CONFIDENTIAL DRAFT REPORT: WHAT ON EARTH IS SEX FOR?
(Report by lead researcher E Brik on behalf of the field team)
(Report by lead researcher E Brik on behalf of the field team)
(This is a follow up to our first Report - What on Earth is Sex? Note: Apologies to the more squeamish reviewers of the prior report – the authors have on this occasion limited graphic details to the bare minimum necessary for a full understanding of these frankly perplexing phenomena).The first and most obvious thing to say about sex here on planet Earth is that it is an activity confined to the living. Dead creatures don’t do it (although they may have it done to them) and inanimate things like manacles and vacuum cleaners don’t do it either (although, again, these can be employed by living things for sexual purposes). This is because sex is a biological mechanism: it is the way that (most) living things get together to make other (similar) living things.
Thus, if it is for anything, sex appears principally to be for one thing: reproduction, just as we surmised in our previous paper. But is it, or could it be, for anything else too? Lead researchers selected a well-known and successful mammal found here on planet Earth, a higher order primate known as Homo sapiens, as a suitable subject for more detailed examination.
Homo sapiens (or humans, as we refer to them colloquially) are comparatively long-lived creatures. They mature slowly for over twenty Earth years, developing sexually in their teens, and remain sexually active for up to a further forty years or more. While patterns of sexual activity diverge widely from individual to individual across the species, it does not appear to be seasonal: on average, humans engage in sex in a relatively consistent pattern throughout the Earth year (roughly 365 days of 24 hours each).
Human sex takes many forms and conjugations, and can occur as often as daily (and sometimes even more frequently) or as rarely as one finds with Panda bears (annually, if at all). The teenage years and indeed human life before reproduction appears however to revolve around the pursuit of sexual relations to quite a high degree. Nevertheless, with the passage of time and partnering, a modicum of regularity (and the common appearance of children) brings activity down to more manageable frequencies.
Detailed study of a large and representative sample of Homo sapiens recently undertaken shows that, when partnered*, sex occurs on average roughly twice weekly (a week = seven Earth days). Even assuming a relatively late start of twenty years of age, and an earlyish finish at sixty, this would mean on average that humans have sex about 4000 times in their lives. At first this struck the researchers as an astonishingly high figure (tiring even to contemplate), until we carefully factored in variables in the data.
These factors include periods of illness, injury, exhaustion, dearth of opportunity or available mate/s, a pathological lack of interest in sexual congress, unattractive options for sexual partners, resort to masturbation#, more appealing alternatives to sex (eg sport on television) or engaging in other activities without a sexual partner or that deter sexual congress (such as fishing, knitting etc). As a consequence, we have cut the estimate by 50% as the basis for more thorough-going analysis.
Even so, one can quickly adduce that this is still an inordinately high figure. Indeed, field researchers have speculated on how the species could tackle the other major challenges of life on planet Earth when so much time and energy is apparently taken up exchanging bodily fluids. A clue is the time taken for sexual congress, which, as with frequency, varies greatly: from as little as fifteen seconds (ie 1/240 of an Earth hour) per event up to, on occasions, many hours at a time!
Although further research needs to be undertaken to make definitive findings, it would appear that the amount of time taken up by human sexual activity on average is somewhat less than an hour, even including the preamble we characterise as foreplay, and tends to reduce as Homo sapiens age and, importantly, as members of the species become more familiar with their sexual partner.
The latter factor may also play a role in philandering (sexual cheating), as human partners appear to become sexually bored with the effluxion of time, their penchant for dressing up, introducing supplementary mechanical devices and engaging in related theatrics notwithstanding. Indeed this has led some researchers to postulate a theory of serial monogamy in Homo sapiens. (For those with a scholarly interest in the subject, these matters are canvassed in more detail in Appendix C.)
In any event, it became clear to the research team shortly after commencing our work that we needed to understand better the link between sex and reproduction in Homo sapiens. After all, evidence shows that the average number of living offspring that human couples produce is somewhere between two (minimum replacement level) and three. This would, on the face of it, suggest that an awful lot of human sex is going on for the production of not very many progeny.
