This first excerpt below is from my second book about the history of everything from the Big Bang to the present. I mentioned it in the intro to What Controls Us. It was called The Dawn of Man before I scrapped it. I didn’t scrap it because I didn’t like it. I just thought my energy could be better used studying and writing about more tangible social and environmental issues. This first excerpt introduces biological gender differences and why they evolved. I updated it a bit, but I wrote most it at 16. This topic has always interested me, and I think it is an important one.
After the excerpt, I talk about how biological differences among genders are often misconstrued and constrained, affecting our behaviors and often causing ripples of negative or ultimately unsatisfying interactions. I wrote most the second part while writing Tools of Control. If you want to add something, feel free. I’d like to start a discussion. Opposing viewpoints that are not all in caps are welcome. Thanks for reading.
“About 1.2 billion years ago life finally made an enormous change. The possibly lazy bacteria that inhabited earth changed its method of reproduction. During asexual reproduction, a single-celled organism would use its genetic material to make a virtually identical replica of itself, and this way of reproducing left very little room for life-forms to discover which traits would be best in the ecosystems they were born in. This is probably why life took so long to evolve. When these single cells learned to combine their genetic material through sexual reproduction, the rate of evolution increased greatly.
Having certain genes can mean life or death or life for organisms, and those who live on generally spread their DNA with those certain beneficial genes to their offspring. The evolution of sexual reproduction increased variation in DNA and the rate of evolution. Even today harsh, drastically changing environments can make certain asexual, aquatic organisms begin to sexually reproduce.
Contrary to common belief, gender can be very fluid. Some animals can change sexes during their lifetime (snails and clownfish are examples) and sex determination can be random and controlled by conditions like fluctuations in temperature. The sex of alligators and certain other reptiles, for example, is determined by the temperature of the incubating egg. In communities of tropical clown fish, the most dominant individual is always female. The most dominant male will change its sex and become female if the most dominate female dies.
Some organisms, aside from asexual ones, do not need a partner to reproduce. Some fertilize themselves. They have both male and female sex organs. Many humans are born hermaphrodites or “intersex.” According to the Intersex Society of North, one in 1500 babies are born with ambiguous genitalia. The Children’s Boston Hospital estimates the rate may be closer to one in 4500. These babies often have to undergo sex assignment surgery to make them male or female.
Our understanding of male and female characteristics is fundamentally based on the differences we notice among the human sexes and many assume these are consistent throughout all plant and animal life, but this is not the case for all organisms as with those just mentioned. Male humans tend to carry less fat and have more lean weight. They are usually larger and stronger than their female counterparts. For these reasons, they were the “hunters and gatherers” in prehistoric times and some still assume this role. Female humans are generally smaller and less physically strong and because of this, their role has traditionally been to nurture and care for their offspring, owing largely to estrogens and the physical bonds that can be created during gestation, birth and childhood. However, these roles apply mostly to mammalian animals. In some species the roles are reversed and the females are much larger and stronger. Many falconiformes and owls exhibit these characteristics.
Sexual dimorphism is the condition in which males and females are morphologically different in ways like color, size, shape, and reproductive systems. Most genders are usually morphologically different and these differences can be extreme. The Triplewart sea devil and the Zeus water bug are examples. The male of the latter species is a parasite that attaches itself to the much larger female and lives there permanently. In contrast, the male moth, orgyia recens, have wings and can fly, but females of the same species cannot fly and they depend on the male to survive.
One common difference between almost all genders is that male gametes fertilize female gametes. Females create the zygote and carry offspring. Male sea horses, however, are exceptions. Female seahorses eject their eggs into the water column of the males who fertilize the female eggs, create zygotes in the process, and carry offspring in their brood pouches.
Among other species, the size of male and female gametes also usually differs. The female human ovum (or egg) is 100,000 larger than a human sperm cell. But even the size of the male and female gametes is exactly the same in some species. These organisms are nearly identical in appearance and very little separates them as either male or female, except that one “gender” always fertilizes the other “gender’s” gamete. These organisms are usually called + and – instead of male or female. There can also be more than two mating types.
Gender differences aren’t always consistent because there are not exactly two genders, even in humans. Female humans usually have one pair of sex chromosomes called X chromosomes while men usually have one Y chromosome and one X chromosome pair. This is believed to be another consistent difference between men and women. However, men can also have two XXs and one Y. This is called the Klinefelter syndrome. Women can also have three X chromosomes. Men can also have one X and two Y chromosomes, and some people only have one X sex chromosome. There are many other variations, so our sex chromosomes do not actually create two different mating types, but many.
