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May 17, 2005

Let's pretend we're scientists and philosophers

Tonight, we play "Let's pretend we're scientists and philosophers" so we can talk about sex in a stupid but mock-elevated way.

Via Mickey Kaus, I notice that Arianna Huffington, at her new blog, has a post entitled "On God, Darwin, Viagra, and the Female Orgasm." (By the way, strange as this may sound, it's the real Huffington blog, not the parody site.)

Huffington is joking about a New York Times article today in the Science Section, which discusses a book written by a philosopher of science and professor of biology named Elisabeth A. Lloyd, who arges that the female orgasm has no evolutionary function. Huffington writes:

Wouldn’t it be delicious if the female orgasm were the thing that tips the scales in favor of the Intelligent Design crowd? It would make for a great closing argument: "The female orgasm is so complex and strange, it could only have come from God. The reason there is no evolutionary purpose to it is because there is no evolution! God is in the details... and the bedroom. Who needs Darwin when you have the Bible -- and the Jack Rabbit [link removed!]. Case closed. Amen."
Ha, ha, ha, ha!! Aren't we sophisticated?

But if you actually look at the New York Times article, you realize that the Times is just straining for an excuse to talk about sex.
Evolutionary scientists have never had difficulty explaining the male orgasm, closely tied as it is to reproduction.

But the Darwinian logic behind the female orgasm has remained elusive. Women can have sexual intercourse and even become pregnant - doing their part for the perpetuation of the species - without experiencing orgasm. So what is its evolutionary purpose?
The article then explores Lloyd's theory, which, boiled down to its essence is this:
The female orgasm, she said, "is for fun."
Ha, ha, ha, ha!! Aren't we sophisticated? Oh, wait. I just said that.

What is it about evolutionary biologists that they have to explain human behavior as something other than deliberate and intentional? They have to assume it's done outside the conscious control of the human for some greater "good" of the species. That makes no sense to me. I don't know anyone who goes around acting out of an instinct about the good of the human species. I personally couldn't give a hoot about the good of the species. I have enough trouble doing what's for my own good and the good of my family.

And I certainly have never, ever heard of a woman who has (or doesn't have) an orgasm in order to further the good of the species, nor have I ever seen any article suggesting as much on the cover of women's magazines at the supermarket. But an evolutionary biologist named John Alcock disagrees:
Dr. Alcock theorized that a woman might use orgasm "as an unconscious way to evaluate the quality of the male," his genetic fitness and, thus, how suitable he would be as a father for her offspring.

"Under those circumstances, you wouldn't expect her to have it every time," Dr. Alcock said.
Where do we find these people? And now consider this wack-job:
Another hypothesis, proposed in 1995 by Dr. Randy Thornhill, a professor of biology at the University of New Mexico and two colleagues, held that women were more likely to have orgasms during intercourse with men with symmetrical physical features. On the basis of earlier studies of physical attraction, Dr. Thornhill argued that symmetry might be an indicator of genetic fitness.
Then, there's an anthropology professor, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, who offers yet another theory, which I think we can all agree had better not be correct:
Dr. Hrdy said her work did not speak one way or another to the issue of female orgasm in humans. "My hypothesis is silent," she said.

One possibility, Dr. Hrdy said, is that orgasm in women may have been an adaptive trait in our prehuman ancestors.

"But we separated from our common primate ancestors about seven million years ago," she said.

"Perhaps the reason orgasm is so erratic is that it's phasing out," Dr. Hrdy said. "Our descendants on the starships may well wonder what all the fuss was about."
So at the end, with all this high-falutin' talk about sex, we've finally moved on to the subject of space travel. Please, stop! Please! This is all making me start to prefer Huffington's proof of the existence of God.