Jun 19 2008

Just Say “No” to Hormones?

Published by at 2:44 pm under culture,freethought,science

I find it curious that NOT ONE of my male friends or acquaintances ever made the lifestyle choice to be attracted to female giraffes at the local area zoo. (As far as I can tell.) Talk about long and slender necks!

As for me, I distinctly recall the day myself and I sat down with me and sorted out where to direct Andrew’s sexual energies. The final vote was close, with me and myself opting for female Homo sapiens, while I stubbornly insisted on “something from the marsupial section of the menu.”

In reality, the story goes more like this: One hot summer day I ventured over to my neighbor’s house for a pool party. The daughter, a recent graduate of puberty, was sporting a bikini. I absolutely couldn’t keep my eyes off her. I was fascinated, bewitched. And I hadn’t even learned “the facts of life” yet. Nonetheless, the mysterious, delicious attraction had grabbed me and has yet to let me go.

The very summer before my sisters had begun talking about bikini-girl’s older brother, a boy who had lost his boy fat, grew half a foot, sprouted man muscles, and started talking in a voice an octave lower. The way they went on, you’d think he were Gawd’s gift to girlhood. But I just didn’t get it; it didn’t make a whit of sense to me. For all I knew, my sisters had been adopted into the family from an alien race.

Of course I am here poking fun at the idea that sexual orientation is a conscious choice. (Try this experiment: Consciously choose to desire a big bowl of latex paint for dessert over vanilla pudding.)

In this post I will look at four recent research findings about human sexuality.

1.

Society’s Attitudes Have Little Impact On Choice Of Sexual Partner
ScienceDaily (Jun. 17, 2008) – A unique new study from the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institute (KI) suggests that the attitude of families and the public have little impact on if adults decide to have sex with persons of the same or the opposite sex. Instead, hereditary factors and the individual’s unique experiences have the strongest influence on our choice of sexual partners.

In my opinion, “choice” isn’t the right word. Sexual attraction isn’t about what’s behind door one or door two, with door one being blue and two being pink. Sexual orientation is far more complex than a “choice” of blue or pink.

2.

Symmetry Of Homosexual Brain Resembles That Of Opposite Sex, Swedish Study Finds
Swedish researchers have found that some physical attributes of the homosexual brain resemble those found in the opposite sex, according to an article published online (June 16) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This piece of research reinforces a number of other studies that appear to show that the brains of homosexuals are different than that of heterosexuals. Of course, behavior can influence the brain as can the brain influence behavior. However, another study that comes to mind – that homosexuals’ brains respond to the scent of male pheromones as do female heterosexuals – suggest that brain structure/activity may precede the behavior.

Also, there have been a whole slew of animal studies demonstrating that the prenatal exposure to hormone levels (of the fetus and the mother) has a strong influence on sexual drive and orientation.

3.

Age At Puberty Linked To Mother’s Prenatal Diet
A high-fat diet during pregnancy and nursing may lead to the child having an early onset of puberty and subsequent adulthood obesity, according to a new animal study. The results were presented June 16, at The Endocrine Society’s 90th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

What does this have to do with the sexual orientation and choice? First, the sooner you enter puberty — and average onset in this country has significantly declined — the sooner you have serious, adult sexual urges. Might this partly explain the “moral decline” our nation is experiencing (i.e., the greater sexual activity of teens)? Remember, I said, “partly.”

All of the above research supports the notion that sexuality is not a lifestyle choice. It’s not a choice because our sexuality can be strongly innate and/or determined by our unique brain structure and function as well as our unchosen personal experiences.  Also, due to the impulsive, unconscious nature of sexual behavior, we can’t honestly label it a “choice.”

Which brings me to the final article.

4.

Virginity Pledges May Help Postpone Intercourse Among Youth
ScienceDaily (Jun. 14, 2008) – Making a virginity pledge may help some young people postpone the start of sexual activity, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Researchers found that adolescents who made pledges to remain virgins until they are married were less likely to be sexually active over the three-year study period than other youth who were similar to them, but who did not make a virginity pledge, according to the study published online by the Journal of Adolescent Health.

This article caught my eye because I have read research to the contrary. But here’s the point I want to make: Regardless of whether or not virginity pledges are effective (and/or abstinence-only educational programs, such as the public education system in my county pays for) is, to a large degree, besides the point.

In my developmental psychology classes I have had many older students (30+) who have expressed this opinion: I don’t want my child to marry the first person they sleep with. They should see what’s out there (in so many words).

While sexual orientation is largely not, to abstain from premarital sex and remain a virgin IS a lifestyle choice. Should programs advocating a lifestyle be included in our public education?

