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Although most people probably have several reasons for taking this course,* were I to take a poll I would not be surprised to find a common reason being curiosity about sexual attraction, both our own and that of others.   No matter what our age or circumstance, interpersonal exchange is almost unavoidably colored by an underlying substrate of attraction (or disaffection, as the case may be).   

Why do male birds often sport bright plumage, which makes them all the more apparent to predators?  In his 1871 work, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, Charles Darwin first proposed the evolution of attributes that bring individuals an advantage in reproduction, an advantage separate and distinct from those that increase the odds of survival. But Darwin did not explain how these advantages might have originated and been maintained.  David Buss, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has devoted a lot of effort to studying the subject of how and why people choose mates.  Having found similarities in mate-finding strategies across cultures, he debunks the commonly held belief that attraction is largely culture-bound.  He also argues that strategies differ between the sexes. In collaboration with others, he has collected his findings into a theory of sexual strategies.  

Sexual-strategies theory holds that our ancestors evolved sexual strategies that allowed them to mate and reproduce successfully; those whose tactics were not successful failed to become ancestors.  Biologically, the sex that invests more time and effort into raising the young will also be more discriminating in choosing a mate, while the sex that values quantity of inseminations over the raising of offspring must therefore compete with same-sex contenders for opposite-sex favors.  This parental-investment strategy, proposed by Robert Trivers in 1972, accounts for the original division of sexual strategies between males and females.  Thus, although in humans there is certainly blurring of the lines, generally males compete and females choose.  

Sampling populations across 37 countries, Buss and his colleagues found a preponderance of similarities in sexual strategies.  These similarities are specific to the sexes and can be further divided by intent into short-term and long-term schemes.  In the biological sense, a man's reproductive success is measured in number of offspring.  This can best be accomplished by impregnating a diversity of females.  To be reproductively successful, a woman must carry her fetus to term and nurture the child until the child is capable of self-care.  This takes much more time and effort to achieve, and only one man can father each child.  Thus, for a woman, multiple partners contribute much less to reproductive success.  

Nevertheless, short-term and long-term strategies are common to both sexes.  

For a man, short-term strategies include maximizing number of partners, identifying women who are both sexually accessible and fertile, and minimizing his own cost, risk, and commitment.  Short-term strategies for a woman can be considered as prefaces to long-term strategies.  They include determining the male's willingness to share resources for her and her potential offspring, identifying men with high-quality genes, evaluating potential long-term prospects from short-term mates, and accumulating potential alternate mates.  

Long-term strategies for a man must assure him of his own paternity. Once he has identified a partner capable of successful reproducing and parenting, a man's long-term strategy requires commitment.  A woman, of course, is always certain of her own contribution to the conception of a child.  To maximize her chances of reproductive success once children are begot, she must gain access to resources and protection, and that is often achieved through securing a willing partner whose long-term strategies are, if not identical to hers, at least harmonious.  

As you work through the contents of this course, consider your own situation.  Often we are raised with parental strategies that do not correspond to our own; even if they should happen to correspond, however, it is wise to differentiate between strategies taught and assumed by our parents, and those we develop from our own sense of selfhood and needs.   For example, Dr. Buss's theory of sexual strategies summarized above seems to fit well into the context of reproductive intent.  However, even when parenting is not a priority or our reproductive years are behind us, we are almost always aware of and sensitive to signals from attractive people.   So although it may constitute an important component, reproductive intent is not the only basis of attraction, and it may not be a factor with you.   Attraction need hardly be confined to reproductive prowess; ultimately, attraction might empower a pair to transcend the bounds of singularity.  But no theory can accommodate everything; that's why there are so many of them.  


* Human Sexuality, a distance-learning psychology course at Colorado State University





Flying your Flag

Self-monitoring is a personality characteristic identified by Mark Snyder (1974).   The hypothesis concerns one's perception of and adaptation to surroundings, but he's not talking about the jungle.  To some extent, almost everyone modifies his or her behavior in response to the presence of others; the extent of this regulation varies.  High self-monitors are greatly influenced by situational cues and behave appropriately.  Low self-monitors are less influenced by ambience and more prone to act in response to internal cues.  

