem to support this view; the evidence that it is genetically controlled, reports of homosexuality in animals, the innervation of the anus, the location and sensitivity of the prostate and the insistence, by passive male homosexuals, that they can achieve orgasm through this form of intercourse, all suggest that homosexuality is built into sexual biology and is not just an aberrant sexuality.
Sadomasochism (SM) consists of two complementary sexual deviations, sadism and masochism. A sadist is a person who derives sexual pleasure and excitement from inflicting pain upon, dominating or otherwise humiliating a sexual partner, or at least from fantasizing about such acts. A masochist is a person who is sexually excited at the act or thought of being the victim of such treatment. Because of their complementarity, sadism and masochism are often discussed together as sadomasochism.
Masochism is the more common of the two though, like homosexuality, it varies in intensity and estimates of its incidence are dogged by difficulties of definition and reticence in discussing intimate feelings. It is more common among women than men, breaking the rule that men are more deviant than women but sexual submissiveness may be adaptive for a woman's biological fertility and her prototypical family role. Somewhere between 15% and more than 50% of women are masochistic and the trait merges with a woman's traditional desire to be "swept off her feet," implying submission to symbolic acts of domination by a partner. Among men, the incidence of masochism seems to range from about 10% to 25%, again depending on definition and subject to measuring difficulties. Kinsey estimated that about 10% of all heterosexual couples engage in sadomasochistic games and it may be more common among homosexuals than heterosexuals. Many couples play switch games, alternating dominant and submissive roles.
The incidence of male masochism is such that about half of all prostitutes offer to subject clients to such acts as bondage, flagellation and degradations of various other forms, always stopping if it all becomes too much for him (or for her, since women sometimes seek and pay for the same service.) Sadomasochism is the basis for many role play games in which one party takes the role of an authority figure, such as a prostitute dressing as a policewoman, nurse or teacher.
Most masochists gain pleasure from fantasies about pain etc. but are no more able to tolerate the reality than anyone else. They reify their feelings into games, either to induce sexual interest or heighten pleasure. Despite the symbolism and fantasy, the submissive is usually in charge of these games, both initiating and ending them. A very few people need pain to become sexually excited or gain fulfilment and some desire, and can accept, severe, prolonged torture.
Sadists are less common than masochists and, presumably, experience no difficulty finding masochistic partners, though estimates of incidence are hard to find. Five to fifteen percent of men and about 3% of women seem reasonable figures for the trait of being sexually excited by the idea of physically abusing a partner.
A caveat needs stating about sadism; though it sounds contradictory, there must be such a thing as responsible sadism in relationships that, despite appearances, are mutually caring and consensual. For them, dominance is a way to gain, and give, sexual excitement and, as with masochists, most sadists merely act out their fantasy in games. Only a tiny minority express their feelings by actually injuring, raping or murdering partners. They are sociopaths, genuine threats to the health and life of those who chance upon them.
One can easily identify some historic figures who were masochists, T. E. Lawrence and Rousseau for example, but it is more difficult to identify individuals of a sadistic bent. They are, perhaps, more reluctant to disclose feelings that might make them seem potentially dangerous.
Sadomasochism is more complex than homosexuality. Sadism and masochism are often treated as just one trait, opposite ends of a psychological spectrum with normality in the middle but this seems wrong; they are best seen as separate traits. Some people fantasize both ways and enjoy games in either dominant or submissive roles. On a single spectrum picture, they should not occur. Also, the two traits are structurally different. Sadism, seems internally generated, focused on personal outputs and control, not inputs. Masochism is the opposite, focused on externally generated inputs or sensations coupled to an abnegation of control over their nature.
There are some suggestions that masochism originates in endorphin biochemistry. (Endorphins are the brain's natural painkillers, produced in response to pain. Opiates, such as morphine and heroin, act on endorphin receptors so that the natural painkillers produced following pain or exercise can produce an opiate-like high.) Such biochemistry will come into play during and following sadomasochistic activities and such ideas can be assembled into a theory for the mechanism of masochism. However they cannot address its underlying cause, explain sadism or become a general theory of sexuality.