One reason I believe it shouldn’t is because virginity pledges reflect a naïve worldview. They promote the illusion (while providing sanctuary for stupid, black-and-white morality) that the conscious mind sits in the pilot’s chair of the craft of self, and all other parts of self can obey the pilot’s instructions.

Um . . . ask 100 clergy members to take a no-sex pledge, including no self-sex, and see how many are left “standing” after a year. Or even a single month. While the conscious mind may be willing, the “flesh” (the numerous other silent parts of the body and brain) can shout it down.

Second, to advocate virginity pledges is to promote a set of values the paint sexuality in a light not many of us agree with. Is sex dirty? Is it bad? Is it only for “making babies?” I don’t think I’d want teens to be exposed to that message, no matter how tacit.

As for the “moral value” of a virginity pledge, my guess is that this is originated in the innate drive for men and women to insure that the offspring they produce and raise are their own. The genetically-based drive has been encased in religious dogma. Does it have a place in today’s world?

Religion emphasizes no sex before or outside of marriage to ensure paternity; to ensure that a male doesn’t waste his time and resources on a child that isn’t his (i.e., conceived before they officially hooked up), and that a female doesn’t birth a child to a father who is long gone.

[See: http://almightyalpha.blogspot.com/2008/01/gods-love-of-his-own-children-part-i.html; http://almightyalpha.blogspot.com/2008/01/gods-love-for-his-own-children-part-ii.html; http://almightyalpha.blogspot.com/2008/04/sexual-pride-reproductive-jealousy.html]

Do these instincts and cannons belong in today’s society? Maybe. But I don’t think it is up to a school to decide what sexual, “lifestyle choice” is best.

If I had a teenage child I would want his or her school system to teach the following:
1. abstinence is the most effective way to avoid an unplanned pregnancy and/or contracting an STD. 2. sometimes the best conscious intentions don’t pan out, and not all individuals agree that abstaining from sex before marriage is a good thing. Therefore, condoms are an essential and effective “plan B.”

In the home I imagine giving my suitably-aged child a condom and telling him or her this: “If you engage in an unplanned, impulsive sexual act, I may not like it, but I will understand.” (I can’t remember the last time my wife and I had planned sex.) “However, if you engage in unplanned and unprotected sexual activity, I will be disappointed. If you do have sex, use a condom!”

Is the above too complicated for the average Joe and Jane to comprehend? True, religious proscriptions have the power to simplify and thus ease the worried mind. Yet they can also misinform and misguide members of our community.  An educational system should have no part in that.

4 comments

4 Comments to “Just Say “No” to Hormones?”

  1. Greg Laden's Blogon 09 Jul 2008 at 8:13 pm

    Tangled Bank #109: LOL Evolution!…

    Welcome to the One Hundred and Ninth Edition of The Tangled Bank, the Weblog Carnival of Evolutionary Biology. This is the LOL edition of the Tangled Bank…. The main page for The Tangled Bank is here. The previous edition of The Tangled Bank was here…

  2. dreikinon 10 Jul 2008 at 8:34 am

    Cool article overall, but I want to point out something about one of your statements:

    “to abstain from premarital sex and remain a virgin IS a lifestyle choice”

    No, unfortunately not always:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Involuntary_celibacy (caution: there’ve been some edit wars going on there, where one person is trying to badly represent the issue)
    http://incel.myonlineplace.org/forum/index.php

  3. Glendon Mellowon 11 Jul 2008 at 6:36 am

    Fascinating article, and interesting links!

    I like the discussion about how much we are in control of our sexual feelings. Like any behaviour, the feeling might be there, but acting on it is a different matter.

    Noticing an attractive woman does not mean you have to wolf whistle.

  4. Georgia Crosson 15 Jul 2008 at 1:56 am

    Thank you for Blog time. One aspect of the sexual side of life is the emotional attachment that goes along with the act. The act of sexual intercourse has been, in my opinion of course, totally stripped of the emotional components and left as a mechanical, hormone justified inevitability by today’s educational system. For a women, the act of being entered is one that entails total trust and faith that she is not going to be harmed. That trust encourages a psychological fugue. Her perspective of all aspects of the man’s nature is forever changed because he is the one who is most trusted. Bare logic and reasoning are simply not available when female hormones enter the scene. That is why abstinence before marriage/true commitment is necessary for the continuation of the human race. How many times has a woman chosen to marry a man who turned out to be a total bum? Even with long ‘dating’ periods and living together? Premarital sex exceedingly likely during this time. Her judgment of what he was really about, how he was going to care for her and her children, was slanted by her sexual connection. When the sexual fugue wears off, he is seen for what he is, a bum. Well it’s too late my friend. Kids are here, bills to be paid and a long time wasted on a man who you totally mis-judged. Beware of the Rose Coloured Condom.

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