Friday, January 22, 2010

More random stuff on the sexes

A couple of posts ago I discussed some complications in relations between the sexes. Nobody seemed too offended or disagreed too much, so I'll tackle the topic again, in a more haphazard way. (I touched on a somewhat related topic lst year when I claimed that males may have started as parasites.)

But as before, if you think you'll be offended you should stop reading now. Unlike before I'll actually touch on something interesting that applies to homosexuals at the end, though most of this is not about homosexuality.

My last blog reminded me of a book I read years ago that I wanted to re-read. So now I've bought it and am re-reading it. The book is Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. It starts off slowly, with a basic overview of the history of the Earth, the history of life, how genes work, and so on. All pretty basic if you're conversant with science, though at some point it is likely to get detailed enough that you'll probably to find yourself in unfamiliar territory.

But what I like about it is the second half. This is where we encounter a discussion of the documented effects of testosterone on personality, an analysis of the social lives of our near primate relatives, and so on. I won't try to summarize, so much as to hit the some high points. Anyone who believes that women are basically men without the penis who can have babies should read through the effects of testosterone on personality. Anyone who has wondered why we say, "Fuck you!" when we're mad should read through accounts of how sex and dominance are intertwined in different primates. I'm not sure what lessons we should be drawn from a comparisons of militaristic chimpanzees with the free love bonobos, both of whom are very closely related to us, but I certainly saw strong parallels between both societies and human groups. All in all I rank this book as being one of of the strongest challenges to my preconceptions of how I want to see the world.

Moving on, a friend told me that a lot of what I said in my previous post is echoed in more detail, at longer length, and more amusingly in Sperm are from Men, Eggs are from Women. I haven't read the book, but the reviews look promising.

If I'm guessing right from the reviews it touches on one of my favorite pieces of evolutionary trivia: that there is good evidence that humans have significant sexual selection for large penises. That such selection exists is not surprising in light of all of the jokes and obvious sexual interest. (I will never forget having it pointed out to me 15 years ago women could estimate the size of a guy's penis from looking at the bulge in his pants. I was quickly assured that I had nothing to worry about in that department, which did absolutely nothing to lessen my self-awareness of people potentially looking at my crotch for the next couple of weeks...) However the actual concrete evidence is the simple fact that the human penis is about 3 times the size that would be expected based on estimates made from our size and the proportions of our close relatives the chimpanzees and gorillas.

Moving on, by coincidence this week on NPR I heard an interview with the authors of Why Women Have Sex: Understanding Sexual Motivations from Adventure to Revenge (and Everything in Between). It sounded interesting in the interview, and at some point I suspect I'll buy it as well.

I don't know if it is in the book, but there was an interesting piece of trivia that came up in the interview. It turns out that if you take a man and dress him up in a Burger King outfit, he's much less attractive to women than if you dress him up in a suit. By contrast men don't care about the clothing on a woman. In comparisons they'll judge her equally attractive in a Burger King outfit and in a nice cocktail dress. This ties very well with what I said in my last post about how women are looking for a good provider (status helps) while men are looking for evidence of fertility (status doesn't matter). Which helps explain why women remember what people wear while most men I know, including me, can't really remember what someone was wearing 30 seconds after they leave.

Moving on to men noticing signs of fertility, how sensitive are we? The answer is more than you'd think. For instance research has found that men react to how fertile a stripper is. It turns out that when you analyze how much strippers make in tips per night, the closer she is to ovulation, the more she makes, with income varying by a factor of 2. By contrast strippers who are on the pill permanently make about what strippers who are not on the pill would make during their period.

How do men notice? I don't know whether the full story is known, but at least some of it is behavioral. Women who are ovulating have been demonstrated to dress more provocatively, act more provocatively, put down the appearance of other women more, and show an increased attraction to men, particularly ones with masculine appearances. All of these behavioral cues reverse during her period. Even when strippers are trying to be provocative, perhaps the ones who are ovulating have a slight edge. Perhaps there are as yet unknown pheromones that men react to. Whatever the cause, men do react.

Moving on, the point about men with a masculine appearance is interesting to me. When researchers examined the subject, both men and women rank feminized faces as more attractive. But when push comes to shove, women are interested in other traits more than appearance, which gives a definite edge to men with masculine features. (Masculine is here defined by things such as a big jaw, square face, prow nose, and heavy brow. More on why it is defined that way shortly.)

Interestingly researchers in other studies have found that people form a variety of first impressions on men based on how masculine or feminine their faces are. For instance fathers are more likely to trust their teenage daughter's with a man whose face is feminine. But what can appearance tell you?

More than you'd think. It turns out that all of the characteristics that are linked with a masculine face are tied to testosterone exposure. Men who are judged as having masculine faces do turn out to have higher testosterone levels in their saliva. And the various personality judgments that are made based on this trait have a surprisingly good grounding in the known personality effects of testosterone.

Speaking personally, I am the kind of man who is more likely to be described as "beautiful" than "rugged". As much as I don't like it, this is concrete evidence of somewhat low testosterone levels when I was growing up, and it affects how people interact with me. In ways that most people don't even notice.

Moving on, the whole masculine/feminine thing leads to an odd piece of trivia that is not too widely known. Most people assume that gay men must be responsible for homosexual abuse. Not so fast. The little data that exists says that heterosexual men are far more likely to engage in homosexual abuse of boys than homosexual men! Now let's be clear, once a boy passes puberty, homosexual men may develop an interest. Legally an adult man and a 16 year old teenager might be child abuse. But that teen has sexually matured. Those examples notwithstanding, homosexual men do not seem to be attracted to sexually immature boys.

Why? Well when you ask adult heterosexuals who abuse boys why they are attracted to boys, all of the answers have to do with the feminine characteristics that boys have. By contrast when gay men are asked what they like about other men they cite masculine characteristics which boys don't have. It seems that attraction is tied to perceptions of masculinity/femininity in a very direct way that leaves little to no room for someone to be a gay pedophile. (I know of no research on the topic, but I have to wonder if this connects in any way to the fact that pedophilia appears to be very rare among women.)

As always I could ramble on, but this is enough for this post.

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