One philosopher can teach us a lot about sadism, namely the Marquis de Sade, the French aristocrat, writer and contemporary of Napoleon, from whom the phenomenon takes its name. De Sade was a sadist, whose adult thoughts were filled with fantasies about torture and murder. Though reports vary about the extent of his doing so, he put his fantasies into practice, beating one lowborn girl and facing a lawsuit as a result. His aristocratic status might have protected him but he became so extreme as to embarrass even the French nobility and he spent many of his later years in confinement.
He used those years to commit many of his fantasies and ideas to paper to produce extraordinary works that remain read to this day. They are a mixture of outright and very repetitive pornography, intertwined with equally repetitive statements of a philosophy his torturers try to teach his victims. The pornography was popular after his death but it was the philosophy that kept his work alive; it expresses, in extreme and clear form, a perfectly self-consistent set of ideas.
De Sade's idea is this, "You (the victim) exist only to satisfy my whim; I am superior; you are inferior; nobody will try to protect you; you have no rights; there is no God to whom you can turn for protection; there are no rules or reasons you can invoke and no decency in me that will finally spare you." De Sade was contemptuous of his victims and their whining about what he should or should not do. To him, only one choice existed; be the master and make the rules or be the slave and accept whatever rules serve your master's pleasure. The very act of following rules was the act of a slave. In his mind, he was the master and the only things that mattered were his own desires. It is instructive to compare de Sade's thought with the political thinking of Machiavelli, summarized in section 5.3. De Sade simply sees himself as the leader whose word is final, unanswerable and, if he so wills, capricious.
In the underpinnings of this posture, two things stand out. The first is the complete rejection of all rules or logic as they might apply to him. Self-interest is his only concern. The second is his torturers' striking desire to teach this shallow insight to their victims. It is this desire to teach that seems the only real, logical inconsistency in de Sade's philosophy.
Nearly a hundred years later, another philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, reached similar conclusions though, as a more peaceable man, he is not known to have tortured anyone. Nietzsche was born in 1844, son of a German priest who became a student at Leipzig, where he showed such brilliance he was appointed to a Professorship in Basle at age 25. Sadly, possibly in Leipzig, he may have contracted syphilis, a venereal disease that can affect the brain. It slowly progressed during his adult life and, at 35, he left Basle on health grounds, with a university pension, to become a solitary wanderer around France, Italy and Switzerland. He wrote most of his important work during the ten year period following his departure from Basle. His mind collapsed in 1888 and the empty shell of his body died in an asylum in 1900.
Nietzsche abandoned religion and came to despise it, particularly the Christianity of his youth. He saw life as a many-sided struggle for power in which everyone takes part, that humans were nothing but The Will to Power. Thus, some people are subject to power and others exercise it, a truth, he says that finds expression in our moral codes. As he says in Beyond Good and Evil (para 260) :-
In a tour of the many finer and coarser moralities which have ruled or still rule on earth I found .... a basic distinction emerged. There is master morality and slave morality.
Religion, said Nietzsche, spreads a moral code teaching men to be slaves. He came to admire the master, the strong man, the individual, the superman who wrote the rules. Consider this description from The Will to Power (para 962).
A great man - a man whom nature has constructed and invented in the grand style - what is he?
First: there is a long logic in all of his activity, hard to survey because of its length, and consequently misleading; he has the ability to extend his will across great stretches of his life and to despise and reject everything petty about him, including even the fairest, "divinest" things in the world.
Secondly: he is colder, harder, less hesitating, and without fear of "opinion"; he lacks the virtues that accompany respect and "respectability," and altogether everything that is part of the "virtue of the herd." If he cannot lead, he goes alone; then it can happen that he may snarl at some things he meets on his way.
Third: he wants no "sympathetic" heart, but servants, tools; in his intercourse with men he is always intent on making something out of them. He knows he is incommunicable: he finds it tasteless to be familiar; and when one thinks he is, he usually is not. When not speaking to himself, he wears a mask. He rather lies than tells the truth: it requires more spirit and will. There is a solitude within him that is inaccessible to praise or blame, his own justice that is beyond appeal.
