Tag Archives: Mating

Sex At Dusk v. Dawn

Two years ago I was persuaded by the book Sex At Dawn, at least on its “key claim, that forager females were sexually promiscuous.” While I didn’t buy authors’ free-love scenario, I thought our ancestors were much less tied to their sex partners than most folks realize:

A Hadza man hunts big game to look sexy, even though that retrieves less food. Except that when a women he has sex with has a kid he thinks is his, he’ll gather more but less-sexy food, to give this woman ~1/2 of her food for one year, ~1/4 for the next two years, and declining amounts thereafter. Now, yes, this may be more pair-bonding than in chimps or bonobos. But it is also far less than the farmer ideal of life-long monogamy! Many men today reluctant to marry for life would be ok with this level of commitment.

Lynn Saxon has a new book Sex At Dusk, quite critical of Sex At Dawn. She was a kind enough sent me a copy, which I’ve just read. Searching, I’ve only find positive reviews of it (here, here, herehere).

Saxon doesn’t write as well, and especially fails to summarize well. Even so, she does successfully undercut many Sex At Dawn arguments. In humans, sexual jealousy is a universal, females are picky about sex partners, penises aren’t over-sized, testes are small, sperm production slow, and the evidence doesn’t suggest a great deal of sperm competition. Female chimps have little extra-group sex, bonobos don’t usually mate face-to-face, and many Sex At Dawn quotes are misleading, given their context.

On sound during sex, Saxon offers evidence that female primate cries during sex aren’t simple invitations:

A recent study of female chimpanzees found no support for the sperm competition hypothesis: females did not produce calls when mating with low-ranked males so it was not about inviting other males to join the party, and calls did not correlate with fertility and the likelihood of conception. … Females called significantly more while mating with high-ranked males, but suppressed their calls if high-ranked females were nearby. …

[Researchers] found that [bonobo] females were more likely to call with male rather than female partners but the patterns of call usage were very similar in that females called more with high ranked partners (as in chimpanzees), regardless of the partner’s sex. With a female partner compilation calls were consistently produces only by the lower ranking of the two females. … In bonobos the increase in calls during the alpha female’s presense. (p.279-280)

Yes, it looks like chimp and bonobo sex calls are more brags than invitations. Even so, brags make little sense when it is common knowledge who has sex with whom. So a habit of similar bragging sex calls by human females would suggest that humans often didn’t know who was having sex with whom, suggesting a lot of promiscuity.

A key question, to me, is what percentage of our forager ancestor kids were fathered outside pair-bonds. That is, what fraction of kids were born to mothers without a main male partner, or had a father different from that partner. This number says a lot about the adaptive pressures our ancestors experienced related to various promiscuous and polyamorous arrangements today. And hence says a lot about how “natural” are such things.

Alas, none of these authors give a number, but my impression was that Saxon would estimate less than 20%, while the Sex At Dawn authors would estimate over 50%. Even 20% would be consistent with a lot of human promiscuity adaptations, such as female sex brag calls. I asked Saxon directly via email, however, and she declined to give a number – she says her main focus was to argue against Sex At Dawns‘ “paternity indifference” theory (that humans don’t care which kids are theirs). Which is fine – that is indeed a pretty crazy theory.

So where does the evidence sit on promiscuity? Our closest living relatives, chimps and bonobos, are quite promiscuous. Yes, their pair bonds much weaker than ours, and pair-bonding usually greatly reduces promiscuity. But few pair-bonded animals live in big social groups where hidden extra-pair sex is so easy to arrange, and humans live in even bigger groups than chimps or bonobos. For humans, we have lots of clear evidence of outside-pair sex, mate-guarding to prevent such, bragging sex cries, and desires for sexual variety. And humans do seem to spend a record fraction of their time thinking about and doing sex.

Since humans usually have clear overt norms against extra-pair sex, but strong urges to arrange covert sex, promiscuity estimates comes down in part to estimates of how well humans actually enforced their norms. My homo hypocritus theory suggests a lot of covert norm violation, and so a lot of promiscuity. So I’ll estimate the key promiscuity number in the 20-30% range.

