“Five Studies that Offer Fascinating Conclusions About Human Sexuality”

I cannot vouch for the validity or weight of the studies in this article, but the findings range from “duh” to “really?” “Five Studies That Offer Fascinating Conclusions About Human Sexuality”

Christopher Ryan, co-author of Sex at Dawn in this summary of a TED talk discusses the origins of sexual behaviors and patterns growing out of an agricultural society and notes that the monogamy outgrowth of the Victorian era succeeded a more open sexual model based on needs and dictates of a more flexible community. I have excerpted a key passage below:

Ryan explains that our sexual patterns are an outgrowth of agricultural models—which accounts for only about five percent of human history. For the other 95 percent, human sexuality was “a way of establishing and maintaining the complex flexible social systems, networks, that our ancestors were very good at.” In hunter-gatherer societies, there were overlapping sexual relationships between members of a community—a more fluid system than the Victorian model we’re wedded to today. In fact, several contemporary societies around the world argue against the sexual myth we’ve built up, too.

“My hope is that a more accurate updated understanding of human sexuality will lead us to have greater tolerance for ourselves, for each other, greater respect for unconventional relationship configurations like same-sex marriage or polyamorous unions, and that we’ll finally put to rest the idea that men have some innate instinctive right to monitor and control women’s sexual behavior,” Ryan says. “And we’ll see that it’s not only gay people that have to come out of the closet: we all have closets we have to come out of.”

Another interesting data point about bisexuality as a transitional phase or an identity in its own is detailed in question and answer format below:

Question: Is bisexuality a sexual orientation, something that’s temporary or an outgrowth of the sexual fluidity we all exhibit?
Research: In a 2008 study, Lisa M. Diamond of the University of Utah presented the results of a decade-long assessment of nearly 70 women who identified as lesbian, bisexual, or sexually unlabelable. Five times over the course of the study, the women detailed their sexual identities, attractions, behaviors, and their social and familial relationships.
Results: Based on Diamond’s findings, bisexuality is not a “transitional stage that women adopt ‘on the way’ to lesbian identification” or an “experimental phase” for heterosexuals. Her results, instead, supported that, “Bisexuality may best be interpreted as a stable pattern of attraction to both sexes in which the specific balance of same-sex to other-sex desires necessarily varies according to interpersonal and situational factors,” she writes.

And finally, another point of interest for me was the question of the sequential order of arousal and desire in humans:

Question: Which comes first—desire or arousal?
Research: In a study from 2004, described in this New York Times article, Ellen Laan, Stephanie Both and Mark Spiering of the University of Amsterdam examined participants’ physical responses to sexual images.
Results: The research indicates that we respond physically to highly sexual visuals before our mind even engages with them. In other words, desire doesn’t precede arousal—it’s the other way around. And we aren’t even aware it’s happening.

It’s a brief but interesting read and something a little more substantial than a five reasons for sexuality or six steps to a better sex life article.

11 Replies to ““Five Studies that Offer Fascinating Conclusions About Human Sexuality””

  1. An interesting read that, as you point out, “ranges from ‘duh’ to ‘really?'” I’m always skeptical of these studies. They never seem to offer a large enough sample size to publish conclusions. That, and the fact that many of the studies have to rely on the immediate gene pool of the researchers, further clouding the results. I have always maintained that sexual monogamy goes against instinctual human desires and even needs. Simply, and, I believe, obviously stated there are just too many partner choices available to limit oneself to years – decades – of single partner couplings.

      1. I believe that modern religion, specifically Christianity, imposed the “social strategy” to control the ‘sin’ of extramarital sexual relations. That it also “locate(d) and confirm(ed) heredity, inheritance and health remediation” was just an unthought-of byproduct. Look to the ancient Greek and Roman gods Dionysus and Bacchus and the orgiastic and hedonistic rituals they reigned over. Leave it to religion to take all the fun out of life!

      2. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monogamy supports a cultural argument for it as social organization and heredity concerns under “Cultural Argument”. Of course, this IS Wikipedia, but there is plenty to be read about the Victorian era efforts to organize society and monogamy supplied the tools partially, i.e., Michel Foucault in An Archeology of the Human Sciences, I believe. I believe he also mentions it in his history of sexuality, the exact title of which escapes me now.

  2. I read “Sex at Dawn” and I found it interesting; I also agree with MPM that religion played a very big role in putting our inherent sexual behaviors on lockdown and making heterosexuality and monogamy the preferred way to have sex and all because at the time, that was the only way babies were going to be made. Today, we know that it isn’t the only way but the restrictions have never been updated and human sexuality is still “officially” on lockdown – but people have and continue to break away from the restrictions and in whatever way happens to float their boat.

    Desire and arousal, as I understand it, go hand in hand but the question is almost like asking which came first – the chicken or the egg? – and, at least in my opinion, observations, and experiences, one can trigger the other easily enough or that arousal may not always trigger desire and, well, it’s complicated and we’re a long way from really understanding why we do what we do when it comes to sex… beyond what’s observable, anyway…

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kdaddy23. Yes, human behavior, sexual or otherwise, is “on lockdown” (love the phrasing) because of inherited cultural predispositions and practices. The lag time for an entire culture to catch up, so to speak, leaves these kinds of inconsistencies and inanities, where practices or ideas about right or wrong are mindlessly repeated long after the reasons for the behaviors or ideas have disappeared or become irrelevant. There are still laws on the books in many states outlawing sodomy and adultery, which are widespread practices. It was only in the late 60’s when contraception was illegal. The precursor to Roe v. Wade was Griswold v. Connecticut, a case that overturned a ruling that a married couple violated the Connecticut law by purchasing contraception. A slow-moving and catching up institution like the Supreme Court finally reconciled the law to the ubiquitous behaviors of the country surrounding it.
      Not sure I am clear, but as to your point about which comes first, desire or arousal, I agree that we cannot tell and maybe it’s not important. However, I believe there is considerable interest and space for changing behavior if we realize that what we think is desire or arousal generated from within us, maybe genetically encoded, is more likely notions we picked up from living in a culture. Our desires are made and arousal response created by the pictures of desire, including gender norms, floating around and eventually in us. We unconsciously take in cultural norms and pictures of desire, and thus arousal, through our parents’ ideas and behaviors as well as our literature and media. We just think what we desire and are aroused by is inherent in us.

      1. There are still laws in place against oral sex and, basically, any form of sex that will prevent conception and, as you say with accuracy, those laws get shattered on a daily basis.

        Yep, figuring out which gets the other where arousal and desire is concerned would be interesting… but not as interest as having a culture that embraces the diversity in place already instead of always trying to debunk it or otherwise kick it to the curb.

        And in order to embrace the diversity, we have to break away from what we’ve been taught, programmed, conditioned to believe when it comes to these things. I am bisexual and I love the diversity it affords me – but it’s something I couldn’t do or be IF I allowed what I was taught to drive the bus. My sexuality allows me to appreciate the sexuality of others without prejudice because if I can dare to be different, others can dare just as much.

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