Food Vs. Sex Charity

Scott Aaronson asks a great question: 

Consider two men, A and B. Man A steals food because he’s starving to death, while Man B commits a rape because no woman will agree to have sex with him.  From a Darwinian perspective, the two cases seem exactly analogous. In both we have a man on the brink of genetic oblivion, who commandeers something that isn’t his in order to give his genes a chance of survival. And yet the two men strike just about everyone — including me — as inhabiting completely different moral universes. The first man earns only our pity. We ask: what was wrong with the society this poor fellow inhabited, such that he had no choice but to steal? The second man earns our withering contempt.

One problem with the question is that in our society giving enough sex to satisfy is expensive, while giving enough food to satisfy is cheap.  So it might help to imagine a society where the person who lost the food was also in some, though less, danger of starving.   

But even then food and sex seem to be treated differently.  When we give food aid we don’t just give rice and beans to keep folks from starving; we give them enough to have a moderately tasty diet.   We do nothing remotely similar for sex.

To me the obvious answer is that our concern about inequality is not very general – compared to inequality in access to food, humans are just not that concerned about sexual inequality, especially for men.  Presumably for our ancestors, the gene pool of a tribe could benefit from equalizing food in ways that it could not benefit by equalizing sex. 

Added: Riffing off this post, Scott rewords his question:  Why do we, as a society, provide food stamps for the hungry but not sex stamps for the celibate?

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  • Ali Hasanain

    On the question of why rape is abhorred more, the comments on that post are as interesting as the post itself. To that general discussion, I’d just add that for the species, it might not be considered as valuable to preserve an individual’s gene pool as to preserve the individual himself.

    Regarding your point about us not being as concerned about sexual inequality, I’ve never seen data on different access to sex. However, its likely that sexual inequality is less widespread and less systematic than food inequality, so we’re less concerned.

    Also, the costs of providing sex aid is much higher: for a woman to give a man sex-charity requires taking the risk (however small and reduced by birth-control) of becoming pregnant with his child.

    Lastly, it is probably easier to monitor depravity of food than depravity of sex. A sex aid program would probably attract people (men?) with higher than average access to sex too, raising the costs of providing such a program

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    I think this has less to do with male inequality than distinctions (that at least anglosphere) societies make between crimes against persons and crimes against property. For example, you can damage someone’s property to save your life, your own property, or the public. You just have to compensate them for the first two or they have legal remedy to get a judgment against you. But you can’t damage someone’s person to protect your own person, property, or the public. So rape vs. bread-stealing are unexceptional variants under that rule.

  • http://blogwatch.worldmagblog.com/blogwatch/archives/2007/08/a_question_aske.html BlogWatch

    A Question Asked

    An ethics question on food and sex at Overcoming Bias….

  • stuart

    I followed the last link. Why is prostitution not on the list of most unpleasant jobs?

    • Sine FourEx

      I wondered that before. Concluded that it is either too unpleasant to even think about or nobody wants to tell the next generation of women how bad it is.

  • http://pixnaps.blogspot.com/2007/08/darwinian-blinkers.html Philosophy, et cetera

    Darwinian Blinkers

    Befuddled by his genes-eye view, Scott asks: “can any of you pinpoint the difference between the two cases, that underlies our diametrically opposite moral intuitions?” Of the 80-odd responses, only two or three struck on the answer: try looking at it …

  • josh

    A rapist is more similar to a person who steals caviar because it’s better that rice and beans. Masturbation is the baseline for sexual deprivation. It’s enough to relieve the physical pangs just as rice and beans would for hunger. After that, it may just be that, as you said, the marginal cost of providing a little more food charity is far less than providing a little more sex charity.

    While I agree that concern over inequality is not very general, this could be explained even if it were not.

  • conchis

    I don’t get it what’s supposed to be puzzling here.

    If you’re after an evolutionary explanation of our reactions, then we should be thinking in terms of our genetic interests, not the rapist/thief’s. From our perspective, someone who steals food is competing far less directly with our own attempts to propagate our genes than someone who rapes people is, so different reactions shouldn’t be all that puzzling. The fact that the issues are supposedly identical from his genetic perspective doesn’t really seem relevant.

    On the other hand, if you’re after a normative explanation of our reaction, then the rapist/thief’s genetic interests only matter if you think that the survival genes, rather than people is what ultimately matters. Most of us (IMHO rightly) just don’t think that.

    The only way this seems to become a puzzle is if you confuse the two perspectives.

    (And even then, the cases presented aren’t really analogous. A better intuition-pump would be to contrast our view of someone who steals food to avoid starvation with someone who doesn’t have kids, and steals money to pay for fertility treatment. Then you avoid the complications of massively different levels of harm involved in rape than petty theft, and the fact that rape generally doesn’t have a lot to do with a desire to have babies.)

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Ali, I agree the comments at the first post are interesting.

    Hopefully, your answer would just raise the question: why is hurting a person worse than hurting their property, holding constant the size of the harm?

    Conchis, it is at least a puzzle in evol psych that our evolved moral intuitions give less weight to things that harm our long term fitness, versus our current feelings.

  • TGGP

    This brought to mind both Caplan’s musing on the justice of redistribution in a pure-service economy (possibly with tradeable vouchers for labor) and Kling’s alternate history with “prostitution insurance”.

  • Paul Gowder

    Uh, Robin, are you serious?

    First, for much of our species’ social history, rapists weren’t treated with the amount of justified scorn with which they’re treated today in Western cultures.

    Second, a rape inflicts much more serious harm on someone than a food theft. It’s accompanied often with a physical assault or threat of physical assault, and it violates the bodily integrity of another human a way that grabbing a block of cheese off the shelves of a grocery store does not. And nobody has ever suffered serious psychological trauma from having had a couple of apples stolen. To make our moral intuitions a little closer, perhaps you should consider the rape versus the following case: Man A sees person C, who is eating a sandwich on the street with his/her children. Person C is obviously pretty poor. Man A beats the crap out of person C and steals the food out of C and C’s kids’ mouths. That’s a *little* closer to the type of injury inflicted by rape, and, lo and behold, our moral intuitions are a little different, aren’t they?

    And the distinction between crimes against persons and crimes against property is readily understandable. Property is fungible. In a fairly wealthy society like ours, most property crimes — especially very small property crimes like stealing of food, as opposed to big property crimes like stealing peoples’ retirement funds — aren’t going to ruin someone’s quality of life in the way that crimes against persons are. The latter risks disabling physical injury, disease (an especial concern in the case of rape, where STDS are an issue, also pregnancy and abortion complications), post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. And this isn’t even getting into the political meaning of rape as a crime that men inflict on women.

    The notion that evolutionary psychologists and that lot are running around seriously, genuinely, unable to fathom the difference between stealing food and rape just scares me to death.

  • Paul Gowder

    (Moreover, this explains why sex stamps would be problematic in a way that food stamps aren’t. Providing sex stamps would require finding someone willing to provide the sex. Food is fungible in a way that sex isn’t — you don’t have to physically interact with someone to get food. Is the notion of bodily integrity really that hard to understand?)

  • conchis

    Robin, I’m afraid I still don’t see the puzzle here. I don’t see any indication in the example that our evolved moral intuitions place less value on things that are more important to the survival of our own genes (as opposed to placing less value on things that are more important to the survival of other people’s genes – which you wouldn’t expect them to). To the extent that our intuitions about theft vs rape are indeed evolved,* they seem perfectly consistent with treating more severely things that are more damaging to the survival of our own genes: rape reduces my opportunities for procreation more than does theft.