In his admiration for the superman, Nietzsche seems to have missed the real dangers he poses; many people saw Hitler as a Nietzschean superman and Nietzsche's reputation declined after world war II - a real irony given his own biting contempt for antisemitism. Also, while the submissive posturing associated with religious ritual supports Nietzsche's point about moral codes, he seems to have underestimated the very real desire for subordination that makes those codes work. In any event, Nietzsche gave names to the patterns of thought associated with master and slave, Dionysian and Apollonian, after the Gods Dionysus and Apollo. (Nietzsche, had wider and less precise meanings for these terms but they have also been used in anthropology and their usage has developed (see glossary). Dionysian thought is that of the master, of domination or, more generally of the communicative transmitter; Apollonian thought is that of the slave, of subordination or of the communicative receiver.)
The significance of this classification for philosophy is that it raises questions such as, "What about logic, rationality and the thought leading to science?" Chapter 12 will answer that they are the thought of the slave but for now it is enough to note that humans have two modes of thought linked to knowledge and social power. We have Dionysian thought, linked to domination or the transmission of knowledge, and Apollonian thought linked to subordination and receipt of knowledge.
Sadism and masochism have emerged from power relationships inherent in social hierarchies, with structurally different dominant and subordinate roles and further complicated by the variety of sources of power. Section 5.2 reviewed Galbraith's analysis of social power, which constitutes three sources of power: property, personality and organization, and three forms: condign, compensatory and conditioned.
Sexual choice is determined by power, with attributes such as beauty, humour and knowledge classifiable under personal power. According to newspaper small ads, a sense of humour and intelligence are much desired expressions of personal power, suggesting a desire for partners who can deliver power through conditioning. Women are often attracted to men of property and, even when not part of the prostitution industry, often receive compensation for their sexual availability in the form of gold rings or financial support. The link between sex and knowledge, conditioned power, is also demonstrated in the attraction older school-children and undergraduates exhibit toward their teachers. Finally, from political machinations to the casting couch and other workplace organizations, sleeping with the boss, or his daughter, is a traditional way of improving promotion prospects. (In such traditions, a boss is male.) All these phenomena manifest links between social power and sexual response that are regarded as normal, that is, they are not seen as deviant and their origin will not be discussed here, but they would arise by mechanisms similar to those we will discuss for sadomasochism.
Sadism and masochism are not regarded as normal but their incidence and persistence suggest that, in fact, they are. They look very much like links between sexuality and condign power, the ability to exercise power through punishment. Among chimps, other primates and many other social mammals, condign power is exercised through force - blows, kicks and bites, much as it is in many human cultures. Condign power has been present throughout our evolutionary history and one would be surprised if there were no linkage between it and the sexual choices that, under sexual selection, must have driven its development. Sadism links sexuality to condign power as social dominance, while masochism is a sexual manifestation of seeking power through subordination. Each can be seen as providing sexualities to form evolutionary arrows for condign dominance and subordination.
In social hierarchies people form social pairs involving hierarchy, male down to female, female down to male, male down to male, etc. Sadism and masochism arise from the evolutionary processes necessary to form the traits displayed by these social pairs.
The fittest family groups are pair-bonded hierarchies, with a dominant male and subordinate female. This arrangement creates a cohesive family unit that leaves females free for child and home care, while the male's defence of his social position merges with defence of his family. For this defence, male condign compulsion is important, not just for group cohesion, but for warding off external threats. Accordingly a woman's sexuality may involve the search for evidence of a man's ability and willingness to exercise condign force. Conversely, his sexuality is modified by the search for evidence of a her willingness to accept subordinacy beneath his dominant role.
Female masochism is this modification of her sexuality, both a modification in her target recognition device, that requests evidence of his dominance and an offer of and evidence of subordination. Male sadism is the reverse, both a request for evidence of submission and a display of his dominance. Over the generations, these sexuality modifications will become stronger so that they begin to modify the amour generator, directly linking sexual feelings with tokens of power. Accordingly, many women find mild pain inflicted by their partner to be an aphrodisiac, while an erect penis is common among primate aggression displays. Also, some reports suggest that the criminal personality associated with excess sadism runs in families, suggesting that these modifiers have reached down into the biological mechanism and are controlled at a genetic level.
As with homosexuality, there will be limits to how far these evolutionary arrows can progress. If a man becomes grossly sadistic, he becomes a psychopath, as likely to kill a woman as produce and protect a family with her. If a woman becomes so masochistic that she fails to stand alongside her partner in time of need, her family fitness will be jeopardized. The implication is that, as in homosexuality, an ESS will arise in which a minority of women will be more masochistic than is desirable and a minority of males more sadistic. It is the latter group who will tend to present a problem for everyone else; in extreme cases, sadistic males offer more than mere tokens of power to those around them and may become real dangers to the community at large.
