Are you there, God? MSNBC has some questions.

This is quite the article. Our hapless male friend Brian is totally confused about those crazy lady-bits, and has decided to speak with some evolutionary biologists to figure out what the heck is going on down there.

Men just don’t seem to have the same number of unanswered questions about our biology. Male primates — male mammals in general — all have penises and testicles and sperm. We use them whenever we can. Unless we are sick or injured, we can make babies. And if anybody wants to know if we’re interested, all they have to do is look to see if we’re at attention.


…right. There are too many factual errors in each and every one of those sentences for me to properly parse. So it serves as a representative introduction to the rest of the piece.

Though some studies suggest that men and women do have an unconscious sense of when a woman enters a fertile period and is ripe for mating, there is no obvious outward sign as there is for most mammals. Many female monkeys, for example, get bright red butts when they release an egg. But women are poker butts, even to themselves, which is why they are left to temperature-taking and guessing in order to time ovulation.

Is it actually true that “most mammals” show outward signs of fertility? I’m asking that honestly, because I really don’t know, but it sounds a little questionable.

Dr. Leonard Shlain, a San Francisco surgeon and author of “Sex, Time and Power: How Women’s Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution,” speculates that ovulation had to be concealed because women wised up and realized sex led to pregnancy, which led to childbirth, which often led to death for the woman. “Once women understood they could die as a result of having sex, why wouldn’t they abstain from sex?” But if women did not know when they ovulated, they wouldn’t know when they had to abstain in order not to risk dying nine months later (a theory that assumes they had a choice about whether to have sex).

Awesome.

Shlain believes orgasm is a reward to women, a little something to entice them to have sex rather than focus on the prospect of death in childbirth. “Once she knows death is associated with sex, she needs to have an impetus to keep having her do it,” he says.

“Women have orgasms because men do,” insists Katherine Dettwyler, an anthropologist and colleague of Rosenberg’s. “The clitoris is the homologue of the head of the penis. I think orgasms are a reward to men to [have sex] as much as possible and also the muscles contracting shoot ejaculate out and so it gets as far it can. Women have a clitoris because that’s what’s left of the head of penis, like men have nipples.”

Rosenberg agrees, calling female orgasm an evolutionary “side effect.”

Aww, how sweet. So what about breasts? Why do we have those?

“When we stood up,” he says, referring to our early ancestors, “the anatomy of the pelvis changed. The vagina oriented itself more toward the front.” But this was a problem because most mammals, including primates, have sex doggie style. Hence the big red butts advertising “Sexy girl here!” meant to appeal to our visual sense. (Primates do not smell as well as, say, dogs.) So, since males began facing females for sex, the rough equivalent of big red butts “were transposed to the front of a woman” and became the breasts we know and love.

So every part of the female body is either some deviation from the male body, or created for male pleasure. I’m glad these completely neutral, unbiased scientists have cleared up these issues for us.

Thanks to Amanda for the link.


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105 comments for “Are you there, God? MSNBC has some questions.

  1. syfr
    May 24, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    Men don’t make babies. Men make sperm. Sperm fertilize eggs. Eggs implant in a woman’s uterus. Women spend nine months making a baby.

    What an idiot!

  2. Linnaeus
    May 24, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    You know, he could have saved himself all that trouble and just read (or watched) Desmond Morris.

  3. TheBends
    May 24, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    ……..

    Im trying to think of something to write, but all I can see in my head is a big penis the size of a human rolling down a steep hill and into the shark infested ocean…..

    Im not quite sure why that is. Perhaps its because that artictle has a point that I am unable to discern?

    ……That some guys are just…… penises?

    I think I need a glass of water. Cocked up evolutionary theories screw with my chain of thoughts.

  4. firecracking
    May 24, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    I like this bit: ” But […] science seems to understand a man’s biology better than a woman’s, based on what’s known about males throughout the animal kingdom”. Hence why this article is necessary – obviously it’s because male biology *makes more sense*. And not at all because of some sort of bias in scientific study over the years (which might – who can say? – even have had an effect on the study of the animal kingdom! Not to mention interpreting the results.).

  5. May 24, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    It is generally true that most placental mammals have obvious outward signs of ovulation (estrus). Not fertility in general, but when they are “in heat,” it’s usually pretty obvious–think about how you know when to fix female cats: yowling, rubbing, displaying, etc.

    That guy is wildly misconstruing what Shlain talks about in his book (one of my favorites). Shlain actually admits that any possible evolutionary/biological function of the female orgasm is not agreed-upon by the scientific community and posits 3 of the most common theories, one of which is that an orgasm feels really good and increases the possibility that a woman won’t want to get up right afterwards, increasing the likelihood (gravity, and all that) of fertilization. Another theory is that the muscle contractions during orgasm cause a slight upward suction effect, drawing the sperm deeper into the body. The orgasm-as-reward theory actually says orgasm makes sex more enjoyable–it’s an evolutionary theory. Women who have sex more (from an evolutionary standpoint) will have more offspring, guaranteeing the continuation of the species. Shlain then goes on to discount this last theory–women tend to be more orgasmic later in life (past prime fertility years), men’s/women’s orgasms are horribly mistimed, and so on. Part of the female orgasm is also designed to select good partners–a man who will continue to devote his attention to pleasing his partner even after he has been satisfied has some better merits than one who won’t.

    His section about ovulation is actually the opposite of sexist in his book–ovulation becomes hidden to THE MAN so that the woman is able to choose her own partner and the father of her child. It is an empowering notion. From the book:

    “But the human species was the first in which ALL the females evolved the capacity to decide CONSCIOUSLY to refuse to mate during any one ovulation or ALL THE TIME.”

    “Haltingly at first but with increasing assertiveness, the new female [now with outwardly-hidden ovulation] was finally able to refuse the hard-wired commandments that demanded she mate when she ovulated. The first woman who achieved such veto power must have mumbled, in the proto-language in use at that time, the equivalent of ‘Free at last, free at last.'”

  6. evil fizz
    May 24, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    Is it actually true that “most mammals” show outward signs of fertility?

    Many mammals go through estrus (i.e., go into heat). However, I’m less sure about what percentage of those in heat show signs. The best way to tell if a female horse is in heat (for example) is to bring a male next to her and see if he gets excited. (It’s called teasing.) It’s not necessarily obvious to the casual human observer.

  7. May 24, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    ripe for mating

    Don’t these assholes usually have editors? I mean, ripe for mating??? What is she, a fruit basket?

  8. M.
    May 24, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    [blockquote]Is it actually true that “most mammals” show outward signs of fertility? I’m asking that honestly, because I really don’t know, but it sounds a little questionable. [/blockquote]

    In addition to what evil fizz says, it sounds like he’s confusing mating rituals with estrus.

    Like Fizz, I don’t know what percentage of mammals go through estrus and what percentage of them show outward signs. I think it’s telling that rats don’t — and they’re arguably the closest (taxological) family to primates.

  9. evil fizz
    May 24, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    In addition to what evil fizz says, it sounds like he’s confusing mating rituals with estrus.

    No, no. I’m talking about the fact that horses do not show signs of being in heat to the casual human observer. If you’re breeding horses, the way you tell if they *are* in heat is to bring a stallion near the mare. He gives lengthy outward signs if she is.

    And I’m a she, not a he.

  10. Aeryl
    May 24, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    I like the fact that breasts replaced bright red butts. Like breasts have no other function than to entice men to sex.

  11. Kali
    May 24, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    Women: illogical and mysterious since 3 million years BC!

  12. MikeEss
    May 24, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    “Like Fizz, I don’t know what percentage of mammals go through estrus and what percentage of them show outward signs.”

    I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say ALL Female Mammals go through estrus. That is an intrinsic part of mammal biology, isn’t it?

    As far as what percentage show outward signs, I assume that depends on how you define “outward signs”. If the males of the species can tell when the females are in heat (and apparently this is also pretty much universal) then there must be “outward signs”, whether humans can detect them or not.