    This is to be distinguished from the sorts of moral reasoning we might engage in over the relative badness of rape and food theft. This seems to be based on a projection of our perceived interests onto others, and seems far more likely to be a product of abstract reasoning and social conditioning than evolved intuition. The data for this projection may be provided by evolved intuitions about our own interests (my immediate survival is more important than reproduction, because I won’t have much hope of successfully reproducing if I’m dead) but that’s not the same thing.

    In both cases, our evolved intuitions (moral or otherwise) seem to be doing pretty much what we would expect.

    *I’m actually a little sceptical of this. Does anyone have any evidence on the stability of these intuitions over time that would suggest they’re universal?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    First, you might have a different perspective on the theft of food if you lived in constant fear of starvation, rather than living a world oversaturated with candy bars. Stealing food was not uncommonly punishable by death, back in the good old days.

    Second, back in the good old days when societies really were patriarchal, women were property and rape was treated quite similarly to theft. IIRC the Old Testament prescribes that a man who rapes a virgin can be forced to marry her and pay a dowry (you break it, you bought it) or alternatively pay a heavy fine.

    Third, individual organisms are best thought of as adaptation-executers, not fitness-maximizers (saith Cosmides and Tooby). Nobody in a young civilization, and nobody in sensible company, gives a damn about whether food-theft and rape have equivalent effects on fitness from a Darwinian perspective – the former because they don’t know that genes exist, and the latter because they don’t care. Food and sex are different from a Darwinian perspective, with different battles and selection pressures; different adaptations have grown up around them, and different moralities have grown up around those adaptations. In a modern civilization, food is cheap and women are people. Sex is considered a luxury and food is considered a necessity, because people will die immediately without food, or because teenage males with very high sex drives don’t make the laws. Thus, rape is considered much more serious a crime than food-theft.

    But if everyone lived on the brink of starvation, I would argue that food-theft would indeed be a more serious matter than rape, for death is the worst of all ills.

  • Nick Tarleton

    I’m in complete agreement with Paul. Sorry for the overlong comment, but I see a lot of things wrong here.

    One of the best points made in the comments on Shtetl-Optimized is that the judgment that Man B is much worse than Person A is far from universal. Or, even if B is worse than A, it’s because of the offense to the male kin of the victim rather than to the victim herself (i.e., rape is regarded as a property crime, like Eliezer said). This suggests that social as well as genetic factors have to be taken into account in considering the reasons for moral judgments. Regardless of the Darwinian reason(s) underlying this particular judgment, there’s also an obvious social reason (at least in cultures, like most of the West, where women are considered worthy of empathy): rape causes much more suffering than theft. (Do you consider it similarly puzzling that people – at least in most of the West – intuitively object to cruelty to animals, people past reproductive age, or people on the other side of the planet?)

    It’s interesting and disturbing how so much commentary has tried to find elaborate evolutionary-psychology reasons for this judgment, while few have pointed out the very simple utilitarian/empathetic reason. I realize this is a discussion of why rape is regarded as so bad rather than whether it is actually so bad, and the EP behind that is interesting, but surely not all moral judgments result so directly from evolution.

    Robin asks why hurting a person is worse than hurting their property, holding constant the size of the harm, but that’s a red herring – what kind of property crime is as harmful as rape? Only stealing enough of someone’s money to leave them destitute, as Paul describes, could be – and that can be corrected much more easily (monetary compensation, versus – what? memory erasure?)

    Similarly, although lack of concern about some forms of inequality is probably part of why nobody ever considers sexual charity, there are a couple even more obvious reasons: lack of sex never killed anyone, and asking someone to donate sex is asking vastly more than asking them to donate food or money. Nor is it clear that you can generalize from one data point about jobs that inequality for men is less of a concern than inequality for women. (And Stuart is right about prostitution.) (I also liked the unspoken assumption that sexual deprivation is primarily a men’s problem. That’s plausible, but I’d like to see something backing it up.)

    (Sex stamps could be made to work noncoercively – vouchers that prostitutes could redeem to the government for money – but as long as prostitution is illegal, that’s not likely.)

    Another unspoken assumption is that rape is caused by not getting consensual sex. I thought it was common knowledge that rape was about power and violence, not sex. A minute’s thought should suggest that a man unsatisfied with masturbation and unable to convince a woman to have sex with him would, if remotely rational, hire a prostitute and incur much less risk than he would by raping. (Not to mention have a much cleaner conscience!) This Wikipedia article, while generally low-quality, goes over some actual motivations for rape such as past abuse, sadism, need for power, and hatred of women (with the victim standing in for women as a whole). No doubt there is some genetic propensity to rape, but most men keep it under control (at least in cultures where rape is regarded as very wrong) – and no doubt very few rapes result from simple sexual deprivation!

    This is one time it would be good to have more women frequenting this blog.

  • Nick Tarleton

    The trackback from Philosophy, et cetera makes good reading. Especially this part:

    From a person’s perspective, then, the “analogy” is a non-starter. The starving man needs to eat in order to survive — a likely precondition for realizing any of his other values. The vital importance of this is beyond question. The second man’s “need” for sex is hardly comparable. (It’s perfectly possible for the celibate to still lead worthwhile lives.) So, only one of them has a genuine need that could reasonably justify imposing such burdens on others.

    Say it with me: adaptation-executers, not fitness-maximizers.

  • Pseudonymous

    First, for much of our species’ social history, rapists weren’t treated with the amount of justified scorn with which they’re treated today in Western cultures.

    I have heard this before, but have never seen any evidence to that effect. I am pretty sure that it was once punished by death, which sound rather harsher than our current punishment.

    Is this claim really true, or is it just another meme that spreads because it allows us to proclaim our moral superiority to our ancestors?

  • Silas

    Nick Tarleton and Paul Gowder: I have always had difficulty with the “power” explanation for rape, and the Wikipedia entry doesn’t seem to help. In my experience, whenever I ask people to clarify what they mean by this, I get confusing and contradictory responses. I don’t see how it explains rape. If the rapist wants to “assert power over a woman”, why must he involve sex? It is this quesiton that you have to answer. After all, why doesn’t say, beating the woman with a tire iron suffice for rapists? Only by involving some aspect unique to sex can you account for this.

    I also wonder how much this depends on technology. In the future, could it be possible to selectively delete memories? (“Pain is no more than information before the senses.”) Would such a task be more trivial than recovering the food (energy) loss? Although I guess the possibility of living in a solipsistic simulated reality would make that a moot point…

  • Anonymous Poster

    If I remember correctly, Denmark is paying prostitutes to have sex with mentally retarded people.

  • Nick Tarleton

    Disabled people generally, actually.

    One highly speculative disadvantage to sex stamps is that officially condoning the idea that people are entitled to and shouldn’t have to live without sex might lead to increased resentment, sexual harassment, and/or rape.

    Silas, it would probably be best to consult the psychological literature (or even the popular literature). My understanding is that rapists are turned on by power and get much more of a kick out of rape than simple assault or consensual sex. (So saying it’s not about sex is an oversimplification; better, perhaps, to say it’s about a lot more than sex.) Keep in mind that rape is often accompanied by non-sexual assault.

    On the other hand, the fact that increased access to pornography reduces rape suggests that I was wrong; lack of access to sexual gratification is a factor.