Btw, here’s another fascinating quote from the book:

Hrdy writes about a startling interview with an old hunter in which he reminisces to a time when just the sound of his footsteps on the leaves of the forest floor struck terror in the hearts of old women. He was the socially sanctioned specialist in eliminating old women deemed no longer useful: coming up behind an old woman he would strike her on the head with his axe. (p.216)

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , ,

Road Rage Is Morality

I just took a driver improvement course whose central organizing theory was that we can each drive with one of three kinds of persona in charge: child, parent, adult. While adult is the unemotional calculating persona who should be in charge, we are sometimes run by a child who wants to have fun and show off, or by a parent who want to punish or reward other drivers for driving the way we think they should.

Back when I grew up parents were the prototypical adults, so it would have seemed odd to contrast adults and parents – this suggests just how far respect for fertility has fallen. This also offers a vivid example of a problem of too much, not too little, morality.

Some folks say the main problem with the world is not enough morality – we act too selfishly and rely too little on our moral instincts. But in many areas of our lives, our main social norms mostly try to suppress natural moral instincts.

For example, my driving class tried to teach people to suppress their natural instincts to argue with police when they feel they are treated unfairly, or to punish drivers who cut in line, or cut people off, etc. The class also told folks to give an “I’m sorry” sign to drivers who seem mad at you, even if you don’t think yourself at fault. Since most “road rage” is due to people feeling morally indignant about other drivers, authorities mostly try to discourage these moral feelings.

The modern world has similar social norms in other areas of life. For example, where once people felt they should personally enforce moral rules about sex and marriage on the people around them, modern norms tend more to tell people that other folks sex and marriage is mostly none of their business. This started surprisingly early in Britain:

During the civil and religious unrest of the 17th century, however, the public disciplining of sexual miscreants began to collapse. The stringency of the Puritans — who reintroduced the death penalty for adultery — gradually backfired. Their overharsh principles appealed only to zealots. Instead of a culture based on neighbors watching neighbors and calling them to task when necessary, sexual policing was outsourced to paid professionals and mercenary informers. Inevitably, complaints arose that regulation had grown inequitable: The rich and the aristocratic were flouting the laws and codes of conduct, while the poor were being unduly punished.

Magistrates in their stead no longer felt it was their charge to correct the morals of harlots and scoundrels. They simply judged “particular actions, rather than a person’s general character.” By 1750, writes Dabhoiwala, “most forms of consensual sex outside marriage had drifted beyond the reach of law.” By then, too, England had come to accept a view of society that allowed for a diversity of beliefs about human behavior. (more)

As a third example, consider common business norms against too quickly imposing intuitive fairness norms on business deals. If a price you pay was lower, but is now higher, you are usually advised to not get too worked up about such price hikes violating your fairness norms. If you can’t find a better deal somewhere else, you may just have to take this one. It’s all “just business”, you see.

No doubt in some circumstances more expression of natural human morality would be helpful. But it is important not to over-generalize from those examples – in many other circumstances the modern world functions well mainly by suppressing, not encouraging, natural moral reactions.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , ,

Analysis Is Far Skeptical

People famously tend to disagree more about politics, religion, and romance, Which makes sense – I’ve argued that disagreement is due to by a near-far bias, and that politics, religion, and love are far topics. It should be especially clear that religion is a far topic, dealing with fundamental values and big grand things like Gods over vast space and time scales.

Since creative metaphor is far, and analysis is near, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that inducing an analytical frame of mind tends to induce “religious disbelief”, i.e., disbelief in gods, devils, and angels:

Individual differences in the tendency to analytically override initially flawed intuitions in reasoning were associated with increased religious disbelief. Four additional experiments provided evidence of causation, as subtle manipulations known to trigger analytic processing also encouraged religious disbelief. (more)

You could point to this as evidence against religious beliefs, but the same analysis primes probably also induce more skepticism on common political and romantic beliefs. They might even induce more skepticism on the mulitverse, string theory, or the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, all of which have big grand aspects.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , , , ,

Friends Vs. Family

A French couple recently told me that they would feel more affiliation for a king that a president or premier. Asking around I found that many others feel similarly. Which is curious because you might expect people to feel more affiliated with leaders they can choose.