As I mentioned in the excerpt, men and women have un-chosen biological differences and similarities, but I believe we have more in common than we do separating us. I think extreme gender binaries only exist to separate us and breed insecurity to encourage mindless consumption and production that benefits large financial institutions. Our natural differences developed for significant reasons and some serve meaningful functions, but many of these differences are exaggerated and we are told to limit our behaviors as a result. We can also get hung up on what our gender differences “mean” and some come to believe one gender is inherently better than another as a result. There are also some common misconceptions about why men and women are different and which differences are genetic or hormonal.
Fortunately, most women are more emotional and attached to children than men, as I mentioned in the excerpt. This is largely due to estrogens (like estrone, estradiol and estriol), other hormones, and the experience of gestation and childbearing. (During menstruation levels of estradiol also increase four-fold on average.) However, while estrogens are typically more present in women, they are also common in men. Estrogens are synthesized in all vertebrates and even in some insects.
Estrogens are synthesized from androgens, specifically testosterone (also present in the ovaries of most women) and androstendione. Androgens like testosterone have 19 carbon atoms while estrogens have 18 carbon atoms. They are derived from the enzyme breakdown of cholesterol. Androgens and estrogens are both responsible for secondary sexual characteristics, expression of certain genes, and increases in libido. However, in the absence of estrogen, testosterone can actually reduce sex drive. A number of other substances affect sex drive as well like dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and acetylcholine.
Higher blood levels of testosterone and other androgens typically make males (and females) more prone to aggressive and selfish behavior. They also increase muscle mass, body hair, genital size, and changes to facial and body structure during puberty. Some of these changes alone can contribute to selfish behavior because when individuals are physically larger and stronger than most, this gives them greater capability to abuse physically weaker people. However, the strongest men do not rule the planet, of course. Many are physically frail, weak and old, but they have immense power and callous minds.
Traditional gender roles are often taken to extremes and we are not all allowed to express or fulfill all of our wants or needs. We are taught how we are “supposed” to behave. For example, it is considered “wrong” in many cultures for a man to express traditionally feminine characteristics, and it also often considered “wrong” for a woman to express traditionally masculine characteristics. But human beings are capable of all kinds of behaviors. If we did away with unwanted authority figures and controlling institutions, we could express ourselves in any constructive way we choose and human interactions would be far more fulfilling.
I believe we should be able to identify with whatever gender they would like, of course. However, the DSM-V categorizes this desire as a “mental disorder” called “gender dysphoria.” I don’t believe it is right to say this desire is unhealthy. However, it can become unhealthy (like anything else). Feelings of shame about not matching up to one’s own gender expectations can sometimes lead people to have gender reassignment surgery. Bodily autonomy ought to be an absolute right. However, it could be argued that to make a decision about one’s body solely to adhere to society’s narrow conceptions of “appropriate” gender behaviors isn’t prudent. Sexual orientation is largely determined by genes, which we cannot control, but we can make decisions about surgeries to our bodies. We ought to be free to do whatever we want to our own individual bodies and not be discriminated against for choices perceived as unusual. But that said, I think we ought to make very well thought-out decisions before so severely changing our bodies. Not everyone will identify with their biological gender and expectations of them, and I don’t believe we need surgery to meet those expectations. As Gloria Steinham said, “If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?”
These genetic differences that make us men, women and intersex can’t be completely changed. We can’t add or lose a Y chromosome. We can take estrogens or testosterone supplements or have surgery to make us look more masculine or feminine, but this does not exactly change our gender. Our sex chromosomes are fixed, but we can accept our biological and behavioral differences, which are varied and sometimes contrary to unreasonable expectations of us.
Sex as a Fundamental Part of Life
There is debate over the idea that men may “need” sex more because of their higher blood levels of androgens that can increase sex drive. But even when the desire and need for sex is equal among sexes, it is often not treated that way. There are many imposed rules in different cultures that dictate when we can have sex, who we can have it with, how we should have it and more.
Large financial institutions have tried to separate sex from love, but they are very connected. Corporations try to sell us both along with distractions from them. Love in much media is sold as some ambiguous, elusive, undefinable entity only available in fiction while sex is usually sold as a mere, cheap distraction. Our bodies are given price-tags and our worth is rigidly defined by these institutions that control us.
