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Posts Tagged ‘biology’


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Still Behaving Like Animals

People have always been nervous about the possibility of human nature being nothing more than animal nature all tarted up with a big brain. There’s lots of bristling at the idea that biology might explains us just as easily as it does our animal cousins.

We’ve been wondering for a long time just how thin the line is that separates our behavior from that of those animal cousins. And we can’t ask that question without wondering if civilization is maybe nothing more than a thin veneer we humans wear to protect ourselves from the most dangerous animals on the planet — each other.

Strangely enough in the past few weeks, it hasn’t been The Pet Shop or rutting Siberian beavers on Animal Planet that have me thinking about that thin line and what’s actually going on beneath the veneer. I confess to know next to nothing about neurobiology and even less about the financial world. I write nasty stories. But when penises and testosterone and male biology enter, detrimentally, into the stock markets and the banking industry, I’m suddenly very interested.

I first became aware of the market-testosterone connection while doing my usual scan of the news over breakfast.

In his article for the Observer, Testosterone and High Finance Do Not Mix: So Bring on the Women, Tim Adams gives a brief lesson in ‘neuroeconomics’ and writes about hearing Michael Lewis, author of the book, ‘The Big Short,’ Speak at the London School of Economics. Lewis was asked what single thing he would do to reform the markets and prevent such a catastrophe happening again, and he said: ‘I would take steps to have 50% of women in risk positions in banks.’

Several days later there was an article in the Guardian about the EU calling for women to make up one third of bank directors in an effort to prevent ‘group think,’ which is often blamed for exacerbating the industry crisis of 2008.  According to the article, gender diversity can lessen the problem of group-think, partly because there’s evidence that the leadership style of women is different, that they ‘attend more board meetings and have a positive impact on the collective intelligence of a group.’

When I shared the ‘testosterone’ links with my husband, he sent me a link to a New York Times article, in which Paul Krugman discusses a comment from a post by economist, Kevin O’Rourke, called, ‘What do markets want.’ This is the comment:

‘The markets want money for cocaine and prostitutes. I’m deadly serious.

‘Most people don’t realize that ‘the markets’ are in reality 22-27 year old business school graduates, furiously concocting chaotic trading strategies on excel sheets and reporting to bosses perhaps 5 years senior to them. In addition, they generally possess the mentality and probably intelligence of junior cycle secondary school students. Without knowledge of these basic facts, nothing about the markets makes any sense—and with knowledge, everything does.’

In the animal kingdom, younger males are sometimes ostracized from the community until one of them develops the strength and maturity to wrest the power from the alpha male. In the animal kingdom, the one who gets to breed is the winner. Even our seemingly companionable British robin will fight to the death with a usurping male if it will get him the chance to pass on his genes to the next generation.

I couldn’t help but wonder as I read about hormones and the market running amuck if our cultural queasiness with our animal nature has, once again, come back to bite us in the butt. The drive to procreate, and the sooner the better, may no longer be at the top of our civilized ‘to do list,’ but the biology for it is still there. What better place for young men, not yet mature enough to lead the pack, to play out that possessive, territorial ‘need to breed’ aggression than in the market? As I said, I’m definitely no expert, but it seems to me that  to turn the animal loose in an already testosterone-charged play-ground, complete with expensive cars and high-end sex, and expect him to behave in a ‘civilized’ manner is more than a little bit naïve.

 

 

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Sex Magic

I’m thinking about sex magic tonight. I think about sex magic a lot, actually. I’m always struggling to get my head around why sex is magic, why human sexuality defies the nature programme /Animal Planet biological tagging that seems to work for other species that populate the planet. I don’t think I could write sex without magic, and even if I could I wouldn’t want to. I’m not talking about airy-fairy or woo-woo so much as the mystery that is sex. On a biological level we get it. We’ve gotten it for a long time. We know all about baby-making and the sharing of the genes and the next generation. It’s textbook.

 But it’s the ravenousness of the human animal that shocks us, surprises us, turns us on in ways that we didn’t see coming. It’s the nearly out of body experience we have when we are the deepest into our body we can possibly be. It’s the skin on skin intimacy with another human being in a world where more personal space is always in demand.

 When we come together with another human being, for a brief moment, our worlds entwine in ways that defy description. We do it for the intimacy of it, the pleasure of it, the naughtiness of it, the dark animal possessiveness of it. Sex is the barely acceptable disturbance in the regimented scrubbed-up proper world of a species that has evolved to have sex for reasons other than procreation. Is that magical? It certainly seems impractical. And yet we can’t get enough.

 We touch each other because it feels good. We slip inside each other because it’s an intimate act that scratches an itch nothing else in the whole universe can scratch. During sex, we are ensconced in the mindless present, by the driving force of our individual needs, needs that we could easily satisfy alone, but it wouldn’t be the same. Add love to the mix, add a little bit of romance, add a little bit of chemistry, and the magic soup thickens and heats up and gets complicated. I don’t think it’s any surprise at all that sex is a prime ingredient in story. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s any surprise that it is also an ingredient much avoided in many stories.

