I run a lot. I first took it up when I was forced to do it in the Air Force. Running has been a major part of my life since then. I look forward to my morning runs far more than I look forward to my mornings.  When I’m running, I often think of how the mind works. These stupid things we’re trapped in. It kinds of sucks, you know — all this junk we’re slaves to that we have no real control over, all those complexities within ourselves we’re so acutely unaware of. I often think about how much of our lives are dictated by things beyond our control.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about who we love and why; who we find beautiful and why. I also think a lot about sex, of course. After all, most of the reason why I workout is so I can find myself sexually attractive and hope someone else does too. I think about sex a lot more than I actually have sex. I think most people do, though our reasons for thinking about sex are profoundly different when put under the microscope. It has such a vastly different meaning for different people.

I think about how much of our lives are spent thinking about sex — preparing for sex, making ourselves more sexually attractive — than ever actually having sex. I’ve noticed beauty, in whatever form, being an underlying factor in all this, but why? Sure, we all love beauty in art and our surroundings, but why in other people?

I understand that certain standards of beauty seem to be cultural, but there are certain cross-cultural traits that are universal — full lips, good, firm skin, large eyes, no deformities, all teeth intact and an average face. An average face shows there are no deformities or variations. These are signals telling us they are markers of health and youth. Health and youth are important, whether we really think so or not. I’ll get on about that more later.

The differences between the sexes start with the sex cell. I’m talking animals in general here, at least the ones that have clearly defined genders and reproduce sexually. What holds true about sex cells is this — females have the larger cell — the egg which carries genes and food and a protective layer. Males have sperm cells, which only really carry genes. Of course this is nothing new to you.

The reason why I’m bringing this up is that it actually explains why males tend to be bigger in the animal kingdom. They’re usually the more aggressive and larger, though not always. This is because of the offspring’s chance of survival at the cost of the parent’s ability to invest.

The reason why females across species tend to have higher parental investment than males is because of these damn sex cells. The cells are often carried around, incubated internally. This makes the offspring a huge cost for most female vertebrates.

Males have these smaller sex cells. In certain circumstances with certain species, it can benefit males to put off investment in their offspring. The only thing they invest in is a relatively short period of copulation. So you can see, parental investment is unfairly skewed over to the female side.

So that leads to differentiating psychologies between males and females. For instance, one male could hypothetically fertilize thousands of females.  This drives lots of males to go without and that creates an environment where there’s a violent competition among males to mate with the most females. This is why male vertebrates are typically larger and more powerful — to fight off other males. On top of having to compete with other males, males also have to compete to win the favor of females, and so we see the males of many species develop special displays like these.

For the females, it’s a different story. There’s competition, but it’s competition to mate with males whose offspring are going to be more fit for survival and depending on the species, better able to care for and protect the offspring. Because of this, females are biologically more choosy, so they all tend to be competing over what’s often a smaller pool of males.

Sexual dimorphism — the size difference in the sexes — is a result of this kind of competition. The competition is the same reason why it’s in the male’s nature for it to be the more aggressive sex. In the mammalian world, the pinnipeds — seals, walruses, sea lions — are a great example of both. A male elephant seal is about four times larger than a female. Have you seen a male elephant seal? They’re horrifying mounds of flesh and death. Don’t ever go near one. They live to kill. The males have to control a certain amount of territory and in doing so, access all the females within and murder the males. So they need to be these huge, powerful, hulking beasts in order to maintain and control that. With elephant seals, sex sells sex cells by the sea shore (I’m so sorry).

elephantseal

What’s interesting is that these tend to be characteristics that are more dependent on the roles of the sexes than the sexes themselves. If you look at something like a seahorse where the males internally care for the eggs, the males take on more of the investment where the females don’t. Because of this, the females tend to be larger and fight other females for males, so it’s funny how this all works.

