10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 2003
All of the questions he discusses are fascinating, and his arguments persuasive (once he gets to them). Although he would have had even more meat with less rhetoric the book only contains 150 pages of text. You don't need to follow any complex biology or sociology to understand anything here, and you may well find you've finished it at the first reading. I recommend the book for its insight and interest, but these's something that really annoys me about it...
Why does Professor Diamond repeatedly characterise the reader as a unimaginative dolt? Each question in the book is introduced like this:
1. The author makes an observation about human sexuality
2. He imagines the book's reader giving an simple-minded reply.
3. The Professor explains why the question is more complex than you, the reader, had thought.
4. Now, the answer.
After a while this device started to wear on me. Why does he assume that people who read his books are unable to think for themselves? Does he really believe that all (most?) of his readers will have the same knee-jerk reaction to the questions he poses? The worst example is the question of concealed ovulation; the text asks why this would evolve when it leads to inefficiently permanent receptivity. In answer to this question the author has the reader exclaim "Obviously because it's fun!" after which he takes a whole page to explain why "having fun" isn't a valid evolutionary explaination. Excuse me, Professor Diamond, I'm reading a book entitled "Why is sex fun?" and seventy pages in you don't credit me the intelligence of wanting an answer.
I'm certain that ignorant objections really were made while the Professor was preparing his manuscript, but it would have been nice if he could have found a way to address them without talking down to the readership. (Maybe a dialogue with a comedy simpleton in a dunce's cap?)
This book tries to trace the evolutionary causes of modern biology and behaviour. Some scientists believe that this is more like a "Just So" story than a scientific reconstruction (because there's no direct evidence for the process - just an outcome). Personally, I think that the most plausible "Just So" story has a valid place in the science masters series, but you might not.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 21 October 2006
Jared Diamond is one of those writers who is described as a populariser of scientific or academic ideas for the general educated reader. He is also one of the best writers of this type around. This book is one of his finest. He is wonderfully interesting in describing our unique and bizarre sexuality and comparing it with that of other animals. He also suggests intriguing reasons for the evolution of our unusual sexual physiology and behaviour. He has gathered a fascinating collection of examples to illustrate this and describes them with economical wit. His is the sort of writing that leaves you smiling or even chuckling with pleasure. The cause is usually the sheer deftness of the writing (rather than the sort of buffoonish exaggeration beloved of Bill Bryson in similar territory).
He takes his readers on a lucid trip through the evolutionary and cultural history of human sexuality. The "political correctness" mentioned by another reviewer seems to me to be sheer playfulness, rather than to be taken so seriously. (He does seem to be such a nice man!).
However, the real core of the book (for me) is when he draws on his own anthropological expertise to illustrate the range of sexual practices that exist around the world in different cultures and how these can shed light on our own sexual natures. Hugely entertaining and really makes you think.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 January 2011
In absence of the title, i found this book to be fascinating and insightful to a lay-person. The descriptions of the sexual practices of other animals and creatures in opposition to humans was very revealing. However, the title of the book is a question, which i expected to be answered at some stage, and in a succinct form. In this, the book singularly fails. The author does not at anytime say "so why is sex fun? Because...xyz" It just doesn't happen.
I don't wish to detract from the very cogent arguments that are postulated, but the title remains unanswered, and for that reason i was left disappointed. Perhaps much like the unrequited orgasm, i was left wanting.
It's a pity, because Diamond is a very insightful writer - perhaps a bit doom and gloom if you read Collapse - but i really wanted an answer from him; i was begging from an answer, a succint answer that never came.
Otherwise a good read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 March 2009
Why is sex fun? is interesting, but it lacks an answer to the question posed in the title. The evolution of regular sex during non fertile times, female 'receptivity' regardless of when ovulation takes place, and how menopause may have evolved are all covered in some detail. This is interesting, well thought out and clearly explained. However, there are some glaring omissions and a few stylistic irritations that I found disappointing.
Diamond sets up his explanations with assumptions of what he believes the reader assumes or feels, none of which relate to my own thoughts and opinions and I found being told what I was thinking to be irritating. It also detracts from the interesting points he raises.
The discussion of some of the genetic reasons behind human sexual behaviour is thorough and fascinating. However, the question 'why is sex fun?' is not specifically about behaviour. There is no mention of the 'fun' involved; particularly surprising being the lack of discussion or even mention of orgasm. There are good reasons cited for the amount of sex people have, the reasons for people staying together and the reasons for wanting more than one partner, but absolutely nothing about how or why it is FUN.
