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Evolution and Human Sexual BehaviorReview - Evolution and Human Sexual Behavior
by Peter B. Gray and Justin R. Garcia
Harvard University Press, 2013
Review by Hennie Weiss
Dec 10th 2013 (Volume 17, Issue 50)

Even though the book is titled Evolution and Human Sexual Behavior, the authors Gray and Garcia use multiple disciplines to contribute to a more integrated view of human sexuality and behavior. The main focus when comparing primates (as well as other species) to hominids and finally humans is to discuss the evolutionary and biological traits underlying much sexual behavior, while simultaneously keeping in mind how social and cultural variations influence decisions concerning  sexual behavior. Gray and Garcia do discuss the need to be cautious when generalizing "...findings in rats or rhesus monkeys to ourselves" (p. 104). The authors therefore present an in-depth, rather multi-layered discussion of human sexual behavior. When doing so, the authors discuss various behaviors, often tying them to evolutionary theories of reproductive success and mating competition. As such, one of the main points that the authors focus on repeatedly is the fact that most human sexual behavior is typically expressed within long-term relationships (and are slightly polygynous, but mostly monogamous). This notion is carried out throughout the book and overlaps with many other topics that Gray and Garcia cover, such as love and marriage, aging and sexuality, puberty and adolescence, "making babies" and more.

 

Even though the authors cover various broad areas of human sexuality, it would have been interesting, and perhaps helpful to the ongoing discussion of sexuality if they were to focus more readily on sexual assault and rape. Gray and Garcia cover some aspects of sexual coercion and rape in the book, but the topic is not given much attention in comparison with other concepts. The authors do describe to a certain extent some underlying evolutionary reasons for forced copulation, along with social and cultural reasons for controlling female sexuality. As such, the authors also engage in the discussing concerning the gender double-standard and how social and cultural beliefs help shape the expression of sexuality in various societies. Still, it would bee helpful if the authors would engage in topics that feminists have long discussed in connection with rape, such as rape culture and the evolutionary tendencies to claim that men rape to ensure reproductive success (creating a rape culture in which men are not responsible for their actions). The issue of reproductive success and rape in evolutionary theory falls short when discussing rape and sexual assaults on those of the same sex, those too young or too old to successfully reproduce, when rape is done in concert, or when rapists use condoms. Gray and Garcia's arguments are there, and they are important, but they could preferably have been extended on. Towards the end of the book, the authors do provide an important point of view that can be tied in to the discussion of rape and sexual assault overall.

 

"It is important to remember that our investigations into the nature of human sexuality do not seek to justify one behavior over another. By understanding the influence of the evolutionary process, the role of biology in behavioral proclivities, and the cross-cultural patterns, we can better understand sexuality and the human condition. These lines of research do not seek to justify or condemn sexual behavior. Humans are not prisoners of our natural history. We have evolved remarkably complex (and big) brains for the explicit purpose of making decisions. We have evolved intricate cultural practices to modify the mind" (p. 308).

 

Another evolutionary topic that has received much attention is that of sexual orientation, especially in terms of genetics (being "born that way") or choice (I choose my sexual orientation). The authors discuss the influence of birth order, high perinatal androgen hormone exposure and digit ratios, but do not fully engage with the discussion. Recent interest in determination of sexual orientation, whether caused by genetics or choice have developed ongoing discussions about homosexuality, with some believing a person is born gay, or chooses to become gay. In any case, the authors could preferably have engaged in a more in-depth discussion of the topic.

 

Evolution and Human Sexual Behavior is an interesting read and the authors ability to integrate various theories that expand on our knowledge of human sexuality is note worthy. Even though their focus is more so on evolutionary theories, they do conclude that social and cultural forces are at work, and are constantly influencing human sexual behavior, and that the discussion of nature versus nurture is not so easily discernible. The authors are able to explain and discuss topics that can otherwise be difficult for readers to follow, such as human sex determination, sex chromosomes, gonadal sex differences and hormonal differences, in a way that makes sense to most readers. They integrate theories with both personal and societal stories that help tie the book together. As mentioned, even though the focus is on evolutionary theory, the ease with which the authors write help make the book accessible to anyone interested in evolutionary theory, as well as social and cultural influences on human sexuality. The intended audience is most likely, as the authors note academic and students (as the book will make an important addition to the classroom) but can surely include "...the curious coffee-shop customer" (p. xi).

 

 

 

© 2013 Hennie Weiss

 

 

Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.


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