Monday, September 28, 2009

The PenIs Mightier than the Mind

Last night my friend Jennifer sent me an amusing story she wrote. It was a true-life account of an obnoxious redneck incessantly hitting on her. Of course, because I posses an overly analytical mind incapable of taking anything at face value, this simple humorous anecdote provoked me to dwell on a few of the crippling conundrums with which human nature is infected.

In her story Jennifer expressed amazement at the fact that this unlikely suitor could be so intent on initiating a relationship with her despite the immense and obvious differences between them. The irony of the situation and the antecedent to her bewilderment were summed up with the sarcastic quip, "Apparently my having tits makes us magically compatible as human beings."

This could not really be the first instance of her realizing this fact, could it? Indeed her statement perfectly explains the curse of male perception! And I’m sure that most females do not realize that we suffer much greater consequences as a result of this than they do. We are battered all too often by embarrassment, rejection, and feelings of worthlessness do to the fact that we cannot abate the weight of physical attraction on our desires. But of course the preoccupation with sexual attraction does not only apply to males. People try to marginalize Freud these days, but the fact is that our primal sexual instincts play such an enormous (often limiting) role in everything we do.

I’ve been thinking about how profoundly strange it is that people’s thoughts and behaviors are dictated so strongly by the desire for the penis and the vagina to merge. It's absurd when you think about it!: the formulated iambic friction of a flesh-pole and an anatomical cavity is the primary goal of our existence?...the facile bumping of pelvises is the foremost determinant of our contentment? Whether it is for the purpose of procreation, pleasure, companionship, security, love, the innate need to connect, etc., this simple act is certainly the most powerful driving force in our lives. Have you ever considered how advanced the world would be and how prosperous our mental efforts would prove if everyone weren’t preoccupied in that manner? Of course, even as I am aware of the constraining nature of this preoccupation, I am just as much a slave to it as anyone. And it makes me feel like such a fool. We are cursed to be petty and foolish by the mere occurrence of our births.

I implore you, readers, the next time you are watching a filmed sex scene, and even more importantly the next time you are actually engaged in intercourse, try to take a mental step back and look at it from an objective perspective. It's disturbing. This desperate grinding-in-place is supposed to be the pinnacle of our life's fulfillment? If an intelligent being from an alternative universe with no knowledge of mammalian biology were to observe this practice, it would doubtlessly conclude that we are absolutely asinine. It's exasperating how flawed the design of life is.

To relate all of this back to Jennifer’s story, I would simply contend that one should never be surprised by the power of libido. We humans constitute the peak of the evolutionary ladder on our planet; yet while we are crowned with a unique understanding of the utility of logic, we continue to be governed far more rigidly by primitive natural instincts. And of course you all know by now which is the most powerful of those instincts. From a scientific viewpoint, what astonishes me more is not that Jen’s redneck so easily marginalized societal norms and intellectual/emotional barriers in order to inflate the prospect of sexual gratification, but the fact that she gave no credence to the possibility of coupling with him and was able to remain completely steadfast in her refusal. I do not understand how each of us composes a rigid but seemingly arbitrary set of criteria for potential mates, and even more so for potential "loves.” What goes into that composition? It certainly is not as simple as having a “type.” But how specific do the criteria get—and does that vary from person to person? And what about people whose standards have proven faulty—how do they determine what adjustment to make—is it even possible to make adjustments? Why do so many people satisfy one another’s criteria for friendship, but not for sex or love (or vice versa)? Where do the fine lines divide and cross in one’s criteria for friendship, sex, and love? Why is it not possible even to decipher my own formulas for these things? (Insert any of the other thousands of questions that pertain to this topic here.)

Thoughts just lead to questions, questions generate ideas, and ideas lead to more questions. That’s how I roll. If I may impart some quotable words of wisdom on that note: The supreme answer to every question about life will always be a question itself.