I was left still asking the questions I hoped I'd find answers to in the book. Why do women orgasm? for example. There is plenty on females being receptive to sex but nothing on us enjoying it. How do our sexualities develop and define our pleasure? Do other animals have 'fun'? Is it unusual for the female to orgasm? How would our behaviour be different if it was merely a basic drive that wasn't as much 'fun' (like eating or hunting.)
Had the book been differently titled, I wouldn't have been disappointed. I'd have seen it as an excellent collection of theories and facts about human sexual behaviour and how we compare to other animals. But I kept waiting for the title essay to appear and it never did.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Sex is urgent, demanding, sometimes pleasurable, but fun? No, I would not call sex fun. By calling sex fun I think Professor Diamond skips over the very essence of sex which is we have no choice. That's the way it has come down to us. As one of my students crudely put it, "eat cheese or die."
Diamond knows this of course as do all of us. What he is about in this his second book, coming after The Third Chimpanzee (1992) and before the phenomenally successful and highly recommended Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) is to show the general reader how evolutionary biology and the study of the sexual behavior of other species can focus light on human sexuality. He considers such questions as why our sex life is the way it is and how such behaviors are adaptive. He goes beyond the well-known phenomenon that men seek a lot of one night stands while women look for men with resources and a willingness to commit to a long term relationship. He even goes so far as to speculate on why men don't breast feed, while intimating that evolutionarily speaking it might have been something that would work for the human species.
He looks at the battle of the sexes from a strategic and a biologically adaptive point of view. He uses studies from primatologists, anthropologists and others, as well as his own experiences in New Guinea where he studied birds and came to know well the indigenous people and their habits. He offers insight into why women in most societies end up doing most of the work while men are out "big game" hunting and playing "show off." He shows how the occasional large kill is more about status within the tribe than it is about nutrition. He makes it clear that the key to understanding the division of labor between the sexes depends largely on how much nurturing is required before offspring can take care of themselves. By studying birds, whose reproductive behavior vis-à-vis monogamy is most similar to humans, we can see that parental demands are usually too great for a single parent. Therefore both birds and humans are more or less monogamous. This is in contrast to our biologically closer cousins, the overwhelming majority of mammals, who are raised almost exclusively by the mother while the father is busy looking for the next reproductive try.
Interesting is how the reproductive strategies of chimps, gorillas, orangutans and humans differ. Orangutans live solitary lives and meet briefly to mate while chimpanzees are mostly promiscuous, especially bonobos, who even more than humans, use sex as a means of social bonding. Diamond presents theories on why ovulation in humans is concealed even from the woman herself and why this has proven effective in an evolutionary sense. (Either the male must stay home and guard his mate continuously since he doesn't know when she's fertile, and/or the woman must "trick" the males into thinking that anyone of them who had sex with her might be the father and therefore none of those males is likely to harm her baby.)
What I found most enlightening was the answer to the question (incidentally not asked in this book) why are so many human societies and religions patriarchal? The answer, it dawned on me while reading the chapter entitled "What Are Men Good For?" is that patriarchy is a strategy by males to counter the uncertainty posed by the hidden ovulation of women! It's all part of the battle of the sexes. Woman gained control with hidden ovulation since they would always know who the mother was, but men would be in doubt about who the father was. Enter social and political control of women so that paternity is more nearly certain.
In the chapter "Making More by Making Less" Diamond explains why women experience menopause and men don't and why it is almost absent in other animal species--the pilot whale being a notable exception. It seems that a woman getting on in years can better ensure the success of her genes by using her energies and her hard-earned knowledge to help rear her grandchildren instead of getting pregnant again. This idea is closely aligned with ideas about senescence. We get old and die because our systems run down and/or suffer accidents. They run down because the evolutionary mechanism doesn't "care" about people past the reproductive age (natural selection no longer works on non-reproducing life forms!). But why should our reproductive abilities end while we go on living? Because, due to the rigors of life in the wild, older people are not as capable physically as their children and other young people, and so they get selected against. Diamond even goes so far as to intimate that grandmothers by forgoing having more children benefit the entire tribe with their efforts at foraging and being a repository of knowledge about what happened long ago and how to survive rare catastrophic events. As for men, well, their reproductive abilities run down more slowly, but after a certain age it is all the same.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Giving stars to rate this book is misleading. The book deserves five for style, but no more than three for content. Diamond is a convincing writer with an excellent prose style. He delves fully into his topics, presenting them lucidly, demonstrating an ability to think deeply before presenting his ideas to the reader. His GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL deserved every accolade it received. THE THIRD CHIMPANZEE was a fine example of innovative thinking, presented with clarity. He deserves full marks for challenging readers to consider their opinions and reflect on options previously unconsidered. You don't need to be a scientist to read him, you only need an open mind.