There are celebrities, stories, videogames and other distractions that can replace real interactions, and from a very young age we are also bombarded with advertisements that use sex to sell. Much mainstream media appeals to our lowest common denominator. Even many corporations that sell products completely unrelated to sex often still use sex to sell their products by association because sex may be the most marketable “product” on the market. We are also taught beauty equals wealth, and lonely people with wealth can buy people for a certain period of time or in some cases for life.
Sex and relationships are among of the most rewarding and meaningful aspects of life, so we can’t be robbed of them. Our cities are larger than ever and we live so close partly because capitalists have made us believe living in cramped spaces leads to more interaction, but many are perhaps more lonely than they ever have been, even in large cities. You can’t walk down Massachusetts Avenue in Boston or the streets of Tokyo in Japan and get to know everyone you see because there are just too many people. You would be busy with introductions all day if you tried. It is often easier in smaller communities to develop real, consistent relationships, and smaller communities can be voluntarily formed unlike cities and states, which are always built on stolen land.
Crowds and very populated places can feel like the loneliest places if no one is talking or connecting. Legislation about sex, repressive religious dogma, the oppression of women, the commoditization of sex, and too rigid cultural expectations of genders all contribute. These also affects our popular ideas about sex, gender differences and self-image.
What Gets in the Way
Sex may be the most fun you can have for free. As long as the people involved are consenting and open about how they feel, no one should get hurt, so it doesn’t have to be so complicated. There are billions of people on Earth who would have sex with each other given the opportunity and love is not in short supply. It just doesn’t get distributed fairly like everything else. Millions still feel stuck alone largely because of insecurity. The supposed necessity of monogamy, marriage and other strict rules in relationships that make people feel stuck together also contribute. Many will settle just because they don’t want to end up alone.
Polyamory still has a stigma attached to it in many places. Men are allowed to marry more than one woman in some very fundamentalist Morman and Islamic communities, but women aren’t granted the same ability to marry multiple partners in any first-world country. Love doesn’t always just stop with one person. Most of us delegate a “certain kind of love” for just one person, but our desires and needs may be beyond one person.
If a partner in a committed relationship feels they want to have sex with someone else and they can’t openly tell their significant other, but would rather cheat in secret, there is a problem beyond the act of cheating. It is the underlying deceit and cowardice. When this happens one fling with another person can completely destroy the life a couple has built. Talking about the desire for polyamory or simple sex with others with your partner is far better. If you can’t come to an agreement, it may be better to part ways.
Couples who want kids should make well-thought decisions about this. Good family planning does not happen often enough mainly because of archaic legislation that restricts the availability of contraceptives, abortions, and other reproductive health services and products to those who do not want children. Laws and cultural standards that permit or demand forced arrangements and “relationships” are truly just financial transactions, which also contribute. People often end up with kids they don’t want in a world with millions of kids who already don’t have parents. On the bright side, adoption can be a great option for those who want kids that can be rewarding for both parents and their adopted children. Any fit parent on the LGBTQI spectrum should also be able to adopt everywhere.
Sometimes decent, harmless people who do not follow social constructs or are too honest are perceived as threats or predatory, while many more dangerous individuals are seen as trustworthy because they have a better ability to manipulate and pretend. People tend to trust good-looking, confident individuals who make themselves available because they are attractive on the surface. Confidence is very valued in many cultures and while care for oneself is important, confidence can also be faked. Entire personalities can be farces that people make up to get laid or make money. This is often done in politics. As long as someone looks like they know what they are saying or they say it coherently and convincingly, they are often trusted. But anyone can act or be confident. It is not always an indicator of good personal traits or trustworthiness. Confident people can be just pompous, predatory or delusional.
Further, the individuals who provide the most (in every sense) in the long-term may not make the best first impression or be smooth or even confident, because many good people do not know their own worth. Confident individuals are often more prone to feel “entitled.” Confidence, interpersonal dynamics and timing can also be learned by those who lack these. This is often easier to do than trying to teach someone not to be selfish, cruel or misanthropic because these tend to stem from ideology, as opposed to insecurity.
Sex has been pushed into capitalist marketplaces where it is “won” by the highest bidders and even love is affixed with a price tag. Sex is given too much power because it is sold so often and often for high prices. But it is just a biological trick for procreation after-all. That is the only reason it feels good, because more genetic variation increases the rate of evolution. But there can be incredible meaning and significance in sex and love despite that.
If two people truly only need each other, then they could feasibly go away together and live off a piece of land and never spend a dime. If they did, however, they would cease to be worth anything to greedy corporations. Large corporations want us reliant on some fantasy we’ve built in our heads to keep us constantly consuming temporarily satisfying pieces of their products.
