All posts filed under: Sex

On Toxic Femininity

Male lions can be monsters, murderous and focused. Toxic, if you will. Given the opportunity, male lions will kill the kittens in a pride over which they have gained control. They commit infanticide, which brings the new mothers, freshly childless, back into estrous. The females are quickly impregnated. This, we can all agree, is disturbing behavior, and may make some people feel rather less pleased with lions. Given the opportunity, the vast majority of modern human males would do no such thing. Those who argue that men are inherently toxic are, ironically, making arguments that are biologically essentialist. And they are making them badly, at that. Evolution built humans, as it did lions. But humans have longer childhoods and greater generational overlap, share more ideas with greater complexity, and usually live in more stable social groups than do lions. In humans, evolution has given us the capacity to shape personality during development to a greater degree than in any other species. As such, and because few human cultures would tolerate such behavior, the vast majority …

Explaining Monogamy to Vox

In the first episode of their new Netflix series, entitled Explained, the folks over at Vox set out to explain monogamy. Or at least, that is what the title (“Monogamy, Explained”) appeared to promise. But by the time it was over, very little seemed to have been explained. The central arguments, as I understand them, are that monogamy didn’t exist until after the invention of agriculture, marrying for love didn’t exist until roughly 1700 AD, and the concept of sexual selection was developed by Victorian scientists like Charles Darwin in part to justify traditional gender roles. Vox interviews four experts for their video: relationship advice columnist Dan Savage, historian Stephanie Coontz, author Christopher Ryan, and evolutionary biologist David Barash. Of these contributors, Barash is given the least screen time. He is allowed to provide a brief description of classic sexual selection theory, noting the problem of paternity uncertainty for males, and that because of differences between sperm and eggs, males can have larger fitness payoffs by being more promiscuous than females generally can. The narrator, however, …

Are Liberal Democracies ‘Rape Cultures’?

What are we to make of the claim that we inhabit a ‘rape culture’? Those making this claim seldom make it clear if they are being descriptive or expressive. A descriptive claim purports to tell us that something is or is not the case (“The exam is over”) while an expressive claim conveys subjectivity and sentiment (“That exam was torture!”). If the claim that we live in a rape culture is descriptive—that our culture condones or promotes rape—those making the claim must support it with adequate evidence. If they are not being descriptive, then the expressive meaning of the claim is not entirely clear. Let’s begin by considering a passage from an article by Alyn Pearson entitled “Rape Culture: It’s All Around Us,” which appeared in the (now defunct) feminist publication Off Our Backs in 2000: Rape is the common cold of society. […] We have assimilated rape into our everyday culture much as we have the cold. […] There is a silence surrounding the recognition that we live in a cultural environment where rape is endemic, but it is true. …

Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man?

A fascinating paper about sex differences in the human brain was published last week in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex. It’s the largest single-sample study of structural and functional sex differences in the human brain ever undertaken, involving over 5,000 participants (2,466 male and 2,750 female). The study has been attracting attention for more than a year (see this preview in Science, for instance), but only now has it been published in a peer-reviewed journal. For those who believe that gender is a social construct, and there are no differences between men and women’s brains, this paper is something of a reality check. The team of researchers from Edinburgh University, led by Stuart Ritchie, author of Intelligence: All That Matters, found that men’s brains are generally larger in volume and surface area, while women’s brains, on average, have thicker cortices. ‘The differences were substantial: in some cases, such as total brain volume, more than a standard deviation,’ they write. This is not a new finding – it has been known for some time that the …

Portugal Poised to Write Gender Fluidity into Law

On 13 April 2018, the Portuguese parliament approved Bill 75/XIII, the ostensible aim of which is to protect the rights of transgender and intersex individuals. Looking at the details, however, it’s difficult to say if it was really created to advance the rights of these people, or if it was simply cobbled together on some sort of whim. Portugal’s last parliamentary elections were held in September 2015, and a coalition of PSD (Social-Democrat Party) and CDS-PP (Party of the Social-Democratic Center) won the most votes, but failed to secure an overall majority. This allowed the country’s leftist parties (PS – Socialist Party; PCP – Portuguese Communist Party; PEV – Green Party; and BE – Leftist Block) to form a coalition government led by PS. The PS government has to make regular concessions to these parties because it needs their votes to pass new legislation. In the case of this bill, that wasn’t really the case, since Bill 75/XIII was originally proposed by the government itself. However, later drafts included recommendations from their far-Left coalition partners …