    Is my logic correct?…

    (Now I KNOW someone will tell us about one or more exceptions to these ideas… :)

  13. May 24, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    I love evolutionary biology, but the conclusions these folks jumped to are wack. It’s hard to even know where to begin.

    Well, for starters, you have to start with the selfish gene assumption that both individuals (male and female) unconsciously want to find the best genes to combine with their own to create the best offspring. There are a variety of means of achieving this. In Chimpanzees, for example, the males set up a hierarchical structure whereby one male is the “alpha” and thus has the most access to females, who he dominates. The females, by-and-large, encourage this behavior by supporting certain males against the others. This enables the females to have access to the “most attractive” male, as well as food and meat, which they’ll trade for sex. At the same time, females will mate with other males serruptitiously whom they find attractive, generally knowing that if caught by the alpha the other male’s going to get it worse than them. By and large, females raise the offspring without male help. Since they have to invest a lot of energy raising those offspring (far more than the males), it’s in the female’s interest to make sure she’s getting the best “bang for her buck,” that is the best genes with the least effort. During ovulation, the male will often go off for a few days with a courtesan, making sure he’s the only one that will impregnate her. Since ovulation isn’t concealed, he only has to “watch over her” for a few days to ensure he’s the father of her offspring.

    Bonobos do it a bit differently. Yes, the males do establish something of their own dominance hierarchy, but its the females that dominate in Bonobo society. Even though they’re smaller and weaker than the males, they form bonds with other females quite readily (unlike female Chimps, who are suspicious of each other) and have access to food before the males do. Male Bonobos, again unlike their chimp counterparts, don’t bond together much. Both sexes are extremely promiscuous and sex is used constantly to forge bonds between animals, sometimes animals of the same sex. They fornicate constantly. Most of this has nothing to do with reproduction, either. Sex is a calming mechanism. Where a chimp would fight, a bonobo would fuck.

    We share 98% of our DNA with chimps and bonobos. The two species had a common ancestor common to them and us. The tree looks like:

    Bonobos Chimps Humans
    | / /
    | / /
    |/ /
    | /
    |________/
    |
    |

    So we have a little of the chimp and a little of the bonobo in us. But what happens when we start walking upright and our brains get bigger? Suddenly it’s a LOT harder for a female to have a baby. Fetus’ are gestated for far less time and require a lot more care when they’re born. It’s like a chimp having nothing but preemies. In addition, birth itself is more difficult and more dangerous. Assisted births become a way-of-life and there is fossil evidence suggesting that early human females relied on primitive “midwives” (probably older relatives) to help deliver babies.

    What that meant is that now females have a far more difficult time gathering food and producing enough milk for healthy children. They need long-term help. In the chimpanzee and bonobo societies, the males don’t really bother helping rear the children. They don’t need to. They come out pretty much ready to go and their mothers are ready to gather food within a few hours of the birth. Not so with human mothers, who are suddenly in a more vulnerable position. For their part, the males now have a bit of a dilema as well. If they want their offspring to be successful, they need to help keep them alive.

    But male humans aren’t chimps. Sure, we do the political game with each other and set up dominance hierarchies, but now this doesn’t necessarily translate to reproductive success in the form of viable offspring without support from mother’s community. Also, though human females, like the Bonobo, network and form bonds with one another, like chimps, they’re also inclined to forgo some of this difficult work in order to support the winning man in the dominance game. Both motivations are evident. The upshot of all this is that the way chimps do it and the way bonobos do it doesn’t work for human babies.

    But concealed ovulation changes the score quite a bit. Suddenly, males need to be aware of their female counterparts all year, not just a few days a month when their genitals swell. Monogamy (at least for a birth cycle) is preferred. Males get the assurance that they’re expending energy on a child that’s theirs, and females get the help they need to keep their offspring alive. This also has the effect of encouraging males to be lifelong contributors to their offspring’s success, rather than impassive sperm-making machines.

    So what’s this mean? It means a couple things. One is that the tired old “food for sex” canard is pretty much nonexistent in humans. It’s really not even accurate to say of Chimps, either, because it’s more complicated than that. But what humans do isn’t food for sex. It’s mutually beneficial to both parties.

    The other side of this is that orgasm, both male and female, has as much to do with bonding and socializing as it does with sex. In fact, the equation with orgasm and sex was probably less evident in our primate ancestors than it is today. Combining orgasm and reproduction, though, does go hand-in-hand with concealed ovulation.

    I could write a book about this, but I’m sure you can see how what Brian found is just so much bullshit.

  14. May 24, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    You’re pretty much correct. Outward signs can include a very strong scent…to the male of the particular species. Also, particular grooming or behavioral tendencies that don’t exactly scream “ovulation” to a human observer, but show through loud and clear for the male for whom they’re intended.

    And nearly every primate (if there are exceptions, I don’t know them) shows outward signs of estrus. Minus humans.

  15. May 24, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    And I’m a she, not a he.

    I believe M was referring to the author of the article.

  16. Wogglebug
    May 24, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    Elaine Morgan, in her book The Descent of Woman, called men Tarzanists when they claimed human evolution was based on Man the Mighty Hunter and Woman the Sex Object.

    My theory is that humans have protruding breasts (at least when we’re nursing) because our big frontal lobes give us flat faces. The breast has to curve back from the nipple so the baby won’t suffocate.

    I don’t know why some of us have big breasts the rest of the time. I am sure that it’s not for sexual appeal to males. If that were Nature’s Way it would be true across all times and places. Since there are cultures that don’t get turned on by breasts (parts of Africa, traditional Japan, etc.), we know the erotic effect of breasts is culturally constructed.

  17. May 24, 2007 at 6:23 pm

    “Poker butts.” Am I the only one who got highly distracted by the phrase “poker butts?”

  18. womanist
    May 24, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    All non-human primates have estrus swellings. Bonobos have a few things in common with humans, though. Bonobos have face-to-face sex, non-reproductive sex, and homosexual sex. No other primates have permanently swollen breasts, however. Breasts are only swollen during pregnancy and lactation. Maybe this is another way that women’s bodies hide fertility?

    As an anthropologist, I’ve found that evolutionary psychology is little more than “just-so” stories that reflect a lot of western notions about human nature, and ignore anything that doesn’t fit in their scenarios.

  19. Poker Butt
    May 24, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    I do believe I have a new nom de guerre.

  20. Poker Butt
    May 24, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Oh, and a menstrual cycle is different from an estrus cycle.

    In an estrus cycle, the assumption made by the body (for lack of a better described agent) is that pregnancy will occur. So there’s ovulation, the hormonal cycle, everything needed for the entire pregnancy from conception to birth whether or not the body actually did get pregnant. That’s why, for example, there was never a pregnancy test for dogs until quite recently: all bitches that ovulated went through the same nine week hormonal pattern whether or not conception had occurred.

    A menstrual cycle on the other hand assumes the body is NOT pregnant, and sheds everything (the menstrual blood) when pregnancy does not occur, only swinging into the hormonal pregnancy pattern if concpetion occurs (which is why we can pee on a stick a few hours later and have an answer).

    The two things are not at all the same despite superficial similarities, and my understanding is the human female is the only mammal with a menstrual system. Perhaps that’s what actually separated us from the rest of the primates, not our branes or anything…

  21. May 24, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    Wow, apparently evo-psych loonies and medieval barber-surgeons have a lot of ideas in common.

  22. May 24, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    @M.: female rats do go into heat. A lot. And I’m not sure what counts as an outward sign, but their nipples protrude, their vaginas gape, they become more sensitive to touch, and they try to have sex with any other rat within reach. (No, not ‘any other male rat’, just any other rat. Although if there is a buck within range, the smell can trigger a doe to go into heat if it isn’t her time of the week.)

  23. May 24, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    Basing theories of human evolution on cultural assumptions about men and women that are little more than three centuries old is kind of… um… ahistorical? No. Misguided? Not that either. Stupid? Oh, there we go!