What on Earth could be the reasons?
Careful readers of our previous report will have noted that the shared sexual mechanism in Homo sapiens includes genital ganglia, stimulation of which is integral to the confluence of genetic material. Although there is some scholarly debate on this point, it appears on the face that the principal purpose of these ganglia is to trigger an emission from the male into the receptive female. This however leaves it unclear if the existence and excitation of the female genital ganglia are in some way reproductively advantageous, or are a so-called evolutionary free-rider.
Whatever its aetiology, both sexes can achieve what is called orgasm, although the male orgasm is more in the way of a necessary component, while the female orgasm is somewhat less common (though it is by no means unknown, and can on occasion occur multiply). The female orgasm may function to increase the probability of successful fertilisation; otherwise its prospect may serve as an inducement to the female to have sex, or may merely be a di-morphological side-benefit of the mechanism for ejaculation in the male.
(This is perhaps fitting, as the female human [as readers of our previous report will recall] invests far more reproductive energy and time than the male and, it should be said, experiences a great deal of pain and distress in the reproductive process, due in part to being bipedal, upright and having a highly pronounced cranial-torso volumetric ratio. Perhaps a clue to human sexuality lies herein.)
While we have not yet undertaken the important neuro-psychological laboratory research to understand the cognitive functioning of Homo sapiens in detail - we are, after all, still in the field - many of the creatures actually appear to enjoy having sex. That is, there is a phenomenological component to the human sexual act – a sense of experience perceived, and in all probability recalled, that acts as a powerful inducement to replicate the activity. And often.
Sexual pleasure also (and this for some of our research team is the clincher) appears to function as an inducement to engage in sex for its own sake: that is, engaging in sexual activity that does not, and – controversially – sometimes cannot, lead to reproduction. (This challenging proposition is explored in more detail below.) So, in short, the preponderance of researchers contends that either humans are cheating nature, or the purpose of sex is much wider than we might have supposed.
Indeed, no other postulation explains the data: 99.9% plus of human sexual acts do not result in reproduction – a ratio of 1000 to 1! And, we contend, no species would survive such a pathetically low strike-rate unless it had evolved not just despite, but precisely because of, such a strike-rate.
Moreover, there is firm evidence to show that Homo sapiens, when it is so inclined, finds reproduction relatively amenable, despite the absence of a female ‘season’ in this particular species. There are, after all, over six billion of them on the planet, and counting. Only two other families of species on Earth seem to be more pervasive: rodents and cockroaches. On-site calculations indicate that human mates intending to reproduce successfully fertilise on average with fewer than ten copulations. So, even accounting for the need to evolve a mechanism for successful reproduction, at least 99 times out of 100 humans are having sex without the faintest intention to garner progeny!
Yet there may be more to the human story than just strong evidence that most sex is not intended to result in the getting of offspring: some of our research team argues that humans typically intend quite the contrary! What evidence has been observed for this striking thesis? (We recommend that the more delicate of readers divert their attention from the following discussion, as we now traverse in some detail a simmering scholarly dispute in which we are bound to consider a sub-set of the actual sexual practices of Homo sapiens – some of which are, to be candid, unedifying.)
There is no easy way to raise this issue but to dive right in. Our field researchers were frankly staggered to find, in reproducible study after reproducible study, and controlling for all conceivable variables, that a statistically significant proportion of human sexual activity involves practices that render reproduction not just highly unlikely, but physically impossible!
Astute readers will recall that Homo sapiens conforms to the typical mammalian morphology extant on planet Earth; that is, they have as well as genitals a well-developed digestive tract (mouth to anus via tongue, throat, stomach, intestines etc) and a respiratory apparatus that co-deploys the oral cavity as well as nasal passages and throat, then diverts to the lungs. It is however (the sexual use of) the human mouth and tongue as well as the anal cavity that have excited the most interest amongst our field researchers.