A more difficult evolutionary problem is presented by the high incidence of male masochism, which usually expresses as a desire to be submissive to women. The trait does not seem like an adaptation to pair formation, given that few women exhibit the sadism that would make them eager to take advantage of it. At the same time, male masochism is far too frequent to be dismissed as an aberration or defect. The only remaining possibility is that it arises as a by-product of the evolution of some other male attribute, the obvious candidate being male subordinacy.
Tribal human groups contain several families and have male hierarchies in which men pursue power in competition with other men. A common strategy in those hierarchies will be the pursuit of power through subordination, a subordinate male attaching himself to a more dominant individual and their team becoming strong together. The strategy of power through subordination will have two beneficial effects: first, it will make many individuals more successful; second, it will increase the group's internal cohesion and maximum size, thus increasing its ability to compete with other groups. The ability of males to adopt this strategy is important because, in large scale societies, all adult males must adopt a partially subordinating strategies through much of their adult lives. Male masochism will have developed along with the social pair of male down to male required for this male search for power through subordination. Through the success of this strategy, a subordinating male will climb the social hierarchy, become attractive to sexual partners and biologically fit, so strengthening the original modification to sexuality.
Evolution would not reinvent the modifier that produced this male subordinating behaviour because one was already available in females. This would have been borrowed and applied to males, so creating male sexual subordinacy along with male social subordinacy. As before, over application of this modifier would be reproductively detrimental and an ESS will arise that creates a minority of very subordinating males.
That explanation makes some sense but it fails to address some issues. If female masochism had simply transferred wholesale to males, one might expect subordinating men to be sexually influenced by gifts, wealth or social position, as expectations of these tokens of power would also have transferred. Men do not seem so disposed and wealth does not seem to make a woman attractive to men, nor do money and gifts seem to make men sexually available. This difference between male and female characteristics could be explained in several ways; these other traits may be sex-linked, too weak to overcome preexisting male preferences or cultural, not genetic. Of course, it may be that the impression stated above is wrong and that women could buy the sexual services of the man of their choice, were they financially able and emotionally disposed so to do.
Rape is sexual intercourse by force and well known in the animal kingdom (Thornhill and Palmer (2000)); about half of all orang-utans copulations appear to be coercive. Such data suggest that an inclination to commit rape may have a biological origin and lead to genetic mixing but rape is rare in human cultures and is probably linked to sadism. It becomes more common during social breakdown or war, when victorious armies commonly celebrate their victory with females from the defeated population.
During more stable times rape is sociopathic and its absence does not seem a recent invention of civilized human society. As explored in chapter 9, female choice, monogamy, assurance of paternity and stable family life are written into our biology. Thus rape contradicts normal human biology and the present structure of society would be untenable were it commonplace.
In the circumstances, the problem with rape is not so much understanding why it exists, as why it has been deselected by our evolutionary history. A simple bioepistemic view helps us to understand this. If a man commits rape and walks away, he creates the opportunity for his genes to be passed on, but his level3 knowledge will be lost to any offspring and they will be weakened by that loss. The existence of level3 knowledge and group selection therefore militate against single acts of coercive sexual intercourse. This is consistent with the fact that outright rape is condemned and severely punished by virtually all societies.
However, one must be careful because level3 knowledge will not inhibit all forms of coercive sex and the condemnation of rape does not seem a condemnation of all sexual coercion. The Hollywood hit, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," gave bride abduction a musical slant that was far from damning and coercive sex is commonplace in many cultures. Primitive tribes often have a tradition of taking brides in war and, in some areas of the Sudan and elsewhere, bride abduction and forced marriage are the norm. Even in the "civilized" west, until not long ago, the traditional structures of capitalism, which attached property to men but not to women, had the practical effect that women were economically obliged to find a sexual partner. Coercion can also become an issue with arranged marriage which, as practised by some communities, occurs with limited regard for the wishes of the individuals concerned.
