Sperm Wars 2

Posted by jcnnghm Mon, 15 Feb 2010 00:18:02 GMT

In the last few days I've noticed a lot of interest in Dating and the Pickup subculture, such as the article The New Dating Game, at The Weekly Standard. While I read the book The Game and found it to be amusing, the most interesting book I've read on the subject, though it wasn't really on the subject, is a little-known out-of-print book by Dr. Robin Baker, Sperm Wars: The Science of Sex. Because it's out of print, new copies are going for about $600. I'm primarily writing this becasue I recently found that this great book has been reissued as Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles.

Sperm Wars is all about sex. Baker uses sexually charged stories to setup scenarios, and then explains the significance of each scenario in the context of evolutionary psychology. Baker covers everything, from masturbation and routine relationship sex, to female bisexuality, manual stimulation at the start of a relationship, and infidelity. The books namesake, Sperm Wars, are covered in great detail. Essentially, when a woman sleeps with multiple men, the 99% of their sperm that aren't capable of fertilizing the egg fight to the death to outflank the challengers. Fascinating stuff.

The heart of the book, to me, was the manner in which Baker tied the underlying evolved drives to the outward actions that people are intimately familiar with. For instance, Baker explains that men and women tend to sleep together less frequently, but more routinely the longer they've been in a committed relationship because it's only necessary for the man to "top-off" (his words, not mine) the woman, as his sperm can survive inside of her for about a week.

Baker's scenarios and explanations made it easy to extrapolate why people do what they do in practice, even if it's not immediately obvious. It doesn't make much sense for a woman to cheat on a man that she's happily in love with, unless you consider that she's overwhelmed with a subconscious desire to mate with a partner as fit as possible. Just as it's not easy to see why Tiger Woods would trash his name so thoroughly, unless you consider that a part of the desire for success is the in-built male desire to procreate as much as possible. Procreation for males leads to evolutionary success, whereas for women, it's much more complicated and refined.

The woman must not only conceive a fit child, but also raise them, at least from an evolutionary standpoint. The author asserts that unlike some apes, there is no outward sign that a human female is ovulating, so she is able to subconsciously control when she mates with different men, to control who fathers her children. Baker backs this up with the somewhat sobering statistic that 10% of the men that children call "dad" aren't actually their father.

All in all, Sperm Wars is an excellent book that I would recommend to anyone that is anxious to learn why people do the irrational things that they do. It could change your whole perspective, and may even have you questioning some of your own actions.

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  1. James Mon, 15 Feb 2010 01:54:24 GMT

    I recommend immediately following with Dagg, A.I. (2005) “‘Love of Shopping’ Is Not a Gene - Problems with Darwinian Psychology” (Montreal: Black Rose Books) http://amzn.com/1551642565 (the single bad review on Amazon is not representative of the book’s accuracy, in my opinion.)

    There are a huge number of surprisingly pervasive myths about this minefield of a topic. But the reason it’s a minefield is because it’s at the bleeding edge of controversial science. If you believe we’re deterministic beings, knowing why we make the subconscious decisions we do is valuable. Knowing how people make mistakes about those reasons is just as valuable.

  2. rjp Mon, 15 Feb 2010 05:27:19 GMT

    Damn, if only my copy was new, that’d be a whole lot of chocolate.