    In quite a lot of the pre-Protestant-Reformation world assumptions about women seem to have been that they were raveningly amoral about sex because they knew sex meant babies and, after all assumptions back then went, all women wanted babies all the time.

    Nowadays Westerners believe it’s really all about men wanting to spread their sperm instead. Whatever.

    Humans being biological organisms and all we’re surely subject to some evolutionary pressures related to sexuality, some of it no doubt behavioral. I’m just suspicious of evolutionary theories that really coincide only with the behavior of the contemporary college freshmen who make up the bulk of both research subjects and, evidently, research analysts.

    For the record, while it’s true that ovulation is obvious in most mammals (to their male partners if not to us) it’s also the case that in a lot of mammals male orgasms aren’t the bell-ringing events men experience. Sometimes, especially among herd animals, they appear to be considerably more reflexive, closer to scratching an itch or sneezing.

    Of course if you assume contemporary human male sexual response is the baseline norm for everything most evolutionary psychology theories make perfect sense.

    My pet evolutionary theory is that as babies heads got big enough for childbirth to be a critical limiting factor in human reproduction the vestibular bulbs of the clitoris, which lies under the pubic bone, grew larger to cushion the urethra. Since clitorises and penises develop from the same undifferentiated genital buds in male and female embryos it’s just as plausible that men got *orgasmic* ejaculations for the same reason women did — as a completely accidental (if somewhat serendipitous) byproduct of selective pressure to protect the urethra and nothing at all to do with rewarding this gender or that for having more sex.

    I have *no idea* whether my hypothesis is well-founded, though unlike a lot of evo-psych theories I believe it’s testable. And unlike every other theory about orgasms you hear it has enormous selective pressure on its side. OBs and midwives still pay close attention to whether a mother is able to pee after vaginal delivery, and at least in hospitals and birthing centers they keep catheters handy in case you can’t.

    Anyway, the point being that *if* you’re going to go all evolution on something as incredibly varied as human sexual behavior, you want to be sure that a) you take not only all contemporary cultures into account but all historical ones as well, b) you probably don’t want to assume men are the default reference point that require no further examination, and c) you probably want to look for, you know, some kind of actual *reproductive survival* values.

    figleaf

  24. smadin
    May 24, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    Women have a clitoris because that’s what’s left of the head of penis, like men have nipples.

    Um, what? “What’s left of the head of the penis”? It says there that this Katherine Dettwyler is an anthropologist; I sure hope that’s cultural anthropology, and not physical, because she seems a little fuzzy on how human development works.

  25. May 24, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    So every part of the female body is either some deviation from the male body, or created for male pleasure.

    I’m not sure why the theory that the clitoris and female orgasms are evolutionary side effects is insulting. To me, it’s the theory that makes the most sense, since the clitoris isn’t usually directly stimulated during penetrative sex, which makes the theory of female orgasms as an incentive to procreate a bit shaky. I don’t know any men who are insulted by the theory that male nipples are an evolutionary side effect of breasts, so why is the idea of the clitoris as homologue to the penis inherently disempowering?

  26. May 24, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    So, since males began facing females for sex, the rough equivalent of big red butts “were transposed to the front of a woman” and became the breasts we know and love.

    Because before we were bipedal, we had our breasts on our backs.

    Seriously, what the hell?

  27. May 24, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    No other primates have permanently swollen breasts, however. Breasts are only swollen during pregnancy and lactation. Maybe this is another way that women’s bodies hide fertility?

    Good question. Sure beats the other “male pursuit, female prone” explanations.

  28. aweb
    May 24, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    Don’t make fun of him too much ladies…you never know, he might be the only guy around next time when you’re “ripe for mating”. And then he might just ignore you and your ass breasts….now pardon me while I try to forget I ever read that paragraph.

  29. susan
    May 24, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    Hey folks, please, please, please do not infer too much about evolutionary biology/psyhology from this shit article. The people he sourced were basically quacks pushing asinine theories that don’t conform to any rigid definition of natural selection (in addition to often being factually inaccurate, for example women differentiating from men rather than the other way around).

    For great intros to ev biology check out The Selfish Gene by Dawkins, and for ev psych check out The Moral Animal by Robert Wright. You will find a startling lack of this kind of bullshit in those good books.

  30. Jess
    May 24, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    I stopped reading halfway down the page because too many of the statements were phrased as if the organism intentionally acquired these characteristics. Such sloppiness is objectionable when non-human animals are involved; it’s chauvinistic when the individuals are human females.

    Augh.

  31. Erin
    May 24, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    These people who think that breasts are “big red butts” moved to the front? They’re the same people who are always telling women to breastfeed in restrooms because it’s so disturbing to see in public, aren’t they?

    Ah, Freud, where are you when we need you?

    And, yeah, I love to watch those PBS nature specials about lower primates and their big red butts and their nutty, less-evolved, dorsal breasts. Like the fin in Jaws, only lactating.

  32. exangelena
    May 24, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    Um, when I took biology last year, we learned that sexual selection occurs via male competition (where the males beat each other to death in competition for mating) or FEMALE CHOICE (where the female chooses which male is a more fit contribution to the gene pool).
    And anyway, aren’t humans a little more advanced than this stuff?

  33. May 24, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    And anyway, aren’t humans a little more advanced than this stuff?

    Not when they’re women.

  34. May 24, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    So what about breasts? Why do we have those?

    Well, on the old WKRP sitcom, Dr Johnny Fever speculated that men have nipples because “it has something to do with the phone company.”

    Hey, it’s a theory.

  35. aweb
    May 24, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    Males almost never beat each other to death in sexual selection. That would be a terrible waste of resources for a species. Generally, Males posture and puff up their chests, make lots of noise, or pick a bigger stick/rock (for early humans perhaps). Most fights in nature are posturing…only over-crowded/over-populated mammals tend to actually kill one another to mate

    But as I understood it, when a species has hidden ovulation, it’s generally a sign that the females hold more power over the males. Since they are sure of their own fertility (relatively), they get to choose mates, and males are forced to be nicer since it might be their child. Species also don’t need a strong impetus to reproduce, that’s a pretty basic instinct. The threat of death being overwhlemed by an orgasm? That sounds almost as dumb as ass-breasts.

    I note the author being quoted above is a surgeon, not a researcher, professor, or expert in the field of sexual selection (perhaps the surgeon was in the past, but he’s not now). Hmmm…

  36. Munlime
    May 24, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    Ack! How can you choose to write an article about ev. theory and then completely ignore the basic premises of ev. theory!! I guess be that guy.

    The part that gets me is where he talks about how women would hide ovulation so that men wouldn’t know they were “fertile” and thus the women could avoid childbirth and potential death. uh, guess what else they would avoid – childbirth and the potential to pass on those ovulation hiding genes.

  37. evil fizz
    May 24, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    I’m thinking it might be time for a new euphemism for breasts: baboon booty!

  38. kellbelle1020
    May 24, 2007 at 9:30 pm

    What I’ve never understood about the whole “boobs are butts on the front” theory is that whoever made it up probably hasn’t seen many non-outrageously-implanted topless women. I for one have no cleavage even close to resembling a butt unless I’m wearing a very good push-up bra. And I have average sized boobs, not even tiny ones.

    And I’m pretty sure that push-up bras weren’t available to our evolutionary ancestors. Unless I missed that day in archeology class.

    ~Kelly~

  39. Kaesa
    May 24, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    Just to clarify, not all mammals go into heat. Hominids (of which humans are, of course, a member) have the infamous menstrual cycle instead of the estrous cycle. The main difference, I think, is that females with menstrual cycles can be sexually active pretty much whenever they want, but females of species that go into estrous generally aren’t sexually active outside of estrous.

    That said, dear god, even the illustrations on the article are ridiculous. (I also thought that other animals could experience orgasm, but upon actually trying to look this up, I realized it was really the sort of thing that is a.) difficult to research, and b.) a little frightening to google.)

