Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Potentially Inappropriate Posts Part 1: Human Sexuality, Part 1

I like dinosaurs, gaming, paleontology in general, movies, very few comics (mostly webcomics at this point), H. P. Lovecraft, and...wait for it...women. I know, I'm a bad person. But don't worry too much, it's not a "ooh, boobies!" kind of thing (although there's some of that, too). Modern man has some backwards sexual tendancies compared to most of the rest of the vertebrate community, especially other mammals or, heck, non-human primates.

And it's something that interests me. Time to be totally up-front here: I'm a breast man. Thus, the picture at left (Denise Milani). I also prefer an hourglass figure. I don't think these are bizarre human male tendances. They must mean something, right?

But why do I like breasts and an hourglass figure while my friend Luke likes legs and a tone midriff? Why does my friend Erik like butts and...a tone midriff? Why do both of them (and some of my other friends) prefer smaller breasts?

In a total reversal from most other vertebrate animals, it is the females of Homo sapiens sapiens that are the sexual "billboards" (in general). Big breasts, long legs, tone midriff (don't understand that one), bubble butt, these are all desirable traits. But in most non-human vertebrates, males compete for females by being billboards. Ceratopsians had giant frills and big horns. Male elephant seals are enormous, blubbery, and have trunks. Male baboons have bright faces and giant canines. Male birds of paradise are ridiculously colorful and have bizarre plumage that's useful only for attracting the opposite sex. But women have breasts, butts, and legs, which they show off with swimsuits, low-cut tops, and short skirts. Men can do the same thing, but the opposite effect is usually achieved: no woman I've ever met likes a guy with super-huge muscles, for example.

Another interesting reversal is the breasts themselves. In non-human primates, breasts are used primarily to nurse the young. Males are attracted to the females posterior when it becomes swollen during breeding season (that's estrus). Humans don't really go through a visible estrus cycle (although that's debatable), so the butt was replaced by larger breasts. But there's a tradeoff here--breasts don't just swell and shrink depending on the season. They stay large! So human females are essentially advertising their sexuality all the time, and clothing is used to openly advertise it or not. Men, however, do not have such obvious sexual organs. Facial hair may be the male "billboard," but it doesn't have the same draw as...well, Denise up there. In Homo sapiens sapiens, the females are primarily competing for male attention instead of the other way around.

You can see this yourself by going to a bar or pool hall on the weekend. Men dress casual, in T-shirts and jeans, but women use perfume and revealing clothing to attract attention to themselves. If men and women were peacocks, the sexes would be reversed! The females would have big showy feathers, and males would be duller-colored.

But here's where another question comes to mind: Are there universally attractive female features? Clearly not, as a quick survey by my friends reveals. But why is that? You don't see that kind of selectiveness in non-human animals. Female moose are going to mate with the toughest male with the largest antlers. Although my field experience in close to nill, I would think that females aren't saying to each other, "You know, I really like a male with big kneecaps." Females like antlers. Protoceratops females liked vaulted nasals on their males and big frills. Yowza! So what about humans? Why don't males across the species harbor similar desires for certain female features? Let's say that hourglass figures are an indication of fertility (which has been theorized!). Why would any man prefer a woman with anything but an hourglass figure? We could say the same thing about breasts: let's assume that large breasts are an indication of increased milk production (as has although been theorized). Why would natural selection favor anything below a C-cup?

Could this be an indication that natural selection isn't working in humans like it used to? Because medicine and technology keeps us all alive and breeding, those phenotypes which would otherwise be "bred out" of the gene pool stick around, and when you get to 6 billion+ people, sexual preference among males is also going to expand, too. Maybe when humans were hunting bison with spears and living in caves, sexual selection was more strongly universal, but as populations increased and lifespans lengthened, those factors were toned down. And today, you have every body type imaginable wandering the planet, and everybody will find somebody thanks to the miracle of overpopulation.

But there is still a very strong tendancy for women to be the "advertisers," which is interesting. I also wonder if, besides having a biological component, cultural factors differ between distinct human populations (more on that in future posts) in terms of who is competing for who?

More on this point in a future post. Feel free to call me a jackass in the comments, but this is interesting stuff. I like placing humans in the same scientific context that we would any other animal!

Important warning: If you're a woman, and you're wearing a low-cut top or a bra that emphasizes your cleavage, and you meet me, you'll have to excuse my descending gaze. I know your eyes up "up here," but goddamnit, it's not personal! Also: Don't avoid said types of clothing on behalf. :-D


Christopher Taylor said...

But here's where another question comes to mind: Are there universally attractive female features? Clearly not, as a quick survey by my friends reveals.

Define attractive, because this is where it gets complicated. I have heard (don't have references, sorry) that if you take a group of people (apparently even of mixed ethnic backgrounds, etc.) and give them a bunch of photos of faces (again, it still works even if the photos are of mixed backgrounds, etc.) and ask them to lay them down in order of "beauty" or some such, then everyone will place the photos in pretty much the same order. But if the question becomes one of "attractiveness", then the order becomes a lot more variable.