In Humans

Okay, I don’t want what I’m about to write here misinterpreted as sexist or somehow playing off of stereotypes. I’m taking what I’ve read in the scientific literature and running with it. I’m also talking in terms of averages. There are and always will be exceptions. For now, just please bathe your mind in these stark, hard truths of human existence.

Despite what we’d like to think of ourselves, humans are a polygamous species. We’re not above all this. We don’t mate for life like some species of birds do. That isn’t to say that some people don’t have a bonding relationship that lasts a lifetime, of course it happens — but it usually doesn’t. By and large, humans practice serial monogamy.

There is definitely some sexual dimorphism going on with us. An average human female is around fifteen percent smaller than a human male. Of course this varies wildly. But nonetheless, this stands as proof that somewhere along the evolutionary timeline, parental investment wasn’t quite equal and there has been some competition between males over females.

I’ve been emphasizing male aggression a lot here because, speaking as a male and having lived that life and seen what I’ve seen, men are more violent. I’m a pretty mellow guy these days and even I’ve had my crazy violent streaks as a young buck. It’s in the biology, it has its evolutionary reasons. Males are more physically violent, the majority of prisoners are male, men are far more likely to commit murder or pretty much any other physically violent act.

A lot of this can be attributed to testosterone. There’s correlation between how much testosterone is in your system and how social you are, the more testosterone, the less social you become. It’s a powerful hormone. It’s not really something you should go injecting into anyone. In both humans and non-human primates, testosterone will always increase aggression.

The problems with empathy tend to be the biggest, really. Boys just tend to have problems with social cognition. Even as children, males are more violent, even in in the womb they’re more violent.

 

Freedom of choice

Anonymous sex — everyone loves it, right? Well, maybe not everyone, but dudes sure do, at least on average. The theory of parental investment dictates they should at least. Because for males, if you impregnate the most people, you win! Well, that’s what the biology wants at least. For females on the other hand, anonymous sex can lead to harm. They have that investment going on, so they have to be more picky about partners. Even if you look at something like prostitution, it’s almost an entirely male interest. Even male prostitutes — outside of rare circumstances — cater to male clientele.

So what I’m trying to get at is that sex between a male and a female is a kind of agreement, a compromise between two parties with competing interests.  That sounds pretty bleak, right? Hold on, I’ll lay it on thicker.

Studies find gay men to be pretty promiscuous. Some gay men will have hundreds or even thousands of sexual partners. The reason why is simple, they’re doing what males are wired to do — fuck, fuck, fuck. They’re doing what most straight men would do if the females were just as willing as the males were. On the other side of this, you have your lesbian relationships which tend to be far more monogamous. What this tells us is that there is a general difference in sexual choosiness in humans.

We can deconstruct it all down to evolution. Let me remind you one more time that I’m talking averages here and not about you or I in particular. Females favor power and status. Age isn’t really as important as the male’s interest in being a good parent and provider and to offer protection. So you tend to find females wired up to look for properties like this. And on the other side, you have males who tend to look mainly for youth, because youth signifies reproductive health.

So if you’re a male and you’re not rich and powerful, or if you’re a female and you’re not young and healthy — you’re fucked, from an evolutionary standpoint I guess. Hey, I don’t make the rules here. The harsh truths are that health and beauty fade and power and riches are ultimately shallow gifts. Brrr… are you cold from these hard life truths? I sure am!

As a consolation prize, it turns out, intelligence and kindness are held in high regard between both sexes. So if you’re going to take anything away from this bullshit, it would be this — we are controlled by impulses and urges often beyond our grasp, we’re wired up like computers, we’re fuck machines — but be aware, be mindful, be kind and maybe it’ll all work out, or maybe not.

References:

Gray, Peter. Psychology. New York: Worth, 2002. Print

LeVay, Simon, and Sharon McBride Valente. Human Sexuality. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2006. Print.

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About Ryan Fabian

Writer and personal trainer from New England, currently based out of Los Angeles.

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