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4.0 out of 5 stars The least and shortest of Diamond's books, but excellent nonetheless, 3 Jan. 2009
This review is from: Why Is Sex Fun?: The Evolution Of Human Sexuality (SCIENCE MASTERS) (Paperback)
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.
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