*credit where credit is due: 1. Thanks to Jennifer Morgan for facilitating these ideas with her story., 2. Penis-vagina tree photo: "How Trees Make Babies" by Chip @


  1. Im going to bust this up right now. First off, a lot of this is stupid. You heard me Heard. I think the stupidest part of this is not recognizing how important the need to procreate has worked in our benefit, or every animals benefit for that matter. If we could just replicate without competition, we would never advance. The strongest would not survive. This statement, for instance " Have you ever considered how advanced the world and how prosperous our mental efforts yadayada" is horseshit. I cant even fathom how far back we would be if we didnt try to impress the opposite sex by advancing ourselves and civilization. To think that our sexdrive is a limiting reagent and not a major motivator for advancement is so extremely off base its astounding. The one point you failed to make, but somewhat touched on, is how porno is potentially destroying our rate of advancement. Now you can get sexual gratification without any kind of effort. The second they make sex robots we as a race are going to grind to a halt (ha). On the other side of things, I also believe you are giving the sex drive way to much credit. The only reason that it is our governing factor is simply because all our other dominant needs are fulfilled. You think that redneck would hit on Jen if he hadnt eaten in a week? fuck no he would be out murdering some animals or something, or better yet starving. Also, Its clear why he hit on her. If you could play that game for free where you throw a ring into a field of coke bottles and get a prize if you land on one, why the hell wouldnt you? That redneck was just on the "hit on every chick that is hot" strategy and hope 1 in 100 say yes. Eventually one could hope he would decide to advance himself to improve his chances, but theres a pretty high chance he will just find someone else as stupid as he is, and take another piece of genetic dead weight off the market. it all works out.

  2. Vas' post mirrors a lot of what I was going to say (taking the evolutionary perspective). One thing to think about is why humans receive pleasure from sex when most organisms do not. This is probably due to our brain development, and the possibility that if we did not receive pleasure from sex, humans would stop doing it and we would fail to advance as a species. Since we have the ability to question the why of what we do, unlike most organisms we need a more obvious reason.

    One other thing I would caution you against is exaggerating the differences between the sexes. I know we've talked about this before, but many studies, including meta-analyses of hundreds or empirical research articles, have show that sex differences account for far less psychological/communicative differences than other individual differences, such as how we are raised, etc. I think a big reason why men and women seem so different in our society is because we tend to focus on the differences rather than the similarities.

    Finally, regarding mate criteria, there are obviously no clear answers. Research has shown that there is a preference for similarity (when it comes to personality, emotional makeup, and even attractiveness) but beyond that there are dozens of explanatory mechanisms (including the theory of evolution) that can at least partially account for how/why we are attracted to people. Part of what makes it so fun is that we CAN'T explain it.

  3. Ok, I will respond to both of you at once.

    Nick makes a good point about the unique sense of sexual pleasure for humans. But doesn't that make you both realize that it is no longer primarily driven by the need to procreate? Especially with the passage of time, the relaxation of social constraints on sexuality, and the rise of birth control, sex has become more about pleasure and companionship and commerce than it is about procreation. I am not denying the fact that the instinct to procreate is still the basic force upon which all these other needs have been built; but now that the act of intercourse is not even used for that purpose most of the time, I would think people should be able to realize how frivolous in in fact is.

    I do not think, Vas, that I am giving sex too much credit. I understand the import of the need for food and shelter, etc., but in our relatively abundant contemporary society those needs are not as far at the forefront of people's minds as sex is. Yet I think I would still count on the fact that if we were starving sex would remain at least equal to food in our hierarchy of desires. What is the point of taking care of yourself and living if you can't achieve sexual/companionate gratification? (That is not as much my own attitude, but that which I think everyone holds.)

    Both of you appear to be deluded by the notion that the propagation of your species/genes is the unquestioned honorable purpose of life. equal to advancement. For now I will simply respond with a summation of the conviction you probably already know I hold: Procreation is an act of cruelty and is inherently wrong. I'm sure I will devote an entire entry to this a some point, so I'll leave it at that for now.

    Nick, I don't understand why you are always so defensive about gender differences. I think you have a terrible and unnecessary sense of guilt for your entire gender (the male equivalent of "white guilt"). I did not really say anything about gender differences in my post other than that males are so often blinded by sexual attraction. Denying differences between people is just as or more sexist/racist as exaggerating them.