A bioepistemic analysis suggests why such practices can be approved, while rape is condemned. Rape does nothing for the paternal family's level3 knowledge but bride abduction forces a teenage bride, into more than just one copulation. Marriage, sex, pregnancy and life with her husband's family, all force such an abducted bride into subordinacy. To give her children a chance in life, she must become a conduit for the level3 knowledge of her abductor and, in due course, those children will become its vessels.
For a knowledge animal, the predominant rapist is neither the sadistic throwback who attacks unsuspecting strangers in the street, nor the inadequate male who rapes a date he cannot persuade. Among humans, the main victims of coercive sex are teenage girls abducted, or otherwise forced, into marriages they did not ask for and lives they do not want.
An emotive and disturbing aspect of human sexuality is the existence of a minority of adults who are paedophiles and attracted to the idea of sex with children. For most people, such desires seem incomprehensible. In this matter, the Victorian fallacy is both pertinent and, potentially, dangerous. Acting on paedophilic feelings is illegal in all countries.
This section will try to offer an evolutionary explanation of paedophilia but needs to begin with a degree of moralizing. It is very common, via the naturalistic fallacy, for evolutionary explanation to be equated with moral approval. That implication is not intended here. Seeking to interpret the feelings indicated by child sexual abuse does not imply approval of the actions to which they lead. The author holds that any form of nonconsensual, sexual activity should be illegal.
Physical abuse of infants is common among animals and infanticide is widely practised as a rational strategy; for example, when male lions take over a pride, they kill cubs fathered by the previous male. Male chimpanzees are also a serious threat to infants but the reasons are less obvious; female chimps are so promiscuous that any male in the group might be the father. In a similar vein, human children are much more at risk of abuse from stepfathers than natural fathers, indicating that some physical abuse of children may have its origins in such instincts.
The author knows only one parallel of sexual relations with children in the animal kingdom; immature bonobo chimps do seem to become involved with adult sexual activities. There are instances of primitive human societies in which child sexual relations are common, the Sambia of New Guinea being an example (Herdt and Stoller (1990)).
The incidence of paedophilic feelings in men is unclear but figures mooted during recent newspaper discussions suggested more than 1%. The actual figure may be much higher but many people subject to such feelings may succeed in controlling their actual behaviour and prostitutes are often asked to dress in schoolgirl uniforms. In keeping with the way sexual deviation is most common among males, incidence seems lower in women and about 90% of child sexual abuse is committed by men, about 10% by women (Russell (1984)). However, sexual abuse is a matter of definition and often defined as penetration, so women may be more abusive than these figures imply. Estimates of the proportion of females subject to at least one act of abuse during childhood range from 10% to 25%, with males a little over half that. However, note that severity and age will vary. Intercourse with a fifteen year old would be abuse in some societies but not in others and, in such cases, paedophilia begins to overlap with the normal male fondness for younger women.
Sexual interest in prepubescent children makes little biological sense and, in terms of conventional genetics, is harder to interpret than infanticide. Bioepistemic evolution is more informative and, in these terms, sexual feelings toward children seem comprehensible. A child approximates to a tabula rasa for social knowledge, making him or her an ideal target for its transmission. This is the basic reason people are fond of, caring toward and willing to teach children. The social pairing of adult down to child needed to form such relationships will be, like all pairings, a modified form of sexuality, thus bringing sexuality into the adult-child relationship.
The caringness adults display toward children, like all social attraction, may be seen as a modification of the target recognition device. The device is modified in such a way that normal people like to socialize with and care for children and, in the majority population, that is the extent of the modification. The resulting social pair leads to reproductive success and biological fitness. Fondness for children causes both genders to raise their children more successfully and to become more attractive to potential partners. So, selection will cause this modification of the target recognition device to become stronger.
Over time, it will become strong enough to start modifying the amour generator, so that children become the target of sexual desire as well as social affection. Obviously, limits will again come into play, as men whose sexuality is directed solely to young children will be sterile and those who subject their own children to sexual abuse will damage their chances of becoming grandparents. As with homosexuality, an evolutionary balance will emerge in which the benefits of the social pair are set against the detriment that comes from over applying the sexuality modifier that generates it. The resulting ESS will create a small but stable proportion of people who have paedophilic inclinations.