Research in the area of consumer behavior indicates differences in buying behavior that are explained by Snyder's dichotomy.  For instance, in buying a car, high self-monitors are more likely to prefer sleekness and popularity over the functionality favored by low self-monitors.  One might expect that advertising would affect these populations differently, and so it appears.  High self-monitors are impressed by social rewards and image associated with a product, while low self-monitors are attracted by quality.  In evaluating other people, high self-monitors place a greater emphasis on physical attractiveness than do low self-monitors, who respond to other attributes.  The socially defined attractiveness of a circumcised penis might then enter into your own anatomical preference.  

Although a scale to classify people's monitoring tendencies has been developed, alas, it is not to be found in this corner of Alphabet Heaven.   







On Pheromones

The idea that we humans, who like to think of ourselves as verbal, visual creatures, encased in at least a veneer of propriety, might dispatch unseen signals to unsuspecting others through the medium of scent might strike us as being the least bit unbefitting.  Yet, despite our earnest attempts to abolish the pungent evidence of our existence, various discretely located apocrine glands from time to time release molecules of chemicals of the sort that drive animals more in tune with their olfactory bulbs to distraction. And, as it is said that every major perfume manufactured incorporates at least a scintilla of pheromones in its clandestine list of ingredients, belief in the power of these tiny molecules is hardly confined to the fringes.  

Most of the pheromones thus far identified, both in humans and in lower animals, are tiny molecules that have their effect in very small doses. Their apparent purpose is not solely for the function of mating. They provide signals concerning when and for how long to congregate in crowds, how to identify and rank members of a society, where property boundaries lie, and how to attract friends and confuse enemies. The signals appear to influence the sender as well as the receiver.

Fish not only identify individuals with their chemical signals, but the signals disclose changes in status of the sender as he climbs and sinks in the local hierarchy. In the water as elsewhere, apparently, there is no place to hide.

Although there is evidence that humans retain at least vestiges of the equipment by which these chemical signals are generated, it is uncertain to what extent we still respond to them. Certainly any responses we do enact are not high in the scheme of consciousness. However, there are hints as to our incognizant reactions. Detection of and response to chemical signals explains the synchronization of menstrual cycles in young women living in proximity. An article in Nature by a methodical scientist who lived most of his time in isolation on an island reported an increase in the dry weight of his beard, recovered daily from his electric razor, on occasions when he returned to the mainland and was exposed to women. Detection of her own pheromones might be involved in a woman's reputed tendency toward optimism and high spirits at the onset of ovulation. And who among us has not at least contemplated obeying the appeals of merchandising and covertly applying musk, perhaps to tip the scales of enchantment in an attractive but elusive target. 





On the Green-Eyed Monster

When you think of passion, you may not connect it with jealousy.  Yet jealousy is in no small number of cases the genesis of homicide, and the tempest brewed by jealousy evokes sympathy enough from those who have tasted its fire that it is sometimes deemed justified.  Certainly homicide resulting from the outrage of betrayal seems cut from a different cloth than its cousin, cold-blooded, premeditated murder.  

Although jealousy can certainly have valid reasons, having reasons is not a necessity.  As with any production of the imagination, its creation out of nothing can have concrete physiological consequences, which seem to lend it credence in the bearer's mind.  

Jealousy can be mistaken for, indeed could be deemed proof of, love.   F. Gonzalez-Crussi, who has devoted some attention to such matters, quotes Ampelis, an experienced courtesan in Lucian's Scenes of Courtesans, as she tutors a young apprentice on recognizing true manly devotion:  "The man who has not been jealous, beaten his mistress, torn her clothes--he has yet to be in love."  

To a greater extent than most others, the Spanish culture has a tradition of the trait of jealousy, an inclination that might have been succored by the Catholic idea of a jealous and implacable God.  Centuries ago the idea of "honor" became a means by which wives and daughters were rigorously controlled; the concept of honor, or honra, was verbalized in a number of closely synonymous but subtly differing words, many of which, according to Gonzalez-Crussi, were still in use late in the 20th century.  During the Counter-Reformation, when the convention of honor in Spain was at its peak, a multitude of novels, theatrical plays, and music exalted the vengeance wreaked by men in response to the slightest insinuation of female misconduct.  For the label of honra was equivalent to that of a sterling reputation.  One could not proclaim it for oneself; it had to be granted by outside estimation.  It could be increased by commendable actions, and it could instantly be lost. Once lost, there was but one means to restore it:   Revenge.  







The sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson suggests that homosexuals might be the carriers of altruistic genes.  Although homosexual behavior occurs in animals ranging from insects to mammals, it often manifests as a latent bisexual alternative to heterosexuality in the more intelligent primates, particularly rhesus macaques, baboons, and chimpanzees.  While most humans have a bisexual inclination at least in certain stages of development, however, a mature homosexual stance, like that of heterosexuality, tends to be fairly inflexible.  Wilson calls the property homophile, and suggests that it explains the significance of human homosexuality.  

Like heterosexuality, homosexuality is a form of bonding that strengthens affiliations.  The tendency to be a homophile, Wilson states, could have a genetic basis that may have spread in early hunter-gatherer societies because of the selective advantage possessed by those with the genes.  This raises the question of how genes conferring homosexuality could have spread when the bearers tend not to reproduce.  

In answer to that question, Wilson suggests that early homosexuals might have assisted members of the same sex, whether males that hunted or females that performed domestic chores.  Freed from the responsibility of nurturing children, these people might have been in a special position to support close relatives.  They might also have assumed special roles as religious and artistic figures.  If homophiles truly assisted the survival of close relatives, their relatives would have enjoyed greater survival and reproduction rates, and the genes they shared would have been sustained.  Some of those genes would have been those that predisposed bearers toward homosexuality, and so a proportion of the population would have continued to inherit those genes. The idea that homosexual genes might continue through collateral lines of descent is called the "kin-selection hypothesis."  

In some primitive cultures that survived long enough to be studied, male homosexuals adopted the dress and manner of women and sometimes even married other men.  Known as berdaches, they sometimes specialized in women's work or as advisors, and even became esteemed as shamans.  Female berdaches were rarer but also documented.  

From the evidence we have been able to gather, transvestites in primitive societies appear to be predominantly homosexual.   Interestingly, that does not appear to be the case with modern Western-culture transvestites, most of whom color themselves as heterosexuals in North American surveys.  






Sex Wisdom

As we come to the end of the course, I thought it would be a good time to discuss the end of relationships, the relationship once satisfying that somehow went wrong.  (Wrong relationships that keep going are another subject entirely.)  Relationships end for as many reasons as they begin.  One theory, which sounds to me cynical but nevertheless possible, is that people are in your life when they are because they are teaching you something that you need to know.  Perhaps if we could be sensitive to that possibility in people whose acquaintance sparks an interest in us, that perhaps some of that interest springs more from potential revelation than potential love, we would be somewhat more cautious in our approach toward an interesting party.  

We tend to get more cautious as we get older anyway.  Some caution stems from the memory of past pain, some arises from more certain knowledge of what we need, and recognition of its presence, as well as its absence.  It seems to me that the caution that comes from the memory of past pain can have one of two colors.  It can have the color of fear, and so cause us to shy away from what we've not had the courage to explore, or it can have the color of wisdom.  Wisdom comes not just from experience, but from experience that has been chewed, swallowed, and digested; in other words, experience that, regardless of the pain it might have brought, also caused us to learn.  

The learning that we take from failed relationships is easily oversimplified, as when we simply decide that we had chosen the wrong mate.  Look back on the circumstances of the decision; at the time it did not seem wrong.  The person offered, or seemed to offer, something that we wanted and needed.  Probably the two of you were open and communicative with each other.  As time goes on, everybody has less to say.  If communication is sufficient, however, words need not come in quantity.

Communication dries in the heat of issues that have not been resolved.   These issues may have been new, between the two of you, or they may have been old.  They may need to be addressed between the two of you, or they may need to be faced alone.  It is said that, in early relationships at least, people tend to pursue for mates people who resemble a parent, and that the pursued thus tend to have or to be endowed with traits of the parent.  If this is true, and whether or not the parenting was "good," it is another form of bringing past history to new turf.  At first we may not be able to escape this; perhaps the best we can do is to recognize it and do what we can to fix what must be repaired.  Otherwise the unsettling tendency is for us to drag unresolved issues like so many awkward bundles of baggage from one failed relationship to another that, thus unfairly burdened, is likewise fated to fail.  

These articles are excerpts from coursework provided under contract to Colorado State University and are provided for illustrative purposes only.  Commercial use is strictly prohibited.  



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