  40. Random Lady Passersby
    May 24, 2007 at 11:18 pm

    “Is it actually true that “most mammals” show outward signs of fertility? I’m asking that honestly, because I really don’t know, but it sounds a little questionable. ”

    5th grade science, yes, every one of them. Animals are as instinctive as hell, humans have a lesser ability to smell the pheromones consciously, that’s why sex and ovulation are such a mystery to some people. Men and women.

    “The part that gets me is where he talks about how women would hide ovulation so that men wouldn’t know they were “fertile” and thus the women could avoid childbirth and potential death. uh, guess what else they would avoid – childbirth and the potential to pass on those ovulation hiding genes. ”

    Back in those days which were accurately interpreted, childbirth was dirty and very dangerous. It almost always lead to death! Women hid their menses, and thus were able to hide their fertility, no need to ignore 8th grade health class.

    “Elaine Morgan, in her book The Descent of Woman, called men Tarzanists when they claimed human evolution was based on Man the Mighty Hunter and Woman the Sex Object.

    My theory is that humans have protruding breasts (at least when we’re nursing) because our big frontal lobes give us flat faces. The breast has to curve back from the nipple so the baby won’t suffocate.”

    The temporal-lobe-unevolved animals are balanced, in that male and female parts were equal throughout evolution. Humans, with their differential temporal lobes, evolved where the man was physically and mentally stronger than the woman, which is 10th grade evolutionary science.

    Women have protruding breasts, because of the milk-making mammary gland which needs the insulation of fat cells (which gives the breast its shape) to effectively produce milk. Women with “flat-chests” or just little fat, have clothing on nowadays instead of getting no booty back in the day.

    Humans have bigger breasts outside their “shape” because of how separate our anatomy is. Again, that temporal lobe gave us a less effective body compared to an animal. We sacrifice instinct/body needlings for the brain.

  41. Chickie
    May 24, 2007 at 11:19 pm

    Elaine Morgan, in her book The Descent of Woman, called men Tarzanists when they claimed human evolution was based on Man the Mighty Hunter and Woman the Sex Object.

    My theory is that humans have protruding breasts (at least when we’re nursing) because our big frontal lobes give us flat faces. The breast has to curve back from the nipple so the baby won’t suffocate.

  42. Kaesa
    May 24, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    Humans, with their differential temporal lobes, evolved where the man was physically and mentally stronger than the woman, which is 10th grade evolutionary science.

    (emphasis mine)
    Gee, I must have inexplicably slept through those parts of 10th grade health class (taken with a raging sexist who would have loved any opportunity to tell us this) as well as 10th grade biology. And somehow it never came up in AP Psychology and college-level General Biology. May I ask, out of simple scientific curiosity, for your sources?

  43. May 25, 2007 at 12:22 am

    Is it actually true that “most mammals” show outward signs of fertility? I’m asking that honestly, because I really don’t know, but it sounds a little questionable.

    Somebody already mentioned this probably in the thread I’m too lazy to read, but I’m pretty sure that most placental mammals show sighns of going into estrus.

    However, most great apes do not. Orangutan females don’t, gorilla females don’t, and bonobo females (and, to a lesser degree chimps from the Tai forest population,,,I can never remember if that’s the West African chimp or the East African chimp…) are actually in estrus pretty much all the time so that the actuall time of ovulation is hidden from the males.

    Pretty much the only apes that advertise their ovulation are the chimpanzees studied by Jane Goodall…the ones at Gombe (again, can’t remember West or East African…my primatology professor would be so pissed…) and it has to do with the unique fission-fusion nature of their groupings, which in turn has to do with their diet and the relative scarcity of fruit in the environment.

    So, in other words, not really applicable to human behavior. I hate it when people try to apply animal behavior to human behavior. It’s a totally different environment that we live in, and that we evolved in. It would be like trying to construe whale behavior from bat behavior.

  44. May 25, 2007 at 12:27 am

    My theory is that humans have protruding breasts (at least when we’re nursing) because our big frontal lobes give us flat faces. The breast has to curve back from the nipple so the baby won’t suffocate.”

    Um…what? Women have protruding breasts because we wear bras.

    Otherwise, after a few years and a few babies out breasts would look exactly like the breasts of chimps and bonobos. Who don’t have flat faces.

  45. Munlime
    May 25, 2007 at 12:32 am

    “The part that gets me is where he talks about how women would hide ovulation so that men wouldn’t know they were “fertile” and thus the women could avoid childbirth and potential death. uh, guess what else they would avoid – childbirth and the potential to pass on those ovulation hiding genes. ”

    Back in those days which were accurately interpreted, childbirth was dirty and very dangerous. It almost always lead to death! Women hid their menses, and thus were able to hide their fertility, no need to ignore 8th grade health class.

    Ok – clearly “back in those days” childbirth was likely dangerous since we’re talking pre-civilization. Also, women don’t hide their “menses” (which actually would make a lot of sense) they hide their ovulation. The point I was making was not an 8th grade health class point, It was a evolutionary theory point, basic ev theory posits that human sexuality is a result of genetic mutation through reproduction. If you’re hiding your ovulation you might be less likely to reproduce and thus less likely to pass on those particular genes.

    On a different point for those interested in ev theory & culture – this is a fantastic piece, it really digs in and points out places where ev theory falls apart and where it makes sense.

    Wood, W., & Eagly, A. H. (2002). A cross-cultural analysis of the behavior of women and men: Implications for the origins of sex differences. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 699-727.

  46. Lesbia's Sparrow
    May 25, 2007 at 12:44 am

    I think the best explanation for female breasts (and also the unnecessary length of human penises) is sexual selection. It doesn’t serve an evolutionary advantage, we simply started selecting for it rather arbitrarily.

  47. May 25, 2007 at 3:02 am

    Kaesa, perhaps Random Lady Passersby meant “tenth grade wingnut-theocon-homeschooler pseudoscience”?

  48. R. Mildred
    May 25, 2007 at 6:36 am

    As an anthropologist, I’ve found that evolutionary psychology is little more than “just-so” stories that reflect a lot of western notions about human nature, and ignore anything that doesn’t fit in their scenarios.

    Well more imporantly most of the theories are non-falsifiable – non-falsifiable theories = Scientifically invalid, by definition.

    doesn’t serve an evolutionary advantage, we simply started selecting for it rather arbitrarily.

    But then you have to ask why we started selecting for it across every single human culture on earth, and why it’s so central to our biology (enough of just one hormone produces breasts in people – of either gender, which is why the remaining nipples on men is not as important as the remaining connection men’s nipples have to atrophied sweat glands that, in the presence of enough eaostrogen, form breasts) sociologically driven evolution would produce a much more varied biology.

    We haven’t really been pan narratus long enough for any such things to have affected us anyway – you’d need to go back to homo ergaster and other hominids, and then explain again why such a thing was selected for in the first place.

    otherwise, after a few years and a few babies out breasts would look exactly like the breasts of chimps and bonobos. Who don’t have flat faces.

    Umm… in what universe do you live in where primates have sagging breasts rather than totaly flat breasts? Or what universe do you live in where a lack of bras leads to the total disappearance of breasts?

    Actually it’s got nothing to do with flat faces, but those noses of ours, chimps have flat noses and protruding lips, we have less protruding lips, protruding noses and all our children look kinda like Winston Churchill, breasts that are not flush to our chests stop our children from being suffocated because their noses would besquashed flat. Some biologist already beat Chickie to it btw. However, that of course merely moves the question back to why the hell we have less protruding lips and sticky out noses in the first place (no aquatic apes please).

    That’s the theory that replaced the previous theory that some crazy closeted guy came up with that breasts exist to make sure that, at teh sight of cleavage, men would not try to perform anal sex on women (which one assumes was seriously getting in the way of procreation), but would instead be drawn towards missionary sex (or something), thus making babies.

    There is, however, no explanation why all children look like winston churchill.