But then if you think about it, people tend to feel more affiliated with family relative to friends. This might be due to people being more intrinsically similar to family, but then again it might not. Westerners find it hard to believe that couples in arranged marriages often feel very attached and intimate, but people from cultures with arranged marriages consistently report this.

You might think that when an employee gets tied more to a job, so that it gets harder to leave, he or she might resent this dependence. But this doesn’t seem to happen often. You might think we’d similarly resent friends that we’ve come to depend on, but in fact I think we like such friends more. And of course most folks feel attached to their parents, even though we couldn’t choose parents and were very dependent on them for a long time.

While we might resent depending on others, we may be comforted to know others are stuck with us, and so won’t leave us, and this second effect may usually dominate.

Contrary to what many say, I’d guess most people really did love their king, really do love their partners in arranged marriages, and feel comforted by their connection to longtime neighbors, friends, and employers when the relation would be costly to break on both sides. Because we are most stuck with them, we tend to love family most of all.

So, does this effect tend to make slaves love their masters? How much does that reduce welfare losses from slavery?

Added 1p: We like presidents more when they oversee more war deaths:

A strong predictor of [perceived American presidential] greatness is the fraction of American lives lost in war during a president’s tenure. (more)

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , ,

On Being Self-Aware

Diane Rehm yesterday, interviewing an expensive matchmaker:

REHM: And, Janis, you said that your clients are men. So you don’t take women who may have lots of money looking for a male?
SPINDEL: No, thank you.
REHM: Tell me why.
SPINDEL: Been there, done that.
REHM: Well, tell me why.
SPINDEL: To be honest with you, when I first started in business I had lots and lots and lots of fabulous women clients, really great women. And they seem to be needy and very high maintenance and you can never satisfy them.
REHM: Interesting.
SPINDEL: We would introduce them to amazing men. They’re not available, which is one of the biggest problems that I hear about women. See, I own the minds of men. I know what they want and I know what women do wrong. I could literally do this in my sleep. Men are very simple. You deliver exactly what they’re asking for and you leave the rest up to chemistry and the universe.

I have to admit this is somewhat at odds with my suggesting:

We should expect men to be more self-aware, transparent, and simple regarding their feelings about short-term sexual attractions. … In contrast, women should be more more self-aware, transparent, and simple regarding their feelings about long-term pair-bonding.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,

Sex Ratio & Violence

After some prodding by TGGP, I tried to dig into data studies on the relation between violence and sex ratios. Alas this seems to be one of those areas where results are all across the map:

More men make more violence: here, here,

More men make less violence: here, here, here.

Mixed results: here, here.

I quit, and tentatively conclude the evidence is unclear.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,

Sex Ratio Signaling

Nicholas Eberstadt on a “Global War Against Baby Girls“:

An ominous and entirely new form of gender discrimination, … skewing the sex ratios for the rising generation toward a biologically unnatural excess of males, … sex-selective abortion has assumed a scale tantamount to a global war against baby girls. … From a collision of three forces: first, local mores that uphold a truly merciless preference for sons; second, low or sub-replacement fertility trends, … and third, the availability of health services and technologies. … The total population of the regions beset by unnaturally high SRBs [= sex ratio at birth] amounted to 2.7 billion, or about 40 percent of the world’s total population.

Matt Ridley agrees, and is “pessimistic” about this “distortion.” But neither of them object to the lower fertility that is a contributing cause, nor to the morality of the act of abortion. So what exactly is the problem? A simple supply and demand analysis says that selective abortion both expresses a preference for boys and causes a reduction in that preference as wives become scarce. In South Korea this process is mostly complete, with excess boys down from 15% in the 1990s to 7% today (with ~5% as the biologically natural excess).

Eberstadt elaborates:

The consequences of medically abetted mass feticide are far-reaching and manifestly adverse. …[This] establishes a new social reality that inescapably colors the whole realm of human relationships, redefining the role of women as the disfavored sex in nakedly utilitarian terms, and indeed signaling that their very existence is now conditional and contingent.