Close examination of humans in sexual congress (often recorded at night with low light and with the benefit of infra-red technology) indicate that a wide variety of anatomical features are employed sexually; when erect and available for sexual purposes, for example, the male organ - the penis - seems to be happily engaged entering just about any warm, moistened orifice in which it can fit. Moreover, many of the female of the species seem more than happy to have their labia attended to orally, with scarcely a passing interest in the aforementioned erection. Little wonder then that much ejaculation and female orgasm occurs without any prospect of reproduction.
For the sake of completeness, it should also be noted that a non-trivial minority of adult human sexual interactions actually do not involve both sexes, and thus preclude reproduction as an option. This sex is, by its very nature, of the oral, anal and otherwise varieties – examples upon which, prudence and good taste dictate, we shall not dwell.
(It should however be stated by way of clarification that researchers found Homo sapiens to be a comparatively clever, imaginative and dexterous creature. It would appear that these talents are happily employed in human sexual exploits. Non-reproductive sexual activities are by no means limited to human orifices. For example, the research team had not imagined the range of potential employments for the opposable fingers and thumb of these higher order primates until engaged in our seminal fieldwork.)
There is considerable debate amongst researchers over the proportion of the species that engages in what we have come to term homosexual (to be contrasted with heterosexual) congress. Some field workers have contended that as many as 10% of humans are homosexual or engage in homosexual relations. Others argue it is a much lower proportion (no more than 5%) and that some or much of that activity includes members of the species who are quite happy going both ways (so to speak). This behaviour we characterise as bisexual - it has been an irritating complication for modelling in the research project as is it very difficult to monitor or predict.
As one could anticipate, much debate amongst the research team has ensued over the evolutionary status of homosexual (and, to a lesser extent, bisexual) behavior in Homo sapiens. How did it come about? What would or could be its evolutionary purpose? Scholarly views (as always) diverge sharply on this issue. There are two major schools of thought: one group favours an adaptationist explanation for homosexuality – either by it conferring advantages, particularly at the level of group selection, or as a cultural parasite (a view propounded by some of the newer graduates and the more absolutist members of the research team).
The other major view considers homosexuality to be non-adaptationist. This is either because it is a past adaptation now redundant (though it is difficult to see what such a previous adaptation might have been, other than to maintain sexual function when the sexes were separated) or because it is a so-called spandrel, a mere evolutionary by-product of a conscious and (relatively) sophisticated cognitive apparatus. Many in the research team remain undecided on this debate. Perhaps the most telling point to note however is that, if almost all human sex is not for reproduction, then (other things being equal) it won’t much matter with whom one is having non-reproductive sex.
So much for the research team’s initial views about reproduction – there is now compelling evidence to show it is little more than an occasional by-product of human sexual activity – sometimes intended, sometimes not. Much more work needs to be done with this fascinating, complex (and somewhat quirky) species to understand better its cognition, motivations and behaviour – not just its sexual behaviour. Appendices A and B set out our research proposal and the funding submission respectively for Stage 3 of the Research Project.
The research team seeks urgent approval within three Earth months (a quarter of an Earth year) as we have sufficient resources to sustain us only for that period and have not as yet been able to establish an effective means of communication with Homo sapiens, other than through inducing interaction with manacles and vacuum cleaners. It would be a great pity to let this opportunity go to waste just as we are beginning to understand how humans tick.
Unlocking their (presumed) language and belief systems could open up more opportunities to develop relations with this most bizarre of creatures that extend beyond their odd sexual proclivities.
© Earth Year 2010 – Author and Lead Researcher: E Brik ______________________________________________________
* The activity of unpartnered members of the species diverged wildly and was comparatively difficult to measure in the absence of electronic monitoring. Subcutaneous implant devices (necessary for dexterous creatures with opposable thumbs) have been ordered and researchers hope to have them deployed for Stage 3 of the Research Project, assuming Ethics Committee approval and the resolution of long-distance supply issues.
# Researchers were careful to ensure that only activities involving two or more Homo sapiens (over sixteen Earth years of age) were considered for the purpose of analysis, so excluding some exotic activities with other creatures that raised frankly challenging issues of consent.