    As for the comments on mate criteria, it's a good start. I've had courses regarding that aspect of psychology as well. But I don't think it even comes close to explaining what I'm driving at. And I certainly don't agree that fumbling in the dark like that is fun. It's extremely frustrating and demoralizing. You must not remember single life.

    By the way Vas, speaking of sex robots, have you ever seen a movie called "Cherry 2000." I recommend it as an interesting sci-fi. The futuristic society has the sex/companion robots that are just like human beings but totally acquiescent to the owners needs and desires. Complementing that is the dating situation for real live couples which is all based on contract--they have lawyers in all the bars drawing up agreements that the man will buy this-and-that and the girl will do this-and-that in bed. It's intriguing. I've actually thought for a long time about the benefit resumes and contracts would have on the dating scene and the search for true love. Obviously this movie exaggerates that idea to a comical level though. What do you think about employing that concept in a more casual manner though?

  4. I think the sex differences reaction was just my first thought, since the beginning of your post touches on that. I agree that the rest of your post ignores this issue. Either way, I certainly do not feel guilty for being a male...I just think that the standard and tired essentializing of male/female characteristics as fundamental is lazy. Not that you are doing it here, and not that there aren't SOME m/f differences, but probably not as many as the popular media would have you think

    You are right that sex for pleasure has complicated sex for procreation. However, I think you are missing the main point--that sex for pleasure is still a naturally selected trait that functions to cause sex for procreation. The ends are the same. This does not necessitate the notion that procreation is the meaning of life, as evolution is simply a by-product of billions of years of astrological development. This gets to another point altogether, and it sounds like you will touch on this in future posts, but I think our insignificance (in the grand scheme of things)negates any need we may have to find a grand "meaning".

    When it comes to mate criteria, there is no "it". This does make it more "fun" in comparison to a world where there was a clear list of characteristics/criteria and all you had to do was go out and find that one person to fill that niche (actually, that sounds a lot like eharmony). In reality, there are probably thousands of mates out there that could meet your needs/wants/desires. It's a dyadic process, though, and that makes it a lot harder (which, as you mention, can be demoralizing). I think that the fact that it is hard increases your commitment once you find someone, though.

  5. So i agree with Nick on a lot of it. Surely you realize sex for pleasure is a derivative of sex for procreation. Much like humor is a derivative of a sense of well being, which in turn is a derivative of a sense of shelter/protection etc. I think this fundamentally boils down to you thinking people need to stop procreating, which I actually agree with you to a level. Not stop breeding, but stop breeding so goddamn much (im looking at you, rednecks). I dont feel that im "deluded" in believing procreation is honerable. Procreation is quite selish. Ill explain in a second. I feel that the point of life, of existence, of whatever, is to make an impact on your environment past your own lifespan. Like nick said, its hard to fulfill any grand meaning when your lifespan is a speck in history. If you can, awesome. you might be tupac. or einstein. or hitler! But if you dont have that ability, you procreate. Picking a mate is what you as an individual believes would supplement your genetics so your offspring can get closer to reaching that goal. So the only way to successfully beat death is to procreate, furthering your genetic makeup, and creating an advanced copy of you into the next generation. its day 1 stuff.

    and as far as online dating, or dating forms or whatever it is to make meeting and having sex easier, it still falls under my "sex robot" post in which having an easier goal allows less self improvement. Like i believe our generation but especially the generation under ours knows how to take digital photos of themselves looking cool, more than actually being cool. because that is an easier way to meet the opposite sex. as a product designer this is one of the changing facets of culture we focus on actually...helping people fake a cool digital life more accessably.

    in a related note that would be an interesting experiment. starve a person till near death, then present them with a naked chick or a pile of nachos. I think I know which would win. Nachos. Heres the rigid facts in that equation: Procreation is selfish. having sex doesnt save your life immediately. food does. thus food is more important than sex. having food allows you to have sex later.

