The evolution of beauty by Richard O Prum.
How Darwin’s forgotten theory of mate choice shapes the animal world and us.
[The book covers various species of animal kingdom, the notes taken only pertaining to human side]
In trying to understand human sexual behavior, we must remember that many of our ideas about sexuality and gender are culturally influenced, or culturally constructed, . Human sexuality is uniquely complicated. It has been shaped by interactions among multiple sexual selection mechanisms, often operating simultaneously. They include the following:
· Male-male competition
· Female-female competition
· Mutual mating preference for ornamental traits that are common to both sexes
· Female mating preference for male display
· Male mating preferences for female display
· Male sexual coercion
· Female sexual coercion
· Sexual conflicts.
Darwin proposed that nearly naked human skin - the evolutionary reduction in body hair - evolved as a sexually selected trait. Another unique trait - the retention specialized patches of hair in the armpits, pubic region, scalp and eyebrows is ornamental. The fact that the retention of these patches of hair is the same in both sexes. Underarm and pubic hair cultivate aesthetic sexual odors through a combination of skin secretions and microbes.
Among more than 5000 species of mammals on earth, permanent breast tissue is unique to humans. The existence of permanent breast development is not required for reproduction itself, and no naturally selected advantage. Rather the existence of permanent breast in women is likely an aesthetic trait that has evolved by male mate choice. Similarly, the narrow waist, broad hips, and buttock fat in women might have been exaggerated beyond the proportions necessitated by natural selection alone.
Similarly, there is a large evolutionary psychology literature on facial ‘femininity - that is relatively small chin, large eyes, high cheekbones and full lips - as an evolutionary indicator of female ‘reproductive value’ or the remaining individual lifetime reproductive potential.
Oddly there is a much smaller literature on female preferences for male physical attractiveness than vice versa. Even the data that do exist in print are difficult to interpret as evidence of adaptationist views. For example, there is a consistent evidence that females do not prefer the most masculine facial features, which have been characterized as prominent square jaws, wide prominent brows, think eyebrows and thin cheeks and lips. Numerous studies have shown that women instead prefer intermediate or even what some researchers call feminine facial features in men and one study has shown that female prefer a light stubble over a masculine full beard. They tend to like lean but somewhat muscular male bodies with broad shoulders and V shaped torsos the most, and men with larger more muscle bound bodies the least.
Female mate choice has likely played a crucial role in the evolution of one central feature of the male body - the human penis. Among primates, the penis is one of the most variable of all organs. From species to species, there are radical difference in its length, width, thickness, shape, surface texture, and elaborations. All these variations are beyond what is required to accomplish reproduction.
Human penis is substantially larger (6 inches) than that of other apes, even though humans are intermediate in body size between gorillas (1.5 inches) and chimpanzees (3 inches). We should also note than in contrast to human’s greater penis size and elaborations, humans have testes that are both relatively and absolutely smaller than those of our closest chimpanzee relatives.
Human males are notably distinct from other primates in that they lack baculum, which is the mammalian penis bone (functioning in retracting the penis between erections). Biologist Zevit and Gilbert propose that the Genesis story claimed that God had created Eve not from Adam’s rib, but from Adam’s baculum.
Male genital dangle would have become an increasingly conspicuous display with the evolution of bipedality in the last 5 million years of human history. Human’s exaggeratedly large scrotum which is far bigger than is necessary to house testes is indicative of history of selection for an additional communication rather than a mere physiological function. That is, the scrotal sac might have gotten larger because female liked the way it dangled.
The concept of beauty changed in Western world. Now, even Marilyn Monroe would not make to the first round of America’s Next Top model contest. Now, more emaciated, sometimes anorexic female movie stars are considered as beauty queens. Similar changes happening in male star selections - muscular physiques than the old style of softer bodes of 40s & 50s.
Ethnic groups from different cultures can vary considerably in appearance, but few of these variations are likely to be under natural selection. For example, skin color variations in strongly associated with latitude, the probable result of strong natural selection for darker skin at equatorial latitudes to protect from skin cancer or preservation of folate and strong natural selection of lighten skin at higher latitudes to facilitate Vitamin D synthesis. Same goes with other differences color, shape, size etc.
Female orgasm is completely unrelated to female fertility. Female sexual pleasure and orgasm are the evolutionary consequences of female desire and choice and they are ends unto themselves.