If these are correct, then we all have a similar ideal, but we vary in how we approach that ideal. Indeed, there's some evidence to suggest that if a person is too close to the ideal, then that actually has a somewhat negative effect on their overall attractiveness (which I find quite believable, thinking back to experience). One possibility as to why this should be is that there's a play-off between desirability and accessability (for want of a better word). If a person has a perfect appearance, then not just you but everyone else is probably going to be after them. The reward may be greater, but the chance of getting it is much lower. But the person who is not so close to perfect, but is still pretty good - if you tally up the cost of pursuing that person against the reward when they're gotten, then you potentially end up ahead of the game overall.

One of the amazing things about how the human mind works is that our concept of what is desirable can be very malleable in a way that maintains our piece of mind. If something is denied to you, you tend to develop the idea that it wasn't worth having in the first place. So, if I'm to put this in hypothetical evolutionary terms, there is a lot of selective advantage if diversity is maintained as to what people want (because it reduces the competitive cost of pursuing the desired individual), and very little in the way of barriers to maintaining that diversity.

Ivan said...

I'm sorry, what was your post about again?

*continues staring at Denise Milani*


Mats Halldin said...

Interesting post, please make it a long series.

Just a note:
The females would have big showy feathers, and males would be duller-colored.

I think you must have mixed it up here.

/ Mats

Amanda said...

Interesting stuff. I, for one, made it through the post without being completely transfixed by that woman's breasts - although they are startlingly huge...

I remember reading an article about symmetry and how humans tend to define beauty by symmetrical features. Although there is a difference, as Chris pointed out, between beauty and attractiveness.

Also, there's that whole waist to hip ratio thing in women. Men, in general, tend to prefer women with a ration close to 0.7. That was eight years ago or something - when there was still an emphasis on being bean-pole-like. I'd be interested in learning more about this.

More posts, please :)

Amanda said...

Am I the only person who writes "ration" EVER SINGLE TIME they try to write "ratio"???

I'm tellin' you - every single time.

Jerry D. Harris said...

I dunno...I certainly don't mind things like nice breasts, butts, legs, or any of the other standard physical features that men stereotypically base "attractiveness" on in women, but what I find most attractive is always the personality. A good smile (with frequent use) is a big plus, too.

And Amanda -- no, I do that, too, all the freakin' time...!!!

Mad Marley Grey said...

Why would natural selection favor anything below a C-cup?

I ask myself that every time I look down. And then I cry. I've had boys assure me there's nothing wrong with small breasts, but frankly...that kind of makes me as disgusted with them as I am my tits. There's always this little voice in the back of my head saying, "You're practically flat-chested when you lie down - could it be that they'd secretly prefer another kind of girl, a younger kind of girl?" - which is stupid, I know (and I'd certainly never accuse them of it, because that's the sort of unfounded nonsense that ruins people's live for no reason). At any rate, I like voluptuous squishy boobies (maybe not quite to the extent of those in the bikini over there, but still), so nothing they say that way is going to make me feel better. (They never seem to figure out that I'm more likely to respond violently to said attempts at making me feel better than I am to being agreed with. I've never been the girl who wants to be gently-white-lied to when she asks how she looks.)

But then, I'm totally with you on the muscle men - I've never met a chick who liked them, either. I've seen that there must be at least some sort of market for it based on the amount that shows up on a man-centric image board I frequent, but that's so intangible (and I wonder how many of them are actually attracted to that type of man in real life - or if it falls under that, "Fun to look at, wouldn't really want it" header).

I tend to go in entirely the opposite direction myself - I like 'pretty' men, in the way of anime men: Long-haired, slender, refined almost to the point of becoming feminine... I do actually appreciate an attractive woman, but I don't think there's a real connection between the two because I'm bi only in a visual sense (well, and maybe the occasional grope of the aforementioned really nice boobies - that, I'd be into) - so there's never been a question, with me, of, "Do I like feminine men because what I really want's a woman?" Nope, it's just that 'em pretty. They still have to be men, though, and men of the sort that appeal to me personality-wise - I peruse a fair bit of slash, and in the Japanese counterpart to that, there's a stereotypical role for the male on the bottom that's often very girly, very childish (in both appearance in behaviour), very weak... Does nothing for me. I go for men who are a little dominant, who are arrogant in the right way, who have that...protective/possessive alpha presence. I love a man who can put on a dress and look good doing it, but does it more because he looks good in it than because he wants to emulate a woman - and still exudes that presence while he's in it. (By the way, I don't want to suggest that I object to any other form of cross-dressing - I'm pretty fluid about other people's sex- and gender-alities, so I say, "Bring on all the boys in dresses!". I'm speaking strictly of what gets me going in a potential mate - so a man who lives as just a very pretty man is different, for me, from a man who lives as a woman - because I'm absolutely going to accept the latter as a woman, and being primarily het, she obviously won't appeal to me in the same way) (if any of that made any sense whatsoever ^^; ).