What “new social reality”? A preference for boys was there and clear to all before selective abortion came on the scene.

Moreover, enduring and extreme SRB imbalances set the demographic stage for an incipient “marriage squeeze.” …  Unmarried men appear to suffer greater health risks than their married counterparts. …. A steep rise in the proportion of unmarried and involuntarily childless men begs the question of old-age support for that rising cohort.

But these are all about things getting worse for men, which is exactly how supply and demand solves such a “problem.” Finally, Eberstadt invokes some externalities:

The “rising value of women” can have perverse and unexpected consequences, including increased demand for prostitution and an upsurge in the kidnapping and trafficking of women. … Such trends could quite conceivably lead to increased crime, violence, and social tensions — or possibly even a greater proclivity for social instability. All in all, mass sex selection can be regarded as a “tragedy of the commons” dynamic, in which the aggregation of individual (parental) choices has the inadvertent result of degrading the quality of life for all.

Now more voluntary prostitution in such a context is not obviously a bad thing. Yes, kidnapping and crime are bad, but there is little mixed evidence such things are increasing due to having more males. There is, however, good evidence that males now compete more by increasing their savings rate, which is overall good for the world.

This topic offers a good example of a conflict between sending desired signals and getting desired outcomes. Since parents who selectively abort girls show favoritism toward boys, it can feel quite natural to signal your opinion that women have equal value by condemning such parents, and favoring policies to discourage their actions. Not doing so can make you seem anti-female. Yet since via supply and demand the abortions chosen by these parents directly increase the value of women, then all else equal discouraging their abortions reduces the value of women. So if you want women to have higher value, your signal is counter-productive.

Of course it is far from clear that the relative value of males and females should be the main consideration here. One might instead argue that if male lives are more pleasant overall, it is good that we create more of them instead of female lives. Yes, supply and demand may eventually equalize the quality of male and female lives, but until then why not have more lives that are more pleasant?

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , , ,

The Puberty Puzzle

Time magazine considers a big important puzzle:

By the 1980s, the onset of puberty, if not actual menstruation, had gone into free fall–a change so sudden and pronounced that something more than normal evolution must have been at work. In a landmark 1997 study of 17,000 [US] girls … more than 10% of white girls and an astonishing 37.8% of black girls were showing early breast development by age 8. … Later studies, one in 1998 and another in 2010, included Hispanics and produced similar results. On average, 2 out of every 10 white girls, 3 out of 10 Latinas and 4 out of 10 black girls are showing breast development by age 8. (more)

They consider some possible explanations:

Obesity, a well-established puberty accelerant, is high on the list of suspects. … Data from China and India similarly indicate that race by itself isn’t a factor but general prosperity is. Onset of puberty is on a downward march in those countries too. … But even in Europe, where the standard of living has been high for decades and diets haven’t changed much, something strange is going on. A study of girls conducted in Denmark in 2008 found that the average age of breast development there is 8.86 years, which … is a full year earlier than it was for Danes as recently as 1993. … Some investigators are focusing on environmental contaminants like PBBs and … bisphenol A … A number of studies have found that overweight boys may, if anything, suffer from delayed puberty.

Oddly they don’t even mention divorce and out-of-wedlock birth, factors that some theory suggests are crucial:

Father absence is indicative of the degree of polygyny (simultaneous and serial) in society. Polygyny of both kinds creates a shortage of women in reproductive age, and thus, early puberty will be advantageous. Available comparative data indicate that the degree of polygyny is associated with a decrease in the mean age of menarche across societies, as is the divorce rate a presumptive index of serial polygyny, in strictly monogamous societies. (more)

This theory has some empirical support:

As specified by evolutionary causal theories, younger sisters had earlier menarche than their older sisters in biologically disrupted families (n = 68) but not biologically intact families (n = 93). This effect was superseded, however, by a large moderating effect of paternal dysfunction. Younger sisters from disrupted families who were exposed to serious paternal dysfunction in early childhood attained menarche 11 months earlier than either their older sisters or other younger sisters from disrupted families who were not exposed to such dysfunction. (more)

I heard of this theory a while ago, but until now I hadn’t realized its radical implication: humans may have evolved adaptations to make major body/life features conditional on our social environment! If girl brains can order hormones to induce early puberty after seeing lots of nearby polygyny, how else might our bodies be contingent what our brains see about our social world? Do young brains see the level of violence,  prosperity, or work complexity around, and adjust hormone-induced plans for body size, immune system strength, or brain resources? Could this adjustment explain recent trends in mortality, height, or intelligence? So many possibilities to consider!