  49. May 25, 2007 at 7:11 am

    So let me get this straight…women don’t have bright red butts when they ovulate because they want to hide the fact that they ovulate so they don’t have to have sex, but then since we don’t have bright red butts (really because we started fucking from the front which has nothing to do with ovulation) we needed something else to show that we were worth fucking at that moment, so instead of a bright ass during ovulation we got huge knockers that don’t exactly deflate when our eggs lay shriveled and wasted in the uterine lining. This protects us from being considered sexy all the time, which reduces the likelihood that we’ll die in childbirth.

    Right, of course. It all makes sense now that it’s been explained.

  50. Flowers
    May 25, 2007 at 7:24 am

    to aweb post #35 re male animal behavior:

    Human males tend to do the same during legal negotiations. It’s great to watch their actions even when negotiating via a conference call. I’ll probably break out laughing today and say, “If you’re going to puff and posture, I’m going to show my big red ass!”

  51. Random Lady Passerby
    May 25, 2007 at 8:04 am

    Kaesa Says:
    May 24th, 2007 at 11:57 pm
    Humans, with their differential temporal lobes, evolved where the man was physically and mentally stronger than the woman, which is 10th grade evolutionary science.

    (emphasis mine)
    Gee, I must have inexplicably slept through those parts of 10th grade health class (taken with a raging sexist who would have loved any opportunity to tell us this) as well as 10th grade biology. And somehow it never came up in AP Psychology and college-level General Biology. May I ask, out of simple scientific curiosity, for your sources? ”

    And try again you folks.

    Sorry, I was homeschooled in high school and forget about the advanced college courses I took.

    Note that evolutionary science IS NOT HEALTH CLASS.

    Psychology is not evolutionary science. They don’t teach evolutionary science in any of those courses due to religious “wingnuts.”

    I love how it can offend people supposedly so open minded, (which the feminists claim to be,minus Kaesa, who openly was curious)

    “Ok – clearly “back in those days” childbirth was likely dangerous since we’re talking pre-civilization. Also, women don’t hide their “menses” (which actually would make a lot of sense) they hide their ovulation. The point I was making was not an 8th grade health class point, It was a evolutionary theory point, basic ev theory posits that human sexuality is a result of genetic mutation through reproduction. If you’re hiding your ovulation you might be less likely to reproduce and thus less likely to pass on those particular genes. ”

    Once more, this is in the dark ages of sanitarianism when women hid those things. Mothers never taught their daughters about sexuality until the 1980’s.

    Again, I use the term “back in the day” to point to an accurate reading of life we can interpret, i.e. when civilization was abound.

    For the usage of sense, I have read more than 50 medical books, 20 science books, 15 evolutionary books, and am a graduated advanced medical assistant. I’d be more than happy for this to be a science debate, rather than people being offended or seemingly being called ignorant.

    It was never my intention to aggravate, merely share my knowledge of the subject. So, pardon me, Lauredhel, for wanting a wide education.

    The books that were displayed are excellent manuals, and I think you all should take the time to educate yourselves.

    Thank you for those who took in humor.

    Again, self-taught, thanks.

  52. Vincine
    May 25, 2007 at 8:17 am

    Hi All,

    This is a response to the original article, not to any of the resulting comments.

    I’m a transgendered MtF just now dealing with my gender issues. As such I’m spending a LOT of time on Feminist, TransFeminist and other Trans’ websites.

    Sometime in the past two months, I tripped over a synopsis of a study of either High School or Collage females, that examined the consideration they gave to their appearance, whether they dressed ‘up’ or ‘down’, (Ie. Slinky tops vs. sweat shirts, etc.) and whether it correlated with their ovulation.

    I believe the sample size was statistically invalid due to the small size, but the correlation was ASTONDINGLY high.

    I didn’t read the actual study and I don’t know what the control factors were or any other details. I believe they are trying to get funding to expand the study to a more statistically valid sample size.
    I wish I could tell you all where I saw this but I don’t remember.

    (Am I still allowed to read this board even through I’m not a natal female? I’ve always favored the woman’s movement even when I wasn’t considering modifying my physical gender.)

    Yours,
    Vincine

  53. May 25, 2007 at 8:22 am

    Actually, I think the biggest problem we’re having here is that women are not supposed to be reading the article.

    This is clearly defined as the author describes women as “they”, and men as “we”. “We” who are reading this article, “they” about whom the article is, rather biasedly, written.

    The whole breasts-are-actually-big-red-butts theory makes no logical sense. If breasts are truly a substitute for the butts that turn red during ovulation, then the breasts would have to make some equivalent change during ovulation, which they don’t, at least not that anyone can see.

    And heterosexual male obsession with breasts is more cultural than biological. Just look at all those indigenous tribes where the women go around bare-breasted. You don’t see the males of those tribes walking around in a stupor, goggling at every passing female.

    Geez. Why is it that women always have to work so hard to correct all the disinformation about us? It’s exhausting.

  54. Jim
    May 25, 2007 at 8:26 am

    I don’t see any commenter who has pointed out the very last part of the article (probably because of justified fear of losing IQ points by reading that far, but I like that sensation). Jusf for grins:

    But even though science seems to understand a man’s biology better than a woman’s, based on what’s known about males throughout the animal kingdom, there’s another way of looking at all this.

    “Females,” says Rosenberg, “have departed more from the primitive” — which sounds like a nice way of telling me women are more highly evolved than men.

  55. Andrew Wade
    May 25, 2007 at 8:29 am

    If you’re hiding your ovulation you might be less likely to reproduce and thus less likely to pass on those particular genes.

    Not necessarily: not all embryos survive to reproductive age, and not all offspring reproduce successfully themselves. Reduced fertility can be a benefit to long-term reproductive success if the offspring are themselves more successful as a result. (And reproductive success is not quite the same thing as Darwinian fitness; your relatives share many of your genes too.) The devil’s in the details, and if the article is accurate (hah), the evolutionary biologists haven’t figured out which, if any, of their explanations are the right ones.

  56. May 25, 2007 at 8:39 am

    The human reproductive system is really weird compared to other mammals. There’s no estrus, men have no baculum (penis bone), and we’re all fertile year round. These sorts of oddities makes it really hard to make good analogies based on other animals, at least related to the reproductive system. yet another reason why most evo-psych is BS (though I think it’s a legitimate thing to look at, I just think most of the conclusions at this point are wrong).

  57. Alice
    May 25, 2007 at 8:47 am

    He thinks it’s possible that orgasm is a way for a woman’s body to tell her mind that she is copulating with a powerful, attentive, secure male.

    Your body is lying.

  58. Ruth
    May 25, 2007 at 9:02 am

    Sickle

    I think you are getting chimpanzees mixed up with gorillas. It is female gorillas who have to ‘sneak around’ to mate with males other than the alpha. Even then, I question whether there is any calculation in what they do, other than ‘I want me some sex’. Remember, the only reason they don’t have sex with non-alpha males is because the alpha male chases them off. It’s nothing to do with the female’s personal choice. The ‘sneaking around’ is the way the female exercises her personal choice, against the will of the alpha male.

    Chimpanzees do live in social groups in which one male usually becomes dominant, but the ‘alpha’ male’ does NOT have exclusive access to the females. Chimpanzees, both male and female, are, just like bonobos, indescriminately promiscuous, they will mate with any member of the opposite sex who is available. The only difference is in their definition of ‘available’. Female chimpanzees are only interested in sex at all during their fertile period, and males are only interested in sex with fertile females.

    A female who is fertile will mate, repeatedly, with all the adult males in the troupe. The only way any male, alpha or not, can get sole access to any female is to lead her away from the main troupe before she enters her fertile phase, and keep her away from any male but himself until that fertile phase is over.

    Try some of Jane Goodhall’s books on the subject.

  59. Spanky
    May 25, 2007 at 9:12 am

    Almost every evolutionary biologist forms their theories based on male dominated evolutionary needs. There is never a consideration that evolutionary changes, such as the positioning of the vagina, breasts, even body hair growth patterns and other thing were based on female needs and benefits over time. Thus, stupidity like this comes floating out because they are never willing to look at an alternative to start from.