Love and lovers are often portrayed as a thing to mourn over. There are made-up dramas and sacrifices so great that don’t need to be made, but they are in media because they make for a good story. Film studios owned by even larger corporations would rather you buy tickets to live vicariously through Scarlett Johansson or Christian Bale than have meaningful relationships with real people because those relationships do not always profit them.
Patriarchal societies in which women aren’t respected as equals usually derive from unequal power structures in which there one dominating class and religious dogma. In these societies the homeless, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, children, and others who cannot fend for themselves are also marginalized. They are not only damaging to those oppressed but also to those who oppress. The men aren’t truly happy. Happy, healthy individuals do not want to oppress, coerce, or rape anyone. Those in charge are short-sighted. They value temporary “highs” that come from unequal relations without thinking about the long-term and what it all means.
There is also a double standard that prevents people from getting together. Women and girls who frequently have sex are often used but not always valued, whereas guys who get have frequent sex are considered “players.” Sex is seen as too much of an unequal transaction wherein one party (usually the woman) is left with less than the other. But this does not have to be the case.
The mechanics of sex also influences perceptions of sex and which gender wants it more. It is a more vulnerable position to be penetrated in sex than to penetrate. Those being penetrated are more at risk of being hurt and this leads heterosexual women to be more careful and selective about choosing a mate.
Female virginity is often considered a sign of “purity” in some fundamentalist religious and totalitarian societies and this affects sexual behaviors as well. For example, prior to 1980 the UK performed virginity tests on women immigrating there to marry their finances “to prove” the validity of marriage. Virginity testing is also performed during routine medical exams in Indonesia and on teenage girls enrolled in high school to “reduce promiscuity” Virginity tests are also performed in Afghanistan without consent. In one even more extreme case in Iran after Atena Farghadani shook hands with her lawyer she was imprisoned for “illicit sexual relations falling short of adultery” and forced to have a virginity test performed. Virginity testing is a disgusting, humiliating, sexist, and barbaric practice. If there was a way to check for male virginity, it would never be mandatory. It is just one more of the many ways states attempt to control our bodies and impose their own repressed, backwards value system.
Rape and other horrible abuses still exist, and we all have to confront them to stop them. As I said, happy people don’t want to rape anyone. If we treated actual rape as a despicable, unjustifiable act, the desire to sexually assault people would decrease. However, in some regions of the world, (mostly poor ones) it is just an accepted part of the culture. In fundamentalist Muslim regions that impose Sharia law, sometimes women victims of rape are punished more than then men who rape them. Rape is also disturbingly common in many parts of Africa. Even in America, rape is tolerated to a degree. The FBI, for example, only considers rape to be male-on-female assault. But lamentably men get raped by other men all the time. Women can also rape men and other women as well. Reports of sexual assault often aren’t taken as seriously as other major crimes, especially when the assault is not what federal agencies believe constitutes “rape.” Men also often get away with rape more easily than women do. Rape in prison is abhorrently common and very underreported due to fears of further abuse or death.
Legislation that defines consensual sex is overly simple and reductive at best in many countries. In America the age of consent is eighteen, but it is not as if on our eighteenth birthday, we are magically bestowed the ability to decide who to have sex with. Most kids grow up fast and are able to make decisions about it. Kids already want and have sex, but the age of consent makes their sex criminal. A nineteen-year-old in America can go to jail for having consensual, loving sex with a seventeen-year-old. When a fifteen-year-old sends a topless picture to her boyfriend or just a sexual text message, she could also be prosecuted and labeled as a “sex offender” for life. The “age of consent” is a concept that does not reflect reality. No person, state, or institution should have the right to regulate sexual behavior between consenting parties. What two or more consenting parties want to do with their own bodies is their own business.
Some clergy abstain from sex because they feel the need to abuse and punish themselves since they believe this is admired by God. Many traditional religious leaders also discourage others from having sex out of wedlock and for purposes other than procreation. But depriving yourself of such an integral part of life is often destructive, and sexual frustration among clergy has led to many instances of sexual abuse in Catholic Churches. People are generally less happy when they are not having gratifying sex or being loved, and people who sell themselves or buy sex often have one thing in common, which is that they lack love.