Diamond's theme is that human sexuality is not just different from that of the other animals, but almost drastically so. Reproductive strategies range from 'r' [sow 'em and forget 'em] through 'K' [no sacrifice is too great] with humans almost the ultimate K practitioners. Evolutionary pressures on a creature that wasn't a good predator but fine prey led us down a path resulting in a massive investment in raising offspring.
What are the implications of our version of sexual techniques? Human beings have evolved in a way that natural sexual signals have been buried out of sight. It's called concealed ovulation and methods of pinpointing when a woman was likely to conceive weren't developed until this century. Fish, birds, and other mammals [particularly baboons] exhibit colours, engage in ceremonial displays or have other visible indications that the time is right! But humans keep it a big secret. Is there a valid reason?
And when a sexual coupling has generated a foetus, we put more time, energy and resources to its birthing and upbringing than nearly any other animal. Almost from the instant of conception the foetus and the mother are at war over resource allocation. Mum and babe each want the calcium, iron and other factors required by the one for survival and the other for growth. All this is pretty draining on Mum, who still has a life to lead while carrying that powerful parasite in her womb.
And where's Hubby during all this? That is a major part of Diamond's account of human sex relations. Males invest minimal resources in producing offspring and in most mammal species, decamp after coupling. Human males, however, form part of the renowned 'nuclear family'. In the chapter "What Are Men Good For?" Diamond shows how and why human males are bonded to mates in a way few other species exhibit. One major aspect of this bond, of course, is the nearly constant availability of a sexual partner [NOT 'object']. From that derives that since human women can conceal their ovulation so well, he'd better stick around to ensure any other offspring are indeed his. Since she is receptive all the time and can conceive at some indeterminate time, he'd better be there at the right time. That this situation doesn't always keep males in line is exemplified by the study showing that up to 20 per cent of British babies were conceived by someone other than the purportive parent.
Diamond goes to some effort to make human males more captive to their familial role than they might wish. As stated, the minimal expenditure of some sperm to occupy a mate for a year or so isn't always enough to foster a strong sense of responsibility in men. However, Diamond's proposed solution is one of the most astonishing ideas submitted by anyone yet. He suggests that hormonal treatments for men, inducing lactation and giving men the chance to learn the meaning of nurturing. How much more 'politically correct' can one be? One hopes this chapter was written because of Marie adopting a Lysistratian role, witholding favours until Diamond acceded to her demand for its inclusion. That, or some life- threatening gesture are the only acceptable reasons for a man of Diamond's qualifications trying to reverse the whole course of evolution and make humans even more unique among the animals than they already are. There are enough feminists out there trying to reverse the status evolution has given us. Diamond's suggestion nearly invalidates an otherwise captivating and informative book. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 November 2014
Jared Diamond continues where Dawkins feared to tread. He has just dissected the reasons why human beings (the Third Chimpanzee) mates continuously, recklessly, pointlessly a lot of the time, when the other members of the animal family use sex for the reason it was 'invented'... namely to reproduce themselves with. Humans have the biggest penises of all the animals in relation to their size... and this MUST be evolution... they found it all such FUN.
There is still a question mark left in the last chapter though.... and for those of you looking for porny pictures.. there aren't any - just pleasant grown-up humour.
Not a page scorcher to keep... but for tucking beside Richard Dawkins... yes.
on 12 April 2012
Sexual reproduction is a key factor in the survival and development of life on Earth, a shuffling of the genetic pack that gives organisms a better chance to deal with evolutionary pressures. That much is almost universally accepted. What Diamond does is take the question to a new level: humans are almost unique in practising "recreational sex", so why do we do it, how did it come about, and what advantages does it offer our species to offset the undoubted raft it problems it creates? And then he answers the questions. While there is inevitably some speculation involved, the result is pretty convincing, as well as being readable and informative. The book is almost light reading, especially after Diamond's larger works on the rise of societies and our modern world ("Guns, Germs, and Steel") and the fall of societies and potentially of our modern world ("Collapse"), but it is not lightweight any more than they are dull. It is Diamond's skill to be neither lightweight nor dull, and this comes through in all that I have read by him. In short, this is another book that is well worth reading.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 16 July 2001
This book is as good as other masterpieces by Mr Diamond. The author expands vastly our understanding of sexual behavior of humans. He shows that without historical perspective the understanding of sex life of human race is impossible.
Author says that by the standards of the world's 4,300 other species, we are the ones who are bizarre. He proves his point with numerous examples about sexual behavior of animals and birds.
Read it and beside enjoyable read you get better insight into driving forces of other sex.
on 28 June 2015
Quite interesting but rather long winded and not really a very appropriate title.