  • Silas

    Nick Tarleton: The reason I cross-examine people on what they mean by “it’s about power” in the first place is because the popular literature’s explanation is unsatisfying. I don’t like the term “power” generally; it’s too vague.

    Your explanation sounds circular. What if the motive were merely gratification? In that case too you could add the unnecessary step, “Well, only gratifies *because* power is the real turn-on.” Do rapists explore other methods of getting power? Also, that wouldn’t explain date rapists, who definitely would prefer it be consensual, and would not otherwise assault those they like.

  • jpe

    rom a Darwinian perspective, the two cases seem exactly analogous.

    That sentence makes no sense. From a semantic perspective, that is.

  • jpe

    lack of access to sexual gratification is a factor.

    Porn is shot through with sexual violence. It’s more likely they’re getting their power urges out vicariously.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    “Hopefully, your answer would just raise the question: why is hurting a person worse than hurting their property, holding constant the size of the harm?”

    Robin, I agree it does raise that question. I think it’s a fundamentally irrational distinction, but I’m not sure how common it is beyond the common law of anglosphere societies.

  • Austin Cartwright

    I think the point that the orginal quote is making is that our ethics is not based on a “Darwinian perspective”. Porn does not cut it on a Darwinian perspective because porn does not pass on our genes. The amount that rape hurts somone is only relevent if it is shown to lower the changes of passing ones genes on. How “expensive” sex is over food is only relevent if it can be shown to hinder passing on one’s genes. Biological systems don’t seem to work in regards to our ethical system.

  • http://www.gnxp.com p-ter
  • TGGP

    I can’t believe I forgot about the (possibly anachronistic) old Texas saying to explain why horse-thiefs were punished more severely than murders “There are more men needin’ killin’ than horses needin’ stealin’”.

    I thought it was common knowledge that rape was about power and violence, not sex.
    I’ve heard this claim from feminists a lot, but I’m not buying it. We don’t explain muggings by saying it’s about power, they wanted something so they took it. The Danimal has discussed this, but it’s hard to find his stuff ever since Ilkka took down his site and the danimal archive with it. One reason I don’t buy it is the effectiveness of chemical castration. It’s still physically possible for them to rape, but when their gonads aren’t urging them on they don’t do it.

    Seriously, can anyone point me out any studies that showed rape was about power rather than sex? Or the origin of the claim?

  • anon

    Where is there any evidence whatsoever that rape is about gene survival?

    Why does desire to have sex equal desire to propogate?

    If this has anything to do with evolution, then would that imply that we all have a desire to rape, a desire which we must consciously suppress.

    What would it mean for the theory if we did not all have an urge to rape?

    Surely there is a distinction between a horny college student and a person who desires to rape someone.

    Clearly there must be a distinction between different forms of sexual gratification that Scott’s original question seems oblivious to…. or maybe I am just not as enamored by your fancy evolutionaly psychology theory as other people here seem to be. Is there a bias here that everything can be explained by this theory and we must try to fit this theory to every situation?

  • anon

    ” why is hurting a person worse than hurting their property, holding constant the size of the harm? ”

    If we consider it to be worse, then there must be something with the scale you are using to “hold constant the size of the harm.”

    Do not most people view killing someone as infinitely worse than destroying all of their property.

    Robin, on your scale, where you were somehow able to hold constant the size of the harm, how much of someone’s property would someone have to destory before the size of the harm equalled the size of the harm inflicted by killing him. What about placing him into a coma? Paralyzing him?

  • http://www.hifi-writer.com Stephen Dawson

    Surely Mr Yudkowsky’s comments are correct. I live in Australia, which was established as a European colony by transporting those convicted of trivial property thefts, and usually sentenced to five to seven years. At various times food theft has been a capital offence.

    Evolution informs our moral code to some extent, but does not definitively set it. Peter Singer’s ‘expanding circle’ seems to be gradually expanding to include the animal kingdom in demanding our moral code. So these vary according to circumstances.

    One important circumstance is that in a time of plentiful food (its cost is low), and respect for women (their ‘costs’ are high), so the taking of each without consent has different consequences. On a more practical level, starvation leads to immediate death, whereas lack of procreation may generally be remedied many times over many years into the future, so the average cost of the former is very much higher in Darwinian terms.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    As Scott indicates in his added comments, both he and I regret mentioning rape at all – it is such a red flag that people find it hard to see anything once it is in view. And the “Darwinian” flag also seems to be more of a distraction than helpful.

    The interesting question is why we, as people who think ourselves to be generally concerned about inequality, in fact treat food charity so differently from sex charity. Yes there are differences between food and sex, but those differences don’t very clearly explain our differing treatment of inequality.

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

      The interesting question is why we, as people who think ourselves to be generally concerned about inequality, in fact treat food charity so differently from sex charity. Yes there are differences between food and sex, but those differences don’t very clearly explain our differing treatment of inequality.

      The “obvious” answer is that, while we’re concerned about equality, we’re also concerned about other “moral” values. ( http://tinyurl.com/ydp3sdj ) Actually, neither food relief nor sexual entitlements are much based on Equality. Food stamps have more to do with Unity than Equality; sex in our culture is governed mostly by Proportionality.

  • Douglas Knight

    We don’t explain muggings by saying it’s about power

    Some people do, but not in the hysterical absolute way others do about rape.

    A slightly different reason often given for muggings is establishing a pecking order (especially among school children) not just by internal violence, but also by demonstrating capability of violence against outsiders.

  • Anon

    You die without food after ~50 days, no one died from lack of sex — they just didn’t pass on genes. If you live a 50 year life, that’s 365x more opportunity to pass on genes than you’d lose if you died 50 days from now. So giving the food *is* providing an opportunity for the poor guy to be productive, have happiness, possibly reproduce.

    The thing I can’t believe is that no one mentioned what any of this is like from the woman’s perspective! Doesn’t she have some interest in not being raped? Sometimes I wonder if you’re autistic (not an insult, just an obvious lack of seeing things from another person’s perspective).

  • mk

    As Scott indicates in his added comments, both he and I regret mentioning rape at all – it is such a red flag that people find it hard to see anything once it is in view.

    Apology accepted, but just to be clear, the issue is not that you brought up a sensitive subject. The issue, as Paul pointed out, is that you did not appear to have even the most basic grasp of what’s important about that subject. A little emotional sensitivity can go a long way. And it can even help us overcome bias. (Let’s call this one the “tendency to minimize emotional harm bias.” And hopefully one does not choose to steer away from that bias by compensating with the “avoid emotionally sensitive topics” bias.)

  • TGGP

    A little emotional sensitivity can go a long way. And it can even help us overcome bias. (Let’s call this one the “tendency to minimize emotional harm bias.”
    I really don’t understand what you are saying here at all.

    I was not thinking about school-children when I mentioned mugging, but I can see how that is not so much about money since children will just rely on their parents for that.

  • Douglas Knight

    Most muggings of adults I know about were by high school students, though I have a pretty skewed sample. Mugging is a lousy source of income; Nick Tarleton’s comment about remote rationality applies just as well there.

  • http://www.fourmilab.ch/ustax/www/t26-A-1-A-I-1.html guy in the veal calf office

    I thought that the idea that rape is an evolved reproductive strategy is discredited, which would mean the question isn’t so great.

    Also, has the adaptive executioner analytic model decisively won the field from the fitness maximizer model? I thought there was some dispute, but I never really understood (among many things) what made them mutually exclusive.

  • anon

    “The interesting question is why we, as people who think ourselves to be generally concerned about inequality, in fact treat food charity so differently from sex charity.”