  6. I would choose the nachos AND the sex, Costanza style.

  7. man speaking of nachos, i found a place that sells that ball park style cheese that isnt really cheese, but some sort of hydrogenized monstrosity. turns out its fat content isnt so bad so ive been eating the crap out of those.

  8. My favorite line = “the formulated iambic friction of a flesh-pole and an anatomical cavity is the primary goal of our existence?...”

    I agree it is interesting how sophisticated we can be and still the majority of the time we are driven by one simple thing. I’ve noticed when I go to CNN news they always have world headlines laced with some type of small town sex scandal, rape, or pedophilia story. They don’t quite fit into the world news category but it seems that most people are drawn to these stories.

    So I read all the comments and I would like to add a woman’s perspective. (I’ve had this theory for awhile that I wanted to discuss). As a woman animal I’m not suppose to want to have sex all the time but rather wait to seek out the best mate for my livelihood and more importantly my offspring’s livelihood. But the criteria for choosing the best mate have made an interesting evolution. It’s no longer the big strong hunter who can bring home the big game, but more like someone who realizes and uses his personal resources for a healthy, sustainable life. With that said, it’s really not a mate we need anymore. I can buy my own food and I can take care of my own kids (I can even buy top notch sperm), but if I’m going to bang someone and have him stick around, they are going to need to bring more than muscles to the table. So what does this mean for male physical evolution? He no longer needs muscles. Like a robot – he doesn’t even really need to be human for generally purposes. So why is sex still a strong driver? Either there are still a lot of people who are behind evolution and base their pick on something trivial like muscles (like your girl's redneck or the movie Idiocracy) or we are really underestimating our need to be with someone.

  9. 1. Nick: I don't know why you think I take any information from the "popular media." It's observation and experience brotha. I really don't like having to describe things on the basis of average tendencies because I know variations are the norm. But I guess when talking about universal topics, average tendencies is the only approach that makes sense--isn't that what you've learned as a man of science? And average tendencies include stereotypical things, that's why they become stereotypes. Most white people don't use wash cloths, most black people like fried chicken, and most women cannot play chess. All of those statements are facts and none of them are biggoted in the least. Also, nice Seinfeld allusion.

    2. Vas: I don't like the internet dating format either. In theory it is a nice start. But all it does is allow you to find simiar people to introduce yourself to. After that, when the database has no more use and it is in the hands of two people, it takes the same form of posturing and tip-toeing as seen in real life. I like your idea for the experiment, but of course there's a sliding scale. Make Adriana Lima the babe and I guarantee you he chooses to go out on a high note. I would. BTW, I like how Tupac was the first person you listed as historically relevant. Props.

  10. 3. Kelli: I appreciate the female perspective. You brought up some good issues. I know male tarantulas only live until they reach adulthood (about 4-5 years) so they can impregnate a female and then immediately die, but the females continue to live til age 25-30! If evolution is only supposed to accomplish what is necessary for procreation, will humans evolve into a similar system? It's an interesting question. Maybe that's a small reason behind the fact that the human female lifespan is slightly longer, and puberty has been happening at younger ages. But, then again, why wouldn't we first evolve into a species that breeds huge litters of babies like spiders?--that seems more useful.