The hypothesis is supported by the existence of many evolved features of human sexuality that are different from our ape relatives and then can only be explained as expansion of sexual pleasures. For Example, copulation duration in gorillas and chimpanzees is measured in seconds. On average, human copulation lasts several minutes and of course, can continue for far larger than that. The longer bouts of intercourse would enhance female stimulation and create greater likelihood of orgasm. Any evolutionary explanation for larger copulation times in humans is inherently about enhancing the pleasurable sensory experience of sex.
The female orgasm might have been evolved functions. It is sexual pleasure for its own sake, which has evolved purely because of women’s pursuit of pleasure. In men, however, orgasm almost always occurs with ejaculation and is thus required for sexual reproduction. Consequently, the subjective experience of male orgasm is constrained by natural selection for a peristaltic pumping of semi-viscous seminal fluids up and down the vas deferens and out the urethra. Thus, the naturally selected physiological function of male orgasm places limits on the magnitude, frequencies and duration of male orgasmic pleasure.
Anthropological data from a range of cultures document that there are plenty of men who take little interest in women’s sexual pleasure and orgasm. In many societies, men initiate sex with minimal foreplay and proceed to climax without ever concerning themselves with the woman's pleasure. In fact, in many cultures, men aren’t even aware that it is possible for a woman to have an orgasm. A 2000 survey found out that 42% of college educated Pakistani men did not know that women were capable of orgasm. Furthermore, many patriarchal cultures actively suppress women’s capacity for orgasm through clitorectomy and other forms of toward female sexual pleasure and orgasm by men in many of the world’s culture.
BY contrast, female orgasms are not constrained by design for any ancillary physiological function. Female orgasms do not need to deliver any goods or perform any task. The contractions of the vaginal, uterine, perineal and abdominal muscles are enlisted purely in the service of pleasure without the compromising constraints of fulfilling any other function. This helps to explain why many women are capable of rapidly repeated multiple orgasms. Because women’s orgasm does not need to accomplish anything beyond pleasure itself, women require no recovery period and have no limits on repeating the experience other than their own desire.
The hypothesis that human same-sex behavior has evolved through natural and sexual selection for the expansion of female sexual autonomy is congruent with great deal of the evidence on variation in human sexual preference and behavior.
Darwin discovered that evolution is not merely about the survival of the fittest but also about charm and sensory delight in individual subjective experience. As Darwin hypothesized, with the evolution and the choice comes the emergence of a new evolutionary agency - the capacity of individual judgements to drive the evolutionary process itself. Aesthetic evolution means the animals are aesthetic agents who play a role in their own evolution.
The aesthetic view of life reveals new ways in which evolutionary biology has been hampered by failing to recognize the aesthetic agency of individual animals. For example, we can see that much of the scientific study of sexuality has been characterized by a deep anxiety about the subjective experiences of sexual pleasure and desire - esp. When it is a matter of female pleasure.
The cultural sexual conflict theory poses a productive and exciting new intellectual interface between aesthetic evolution, sexual conflict, cultural evolution, and contemporary sexual and gender politics. From this perspective, for example, it is not an accident that patriarchal ideologies are focused so intently on the control of female sexuality and reproduction and also on the condemnation and prohibition of same-sex behavior. Female sexual autonomy and same-sex behavior have both evolved to be disruptive to male hierarchical power and control. These disruptive effects were likely the driving force behind the cultural invention and maintenance of the patriarchy itself.
Aesthetic evolutionary theory reminds us that women are not only sexual objects but also sexual subjects with their own desires and the evolved agency to pursue them. Sexual desire and attraction are not just tools of subjugation but individual and collective instruments of social empowerment that can contribute to the expansion of sexual autonomy itself.
Traditionally aesthetic philosophy has failed to appreciate the aesthetic richness of the natural world, much of which has come into being through the subjective evolution of the animals. By viewing the beauties of the nature through an exclusively human gaze, we have failed to comprehend the powerful agency of many nonhuman animals.
Originally, we human conceived of ourselves as being at the center of all creation, with the sun and the stars revolving around us. Over the last 500 years, however, scientific discoveries have demanded that we reframe our view of the cosmos and our place in it. With each discovery, humans have moved further and further from the organizing center of universe. While many have found this intellectual change disconcerning, I think such knowledge can only enhance our appreciation of the astounding , unexpected richness of the biological world, human existence, our conscious experience and our technological and cultural accomplishments.