The Sex Industry
Buying and selling sex can be harmful or benign. It very much depends on the circumstances. Some people benefit from it. In the optimal circumstances, all parties involved can walk away satisfied. However, that does not always happen because of potential problems like rape, sex slavery, contraction of STDs, and other trauma. These problems exist mostly in places where sex work is illegal because illicit sex workers are not treated as legitimate workers, and they can be imprisoned for doing their job. There is usually no regulation or oversight to prevent abuses or diseases either. Transmission of sexual diseases is fairly common among sex workers who work on the streets and don’t get tested along with their clienteles, whereas testing is a requirement in many legal brothels, and there is significant security.
It is impossible to completely stop the sale of sex (or drugs) through force and law, and laws against sex work only bring harm to sex workers and their clientele. Governments won’t stopping abusive arrangements, no matter what their laws may be. Abuses will only decline when our perception of gender differences, roles, and social constructs change, and people respect one another.
If sex was only sold in a very straight-forward, consensual way in safe environments where all parties involved were comfortable and tested, abuse would be much less likely to occur. The war on prostitution forces it underground, and abusive pumps also take advantage of sex workers who get the most punishment. All of the major harms that we see come from prostitution today could all be prevented by the legalization and oversight of brothels (or the abolition of the state).
It would be ideal if sex and love were not so desperately lacking in many people’s lives that need them. Many feel they have no other option than to buy sex, and sex as a means to an end is considered the norm in most cultures. But most governments do not allow sex workers to operate without prosecution in safe environments, and some cops even rape sex workers just to fulfill their own selfish desires.
Nevada is currently the only state in the US that has allowed sex work to remain legal, and they have a fairly clean prostitution business. (Some counties of Nevada do not allow prostitution like Las Vegas.) Legal sex workers in Nevada are required to have weekly tests done for STDs. Customers are also checked for STDs. They have good security, ensuring no one gets harmed and the environment is generally more supportive and welcoming than poor streets corners where destitution and drugs often come with the sex trade. In legal brothels, dialogues are exchanged, and customers and workers are generally more sensitive to each other’s needs and wants. Most importantly, no one goes to jail.
Brothels in Nevada do differ, as they do in many regions, so some are run better than others. If prostitution were legalized, it would have to be done in the same sensitive and careful way that drugs are legalized to prevent abuse. Prostitution does not have to be a massive industry, and it does not have to be like buying a piece of meat.
People all have their reasons for wanting to buy and sell sex, and it’s not prudent to assume that they are all the same, or that prostitution is inherently exploitative of one gender, orientation, or minority. Currently, prostitution disproportionately harms women and minorities, but this is mainly because it is illegal. Male sex workers can also be abused and sexually enslaved. Some women buy sex regularly too, but if the transaction is exploitative that is the fault of the one of the parties involved (or a third-party).
Prostitution and pornography have both been called inherently misogynistic many times because there is a larger market for porn that is degrading to women or it is at least made more available than normal porn or erotica. Much of the porn industry is patriarchal like everything else. Most of the time porn productions (major ones) are run by men, so the demand for degrading porn (playful or not) is met. A market exists for it, and that is the problem.
Mainstream pornography is often degrading to sex, as opposed to one gender. The distinction between “porn” and “erotica” is also often made intentionally ambiguous. Erotica is traditionally viewed as more artful, but anything can be seen as artful. There is no clear line separating porn from erotica and art. There are all kinds of overlaps and differences in interpretation, so it makes it makes the debate generally messy.
Some people feel empowered by selling themselves or at least a little piece of themselves. But it is not the good kind of empowerment when it is done out of destitution and a lack of options to survive. Every human being has something unique to offer, and pursuing meaningful goals while offering what is best about yourself is generally more gratifying than forever selling your body to sustain yourself, especially if there is no joy or even desire in the actual sex and it is not recognized as a legal trade. It can also make those who pay for sex lazy. Some think if I can pay for sex, why bother improving myself, looking my best, or trying to connect more deeply with someone who actually wants me? And it’s a vicious cycle. Someone who buys sex may feel that’s the only way they can avoid being alone.
There is a great deal of work of be done and progress to be made to advance human relationships, and education, protest, and changing minds through our words and behaviors may be the most effective among them. I think it is also important we try to value and improve ourselves as much as we can while we seek to do the same with others, and try to refrain from judging people just for appearing or acting in ways we might see as unusual. We would all likely be most happy if we sought out people who have truly good character, who do their best to make the planet a better place, and who offer real reciprocity and understanding. To meet those ends, let’s try to be as good as we can to all humans, brothers, sisters, and everyone in-between.