    Interesting you make that remark about a man not needing muscles. I recently read some material about how men have steadily been more physically objectified in the past century, and that the standard of male beauty has become more and more muscular. (They traced the evolution of the G.I. Joe toy: the first one's arms were to scale with the average man, then muscle mass increased on every edition, and the most recent one had biceps over twice the width of his head!) But I think your point is GREAT about people at different places on the genetic heiarchy. Smart ladies (such as yourself) probably do take more things into account, whereas stupid chicks put more weight on appearances. Let me elaborate on this so as not to contradict myself. I've already said that nearly all men place extreme importance on physical attraction, so then why are women who do so stupid? Because that is not their natural inclination--rather it is (as Nick mistakenly accused me of) that they have been influenced by the media and by the lack of contemporary sexual contraints. Women's print and television now make it seem radical and glamorous to treat men as sexual objects just because a girl is able to. But the biggest influence causing naive females to behave unlike females (and the reason for the existence of Cosmo and Bad Girls Club, etc.) is male opinion. This is the first thing I've said in this thread that might be slightly offensive to females, but I think that is true: women are absurdly influenced by masculine culture. Example: there has been an imense rise in female baseball fans. This is certainly not because women thought the lack of sports was causing a void in their life. IT IS ONLY BECAUSE MEN LIKE SPORTS. They wanted men to think they were cool and spend more time with them, so they adopted one of their interests. And the proof of their posturing is the fact that they rallied around the sport that is the least complex and has the most downtime for chitchat. The device is so clear: I recently read a local article that rated Minute Maid Park "the best place in Houston to meet single guys!" (I think the smaller rise in female football fans actually consists of the smarter female population. They are employing the same tactic, but they are also demonstrating their ability to understand and appreciate a complex game.) Anyway, this same concept is responsible for dumb girls being obsessed with muscles and sleeping around. It is not that they consider this necessary by any means, but it is that they think because heavy emphasis on physique and sexual predation are masculine devices that it will make them seem more compatible to males. However, we all know that the women who employ this kind of flawed logic are only viewed as skanks and actually lessen their chances of holding onto a man.

  11. (Kelli response continued...)

    Finally, you say we are "underestimating our need to be with somebody?" Do you really underestimate that. I certainly do not. I mentioned before in this thread that the desire of 1) pleasure and 2) love/companionship have replaced procreation as the prime motivations for sex in the modern age. I still think pleasure is the most common motivator, but for me it is definitely love/companionship, and I think that is true for a lot of people. I am certainly not the least bit interested in procreating. I think this relates to your "Idiocracy" reference and your remarks about the preferences of different quality women. Smart people are indeed the ones who procreate less. (Devil's advocate idea to throw out there: could this be not the result of superior logic, but also a product of the fact that smart people are generally more neurotic?) So perhaps another factor in the sexual preferences of lower intelligence women is the fact that they are the ones who keep getting knocked up and creating more offspring that are succeptible to bad ideas. Although average human intelligence has risen over time, I think the gap between the smart people and the stupid people has increased drastically. Here we go again: the smart women choose the smart men and the offspring at the top of the ladder gets smarter. (Another issue from the devil's advocate: Do you think the percentage of good looking people in the world has increased? And then is this the result of people of lesser intelligence caring more about looks, causing more procreation between good looking people, and more good looking babies? Or is it just that the assumed abundance of good looking people is the result of my operating under contemporary standards for attractiveness? I think most smart men still continue to sacrifice a certain amount of intelligence for a certain amount of attractiveness in thei mates, so that may negate this issue. I don't know. Thoughts?)

    Ok, I had to use 3 comment spaces. Probably enough for now.

  12. Geez - you're going to have to turn this blog dicussion into a webcast now.

    I think I over-simplified the concept of women being attracted to muscles. I used muscles to represent the epitome of an alpha male -in a physical sense. I believe the more physically dominant males made the best mates at one time (for obvious reasons) and now it holds less importance. It’s not that good physical condition no longer plays a role in attracting females, but now a modern man with an average build may have more to offer a woman in terms of long term relationships.

    It’s hard for me to define what “smart” and “stupid” people are doing as far as procreating and sex drive go. I think a lot of time both men and women allow their sex drive to make decisions that had nothing to do with their intelligence. I also believe that there are different types of intelligence so it would still be hard to generalize that correlation.

    On top of all this - we can no longer assume that initial sexual attraction has anything to do with procreation these days. I think biologically humans want to have sex to procreate but the majority of humans are not having sex for those purposes anymore. I know Vas thinks sex for pleasure is a derivative of sex to reproduce but it would be safe to say that a small percentage of sex has to do with intentional reproduction. So we come full circle – isn’t it baffling that men still have such a strong sexual drive that originates in a “spread the seed” mentality when actually very few of them have that goal in mind?

    Another thing – highly effective birth control is becoming a lot more accessible and affordable. The Health Department basically hands out the pill. That also contributes to removing the reproduction aspect from sex… among other things.