    Perhaps part of the answer is that we are not generally concerned about inequality as universally as you seem to think. There are many other situations in which we are not concerned with inequality and consciously discriminate… we seem to only be concerned with inequality in certain contexts. The real question is on what grounds do we seem to believe it is ok to discriminate. We have to weigh equality versus other values. To suggest that inequality is universally desirable would suggest that it belongs at the apex of a hierarchy of any possibly conflicting values.

  • TGGP

    I thought that the idea that rape is an evolved reproductive strategy is discredited, which would mean the question isn’t so great.
    I was unaware of that. I’ve heard rape is found in many other animal species (dolphins even gang-rape). If you could link to its discrediting, I would be very interested in reading it.

  • VR

    First of all, Paul Gowder, I want to date you. Second – are there any women commenting here? Rape is not a fulfillment of primary need (like eating) it is an act of (over)power(ing). I never really bought into idea that sex is one of the basic needs (I’m aware this makes me sound like a huge nun, Paul, trust me, this is not going to be an issue). Maybe it was for Freud, but I’m sure had he been a woman, we wouldn’t have such a discussion.

  • TGGP

    Rape is not a fulfillment of primary need (like eating) it is an act of (over)power(ing).
    Once again, if you’ve got a link to some studies showing it’s about power rather than sex, I’d be very interested in reading them because I hear the claim a lot without support but it does not seem convincing to me.

    From an evolutionary perspective, a person who never eats has the same fitness as a person who never mates: zero (ignoring kin-altruism type stuff). However, as a GNXPer puts it in his response to this post, if you starve right now you can’t mate later whereas celibacy now doesn’t preclude eating later.

  • duane

    “Once again, if you’ve got a link to some studies showing it’s about power rather than sex, I’d be very interested in reading them because I hear the claim a lot without support but it does not seem convincing to me.”

    Intuition tells me that indeed, rape is more about power and/or sexual gratification satisfied through the use of power. I do not think most men would it gratifying to have sex with a woman who is terrified and resisting them, even if there were no legal or social consequences to pay.

  • TGGP

    Intuition tells me
    That’s mighty weak.

    most men
    Though I am one myself, I really don’t think I’m qualified to speak on the attitudes of most men here. I do know that most men aren’t rapists (though given the right situation, Ordinary Men and all, they could be), so it might be wrong-headed to analyze the motives of rapists based on men as a whole.

  • http://goodandhappy.typepad.com/g_as_in_good_h_as_in_happ/ dilys

    Did someone call? Female here, with some comments.

    First, is anyone thinking of “rape” as both homosexual and heterosexual? It interests me to wonder how passionately dispassionate the discussion would be if both images were equally potent for the discussants.

    The acknowledged line between consensual sex and rape, experientially for women, is fairly recent, since arranged or socially/economically-necessary marriage pretty much disappears in our society. The question would have been about sex within or outside the confines of the approved social arrangements. It was good-to-horrible on no particular continuum, viz. the “lie back and think of England” joke, only articulable as a joke when on its way out.

    In another vein, the whole question of a “right” for sex-based-transaction/relationship-as-needed, is extremely pertinent in conservative considerations of same-sex marriage, ecclesiastical ordination of active homosexuals, etc. Logically, the “right” to rape is actually on the continuum of a “right” to sex regardless of social norms, unless pure empathy for the rape-object prevails legally and ethically.

    Is anyone here over 50 and raised outside metropolitan centers? Civilizations with which most of us are familiar until recently didn’t care about the sex drive per se. Live with it, or get over it. Regardless of all kinds of private aberration, officially and generally sex, gentle and exciting or brutal, was for bonding and procreation to build the family unit.

    There’s the meme of Hemingway’s whore with a heart of gold, supposedly charitable women taking sexual pity on lonely or handicapped men. That would have been beyond the Western pale, acts of charity being quite extensive and explicitly including feeding the hungry. In such a context, feeding the sex-starved via parallel analysis is in another, unthinkable, universe. Even posing the question of equating them ethically is close to a legitimate “taboo question,” because of the failure, the very recent reversal, of underlying assumptions.

  • Larry

    Could it also be as simple as if you don’t eat you die, where if you don’t get laid you will live (teenage boys assertions aside).

  • http://www.asciilifeform.com asciilifeform

    How generous would we be with food if it could only be donated in parcels of (at least) a year’s supply at one time? In the pre-birth-control environment of our ancestors, this is exactly what a single act of sexual charity is equivalent to, from the female point of view. The emotional response you will get when floating the idea evolved to reflect this reality.

  • Wendy Collings

    Scott Aaronson’s question falls apart very early on, where he says: “the two cases seem exactly analogous. In both we have a man on the brink of genetic oblivion, who commandeers something that isn’t his in order to give his genes a chance of survival.”

    If we offer starving man A the choice of (a) eating but being thereafter sterile, or (b) dying but having his sperm preserved for artificial insemination, we know he’ll choose (a).

    If we offer sexually frustrated man B the choice of (a) having sex with any attractive partner of his choice, provided he uses a condom, and (b) donating sperm by masturbation for inseminating purposes, we know he’ll choose (a).

    Neither man A nor man B is acting to give his genes a chance of survival; therefore the two cases are not analagous as claimed, and the deductions made from the supposed analogy are meaningless.

    If we’re going to seriously compare inequality of access to food and sex, we need much firmer ground to start from.

  • Anon B

    Well I was just passing through on my way to something else; and was intrigued by this blog. I may not be as eloquent as everyone else here but I have a very simple answer….
    People scream louder than food. It seams like you are all looking at this from an (for lack of better phrasing) indirect(object) standpoint, than from a direct(object).
    Well that was it and thanks for making me think.
    -B

  • Erin

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but sex is not something women store in their silos out behind the farmhouse. Women do not raise sex crops in their sex fields and grudgingly hand out a few loaves of sex to the hungry man by the door because he’s dying of sex deprivation. Rape is not the equivalent of sneaking into someone’s pantry and stealing a few bags of sex.

    In the vast majority of cases, rapists have hands, and/or access to prostitutes. If a man wants to participate in sex with a partner who isn’t being paid, rape will not fulfill that desire; rape victims are not “participating” in any meaningful sense. If a man wants to get off on overpowering, violating, and injuring a person who cannot escape him, rape will fulfill *that* desire. Food is nourishing no matter how it’s obtained. But if you see raping a woman and having consensual sex with a woman as interchangeable experiences, one of which can replace the other, I don’t even know what to say to you.

    This is why people point out that rape is about power.

    The worldview encoded in the conceptualization of this example creeps me out.

  • Cesoir

    Paul Gowder, Erin, thank you.

    I can’t see the analogy between the two cases. The man who is starving is trying to keep *himself* alive – for all we know, he could be willfully celibate, or sterile. I cannot see how the desire to keep the *genes* alive is necessarily apparent in this case.

    The man who rapes – let’s imagine we’re talking about our day and age here – has other means of ensuring his genes live on. Sperm banks, anyone? Or even finding a desperate woman and paying her? I am curious to know what is so repulsive about our specimen that every woman imaginable would reject him — and, if we’re talking Darwin, wouldn’t that be a hint as to the worth of preserving his genes?

  • HonorH

    Because, dumbass, rape is a crime of aggression, not sex. Men don’t rape because they can’t pick up some woman at the local dive bar; they rape even if they’ve got a wife at home and a girlfriend on the side. It’s a power thing, not a sexual act. You want to give homeless guys vouchers to a whorehouse? Fine, do it, but don’t expect the rape rate to go down. I can’t believe this question is even being asked.