Fetishism is the trait by which a person becomes sexually excited by particular objects or materials, common examples being rubber, leather, plastics, female footwear etc. Such materials are commonly incorporated into the attire worn by women in the sex industry and popular fashion often imitates the style by using leather, plastic and, more rarely, rubber in female clothing or by designing footwear to attract male, fetishist attention. Fetishism has some links with sadomasochism in that the archetypal dominatrix is dressed in black leather clothing styled to suggest a military uniform. Sacher-Masoch, himself, liked his dominatrix to be dressed in fur, as indicated the title of his most famous novel, Venus in Fur. Fetishism is the last sexual deviation to which close attention will be given. It is treated last because it provides an opportunity to move away from the partner, although he/she remains important, to the sexual attractant.
Fetishists commonly report some early experience of being in contact with the material in question and subsequently experiencing long term attraction toward it. Fetishism does not arise from prolonged exposure or training and what needs to be explained is the potential for humans to become fixated upon a particular object or material following a brief exposure. Following the pattern set for other sexual deviations, the origins of fetishism should be sought in the way evolution has modified sexuality to further the requirements of level3 knowledge. Two, possibly related aspects of human nature seem possibilities. The first is our tendency to focus sexual interest in one partner, this being probably stronger in women than men, the second is the way level3 knowledge requires a division of labour among actors, which probably has more impact on men than women. Since fetishism is more common among men than women, it is the second to which most attention will be paid.
It will be recalled from chapter 6 that the division of labour among its actors is one of the most basic requirements of culture. This means that a society will be more successful, more fit under group selection, if many of its members becomes expert in one particular task or branch of knowledge. In other words, a community needs specialists. The more separate specialisms a community has experts in, the greater the total amount of level3 knowledge available to that community and the stronger and more successful it is likely to be under group selection.
So, for example, a community is stronger if its maker of tools concentrates on that role and becomes expert at it. The gender division of family roles is such that it would normally be a man who takes on such a role and provide tools to other group members but when the toolmaker wants fish, he will go to the fisherman etc. This human trait of specializing on an activity could be described as fixating upon it and is often spoken of with approval: this doctor, scientist or minister is very dedicated to his or her calling. It is a knowledge related trait but not necessarily a social pair, since specialist skills may not require social interaction. Consequently, calling on division of labour to interpret fetishism extends the general mechanism for the origin of sexual deviation discussed earlier. Nonetheless, it is suggested that this tendency to focus on a narrow branch of knowledge may be viewed as a form of social pair, quite similar to our tendency to focus our sexual interest on one person and that sexual fetishism is a by-product of its development.
Referring back to figure 10.1, the social pairing from sex will be modified to create a focused interest in one area of knowledge. Men who become so focused will become more expert in that localized area than other men. They will make their group stronger in the process, make a good living and rise up their social hierarchy, so becoming more attractive to the opposite gender and more fit under sexual selection. So, an evolutionary arrow will develop that tends to strengthen this modifier of sexuality until it begins to modify the amour generator; then an ESS is generated that balances the social advantages of this modification with the tendency to deflect sexuality in sterile directions. That last will express itself as a full-blown, sexual fetish.
As before, sexuality has become modified to drive this aspect of group knowledge, making people fixate on particular topics and creating the cadre of specialists that groups need. Fetishism seems to have some links with masochism in that both seem to emerge from the receiving or learning branch of social pairs. That is, both are Apollonian in origin and depend on external inputs for their satisfaction. This might explain why leather, high boots, rubber and other materials of fetishism also find a place in the clothing worn to symbolize domination. However, it remains unclear why these particular materials should be such common objects of fascination.
Humans display many other sexual deviations, examples include exhibitionism (inappropriate sexual exposure), voyeurism (desire to observe others engaged in sexual practices), transvestism (dressing in a manner conventional for the other sex), transexuality (desire to be, or feeling of being, the other sex, sometimes leading to surgery), coprophagia (eating of the partner's faeces), bestiality (sex with animals) and necrophilia (use of dead bodies for sexual purposes) to name but a few.
Some of these practices look quite interpretable in bioepistemic terms and sufficient examples have been given to guide those interpretations. Others, necrophilia for example, still seem very difficult to understand. In any event, it will serve no purpose to construct a catalogue of such interpretations and their further development is left to the reader.