    Decent of Woman by Elaine Morgan was a facinating read in this regard.

  60. May 25, 2007 at 9:16 am

    Women with “flat-chests” or just little fat, have clothing on nowadays instead of getting no booty back in the day.

    That wouldn’t explain why some cultures do not consider breasts (of all sizes) to be sexual objects. At all.

    And why others have it to a lesser degree than, say, the States.

  61. exangelena
    May 25, 2007 at 9:24 am

    aweb:
    “Males almost never beat each other to death in sexual selection. That would be a terrible waste of resources for a species. Generally, Males posture and puff up their chests, make lots of noise, or pick a bigger stick/rock (for early humans perhaps).”
    Elephant seals and giraffes beat each other up, I’m not sure if death is intended but it sometimes happens. The other “male competition” that you mentioned was probably lumped in with female choice.

  62. exangelena
    May 25, 2007 at 9:26 am

    From the article:
    “… ovulation had to be concealed because women wised up and realized sex led to pregnancy, which led to childbirth, which often led to death for the woman. ‘Once women understood they could die as a result of having sex, why wouldn’t they abstain from sex?'”
    Probably because if early humans all abstained from sex the human race would have died out.

  63. Frumious B
    May 25, 2007 at 9:45 am

    Oh god, I read this last night and just about puked. I usually like that guy, but damn, this time he flopped (choice of word deliberate.)

  64. soupcann314
    May 25, 2007 at 9:56 am

    As someone rereading the books I loved as a child, I am totally loving the title of this blog post.

  65. Frumious B
    May 25, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Ok, now that I have read Jill’s write up and the comments:

    Did you all know that not all male mammals have nipples or mammary glands? Horses, for instance, do not. There was an NPR segment about this awhile ago. There are number of traits that distinguish mammals from non-mammals, shape of ear bones is one. Boobs was chosen as the distinguishing marker to get women back on the couch in soggy clothing where they belong. Some dude (not that women are immune to this type of thinking, mind you) was upset at the trend towards wet nursing and wanted women to breastfeed their own babies*. The choice of mammary glands to name the taxonomic category was deliberate to emphasize women’s milk producing ability. So there you go, mammals are so named b/c somebody 100 years ago had an agenda to push.

    *Since I’ve never heard any of the spurious arguments, unbacked by evidence, that each woman’s breast milk is tailored for her child, please feel free to wax eloquent about how women really should breastfeed their own children b/c otherwise in the unlikely event that little Morgan even survives into adulthood, s/he’ll never make it into Harvard without that nipply advantage.

    I think the best explanation for female breasts (and also the unnecessary length of human penises) is sexual selection. It doesn’t serve an evolutionary advantage, we simply started selecting for it rather arbitrarily.

    This is plausible. Think peacock tails, for one. There are many instances in the animal kingdom of evolutionary pressure selecting traits for appearance rather than function.

  66. Thomas
    May 25, 2007 at 10:02 am

    exangelena, I don’t know how much of hippo combat is mating-related as opposed to territorial, or whether those are largely co-extensive, but it is my understanding that death from wounds received in intraspecies combat is more common among hippos than almost any other mammal. (Humans, or course, make hippos look like Quakers. Just ask a Cambodian … or a Rwandan … or a Jew … or an Armenian … not to sidetrack.)

  67. Jewel
    May 25, 2007 at 10:18 am

    “So what about breasts? Why do we have those?”

    The one thing I remember from my college feminist philosophy class was when a male student proclaimed, and I quote, that “Penises are cool, but breasts are wacky side effects.” This was a particularly MRA-type, fully chauvinistic, right-wing, homophobic asshole.

    He later came out as gay. :-D

  68. preying mantis
    May 25, 2007 at 10:52 am

    “Since I’ve never heard any of the spurious arguments, unbacked by evidence, that each woman’s breast milk is tailored for her child, please feel free to wax eloquent about how women really should breastfeed their own children b/c otherwise in the unlikely event that little Morgan even survives into adulthood, s/he’ll never make it into Harvard without that nipply advantage.”

    Wow. The closest thing I’ve ever heard to that is that what mom eats while nursing is generally a good thing for the child to identify with, and what mom’s got antibodies to are probably things that the baby’s going to need antibodies to, as well. Of course, that doesn’t preclude a woman from the same area, who’s likely to have a similar diet and been exposed to similar diseases, from nursing a baby with absolutely no ill effects, so I guess it isn’t what you’re looking for if you’re trying to push an anti-wetnurse campaign.

    “Think peacock tails, for one.”

    Hey, now. My breasts would be a lot cooler if I could inflate them and make them rattle to intimidate opponents or interlopers.

  69. TheBends
    May 25, 2007 at 11:18 am

    Since I’ve never heard any of the spurious arguments, unbacked by evidence, that each woman’s breast milk is tailored for her child, please feel free to wax eloquent about how women really should breastfeed their own children b/c otherwise in the unlikely event that little Morgan even survives into adulthood, s/he’ll never make it into Harvard without that nipply advantage.

    I dont get this controversy over breastfeeding. Surely its obvious that, with all the people who have grown up on different things perfectly well, its all useless anyway. In the end surely its down to each individual mother or parent and their own preference?

    Unless of course, as a non breastfed baby, I have missed out on the magic, and have been deprived as a baby?

  70. blithe_damner
    May 25, 2007 at 11:27 am

    OOOOH LADIES, what special flowers.
    I’d been reading Shlain’s book in my anthropology class, and the man is insaaane! Fun fact: he actually refers to women as Gyna Sapiens; *dazed drool* . Indeed, we’re so mysterious, we get to be designated as a separate species! Yaaaay!

    Although, This Brian Alexander guy seems to take some of Shlain’s theories and run with them (did he even read the book?) Shlain does not refer to the female orgasm as a side effect (as the article suggests by tying him in with the other theories), nor does he view the clitoris as “whatever’s left” he pays special attention to the evolutionary significance of female pleasure as well as female choice. But I understand how this Brian Alexander guy would be put off by that. Judging from the article (and his haircut), the concept of female sexual pleasure would be quite the mystery to him. *bada-bing!*

  71. cay
    May 25, 2007 at 11:36 am

    Please read Elaine Morgan’s “Descent of Woman” for a very alternative view of evolution…

  72. May 25, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    What a load of horseshit. “But women are poker butts, even to themselves, which is why they are left to temperature-taking and guessing in order to time ovulation”. Wrongo, Skippy. Women’s bodies give quite clear signs of ovulation via monthly changes in cervical mucus, which is pretty obvious to anyone that looks at the crotch of her underwear. Fertility awareness is not a big mystery, as much as this condescending prick would like us to think it is. “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom”, by Dr. Christiane Northrup is a veritable treasure-trove of this wisdom. But I looooove how this tool assumes we are ignorant about our own bodies, and need him to tell it like it is.

  73. Professor Fate
    May 25, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    “Women have a clitoris because that’s what’s left of the head of penis, like men have nipples.”

    It seems fairly obvious that this clown has never actually seen or touched a woman in his entire life – and it’s very insulting to a wonderful organ but I guess he’s just ookky about lady parts. His loss

    – and if memory serves don’t fetuses start out female with males coming from later alterations kicked off by various hormones during pregnacy so shouldn’t the bs he says be the other way around?

  74. May 25, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Ruth, you are correct. I was writing from memory (it’s been some time) and consulted my goodall after reading your post. Actually, those facts make the point about concealed fertility even more important. For the male chimp in a one-on-one courtship, he only needs to maintain his exclusive access to the female during the period of estrus. For humans, that’s not as easy.

  75. May 25, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    Oh, and re the whole clitoris thing. My impressions from anatomy class are faint, but I thought that the clitoris isn’t “what’s left,” it’s “what’s there” unless the intervention of hormones turns it into a penis. I was also under the impression that the clitoris is actually a larger object with a lot of erectile tissue, but that most of it is inside the body.

