Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist, but all of this comes from conversations with real scientists gracious enough to offer their insight. For fun, search “sexual selection,” “natural selection,” “genetic mutations and sexuality,” etc. into Google and see what happens.
Imagine if suddenly people stopped using the terms “meant to” and “designed to” when talking about human sexuality and relationship behaviors. I’ve witnessed many conversations about cheating, monogamy, polyamory, open relationships and promiscuity where the invocation of evolution and those terms collided and until now it’s always seemed strange.
I recently spoke with a colleague who works in the biological sciences and she agreed that those terms don’t really apply to sexual selection and survival fitness. She reminded me that in evolution, traits are selected for and against, meaning that others in the species will follow their desire to pick out what’s working best while nature throws stuff at the species until certain mutations prevail and others don’t get passed down. Or something like that.
So when a person claims that they are monogamous because humans were designed to pair bond forever, or when a different person – let’s call this a soon-to-be-rowdy discussion at an artisanal hipster coffee shop – vehemently argues that humans were never meant to be attracted to just one other individual, the argument is lacking.
When you pepper your discourse with “meant to” and “designed to” you’re injecting your talk of sexuality with moral judgements and some kind of plan behind why we behave the way we do. While much of the nitty gritty of different sorts of attraction isn’t completely understood – as sexual sciences are still wrapped in bundles of taboo – it’s clear that sexual selection is not actually oriented toward any one goal.
Let’s take the instance of performing sexually in front of a camera. Doesn’t seem like procreation is the goal there, but something else is at work. There’s many who’d call sexual activity play – and play’s a strange phenomenon in evolution – as it doesn’t serve an immediate survival or procreation function. But there’s desire for this type of play, which could indicate that part of being a thinking mammal with a long life span successfully involves playfulness. Play may be selected for because of the adaptability learned. And playing with many people in front of a camera is kind of like the animal running through potential mates efficiently before selecting a male fit enough for making more humans.
My colleague also reminded me that variation is a key factor in natural selection. Sexual reproduction keeps jumbling up the gene combinations, making for more, possibly more adaptable, mutations. Again, or something.
As a challenge, try to forget the idea that humans are meant to act sexually in a certain way. Then, think about what your body and brain want, and put it through a series of tests. See how your body reacts, see how your emotions play out, and follow what your instincts are saying. Every member of the species is a little bit different, with traits that were passed down through genetics. You enjoy BDSM? That means you should probably keep doing it and find a mate or several that share in with this mutual set of behavioral traits.
Thinking about sexual selection in this way to some degree could alleviate cultural pressure to don any one sexual identity. We’re not done evolving by any means, and rigidly stating we’re meant to be one way dismisses how evolution functions. Sex is working on us more than we’d like to believe; accepting this process can break down the taboos and hatreds exhibited by animals who find other practices disagreeable from an erroneous design standpoint.
Calling homosexuality unnatural, to cull from our wonky way of talking sex, or, on the flip-side, calling heterosexual forever marriage wrong, is blatantly ignoring that nature is constantly seducing every species with no moral goal in mind. Like every other creature, we’re seduced by certain traits and not others. So apply scientific methodology to your sex life, and maybe you’ll see how evolution is working on you. Or you’ll use Darwinian scholarship as foreplay. Either way, smarter sex.