How the Science Wars Ruined the Mother of Anthropology

Part I: Margaret Mead’s Original Sin When I was about 23, I embarked on a lone trip around the Vanuatu Islands. I eventually wound up on the isolated Maskelyne Island, quite a few days away from civilization in the Western sense of the word. A man had just died and many suspected that witchcraft was involved in cursing his food. For a week I attended the extensive funeral ceremonies, dove on the reef in my spare time, and drank kava with the locals at night. It all sounds very romantic, but the truth is that there was something quite off-putting about being surrounded by hundreds of people from a different culture; an unusual state of loneliness begins to creep in, accompanied by a deep desire to connect with something – anything – from Western culture. Climbing aboard the cargo vessel Big Sista to hitch a ride to Espiritu Santo, I remember hearing a Taylor Swift song on the radio. I’ve never appreciated Taylor Swift so much. However, my journey did leave me with a newfound and abiding …

A Plea To Trans Activists: We Can Protect Trans Rights Without Denying Biology

International Transgender Day of Visibility falls annually on March 31, though even the most casual observer must wonder if we still need a day to mark it. In the three years since Caitlin Jenner transitioned there has been an explosion of transgender visibility. What might be lacking is an International Day of Transgender Understanding. Western society has been keen to affirm trans people, and that is to be welcomed, but it has been slower to think critically about the wider impact of legislative change, and particularly the effect on women and their right to organise and associate as a biological sex. Muddled thinking about sex and gender, and what it means to be male or female, also threatens the credibility of transsexual people who transition to escape the chronic and debilitating effects of gender dysphoria. I know that struggle first hand. I can recount the standard trans narrative of discomfort with my sex from a very early age. Throughout childhood I yearned to be female but concrete reality displaced my wishful thinking, and instead I …

Why Do Men Rape?

One of the keys to understanding the underlying visions of conservatives and progressives is to observe how they interpret crime. Progressives tend to believe that people are not born to be criminals; one way or another, crime is perceived to be a reflection and consequence of the structure of society and the unfortunate place in that society that the criminal occupies. Property crime is typically explained as a result of the unemployment and inequality produced by capitalism, and of the rigid property rights that prevent people from sharing resources more equally, as they might have done in the pre-societies described by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Conservatives, on the other hand, are more likely to see crime as the result of a decaying of social morality, and are quick to point out that there was less crime during the darkest days of material deprivation during the Great Depression than there is today. According to the conservative worldview, self-interested people can be relied upon to trample others to get their own way, …

Blockchain and Sex

Blockchain is often described as a solution in need of a problem. Despite being eight years old few people transact in bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. Outside of its success as a speculative investment, cryptocurrency has seen little adoption and has become more akin to investing in gold than a trading currency. Yet this may soon change as an Australian start-up company is developing a cryptocurrency tailored for the needs of the adult industry. Australian startup company “intimate” has created a cryptocurrency to meet the specific needs of the adult industry. Recently, I interviewed Leah Callon-Butler intimate’s co-founder who said: Crypto is still an infantile technology and it will be some time before we realise the equivalent Web 2.0 of blockchain. Given our team’s deep expertise in both crypto and adult – and the rampant institutional bias and social exclusion that exists within the sex industry – we knew that this would be the perfect use case as a proof of concept for a decentralised solution. Many people do not realise that the problems in the …

‘The Apartment,’ Authority, and Consent

This essay contains spoilers. What can a film made in 1960 tell us about the sexual mores of the present? I found myself pondering this question as I rewatched Billy Wilder’s award-winning drama The Apartment recently. The year of its release is important: as The Guardian’s Andrew Pulver notes in a recent appreciation, the story unfolds during a peculiar cultural moment “on the cusp of the permissive era”; prevailing norms were being questioned rather than taken for granted, and the uncertainty casts the characters adrift in a confusion that almost kills them. But this uncertainty, and the consequent effort with which the characters must navigate shifting standards, offers a complex portrait of human sexual relations and courtship. This is a topic of particular pertinence to our own cultural moment and it makes The Apartment a fascinating artefact worth revisiting. The Apartment‘s intellectual value and emotional urgency are generated, in large part, by the contrast between the film’s two main characters and their surroundings. The traits that make Shirley MacLaine’s Fran Kubelik lovable are those that leave her alienated …