Tag Archives: evolution

Study Explains Cougars with Evolution. Uh, disagree.


People love explaining human sexual behavior with evolution. If a behavior exists, it must be because of evolution…right?

In a recent study, among 827 women who self-reported on sexual behavior and fantasies, those women in the 27-45 age range reported the highest frequencies of sex and fantasy. The study authors explain this with evolutionary theory: older women compensate for their aging uterus by being hyper-sexual. Essentially, they’re saying an aging female brain incites more sexual desire in order to compete with younger (and ostensibly more attractive) females.

Here are my critiques of this analysis:

  • Nulliparity. If the evolutionary explination is correct, you would find that nulliparous women (those that have never borne a child) would have higher rates of sexual fantasy and behavior than women in their age cohort with one or more children. Pregnancy and childbirth are hard on the human body so it makes sense to level off sexual desire with age if a woman has already had children and women with no children would have more of an impetus to be hypersexual. An earlier study by the same researcher found no difference on account of having children or not.
  • Does not account for fecundity. Women with higher fecundity (fertility) would be less likely to need this adaptation because they get pregnant easily.
  • Fails to address social factors. The social taboo against female desire for the sake of desire can compel younger women to avoid sex and actively resist fantasies. Factor in roommates, ability to assess or obtain a sexual partner and sexual confidence, and an argument for social conditioning emerges.
  • Simplifies evolutionary theory to explain  one strategy. Multiple mating strategies and behavioral adaptations exist within the same species. I’ve written about oversimplification of evolutionary theory in media before.
  • No cross-cultural or longitudinal comparisons. If the “cougar” approach to mating is indeed an evolutionary adaptation, you would find this phenomenon in many locales and points in history. I checked into data from the Kinsey Studies and the evidence is a bit muddled concerning frequency. Women reported a gradual rise in solitary sexual practices (ie jillin’off) but the website summary does not state when that behavior begins to level off.

I freely admit my bias when it comes to evolutionary explanations, especially concerning desire. The biggest reason is that the evidence is contrary to my experience as well as many of my female friends. When I was a teen my sexual desires came into conflict with basic social acceptance. I felt horny but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even realize that masturbation was an option for me. Instead, I supressed everything I felt between my legs and was constantly frustrated. One time, at 16, I was so horny I actually cried.

And no wonder. If the recent public outrage and ridicule of Taylor Momson’s vibrator comment is any indication, young women are still being shamed about their sexual desire.

I’m not in Time’s “old lady” category just yet (27-45, WTF?) but I definitely fantasize more and have more sex. Why? I don’t feel ashamed about it. Simple as that. Cheers to getting older and learning when to not give a fuck about others’ opinions.

Note: I am not saying that biological factors are meaningless in this case. Rather, a completely biological explanation is insufficient to explain human sexual desire.

Sex and Evolutionary Theory: Ur Doin It Wrong


New communications technologies and media have blown the doors off of information propriety. On one hand, this is awesome because knowledge is power. On the other hand, this blows because factoids without understanding create false assumptions of the world.

The term “pop psychology” comes to mind. Example: I date those women/men because my mother/father was that way!

Here’s another term: “Pop Darwinism.”

Few things are more seductive than biological explanations of behavior. No moral assessment needed because it’s in your genes. Don’t bother with social analysis: we can’t help our human nature.

Let me disabuse you of any evolutionary misinterpretations.

When it comes to sexual behaviors, experts love to claim we get down how we do because of sexual selection favoring a hunter gatherer society, where females nurtured the babies and males hunted the food. Somehow, these behaviors are etched deep into our genes and any resulting behavior is an attempt to recreate this world.

An easy to digest concept package.

Problem is, organisms are complex. Reproductive strategies are diverse in the animal kingdom, from fishes to humans. Many like to assert that our ancestors favored only one type of male-female relation but this flies in the face of multiple adaptive reproductive strategies found among animals. Forget all this selection favoring only the dominant males and fecund, nurturing females nonsense. If species survival favors adaptive ability, then organisms adopting multiple strategies would fare better. Diversity and complexity beat out simplistic single-strategy approaches.

Organisms relying on social groups (like humans) are even more complex. Claiming that our sole purpose is sexual reproduction ignores life in social groups. If we want to pass on our genes, if we want our species to survive, cooperation (on some scale) increases our chances of survival. Cutthroat competition would only be beneficial in situations of absolute scarcity. United we stand, divided we devolve.

Our biology is one of many factors when we talk about behavior in humans . Genetics are not behaviorally deterministic, only influential among mammals. We learn most of our behavior from traditions and mores passed down through culture and adapt to contemporary contexts. Behavior and culture are not absolutely predicated on some genetic competition. Influence is possible but, again, we would be influenced by a multitude of genetic reproductive behaviors and strategies.

Joan Roughgarden from Stanford wrote a book called Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People. (Go buy that book! Complex ideas, but she’s an excellent writer.) One of her chapters challenges concepts of sexual selection. Here’s a passage about how we actually misinterpret Darwin’s texts, even in the academic world:

“The universal claims of sexual selection theory are inaccurate. Males are not universally passionate, nor females universally coy. The social dynamic between males is not universally combat to control females. Diversity among males and females does not universally fit a hierarchy of genetic quality. Females do not universally select males for their genetic quality. Moreover, sexual selection theory is inadequate to address the diversity in bodies, behaviors, and life histories that actually exists. Darwin didn’t bother to explain the exceptions he recognized, and as data on diversity in gender and sex continue to accumulate, sexual selection theory, which addressed only a subset of facts to begin with, becomes increasingly inadequate.” -page 169.

So the next time you hear, read or encounter any Pop Evolution, think back on this article and realize that well-packaged, comforting explanations of human behavior are often false.