I find, fairly often, that the qualities I'm physically attracted to border on becoming a fetish - which can be a problem, because the big ones aren't exactly found in the real world (and sometimes, the unreality is as much the attraction as anything else). There have been times I've seen a man who'll, say, have long hair and what passes for the right sort of face and still recoil from the notion of being touched by him. The only way I can get physically involved with someone, at this point, is to find means of including those qualities in the bedplay - either through costuming, though there's a limit to what can be done with that, or by having foreplay take place via online RP - him a dark elf on one computer, and me a little demon girl on the other - and then adjouning to the boudoir once things are all hot and bothered. I guess you could call that a form of male advertising, since if he doesn't display some silver hair and pointy ears, I'm not going to plump my corset-pilows to signal my receptiveness.

But I do wonder, at times, if there's something deeper to the muckpuddle of my own sexuality - I do have an orientation, and it is primarily het, but when it comes to the actual process, I'm just this side of being asexual. I can enjoy sex under the right circumstances, but they're very specific circumstances, and I have no drive for or interest in it whatsoever most of the time. If I'm not getting it, I'm not missing it. My gene pool's also an awful mess (there's not a branch of the family tree that isn't touched by some disorder or another), and it makes me think - is my lack of libido nature's way of keeping my DNA from continuing to bring down the local quality? Or is it that I really am just a freaky fetish freak who can't be satisfied with what's available?

Sarah Spears said...

Not to throw another coal on the complexity-of-human-sexuality fire, but you mentioned that if you go to a bar that all of the women are the "peacocks." Well, partly this is for male attention, but one thing that I can assure you is that women dress up not to impress the men, but impress and out-compete other women. Sure, this can be read into attracting a man, but the men are just a tool in the psychological battle between women. "If I look the prettiest, then the women will be jealous because I attract men, and then I feel good about myself because I'm the alpha female." Again, this may not be true in every situation, but it is fairly accurate from what I've seen and experienced with other women.

And the tone midriff thing, I can agree. Who really likes the "muffin top" look?

Julia said...

Hmm. I shall throw a spanner in the works a bit by saying that on a Friday night in my home town the men are tarted up just as much as the women. Every lad in a different coloured loud shirt, hair styled to within an inch of its life and half a bottle of Lynx (our version of Axe) liberally applied. This, however, is very much a British working-class thing, and the lower on the socio-economic scale, the more the men choose to be peacocks themselves, decking their fingers in sovereign rings etc.

As a semi-respectable married woman, I now dress up to not embarrass my husband. If I wasn't so worried about what Paul's friends would think of his taste in women, I would happily turn up at the pub in my gardening gear.

For the record, I am perfectly heterosexual and I could not stop looking at that woman's boobs. In a "God they're big, hang on - they're NATURAL too" sort of way.

Zach said...

Good points by all.

Chris: Yeah, that's called cognative dissonance, and it's why models always complain that nobody ever asks them out--men don't think Salma Hayek will say "yes" (although she did just get married, so it worked for some lucky bastard). So we convince ourselves that the "next best thing" is the best. That's a great survival strategy, too. If what you want isn't going to work, convince yourself you want something else and breed with THAT.

Ivan: I'm with you. :-)

Amanda: I just bought a book that I'll be posting about--wait-hip ratio seems startlingly consistent throughout...

Jerry: Personality isn't something you can see. The woman across the pool table isn't hoping you'll stare at her gigantic personality. ;-) I'm not saying that personality isn't important, but female peacocks aren't looking for males with great big personalities, either.

Marley: Like I said, whatever phenotype nature manages to crop up, it will also produce somebody who is attracted to that phenotype. Hence our success as a species, I suppose.

Sarah: Competition between females is, ultimately, on par with dall sheep smashing their heads together--they're trying to get access to the opposite sex. But you bring up an interesting point--success also makes you feel good about yourself (why shouldn't it?). So you are further motivated to succeed, I suppose.

Julia: ANOTHER book I got, which I shall blog about soon, basically addresses your final comment.

BusaFan said...

As I see it, and I know you all care what I think. 0_o I'm a butt man, I like a toned core, huge boobs make me puke a little in my own mouth. Much larger than a D cup and you're pushing it, but on the other hand you've gotta have something there. If I wanted the body of a ten year old boy I'd date a ten year old boy! But heck no. Give me the girl who has some meat on her bones, give me the muscular thighs, give me the toned, flat core. By the way...

Muffin tops make me want to disembowel myself with a wooden cooking spoon.

I like a particular facial structure as well. I think a lot of what we like is influenced by our parents, people we grew up around and really, I would say it's in our genes. I can't remember a time when I wasn't rating girls when I see them. Sad fact, but yes. As far back as I remember every new girl I see is rated, it's to the point where I don't even think about it anymore.

As far as what makes you like tig-o-bitties. Well that's up in the air. May I also say, Zach your obsession with boobage truly knows no bounds.

Can't wait for round two.

Brad said...

IMHO toned midriffs on women are actually a turnoff. A little bit of softness/roundness there goes better with the boobies.

Tengu said...

Is there a reason you deleted the race entry and left these two up?

Anyway, please read this:

Margaret Pye said...

Is the showy female/dull male thing Western-specific? I know other cultures have more decorative males, but I don't know if they often get as decorative as the females.