  76. Ismone
    May 25, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    Vincine,

    I read the same article, and it gels with my (hormonal) experiences–I think it is pretty well established that many women have sexual peaks at the time of ovulation and menstruation, so dressing up or feeling sexier wouldn’t surprise me. And although I rarely would claim authority to speak for the others at feministe, or Jill, Zuzu, and Piny, of course you are welcome here. All women are welcome here. And men too, if you happen to know any who would find the subject matter interesting. (Everyone is welcome here–so I don’t reduce it to the gender binary for those who don’t accept or inhabit it.) :)

    Izzy

  77. anonycat
    May 25, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    @Random Lady Passerby:
    I believe the confusion is stemming from your use of the word “mental” (hence the AP Psych reference). How do you define mental strength? How does that lead you to the conclusion that men evolved to be mentally stronger than women, and what might have been the guiding pressure? I don’t think men are mentally stronger than women in any way, but I’m genuinely interested to hear what you meant by that.

    (Sorry for contributing to threadjack, everyone)

  78. preying mantis
    May 25, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    “Women’s bodies give quite clear signs of ovulation via monthly changes in cervical mucus, which is pretty obvious to anyone that looks at the crotch of her underwear. Fertility awareness is not a big mystery, as much as this condescending prick would like us to think it is.”

    Not to mention the upswing in arousal most women experience around that time. It’s not like other female mammals go “Oh, hey, my vulva’s swollen and my nipples are pointy. Whoo, estrus! Better go find something to mate with!” They just become aroused and start signaling males in one way or another. Much as, you know, human women do, given a lack of societal pressures or self-aware fertility suppression.

    If you’re trying to overcome infertility or tracking so as not to conceive, it becomes much more important to track estrus precisely. If you’re not, you’re probably going to do what everything else does and have sex when you’re aroused until you, at some point, get pregnant, at which point you’ll do what a huge number of other animals do and have sex for pleasure/pair-bonding.

  79. May 25, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    Oh, and re the whole clitoris thing. My impressions from anatomy class are faint, but I thought that the clitoris isn’t “what’s left,” it’s “what’s there” unless the intervention of hormones turns it into a penis.

    Yeah, come to think of it, that makes more sense.

  80. SJ
    May 25, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    But women are poker butts, even to themselves, which is why they are left to temperature-taking and guessing in order to time ovulation.

    Gah, thank you, Toonces, for pointing out how dumb this is. I couldn’t believe no one mentioned that little gem yet. I don’t know one woman (who I know well enough to discuss our menses with) who doesn’t know when they’re ovulating and what’s going on. I’m sure some women have more subtle monthly changes, because we’re all different. I just don’t any women well who breeze through with no sign.

    This reminds me of those sex-ed films from grade school where the little cartoon was like, “whoops! all the sudden there’s blood in your panties!” I felt like ass the first day I started my period at eleven, and it’s been an evolution since then where most of the time I even notice mittelschmerz. Do some people think all women go through life going, “Whoops! Now there’s blood!”?

  81. Perkyshai
    May 25, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Womanist and Sickle… wins for Bonobo discussion AND anthro+kipling. -grin-

    As for the article… the premise that there are no unknowns or uncommon knowledge about male anatomy is bull.
    Demonstration…ask a guy what his epididymus does.

    Women’s anatomy has been surrounded by mystery partly because it is internal, and partly because gender/sociological issues have continued to ‘protect’ either men from women’s wubbly bits, or women from men’s awareness of said wubbly bits.

    I guarantee you, the general awareness of men’s sexuality and fertility issues in regards to specific knowledge is not that well known. It’s just assumed to be… a word that crops up quite frequently in discussions of reproductive issues.

  82. Anne
    May 25, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Professor Fate and Sickle, re: fetuses, and the clitories, that’s my understanding as well.

  83. May 25, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    Yes: the default human being, developmentally speaking, is female. Women with androgen insensitivity syndrome have an XY karyotype but are missing alpha-testosterone receptors. During fetal development, they produce a normal male amount of testosterone, but are lacking the cellular receptors that recognize it. So, without the morphogenic influence of testosterone, they grow up to be female, though without a uterus; their gonads produce neither sperm nor ova. Most aren’t diagnosed until later in life when the fact that they never menstruate becomes obvious.

    Even though they don’t have the baby-makin’ oven, the wiring is the same and they have standard female clitorises. The male penis is a massively transformed clitoris. And has roughly half as many nerve endings spread over a much larger area, thus the considerably reduced sensitivity.

  84. Rhiannon
    May 25, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Part of me is waiting for when a human procreates via parthenogenesis, so I can watch all the fundies freak out.

    Then again, all this talk about autoprocreation makes me wonder if Adam really came before Eve…. I mean,… the penis a different result from the bud of a penis… offspring from parthenogensis aren’t exactly clones, the DNA gets reshuffled …. hmmm… , well I’m no evo-scientist.

  85. Rhiannon
    May 25, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    “the penis a different result from the bud of a “clitoris”…” Excuse me.

  86. FashionablyEvil
    May 25, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Female is, biologically, the “default” sex. As someone else said, it’s the flood of testosterone that specifies the formation of male sex traits, which can get messed up in all sorts of ways.

    One of the stranger moments in my developmental bio class was with the professor who taught the endocrinology section and showed lots of pictures of “ambiguous genitalia.” There were so many pictures and he talked about them so casually that I began to marvel that human development EVER worked “correctly”.

  87. TheBends
    May 25, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    Guess thats what appens when were made outta rib’ n dust….

    *snicker*

  88. Linden
    May 25, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    I cannot understand why male sexuality should have anything to do with the development of breasts. They are for the babeez, lads, and breasts are not going to be the way they are, if it is not good for the babies.

    I do remember reading The Descent of Woman, and although I’m a bit dubious about some parts of it, it made *way* more sense than the androcentric silliness of that article.

    If I remember correctly, in that book, breasts were a combination of a partial return of humans to the oceans, with resulting reduction in body hair and increase in subcutaneous fat. Her thesis was that, along with long hair on the head, droopy, floating breasts are easier for baby to hang on to, if mum lost her fur. She also pointed out that baldness is linked to being male, and reasoned that there is no advantage of male humans growing flowing locks if they’re not looking after Jr.

    There are some criticisms of the Aquatic Ape theory. I just looked: Wikipedia has a decent entry for it.

  89. Nymphalidae
    May 25, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    Males almost never beat each other to death in sexual selection. That would be a terrible waste of resources for a species. Generally, Males posture and puff up their chests, make lots of noise, or pick a bigger stick/rock (for early humans perhaps). Most fights in nature are posturing…only over-crowded/over-populated mammals tend to actually kill one another to mate

    Except that selection happens at the individual level, not the species or group level. Just sayin’.

  90. Nymphalidae
    May 25, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    I think it’s funny how these sorts of articles never mention how humans are not actually monogamous and this is probably the main reason why female firtility is cryptic – the better to cuckold with. That’s also the reason why human infants don’t look like anybody (except maybe Winston Churchill) upon birth.

  91. Nymphalidae
    May 25, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Part of me is waiting for when a human procreates via parthenogenesis, so I can watch all the fundies freak out.

    I’d much rather oviposit into a cow or other large animal and have my fully grown offspring chew their way out. Much easier.

  92. Pygmy Loris
    May 25, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    Okay,

    I didn’t read all of the comments, but man is this guy ill informed. Some comments are too though, so here goes:

    Rats are rodents, not that closely related to humans (primates). the super-order Archonta, which includes primates, also includes our closest relatives, the tree shrews (Scandentia), the flying “lemurs” (Dermoptera) and possibly the bats (Chiroptera) not Rodentia.

    In anthropoid primates (monkeys and apes) there is only a loose correlation between what we recognize as estrus (sexual swellings) and ovulation. Many anthropoids are not ovulating during estrus and they do have sex outside of the estrus time.
    Lemurs, in contrast, have true estrus, characterized by the assumption of the lordosis postition for sexual intercourse. Many lemurs are not even physically capable of having sex outside of the estrus period due to physical blockage of the vagina.