  • Anon

    rape is a crime of aggression, not sex

    And yet… and yet…

    The counterargument is so compelling. Viz:

    1. Some men use force to get what they want. See e.g. bank robberies.
    2. Some men want sex.
    3. It’s plausible that there’s some overlap between groups 1 and 2.

    Conclusion: some rape might be about sex.

  • Noir

    Tell me, Anon, How many cases of women raping men have you heard of? So women don’t want sex, huh.

    See, that’s what a bad analogy looks like. Bank robberies? Not like rape, they use force because they want the money, and that’s the best way to get it for these people in that specific situation.

    Rape. You see, if you want to release sexual tension, you masturbate. You could even pay a prostitute if you are a man, nobody will judge you so much.

    And what is that that makes sex with another so compelling? Well, interaction, emotion, looking for the other’s reactions, and of course, feeling. What does a rapist want? You tell me. It’s so easy knowing that victims don’t react favorably.

    Why a woman doesn’t rape a man? Because woman don’t have that power. For then, sex was never a tool they could use to subdue someone else. Men can do that with women (and with other men, see prison’s hierarchies; those who are lowest in the pyramid are always ‘the bitch’) because sex is a power they have due to social institutions. In women, sex is something they are supposed to have just for men’s pleasure (see this thread); and they are stigmatized if they show sexual interest (‘she is a slut’, etc.). For them, sex doesn’t work as a way to control and humiliate someone, to show them ‘who is the boss.’

    Sometimes it’s not about doing maths. It’s knowing people and how they interact.

  • Anon

    Tell me, Anon, How many cases of women raping men have you heard of?

    Is this a serious question? A woman forcing a man into sex is nigh-on physically impossible. She could of course violate him in various ways, but these mostly don’t even resemble sex.

    Bank robberies? Not like rape

    I didn’t say they were. I merely used them as an example to prove my point #1, that some men use force to get what they want.

    You see, if you want to release sexual tension, you masturbate.

    People have the urge for sex, not merely the urge to have orgasms.

    You could even pay a prostitute if you are a man

    This at least is a good point, although I suspect rapists want the most attractive victims they can get, and some men find prostitutes inherently unattractive. According to one study (I haven’t read it, it was just the first thing I found on Google), it seems that rapists prefer victims who are “nice, friendly, young, pretty and middle class.”

    And what is that that makes sex with another so compelling? Well, interaction, emotion, looking for the other’s reactions, and of course, feeling.

    For normal people like us, perhaps. But are these elements always present, even in consensual sex? And does the sort of vicious man – who cares so little about other people that he becomes a rapist – really want these things? I’m not sure. But I am sure that such a man will still want sex.

    Why a woman doesn’t rape a man? Because woman don’t have that power.

    Quite. And if the physiology of our species had been different, and it was in fact possible for women to rape men, then I suspect it would happen.

    Look, I’m not here to defend rape or rapists. The motivational structure in a rapist’s brain doesn’t affect the wrongness of it. But the fact remains that men do want sex, and to say that this fact has nothing whatsoever to do with rape is so implausible, it amazes me that it’s the mainstream view.

    Can you think of anything else which most men want but no man ever uses force to get?

  • Cyan

    Women, being human beings, do in fact rape, both males and other females. Male rape is much more common and much more highly reported, of course.

  • Anon

    (This discussion could get rather graphic)

    Cyan, I’m happy enough to accept that a woman can violate a man’s body in all sorts of ways – like insertion of foreign objects into him. As for something resembling normal sex, while it might be possible for a woman to force a man into this, it seems like it must be profoundly difficult.

    But – to return to the case of inanimate objects – I don’t think this could have the same motives as the more common type of rape. If a man inserted inanimate objects into a woman, then in that case I would agree with Noir that it’s not about sex, since from his point of view, it doesn’t seem like he’s getting anything that resembles what normal people would consider “sex”. In this sort of case, he must indeed be after some sort of sick power trip.

    Which is not to deny that, from her point of view, the experience would be just as horrific as the more common type of rape. I also don’t want to deny that such events can correctly be called rape; I am just trying to note that – in these cases – a desire for sex isn’t a plausible motive.

    Nor do I wish to say that, in every other case, rape must have a sexual motive. Yes, men who would rape for reasons of power do exist. But I find it implausible that sexual desire is never a motive.

  • Cyan

    In terms of physical force, not all women are weaker than all men, and in general women have the same ability to use non-physical coercive tactics that men do. Also, the nervous system is a funny thing — fear is a form of arousal, and can heighten other forms of arousal such as sexual arousal [ref].

  • Noir

    Anon, physical force is not the only kind of power than exists out there. I… don’t going to explain that (seriously, gang-raped?). And even, some male-rapists use drugs and incapacitate their victims.

    Then, have you heard about an attempted rape of a woman towards a man? Because I have heard of a lot of attempted rapes where the woman overcomes or escapes their male-rapist. Wow, not so impossible, right?

    That study? No. Here, even Snopes explains the thing about ‘rapist preferences.’ There are a thousand of studies about this, I don’t have the energy to look for them. You just have to look at statistics. The group who is more vulnerable to rape? Prostitutes.

    You can find a lot here if you want.

    For normal people like us

    I don’t know what you mean with that, but people can easily become in rapists in time of war, or in situations where they have a lot of power over their victims. Extreme examples are Nanking or Rwanda. The important factor here is how encouraged that rape is in the dominant group, or culture.

    Look, I’m not here to defend rape or rapists. The motivational structure in a rapist’s brain doesn’t affect the wrongness of it. But the fact remains that men do want sex, and to say that this fact has nothing whatsoever to do with rape is so implausible, it amazes me that it’s the mainstream view.

    No, it doesn’t affect the wrongness of it. However, I was talking about the motivation for rape, because that’s the cause for it. You have to know the cause to allege that men’s desire have or doesn’t have anything to do with rape.

    Why a man who just ‘wants sex’ would try to look for a victim who will probably fight him, and hurt him?

    Yes, some sociopaths may associate the desire to have sex with the violence and power over their victims. They want to humiliate and hurt, and they link sexual desire with that since they can have that power over women.

    And thank you Cyan. I knew of rape of females to females, but not to males (and yeah, it’s pretty complex).

  • Laura ABJ

    Cyan is right. I’ve never done it, but I don’t think it would be that difficult.

  • Laura ABJ

    Pick out a wispy little thing- totally out of place in the bar- inexperienced- clueless. Get him to down a few shots by acting all impressed- get him to come home by pretending that you like him as a person and got this funny movie. Flirt, giggle, get him aroused- He says “I can’t, I’ve got a girlfriend in the navy…” Or whatever it is that a man would say if he didn’t want to have sex… rub him a lot- he protests- slap him around a bit, grab him by the wrists- he’s a weakling and you work out daily- and climb aboard…

    Probably happens all the time… there are enough feminist psychopaths out there desiring revenge…

  • Anon

    Noir: at no time have I argued that all rape is motivated by sexual desire. Merely some cases of it. You give examples where power is a more plausible motive than sex. Fine, I can agree with you on those cases. But I don’t accept the move from those cases to a blanket generalisation about every case.

    Laura: Pick out a wispy little thing

    But would a hypothetical female rapist, motivated by a desire for sex rather than power, want a “wispy little thing”?