 Sex is the power centre of the human experience. It’s not stable. It’s not safe. It’s volatile. It exposes people, makes them vulnerable, reduces them to their lowest common denominator even as it raises them to the level of the divine. Is it any wonder the myths tell us that the gods covet flesh? The powerful fragility of human flesh is the ability to interact with the world around us, the ability to interact with each other, the ability to penetrate and be penetrated.

 So as I mull through it, trying for the zillionth time to get my head around it, I conclude – at least for the moment – that the true magic of sex is that it takes place in the flesh, and it elevates the flesh to something after which  even the gods lust. It’s a total in-the-body, in-the-moment experience, a celebration of the carnal, the ultimate penetrative act of intimacy of the human animal. I don’t know if that gives you goose bumps, but it certainly does me.

 

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Back To Our Animal Nature

In my last blog post of 6 February, I ruminated on whether internet porn, chat rooms and all of the technology that makes the inconsequential voyeuristic experience possible have made sex too safe, too bloodless. Writing about the bloodlessness of virtual sex and the closed, once-removed, environment in which it takes place made me wonder if the popularity of fang bangers in erotica, and in books, films and television is, in a very literal sense, an unconscious offensive against that safe, bloodless sex.

The cleaning up of sex, the dressing it up for proper company by keeping the physicality of it once-removed isn’t just something that happens online. It’s something with which we’re bombarded every day by the media and by social pressure. We are informed on a regular basis that the sanitizing, deodorizing, decorating waxing and reshaping of the equipment is a must if we want good sex.

Fang bangers return our animal nature to the bedroom. What could be a better counter for bloodless, sanitized sex than sex with a vampire? And how better to get back in touch with the animal in us than sex with a werewolf? I wonder if on some unconscious level we miss our animal nature, we miss dirty, nasty sex that doesn’t involve a computer, or expensive lingerie, or waxing off all body hair and making sure all of our bits smell springtime fresh.

When I first conceived the idea of The Pet Shop, back when it was a short story for Black Lace, and later when it became the Zoo in one of my favourite chapters in The Initiation of Ms Holly, it was that same desire to reconnect with the natural, unashamed, naughtiness of which our animal counterparts seemingly partake, to reconnect with a spontaneity driven by desire and not marketing. It seems to me that fang bangers are at the forefront of that return to a more earthy connection with sex.

A quick glance back through mythology – all types of mythology — reveals the common archetype of creatures that are half animal, half human, often gods or demigods. There has never been a time when the part of us that is most closely related to our animal cousins hasn’t frightened us. The Creationist battle against evolution is the most timely example. How can we be both like gods and like animals? If anything, having a big brain only strengthens the drive of our ‘lower’ brain. We can run but we can’t hide.

Our archetypal connection to the beast and the blood may be temporarily sublimated or denied, even dressed up and taught to dance, but it will never go away. The loss of control we fear is ultimately the very thing we crave, the thing we find so alluring in tales of vampires and werewolves.

True enough, biology cares nothing for control, nor does it care who it hurts in furthering its cause. Our big brain can balance our lower brain, can come to some sort of agreement with that lower brain, but it can’t deny it, at least not in any way enduring or healthy or satisfying.

 

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Biology is a Bitch! Bring on the Erotica!

In the now notorious interview with Attitude Magazine, Stephen Fry may or may not have been joking in saying that straight men feel they “disgust” women, who only have sex because that “is a price they are willing to pay for a relationship.” Apparently Fry is on record as also being of the opinion that women don’t really like sex. If they did, they would “go to Hampstead Heath and meet strangers to shag behind a bush.”

The remarks and the uproar they’ve caused make me wonder how much value can be placed on any comment about women’s attitudes toward sex without taking into account the fact that biology is a bitch.

Women are practical. Women count the cost. And with the biological cost so high, it’s not surprising that women’s approach to sex tends to be a little more cautious then men’s. I’d like to mention just two of those biological biggies that should be taken into consideration before attempting to expound upon woman’s attitudes toward sex.

1. Women can, and often do get pregnant, while on the other hand, men do not. It takes a man… well not very long, to father a child, an act he can easily and often repeat at will with very little consequence.

Biology, however, has designed women with a propensity toward pregnancy. That same pesky imperative to pass on the genes to the next generation which may compel a man to scatter his seed far and wide demands that a woman incubate and nest and raise. For women, that involves nine months of carrying a child inside her body at considerable danger to her own health. And that’s just the beginning. According to an article in the Guardian, in the U.K. the cost of raising a child to age 21 is now a staggering ₤200,000! Not wonder most women aren’t anxious to tackle this alone.

2. Size is everything! Men are bigger, and stronger than women. Women are only about half as strong as men in the upper body, and about two-thirds as strong in the lower. Top that off with a good dose of testosterone for added aggression, and it’s not too difficult to see why most women would think twice before joining a shag fest in the shrubs.

For women sex will always be a calculated risk. It sucks, but it’s true. It doesn’t mean we want it any less, or think about it any less often, or need it any less than men do.

The tremendous rise in sales of erotica for women is evidence to just how much women do think about sex. Biology may be a bitch, but erotica is our friend. And, being practical, women are aware that ertocia is a sexual outlet for which there is no risk of pregnancy, no risk of rape or violence, and no ₤200,000, twenty-one year price tag. Women may not be shagging in the shrubbery, but it’s pretty clear, women most definitely DO love sex, and think about it often.

 

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