    Apes in particular do not experience estrus as it is understood in other mammal orders. They have something much more similar to the menstrual cycle, hence birth control pills work on apes.

    Female menstruation and menopause in humans has been something of an enigma in evolutionary science, and the simple, male biased answers offered in this article make my blood boil. It’s always females evolved to meet male mate selection standards. That females express mate choice in almost every primate species is conveniently overlooked.

  93. Pygmy Loris
    May 25, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Linden,

    You’re so right about the babies and the breasts, but Desmond Morris postited that there was a delicate balancing act between big boobs and feeding babies. If the breasts are too large, the infant will suffocate, therefore, the otherwise uncheck growth of breasts to please males was reigned in by the needs of the baby.

    UGH! All men all the time! Morris’s the The Naked Ape did more damage to the public’s understanding of anthropology and human evolution than most other books I can think of. Probably because it appealed to the paternalistic views on women at the time.

  94. Pygmy Loris
    May 25, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    Ruth,

    Gorilla females are exerting mate choice when they join a particular group. Because females leave their natal group and choose the adult group they wish to join, they’re exercising mate choice. They choose the group they join on the basis of the alpha male’s receptivity to their needs. If he treats them like crap, she can leave to find a male she likes more.

    Jane Goodall’s books are a good place to start with chimpanzee behavior, but it looks like the Gombe chimps might be a bit weird. Just like you can’t generalize Mountain Gorilla behavior to Lowland Gorillas.

  95. Casey
    May 25, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Women have protruding breasts because we wear bras.

    Uh…. what?!

    i wear bras because i have breasts, not the other way around. and they started “protruding” well before i ever wore one.

    My dad has always stood by the theory that when humans started standing, we stayed cool by standing in the water. women carried the babies in, so the babies could kind of float and the boobs hang down right in their face. =)

    As to the whole, “the boobs replace the ass,” argument, i think it’s bullshit. if that were the case, then BREASTS would turn red and swell when we ovulated, which they don’t. also, humans DO have sex “doggy style” so to say we stopped having sex that way is really stupid. and every straight guy i know loves women’s asses, and is still sexually attracted to asses, etc.

    i have a feeling breasts are the way they are as a combination of them being good to feed babies, and sexual selection. since breasts range in size from small to large, i tend to think of it more like eye color or something, i don’t think it’s a matter of the babies life or death if you have big or small boobs, so sexual selection must’ve had something to do with it. plenty of birds have crazy shit just because of sexual selection, that serves no other purpose! I’ve know plenty of flat chested women who still breastfed so that stuff about needing protruding breasts to not suffocate your baby is also stupid.

    as to the clit, actually it is just like the head of a penis. in fact, all babies are originally like females, but in males, a hormone is released at some point in the pregnancy that makes the clit grow into a penis. (and the other changes.)

    evolutionary wise, which embryology is good for studying, females are the “first sex” and males the “second”. there are many species of animal that are all female.

  96. Casey
    May 25, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    I don’t know one woman (who I know well enough to discuss our menses with) who doesn’t know when they’re ovulating and what’s going on. I’m sure some women have more subtle monthly changes, because we’re all different. I just don’t any women well who breeze through with no sign.

    Wow, really? I admit to having awful periods and i certainly know when THAT’S going on, but how do you tell when you’re ovulating? I don’t know anyone who notices it that easily, i don’t think. women i’ve known who were trying to get pregnant went through lots of trouble to figure out when they’re ovulating.

  97. kali
    May 25, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    OK, I just came up with a boob theory of my very own! Though it’s so simple that someone else must have thought of it.

    Having good sex is an evolutionary advantage for women, apparently. [I am the Goddess Kali and I endorse this message]
    Breasts are a sensitive, erogenous zone. Maybe they just evolved size as a “pay attention to this part of the body, it likes to be stimulated” signal? It makes sense that women would enjoy being stimulated in that area anyway, as an incentive for them to keep breastfeeding their children. So why wouldn’t evolution take advantage of that to improve the hotness of human sex?

  98. SJ
    May 25, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    Wow, really? I admit to having awful periods and i certainly know when THAT’S going on, but how do you tell when you’re ovulating?

    Hi, it’s because of mittelschmerz. And I know it’s always right on because I’m on the pill, so I can track my cycle clearly. But even when I was off the pill for a while I felt it. I think not every woman experiences this feeling (obviously).

    Here’s some info about it.
    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mittelschmerz/DS00507

    I can just feel it, pop, right where my ovary is.

  99. May 25, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    i wear bras because i have breasts, not the other way around. and they started “protruding” well before i ever wore one.

    What I meant was, without wearing bras, by the time we became adults our breasts would be all flat and flappy just like on ape females.

    The human breast isn’t all full and round naturally. (Honestly – haven’t you ever seen the stereotypical naked tribeswoman on National Geographic?) And it certainly isn’t all full and round to allow for the lack of a prognathic jaw as the person I was responding to was suggesting.

  100. Leslie
    May 25, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    @ Frumious B: Were you thinking of Rousseau, by any chance? He was a very staunch supporter of women breastfeeding their own babies instead of hiring wet nurses, and he definitely had an anti-woman agenda. He made some argument that it was healthier for the infant, but what he was really up to was making sure that women stayed in the home where he believed they belonged. I read a lot of his work for a research paper I did last semester, and if I never have to read another one of his misogynistic ramblings again, I will be a happy woman.

  101. thewingedwitch
    May 26, 2007 at 3:47 am

    Hi, it’s because of mittelschmerz. And I know it’s always right on because I’m on the pill, so I can track my cycle clearly. But even when I was off the pill for a while I felt it. I think not every woman experiences this feeling (obviously).

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t being on the pill suppress ovulation?

  102. May 26, 2007 at 4:02 am

    I could walk around for a hundred years without wearing a bra, and my breasts would never look like an ape female’s. They’re sort of the antithesis of “flat and floppy.” The word “pendulous” springs to mind. They might look like deflating hot air balloons by the end of it, but…

    I have had mittelschmerz as well, but at least in my case, it isn’t correlated very well with the onset of menstruation. At least, I can have it, and then it can be anywhere from the usual week, week and a half to six weeks before I’ll menstruate. What that means in fertility terms I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out. Left unmedicated, and celibate, I can sometimes go for three months without evincing any signs of ovulation or menstruation.

    It’s all very well and good to postulate that human female fertility isn’t as cryptic as some people might think if you have menstrual cycles that are regular as clockwork and so on, but if you get anywhere out of that middle two quartiles of the normal distribution, all bets are off.

  103. May 26, 2007 at 5:16 am

    SJ, if you’re on the pill, you don’t ovulate.

  104. Loosely Twisted
    May 26, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    I know I am ovulating because I feel the damn eggs go down my tubes.

    I have always been told I am crazy or what not, and I did ovulate on the pill.. (strong buggers let me tell you) I got pregnant with twins on BC.

    Not that I intended to get pregnant but there ya go.

    My experience in pain, is not your knowledge to call me nuts.

    I know when I ovulate and I always ovulate 2 times every month regardless if I have a period or not. I HATE IT! It hurts and it send me to bed for 3 to 4 hours a day because of it moving.

    I was free from this pain for 18 months after a depo shot. That wasn’t good, hehe I don’t take the depo shot anymore.

  105. May 27, 2007 at 3:39 am

    Do some people think all women go through life going, “Whoops! Now there’s blood!”?

    Not all, obviously, but certainly some. For all my teen years, until I discovered the pill at 22 (hallelujah!), I had an extremely irregular cycle — anywhere from 18 to 42 days. So from day 14 on, I’d be miserable and anxious, never knowing when — no warning signs that I was ever able to discern. I woke up more than a few times with bloody panties, until I got smart and started wearing a pad to bed ‘just in case’.

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