Here sexuality will be laid aside and a few other human behaviours summarized that have evolutionary origins in level3 knowledge. Humour is an example but so important the next chapter will be devoted to it. Here we will touch on scholarship, studiousness, pedagogy, adoptive parenting, cooperation and altruism, and pet-keeping.
Scholarship, particularly that which expresses as a fixated interest in one subject is a non-sexual aspect of fetishism. The group selective advantage of such behaviour is that some members will become expert at particular activities and enhance the group's overall functioning. In modern society, it probably expresses itself in the tendency for men to have a hobby - anything from stamp collecting to assembling rocket launchers in the garage. In extreme cases, such behaviours can be addictive and ruin a person's life, or make them unable to live independently. Such extremes will be counterselective but the level3 and group selective advantages are also clear.
Scholarship, in the sense of the previous paragraph, should be distinguished from an instinct for general studiousness, which is more generally Apollonian and has links with subordinacy. The subordinacy expected of pupils and students is, as mentioned, symbolized in the language tokens they are required to deliver, "Sir", "Professor" etc., in the physical layout of so many teaching rooms and in the dress codes educational institutes often adopt.
The communicative opposite of studiousness is pedagogy, an instinct or desire to teach, which has links with dominance and condign power. Those links have a long history, as shown by the need to positively prohibit corporal punishment in schools. They are also visible in our speech idioms; consider, for example, the meaning of, "I'm going to teach you a lesson; I'm going to teach you a lesson you'll never forget." An instinct to teach might find its clearest expression in the biological role of the grandmother. Post-menopausal women commit their energies to their grandchildren, rather than expending time on a fruitless effort to raise more children of their own. Typically, grandmothers contribute to feeding them, but they also teach their daughter or daughter-in-law, how to raise them. As most parents will explain, grandmothers always know how their grandchildren should be raised.
Another behaviour with roots in level3 evolution is adoptive parenting and concern for orphans. Primitive tribes often refrain from killing captive children who are, instead, raised by their captors; sometimes children are deliberately kidnapped for the purpose. This adoption is not a rational act in genetic terms, but in bioepistemic terms it is perfectly rational - unrelated children being quite as good carriers of level3 knowledge as related ones.
As section 4.17 mentions, humans are a cooperative and often self-sacrificing species. These traits can be seen as having origins in group and sexual selection that are not dissimilar to the origins of sexual deviation. The most extreme examples of self-sacrifice are represented by kamikaze pilots, warriors who knowingly sacrifice their lives as a weapon of war. Such acts are quite irrational in genetic terms but perfectly rational if the pool of level3 knowledge that person shares with their community is considered.
As a last example, consider the human habit of keeping pets, animals with the role of being subordinate within the family group. Pets are often seen as a good way of teaching children responsibility and how, one day, they will be superordinate to their own helpless children. Among older people, pets tend to become intimacy substitutes. They are talked to, stroked or kicked, taken to bed or locked out, depending on the mood of their master or mistress. Our dogs and cats enjoy these rewards or suffer these punishment at our whims and accept it because we are dominant and they subordinate. Through their acts of subordinacy, pets gain power over can openers, butchers and places of shelter. Some even seem to become quite fond of their human masters.
Sex has distinct limitations As a social glue. Humans are only slightly promiscuous, being either monogamous or mildly polygamous. This pattern of sexual behaviour produces family groups stable enough to encourage male participation in child-rearing. It can enhance level3 knowledge transfer but such sexuality cannot be the glue that maintains the large, multifamily groups that are such evident features of human society. However promiscuous sexual behaviour might become, it can only encourage knowledge transfer across pairs, such as man-woman, man-man etc. That is, it can encourage only narrowcast communication; larger groups need a glue that can reward the broadcasting of level3 knowledge, something sex is structurally unable to do.
This point might be made clearer by comparing humans with bonobo chimpanzees. Like us, these chimps form large groups and use sex as a social glue but their sexuality is quite unlike our own. Bonobos are extraordinarily promiscuous and sexually active, typically copulating about ten times per day, and their partners include virtually every other member of their band. Like us, their sexual activity is not confined to reproductive mating; bonobo females display oestrus very clearly and copulate promiscuously during it but, like humans, they are sexually active outside oestrus, though with reduced frequency. Bonobos often masturbate, both alone and in pairs, sometimes using "sex toys" such as leaves and twigs etc. Both genders exhibit homosexuality, which contributes almost half of all matings, and these apes even exhibit paedophilia, with young animals joining the group's sexual togetherness long before adulthood (Bagemihl (1999)).
