Re: Symons: "Evolution of Human Sexuality"

From: Rebecca Dale (
Date: Tue Nov 18 1997 - 16:55:59 GMT

The Evolution of Human Sexuality - Commentaries

1. Alternative strategies - many authors replied to Symon^s book
offering alternative strategies for explaining loss of estrus, female
orgasm etc. However, Symon^s states time and time again that his aim is
not to provide a correct scenario but to open the mind into the
acceptance of sociobiology in an explanation of human sexuality.

2. Methodological problems - replies centred continually on the
methodological problems experienced in sociobiology:

- lack of proof: authors suggest that research into the underlying
 physiological mechanisms would give weight to his theories. Research
 has shown that mammals and birds show behavioural alterations as well
 as anatomical change in specific parts of their brains in response to
 androgens (imprinted circuit theory of sexual behaviour - selection
 acts on responses to hormones by circuits in the nervous system that
 function during sexual behaviour)

- biased selection of data: ^to some extent, however, my selection
 of data is a matter of hunches and tastes^. Accused of omitting
 relevant data, ^sparse and irregular use of hunter-gatherer data.

- data is open to interpretation

- can one really extrapolate from nonhuman to human species

- faliure to consider other aspects of human sexuality -
 transexuality, sadomachism necrophilia etc.

- problem of definition

3. One View - authors write that his view is completely single-minded
and lacks a consideration of other theories. Symon^s hypothesis versus
the world?

- typically, there is often more than one plausible hypothesis about
most aspects of human sexual behaviour given 1) its diversity among
other cultures 2) humans usually pursue a mixed reproductive strategy
3) possibility that sexual traits may serve many adaptive functions.

- even if there are inherent sex differences does this automatically
imply that a) these differences have a major impact on behaviour and b)
any observed behavioural differences must be accountable of inherited

- are these just biased tendencies? is the observable difference due to
social pressures?is it a joint product of biology and social

- are we using what looks like scientific considerations to justify our
social prejudices? is Symons encouraging the presumption that
biological based tendencies are not as amenable to change as those
established by experience? (if women loved work as much as she loved
caring for children - is this a violation of natural selection?)

- lacks emphasis on interaction between biological and environmental

- indeed, no culture exists where men and women are treated

- observational learning? - young child indoctrinated by modeling
experiences in daily life

- when stumptail macaques were given ovariectomy and adrenalectomy did
not significantly alter any aspect of sexual interaction - in this
species social factors are more important than ovarian hormones in
resulting sexual behaviour.

^We need to find out the manner in which environmental forces shape
human sexuality as well as the impact of human sexuality on the social

4. Circularity of Argument

^Seeing ultimate design in proximate causes of traits merely generates
ideas; as proof for function, finding design is almost a self-fufilling

5. Can we extract similarities from nonhuman to human species? - may
find surface similarities but these may be very different behavioural
patterns and situations.

- do we need to keep the two separate, factors affecting human
behaviour are so complex,that different methods are required for

- diverse group of species in terms of the type and quantity of sexual
behaviour and perhaps also in their sexual physiology

6. Free will.

- there is no room for free will in this explanation of human sexual

- Gallup^s research on the emergence of self-awareness in chimps: both
ultimate and proximate factors are involved in the emergence of intent.
Evolution has moved towards greater awareness and self-control and not
towards biological determinism.

Overall, I thought most of the commentaries were simply small
disagreements about the way a word was defined or about a better
alterative stategy to explain the loss of estrus etc. I thought that
the main aim of his book was to open not a new, scientifically sound
area of research but to open a new way of thinking. This, I thought he
did well. Obviously, research has progressed a long way since the time
of the book (Sperm Wars) and has naturally dispelled many criticisms
stating that the book was sexist against women (perhaps reverse
sexism?) However, I felt that the one valid criticism was that of the
lack of consideration for other theories explaining human sexual
behaviour, especially that of social influence. Sadly, this was one
comment he did not reply to ... perhaps because he could not argue with

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