  • Laura ABJ

    Anon- I was not arguing the case of a hypothetical female rapist motivated by sexual desire.

    In this case, the woman really is screwed (metaphorically)- because if she was at all attractive, she would not need to rape to get laid, and if she wants a big, strong, attractive man, you’re right, she can’t rape him.

    I was just protesting the idea that women would be unable to rape if they so wanted out of the motivation of power…

  • Anon

    Laura: fair enough.

    To return to Noir, a point I missed earlier:

    Why a man who just ‘wants sex’ would try to look for a victim who will probably fight him, and hurt him?

    Men often take risks. This is fairly understandable from an evolutionary psychology standpoint. If you’ve never read a sympathetic introduction to evo-psy, try Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal.

    A final thought on that note: chimpanzees, our closest cousins, are known to have rape. Again, this should not be seen as a justification, but I find it hard to attribute chimp rape to something other than a desire for sex. Why is it so very impossible for some men to be motivated the same way? Has homo sapiens lost the genes that make this possible, in the last 7 million years? Why did that happen?

  • Helen

    I’ve never seen so many idiots gathered in one place. I can only assume that a large proportion of you are still waiting to have sex with somebody non-inflatable.

    First of all, Darwin has nothing to do with rape. Some rapists are men who have had vasectomies, others choose to use a condom. Rape is not a matter of “I must pass on my genes!” It’s more, “I hate women, I want to hurt one!” This is not the “hysterical” view of feminists (I am not one, by the way) but a fact accepted by every authority on the subject. Rape is a way to destroy a woman’s life and is used by men who like to do that, often because, like many posting here, they have a deep resentment of women and blame them for the fact that their lives are bad. A rapist is virtually always a complete inadequate. Rape is a crime of the ego, not of any Darwinian imperative. I thought even trained chimps could figure that out, but apparently some people are still sympathetic towards rapists.

    Food is essential. If you’re starving, it’s not wrong to steal something to survive. Most of the posters here can testify that you don’t die from lack of sex, because, let’s face it, no-one expressing the views expressed here is ever going to get within a hundred yards of a woman and no-one who had ever had the remotest affection for or from a woman would utter the drivel spouted here.

    Many millions of people have lived their entire lives without sex and would never consider raping anyone. Many women are celibate, but don’t go raping men. You will never see a pack of nuns chasing some young man down the street compelled by their need to pass on their genes.

    Also, why do men rape other men? Does Darwinism explain that? And is that something that should also be considered like stealing food, or is that terrible and wicked and wrong? Just wondering.

    I suppose you do know that the analogy of rape to stealing food assumes that a woman has the same value as a potato? No wonder none of you can get dates!

    Incidentally, the concept of the selfish gene is DAWKINS not DARWIN, but I suppose that’s irrelevant to those who are looking to justify sex crimes by appealing to science they do not adequately understand.

  • Nathan

    Rape is abhorred more than stealing food because of starvation for a very simple reason: YOU ARE VIOLATING ONE OF THE DEEPEST AND MOST PERSONAL ASPECTS OF A HUMAN LIFE. Most supermarkets can bear the loss. Most women (and men, because men can be raped as well) cannot bear the sheer trauma of being assailed, thrown down, and forcibly entered by somebody who is either a complete stranger or, worse, somebody whom they thought that they could trust. No amount of psychotherapy can ever fully undo that damage.

  • Noir

    But I don’t accept the move from those cases to a blanket generalisation about every case.

    Blanket generalization? Most cases of rapes are done by someone close to the victim, someone they already knew (in many cases, the victim is repeatedly raped by the same person). Not by someone who went to look randomly for attractive women (and the ‘random stranger cases’? The victims are, in average, pretty ordinary people). And no, ‘the most available victim’ is not the answer. Why would you rape someone who already knows you, and will be easily linked to you/can recognize you? Most important, why would you want to have sex with that person if she/he is unwilling? Some cases will be easier than others, but there will be always resistance and a reaction from the other end. (Yes, rapists are horrible people, but they are humans, so we can make some conclusions about their reasons/way of thinking.) Sociopaths will rape and not feel much – raping is the easiest option for gratification? Not so much in most cases.

    Yes, rapists have sexual gratification and experiment sexual desire. That doesn’t mean they did it because they were ‘starved for sex.’

    I think is possible for a man in a specific situation to do it just for sex. But I wouldn’t say that’s the case for the vast majority of the rape cases.

    If you’ve never read a sympathetic introduction to evo-psy, try Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal.

    No, I haven’t. And thank you. I tend to look at evolutionary psychology with some care.

    I think it would be very hard for a man today to rape for the sames reasons than a male chimpanzee does. Chimpanzees don’t have our society, our view of sex, and our awareness/interaction with other people. But I don’t know much about chimpanzees anyway.

    Well, I think I’m kinda done with this. Sorry, but I’m tired.

  • Kate

    Sexual assault causes the victim agony and terror and has long-term mental and physical consequences, not excluding death through AIDS or suicide. Only if your starving man violently robs someone in order to obtain food do you have a moral analogy with rape. Even then, since a starving man must eat but a horny man need not have intercourse, the analogy still collapses.

    (If you believe evolution entitles males to sex, you must be very confused by sexual selection.)

  • Laura ABJ

    Nathan:
    “No amount of psychotherapy can ever fully undo that damage.”

    While I agree with almost everything you said, I have to say as someone with a lot of privalidged knowledge of other women- Women are raped far too often (about a third maybe?) for that statement to be true. If women were ruined nearly as much by rape, esp. of the sort that generally occurs (by trusted/loved ones/ family members) as the media portrays- well, we’d have whole institutions full of them. It is true that on the societal level, and for many individuals, rape is as horrible and ugly as you describe, but many women just go on and never report it and don’t complain… Its that a strength or a weakness? Though I suppose you might be indicating subtle psychological damage that can never be repaired…

  • Laura ABJ

    Why the wrong is but a wrong i’ the world: and
    having the world for your labour, tis a wrong in your
    own world, and you might quickly make it right.
    DESDEMONA
    I do not think there is any such woman.
    EMILIA
    Yes, a dozen; and as many to the vantage as would
    store the world they played for.
    But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
    If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
    And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
    Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
    Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
    Or scant our former having in despite;
    Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
    Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
    Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
    And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
    As husbands have. What is it that they do
    When they change us for others? Is it sport?
    I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
    I think it doth: is’t frailty that thus errs?
    It is so too: and have not we affections,
    Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
    Then let them use us well: else let them know,
    The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.
    DESDEMONA
    Good night, good night: heaven me such uses send,
    Not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend!

  • Laura ABJ

    The Sandman Cometh
    By Me- age 17

    My lover’s sheets are tight and warm tonight.
    His gentle kisses put my fright to ease,
    But I’ll soon fall to cooler, fouler light
    Where lurks the maw of fortune’s memories.

    Now comes He hence with knives and teeth to tear
    That warping cord of fine wet linen line
    Which keeps this body warm and safe from fear
    But can stifle not fate’s heavy, cruel repine.

    Glass bitten flesh leaves healthy thoughts gangrene
    To writhe upon his midnight torture wheel
    Which winds my screams for thee through hells unseen
    Where unbound eyes still seek out substance real.

    But as this restless, weary conscious teams,
    I grasp your palm to guard me o’re my dreams.

  • Anon

    I’ve never seen so many idiots gathered in one place. [...] First of all, Darwin has nothing to do with rape. Some rapists are men who have had vasectomies, others choose to use a condom. Rape is not a matter of “I must pass on my genes!”

    For someone so ready to characterise others as idiots, you’ve completely failed to understand something so simple as the distinction between adaptation executers and fitness maximisers.

  • Anon

    Helen: Your post is so full of ad-hominems the only reply it deserves is a link to this. However…

    some people are still sympathetic towards rapists.

    no-one expressing the views expressed here is ever going to get within a hundred yards of a woman and no-one who had ever had the remotest affection for or from a woman would utter the drivel spouted here.

    I suppose that’s irrelevant to those who are looking to justify sex crimes by appealing to science they do not adequately understand.

    I assume this crap is at least partly aimed at me, even though I took care to say that no explanation amounts to a justification. Why is this so hard to understand?

    Why is it that explanations based on nature are justifications, whereas those based on nurture are not? People don’t choose their genes or their environment. Either both are justifications, or neither are. Make your choice.

    I’m done with this thread. Gender is indeed the mind-killer.

  • Tim Tyler

    Re: First of all, Darwin has nothing to do with rape.

    Um, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nothing_in_Biology_Makes_Sense_Except_in_the_Light_of_Evolution

    Incidentally, while I hate to fan the flames, I can’t help but notice that the recent influx of women to this blog seems to have been accompanied by a dramatic rise in the level of insults, ad hominen attacks and irrationalism :-(

    Ladies, it’s great that some of you are finally making your views on some of these topics known here – but if you could kindly at least partly cover your evident indignation with a veneer of rational argument, it might help.

  • Nick Tarleton

    Incidentally, while I hate to fan the flames, I can’t help but notice that the recent influx of women to this blog seems to have been accompanied by a dramatic rise in the level of insults, ad hominen attacks and irrationalism :-(

    I’d guess that this post has been linked to from some blog with a large female readership. The problem isn’t ‘women’, it’s ‘random outraged newcomers,’ almost always bad for a discussion regardless of gender. (And in response to a post like this one, I can’t blame them that much.)

  • Karon

    Nick – Keep in mind the header graphic of male Odysseus being tormented by female sirens makes quite a statement on the view of women by the author to newcomers when combined with the original post.

    Returning to the original post: “Presumably for our ancestors, the gene pool of a tribe could benefit from equalizing food in ways that it could not benefit by equalizing sex.” and “Why do we, as a society, provide food stamps for the hungry but not sex stamps for the celibate?”

    The statement answers the question. The partner to the idea that males have a biological imperative to leave behind their DNA is that females have a biological imperative to only leave behind the best DNA in their offspring. There are members of the tribe that can contribute in ways to keep the tribe alive but as individuals do not have traits that benefit being passed down. If males have “right” to add to the gene pool then females have the “right” to deem them unfit especially when compared to others in the gene pool. One should not have precedence over the other and the overall gene pool should not be risked by making it easier for the unsuitable to procreate. Survival of the fittest doesn’t allow for charity in sex.

    Of course, the above doesn’t acknowledge that human society has evolved to the point where suitability for making babies is not always a factor in choosing a mate. It certainly isn’t a factor for homosexuals. To me this makes the argument that sex is a necessity in the way that food is even more tenuous.

  • Cesoir

    Not only do women not want sex according to this, they don’t want to propagate their genes either.

  • Anon

    I said I was done, but consistency is a hobgoblin of the mind. I thought it might be useful to collect all the less plausible responses to the evolutionary theories of rape in one post.

    Firstly, what are evolutionary theories of rape? They basically suggest that the urge for sex is a more important motive in many rape cases than feminists suspect. They also explain the urge for sex in Darwinian ways.

    Doesn’t this make rape somehow natural, and therefore justify it?
    I don’t see how, unless you think nature is nice, which is obviously false.

    Darwinism has nothing to do with rape, since some rapists use condoms.
    Evolution has given men the urge for sex, not the urge for reproduction. Until contraception came along, the urge for sex worked well enough to secure the survival of human genes.

    Why do men rape in prison?
    Presumably because the male sexual urge is strong enough that it doesn’t always disappear even when women are taken out of the picture altogether.

    Women want sex, so why don’t they rape men?

    • For a woman to force a man into sex is inherently difficult.
    • In all walks of life, women are less likely to use violence to get what they want.
    • The female sex drive is weaker, for sound Darwinian reasons.

    Men who have partners still sometimes rape.
    Indeed, but men are known to want sex with multiple women, which makes perfect sense from a Darwinian perspective.

    There are cases of rape that are clearly about power, not sex.
    Indeed. Nobody should argue that all rape is motivated entirely by sex. But nor should anyone argue that in all rape cases, sexual desires have nothing to do with it.

    Raping a woman is a great risk.
    This is just as good an objection to the rape-for-power theory as the rape-for-sex theory. Furthermore, many men are risk-takers.

    Rape inflicts great psychological harm on a woman, so that must be why rapists do it.
    Firstly, many rapists probably fail to realise this, but secondly, even if they do know, this doesn’t prove that this fact is what motivates them.

    Rape is a product of our society, and doesn’t exist naturally.
    Hunter-gatherer tribes often go to war precisely to capture women.

    Men could see prostitutes instead.
    Indeed. This is possibly the strongest objection I’ve seen here. Why would men risk prison if all they want is sex, which they could get without taking such a risk? I don’t have a ready answer.

    Finally, I want to stress again that none of this should be taken as justifying rape. Nor must it lead to leniency for rapists. Steven Pinker, for instance, argues that because our society will never purge men’s sexual urges, rape should have particularly harsh penalties, which act as a more effective deterrent.

  • Cyan

    Firstly, what are evolutionary theories of rape? They basically suggest that the urge for sex is a more important motive in many rape cases than feminists suspect.

    I have to disagree. Darwinian theorizing can only carry us so far in terms of explaining motivations for rape. Here’s why:

    Let us grant at the start that a certain level of rape is inevitable for evolutionary reasons (for the purposes of my current post only). Then rape which results from a genetically-based drive for domination is as evolutionarily effective as rape which results from a genetically-based high sex drive.

    It’s the old “adaptation executers, not fitness maximizers” principle. From an evolutionary perspective, the local “why” doesn’t matter. Stable environmental cues are all that’s required.

  • Anon

    Then rape which results from a genetically-based drive for domination is as evolutionarily effective as rape which results from a genetically-based high sex drive.

    Only insofar as that “genetically-based drive for domination” is aimed specifically at females of reproductive age.

  • Anon

    And also, only insofar as that “genetically-based drive for domination” must be expressed by forcing someone into sex, rather than any other way to show dominance.

  • Cyan

    …also, only insofar as that “genetically-based drive for domination” must be expressed by forcing someone into sex, rather than any other way to show dominance.

    Granted. I intended to include that idea in the “rape which results from…” phrase.

    Only insofar as that “genetically-based drive for domination” is aimed specifically at females of reproductive age.

    Since sex drive is itself notoriously not necessarily targeted at potential breeding partners, I’m less sure that the drive for domination need be “aimed specifically at [potential breeding partners]” — certainly not more so than sex drive itself.

  • Anon

    Since sex drive is itself notoriously not necessarily targeted at potential breeding partners

    True, but it remains the case that there’s a general tendency for people to find the best potential breeding partners more attractive. But I grant that there are significant exceptions.

  • Nick Tarleton

    Keep in mind the header graphic of male Odysseus being tormented by female sirens makes quite a statement on the view of women by the author to newcomers when combined with the original post.

    I think it much more likely that it never crossed their minds that it could be taken as saying something about women. It certainly never occurred to me until now. Male privilege, maybe, but still there’s a HUGE difference between not realizing someone might take you to mean X, and actually meaning X.

  • Cesoir

    With regards to that, I would imagine that for a University-backed blog that seeks to overcome bias, one would think for a good while before deciding on a header image. If the possibility of this one being taken in a way compatible with some of the poster’s ideas hadn’t occurred to him, then it’s more likely a result of privilege than being misunderstood.

  • Nick Tarleton

    My point is only that not realizing the message one is sending to some, privileged or not, moral failing or not, is not remotely the same as “mak[ing] a statement on [one's] view of women.”

  • Cesoir

    And mine is merely that the oversight is more regrettable on an academic blog, particularly themed as it is, than it would otherwise be.

  • gina

    Are you some kind of idiot?

    Of course they are viewed differently. Women aren’t property or goods to be bargained with or to sedate men’s sexual desires.

    The implication that not having sex is the same as starvation is disgusting too. Unfortunately for us, if you never have sex again you’ll still live.

  • http://drchip.wordpress.com/ retired urologist

    @Anon:A woman forcing a man into sex is nigh-on physically impossible. She could of course violate him in various ways, but these mostly don’t even resemble sex.

    Well, it sounds logical, doesn’t it? But, let’s go to the video tapes: see this. These devices became very reliable in the late ’80′s. Sensation is unchanged, orgasm unchanged, female sensation unchanged, and for the most part, appearance unchanged, and Medicare pays for them. And yes indeed, it is quite possible for a woman (or a group of women) to rape a man, and to continue for as long as they choose. The kinder ones will offer the occasional bread and water to the victim. I have performed this operation thousands of times, and when it comes to sex, it’s difficult to imagine all the things people will do. I do know of a patient whose girlfriend started out with what she represented as “bondage”, but then invited several of her friends to take part without his consent. On the other hand, I know of quite a few men (usually much older than the woman) who eventually fell asleep, while the partner continued for another hour or more. Who says this isn’t a sophisticated blog?

  • caredwen

    Wendy, Erin, Paul, Nick, and others: thanks. This analogy made me livid– not just because rape is a sensitive subject (but thanks for patronizing us, Robin– apparently we were all just too emotionally damaged at the mention of rape to handle your superior logical arguments), but because the analogy had holes you could drive a truck through.

    I don’t know about everyone else, but in my moral universe, judgments are based on the tangible cost inflicted, not on the hypothetical advantage gained. I dispute the idea that we heap uniformly more condemnation on crimes against the person than on crimes against property. I’d let someone punch me in the face if it would keep him from stealing my laptop. I’m not sure where the line is– would I let someone break my finger?– but rape is quite obviously not your everyday crime against the person. Like others, I’m having a very difficult time imagining a property crime that inflicts the same type of injury– from physical, emotional, AND evolutionary standpoints.

    In addition, I think it’s important to consider that the person who steals food knows that he will satisfy his biological need immediately by consuming it. The person who commits rape does not, however, know that his genes will be continued (not that his crime would be excusable, either, if he were certain to produce offspring). Would anyone make a serious argument that there is a moral difference between raping a fertile woman and raping an infertile one?

    While I have nothing but my own speculation, I also agree with the poster who suggested that institutionalizing an “inalienable right to have sex” by creating a sex-charity program would entitle people to make inappropriate sexual demands of others and consequently would create a more hostile, sexually aggressive environment, particularly for women. It follows that an inalienable right to have sex should include an inalienable right to REFUSE sex (which I like to think we already have). So where is the redress if the right to have sex is violated? By violating someone else’s right to refuse sex? “Honey, I have a headache.” “Do me, or I’m going to take you to court!”

    The discussion (with a few notable exceptions) has also been rife with the assumption that men suffer the effects of sexual deprivation more than women do. Give me a break. Women enjoy and crave sex just as much as men do.

  • Isaac M. Morehouse

    There seems to be something fundamentally different in the way we view our person and property external to us.

    I suggest we would not feel as much pity for a man who was dying of kidney failure and tore into another person and removed one of his kidneys to put in himself (even if it resulted in both men surviving) as we would for the food thief.

    The other thing to keep in mind is marginality – a starving person is very very near death and has no option but to eat immediately or die. Someone who cannot get a woman to consent to reproduce likely has many more years of fertility in which to attempt it, and there are options besides the use of force to spread his genes (sperm banks, artificial insemination, etc.).

  • Beznik

    Its interesting that the vast majority of rapes are committed by family close friends teachers church leaders ecetera. Women and men are at risk men are more often at risk from other men although we did have the Letearnou scandal. I would agree that rape is completely alien to the experience of sex in a committed relationship. Or even sex in a relatively new relationship thats consensual. Food is clearly a more important need than sex. And while sex can be a commidity in a sense in a capitalist society i suppose that it is more of a sevice. As Erin said its not grown or harvested. While men do tend to have a stronger sex drive than women there are women that are not getting any either. it’s sad to think that some people never get the chance to experience that wonderful part of life. i think I would be open minded to the idea of ‘charity sex’ though id hope it would be more like an ongoing relationship than a one time thing. To be completely honest there was a time when I was very lonely and i visited prostitutes a few times. It doesn’t leave you happy but its still addictive. You never find what you are looking for and end up feeling bad. You use her but in a way she uses you too. its not the worst thing in the world by any means but I don’t advise it

  • Erin

    Wha..? Weirdest post I’ve seen in a while. Seriously, you speak, and I quote word for word: “From a Darwinian perspective” and yet you have trouble understanding why rape would be viewed much, much more negatively than, say, food theft? The wha?

    Well , “from a Darwinian perspective” it should be easy enough to understand why a female wouldn’t want to have sex “out of charity” with a low reproductive value male. Her entire genetic future could be compromised by mating with a low value male, most likely her children from that mating would inherit the undesirable phenotypes or look of the male in question. Ensuring that they in turn will be limited to low desirability or unattractive partners thus reducing *her* chance of long term genetic success.

    From a Darwinian perspective mating with a reproductive lesser male is one of the worst thing that can happen, even more so if she is in her reproductive prime herself and desirable (since she has more to loss than a women in her menopause for example in terms of reproductive interests).

    And that’s just from a Darwinian perspective. From a biological or sexual pov, mating with unattractive partners or partners we find ugly if you will is umm…not something to be excited about :/ Ugly men = crap sex basically and no I’m not talking from personal experience lol Pretty much all my past sexual partners have been gorgeous, one was even a male model at one point (not international notoriety mind you, mainly shaving commercial for men things like that). Lol sorry for the slight derail, sounds like stealth bragging when I read it again :p

  • VV

    Since somebody resurrected this post from the grave where it belongs, I’ll add my 2 cents:

    “Why do we, as a society, provide food stamps for the hungry but not sex stamps for the celibate?”

    Short answer: there is no demand for that.

    Long answer:

    How would a sex stamp work? Presumably it would be a voucher that could be used to pay a licensed prostitute in for their services.

    But given that prostitution is generally available and legal or quasi-legal in most places, what would celibate people need a voucher for? Many of them would be already wealthy enough to afford a the services of a prostitute if they wanted to. Those who couldn’t afford a prostitute, would probably have more urgent needs to satisfy, thus if you gave them vouchers they would probably try to sell them.

    To put in another way, if instead of handing out sex stamps you just handed out their monetary value to celibate people, how would they spend it? Probably not on prostitutes.