Sex among bonobos seems adapted so that the pleasure it offers drives the maintenance of social groups. Bonobo promiscuity and potency are such that their sexuality can maintain quite large groupings, thus encouraging level3 knowledge transfer both horizontally, within an age group and vertically through the generations. However, their sexual activities remain, mostly, one on one and, though their athleticism and range are remarkable, using sex as a social glue sets intrinsic limits to the size of their groups. Also, bonobo males have no assurance of paternity and are unlikely to develop paternal feelings, thus restricting knowledge transfer down male lines. Like most primates, bonobos also use mutual grooming as a social glue but it, like sex, is essentially a one on one activity, limited in the size of group it can sustain.
The far more reserved sexuality of humans is adapted to maintaining small family units. Our larger groups must be sustained differently from those of bonobos as our sexuality is unsuitable as that social glue. Still humans must have solved this problem - typical human tribes are much larger than bonobo groups and share far more level3 knowledge than any other species. The next chapter, will address this problem and argue that humour is the necessary social glue.
This has been such a long chapter it is worth quickly reviewing and summarizing the general ideas it presents. It originates with the idea that human sexual deviations arise from the coevolution between level1 and level3 knowledge. This is an appealing idea because sexual deviations have a pattern that seems to reflect aspects of social structure. For example, sadomasochism reflects its power relationships and homosexuality reflects the genderless nature of social knowledge. Such comparisons are clear in the simple bioepistemic approach to interpreting these phenomena.
Section 10.8 proposed that sexual and group selection and pair formation give a mechanism by which the evolution of social, level3 knowledge could feed back onto level1 evolution to influence the structure of sexuality. Its starting point is the idea that sex is the force that first brings animals into social interaction. The sexual process is divided into three stages. The first, initial interaction involves searching for and examining mating targets using what was termed the "target recognition device". The initial search can involve interactions between many social pairs but most of those interactions will not produce a response of sexual desire. The second stage is reached when a target is found that matches some preexisting definition in the searcher, triggering a response in the amour generator. The third and final stage involves the biological mechanisms of sexual intercourse itself.
It is then argued that the initial social interactions involved in the targeting stage are modified and strengthened among social animals to form the various social pairs needed by society. In other words that the extensive social interactions seen among social animals and humans are modified forms of sexual socialization. To assist in thinking about this process, the forms of interaction possible in human socialization are broken down into social pairs, examples of possible pairs being given in section 9.14.
The strongest social pairs are those that have beneficial effects and are favoured, by natural selection, sexual selection or group selection. So, selection will strengthen the modifications of sexuality that lead to those pairs until they become strong enough to modify the amour generator and change the sexuality of the person or animal involved. The final effect is an ESS with sexual heterogeneity and minorities that display a series of sexual deviations. The most common sexual deviations will correspond to the most prominent social pairs because they are by-products of their formation.
Thus, the need for male-male and female-female communication has modified sexuality to incorporate elements of homosexuality. The hierarchical nature of social groups has produced sadomasochism, with male masochism being especially associated with the need for males in multifamily groups to exercise subordinacy in the larger hierarchies such groups form. The need for division of labour has modified sexuality to include fetishism, fixation on particular subjects, objects or materials. On the darker side, the social need for long-term child care has produced paedophilia as its by-product.
In sum, the suggestion is that sexual deviations have evolved alongside culture as sex has become modified into a social glue. This, if correct, implies that these deviations are of great interest to the social sciences as their nature and structure offer pointers to the predominant features of the societies in which humans evolved.
Copyright John A Hewitt.
For contact address, see copyright page.
Last Modified 22 November 2005
© This page is the "Other sexualities" page from the site sexandphilosophy.co.uk, all of which is copyright to the author, Dr. John A. Hewitt.
This page is one chapter taken from and modified from an early draft of "The Architecture of Thought" by John Hewitt. As such it is not definitive and differs in detail from the final version. To cite the work, check a copy of the published version.