Anthropologists often say that it is a mistake to look for “the” ancestral human environment or lifestyle, that what most defines humans is variety and adaptability. I’m going to take that view a lot more seriously from now on.

Added 4p: Why are people so much more willing to use strange chemicals to explain earlier puberty that other trens like increasing IQ, lifespan, and height? Is it because chemicals are bad, and therefore can only explain bad things?

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , , , ,

(Fem) Sex Is Selfish

Based on a previous study … that elicited … personal accounts of sexual motivations … Meston, a sexual psychophysiologist, and Buss, an evolutionary psychologist compiled a list of 237 distinct [sex] motivations … In researching the [2009] book [Why Women Have Sex] they asked over one thousand women to give a description of actual sexual encounters associated with any of these 237 reasons, mostly via online survey. These reasons are discussed in relation to the underlying motivations they point to and the likely evolutionary benefits they gave our ancestral mothers.(more)

The book Why Women Have Sex has many fascinating tidbits, and provoked many thoughts in me. For example, I noticed that the vast majority of the female sex motives discussed in the book are selfish, i.e., primarily intended to benefit oneself, as opposed to one’s partner. For example, even pity sex seems mainly selfish:

Here is how one woman described sex as a way of boosting her self-confidence:

I had sex with a couple of guys because I felt sorry for them. These guys were virgins and I felt bad that they had never had sex before so I had sex with them. I felt like I was doing them a big favor that no one else had over done. I felt power over them, like they were weaklings under me and I was in control. It boosted my confidence to be the teacher in the situation and made me feel more desirable.

The main altruistic sex motive is a part of “love”:

Of the more than two hundred reasons given for having sex, love [#5, to express my love, #9, I was in love] and emotional closeness [#12] were ranked in the top twelve for women. …

According to the well-known … “triangular theory of love,” love consists of the distinct components of intimacy, passion, and commitment. Intimacy is the experienced of warmth toward another person that arises from feelings of closeness and connectedness. It involves the desire to give and receive emotional support and to share one’s innermost thoughts and experiences. … Here is how one woman in our study experienced this [intimacy] dimension of love:

I fell that sex can be one of many physical expressions of love, though sex is not always an expression of love. When I make love with my husband, it is an intimacy, trust, and exposure of myself that I share only with him … because I love him. Sex can be a way of fulfilling my husband’s needs (physical, emotional, psychological) that can’t be achieved any other way and [it] lets him know that I love him and vice versa. …

Passion … refers to intense romantic feelings and sexual desire for another person, … “a hot intense emotion” characterized by an intense longing for union with another. …

Commitment … requires decision-making. … The long-term decision involves a willingness to maintain the relationship through thick and thin. Many women talked about how commitment was an essential component of love for them. In fact, some said that they used having sex as a way to try to ensure commitment from a partner they felt loved them.

So, out of the of 237 female reasons for sex, love is in #5,9. “Please my partner” is #11 (its #10 for men). On love, only one of its three parts, intimacy, has an clearly altruistic component. Six desired effects of intimacy are mentioned: experiencing warmth, giving support, receiving support, sharing experiences, showing love, and being shown love. Of these, only one, giving support or meeting needs, seems clearly altruistic (though even this could be selfish). So one of the six desired effects of one of the three parts of love, mentioned twice in the top ten reasons for sex, seems altruistic. Direct clear altruism is #11. Not nothing, but not a lot either.

People often complain that economists assume selfishness too often, and point to intense close relationships as clear evidence of altruism. But if even in this case our motives seem overwhelmingly selfish, economists’s usual approximation looks pretty good.

