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What is sex really for?
What is sex really for?

New Delhi, Oct 24 (TIWN): Few topics arouse as much interest and controversy as sex. This is hardly surprising. The biological continuance of the species hinges on it – if human beings stopped having sex, there would soon be no more human beings. Popular culture overflows with sex, from cinema to advertising to, yes, even politics. And for many, sex represents one of the most intimate forms of human connection.

Despite its universality, sex and its purpose have been understood very differently by different thinkers. I teach an annual course on sexuality at Indiana University, and this work has provided opportunities to ponder sex from some provocative angles, including the body, the psyche and the spirit.

Sex and the body
Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956) was an insect biologist whose alarm at “widespread ignorance of sexual structure and physiology” led him to become perhaps the first major American figure in the study of sex. The Kinsey Reports, published in 1948 and 1953, presented a highly statistical taxonomy of sexual preferences and practices. Despite draining sex of virtually all eroticism, the books managed to sell about three-quarters of a million copies.

The intellectual climate for Kinsey’s studies of sex had been powerfully shaped by the work of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Physician and founder of psychoanalysis, Freud created a model of the human psyche that placed libido or sex drive at its core and postulated that psychological and social life are powerfully shaped by its tensions with the conventions of civilized behavior. According to Freud, failure to adequately resolve such tensions could manifest in a variety of mental and physical ailments.

The stage for psychoanalysis had in turn been set by Charles Darwin (1809-1882). In “Selection in Relation to Sex (1871),” Darwin argued that human beings are animals, likening differences between males and females in body and behavior to those seen among species such as peacocks and emphasizing female choosiness and direct competition among males. From Darwin’s vantage point, and later that of Freud, even some of the most sophisticated trappings of human civilization reflect basic biological imperatives. The subject of non-heterosexual attraction requires a different account.

At first glance, sexual reproduction is a puzzle, since each member of an asexually reproducing species can produce its own genetically identical young at a lower biological cost. However, sexual reproduction allows a more rapid reshuffling of the genetic deck, increasing the probability that some individuals will be well adapted to environmental changes. Because human beings reproduce sexually, the foundation is laid for sexual selection, the competition for mates of which Darwin wrote in such detail.

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