FYI, here are the top 15 female sex reasons, from that original survey:

1. I was attracted to the person
2. I wanted to experience the physical pleasure
3. It feels good
4. I wanted to show my affection to the person
5. I wanted to express my love for the person
6. I was sexually aroused and wanted the release
7. I was ‘‘horny’’
8. It’s fun
9. I realized I was in love
10. I was ‘‘in the heat of the moment’’
11. I wanted to please my partner
12. I desired emotional closeness (i.e., intimacy)
13. I wanted the pure pleasure
14. I wanted to achieve an orgasm
15. It’s exciting, adventurous

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,

Charity And Temptation

Bryan Caplan responded to John Marsh:

Nearly two-thirds of poor children … reside in [single-parent] homes. … “If poor mothers married the fathers of their children nearly three-quarters would immediately be lifted out of poverty.”

In a world of cheap, reliable contraception, any woman can easily avoid single motherhood with near-certainty. Simply use birth control until you find and marry a reliable man. Avoiding single motherhood, to be blunt, is a choice.

Bryan further commented:

b. Sex with birth control, unlike abstinence, does not lead to chronic burning lust.
c. Potentially poor women who delay child-bearing have a high chance of finding a reliable man before becoming infertile.

Karl Smith took issue:

Baby lust is quite real, almost certainly genetically determined and probably explains a fair fraction of the differences in outcome among women. … Potentially poor women [do not] have a high chance of finding a reliable man before becoming infertile. … There is a serious dearth of reliable men. .. Bryan’s prescription of promiscuous birth-controlled sex lowers a women’s rank in the marriage market. … My natural assumption [is] that poor single mothers are engaging in utility maximizing behavior. This implies that the alternatives to being a poor single mother are worse and that people accept this fate because they have low endowments in the marriage market.

Let me first make two points:

  1. The reliability of men is only an issue because we have weakened the commitment of marriage. Most farmer societies made marriage into a strong commitment, and encouraged young women to hold out for it. This led to an equilibrium where most women, even poor ones, married, so that most kids had two parents. Men now choose to be unreliable more often because we have greatly lowered its penalties.
  2. Even with weak marriage it is possible to identify reliable poor men. If you can’t tell, ask your parents, grandparents, or their siblings. But the hypergamous mating preferences of women typically lead them to prefer other men, especially in a relatively rich society like ours.

What to do? First, why not offer the option of a strong marriage commitment? More women would end up with reliable husbands if couples could choose between strong marriage, weak marriage, or no marriage. But surely even with this option, many women in our rich society would still choose single parenthood, and the relative poverty it implies. What then?

Now Bryan is clearly right — this is in fact a choice. But Karl is also right — it is a choice made in the face of relatively strong desires. The key question is: how weak do temptations have to be to make the choices they influence unworthy of charity? We feel only weak inclinations to help people who choose poverty, and could easily have chosen otherwise. But we feel much stronger inclinations to help folks who could have avoided poverty only via quite unusual levels of self-control and determination. Where in this spectrum does the temptation to single parenthood lie?

Given forager sharing norms, forager fathers only needed to reliably help kids for a few years. But farmers, who shared less, had to set a higher self-control bar for charity eligibility. A farmer could quickly starve by being too generous with neighboring charity cases. Now that we are richer, we can be more indulgent, but it seems to me an open question whether we should. I tend to agree with Bryan that very poor foreigners seem more deserving of aid that self-indulgent not-so-poor natives.

Added 5p: Karl Smith responds:

Central to Byran and somewhat shockingly to me – Robin’s – thinking is whether or not the single parents deserve charity.
On Facebook I think Robin framed the question as “how weak do temptations have to be before they make people less deserving of charity”
My clear answer would be that there is no level so low. Human suffering is bad. Reductions in human suffering are good.
Why humans are suffering is of concern to us in knowing when our interventions might be productive but it doesn’t affect whether they are warranted.

If we commit ahead of time to making our help contingent on certain behavior, that can have good effects in inducing such behavior. This is probably the origin of our intuitions that certain behaviors make folks less worthy of help.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , , , ,