Evolutionary psychology of pornography

By | November 20, 2020

In the meantime, there is no credible data on the effects of pornography on public and personal health in these discussions; moreover, my attempts to quickly find some sane data on the Internet were unsuccessful. In search of answers to questions, I had to dive quite deeply into scientific research, and in the end I found something. A short synopsis of modern scientific views on pornography and its impact on humans will be given under the cut after a short FAQ.

Question : Will there be pictures?
Answer : they will.

Question : what does this topic have to do with Habr?
Answer : it is interesting for the readers of Habr.

Question : no, after all, what does the topic have to do with the subject of Habr?
Answer : none; I just think that Habr is, first of all, a certain audience, and not a topic.

Question : why blog “Internet”?
Answer : because Internet is for porn.

Introductory remarks

To begin with, I would like to outline the ideas of evolutionary psychologists about human behavior and give some examples and analogies.

From the point of view of evolutionary psychology, this or that genetically determined human behavior manifests itself as follows:
(a) there must be some context in which the genetic “program” is triggered;
(b) “programmatic” behavior in this context once increased the chances of our ancestors for survival and for passing on genes to offspring.

Both parts are essential: the trigger for an action is always some context; the resulting behavior should have provided benefits precisely in the conditions in which homo sapiens lived tens and hundreds of thousands of years ago.

It should be noted here that “context” is a conventional concept; the trigger is always a very limited set of simple conditions, and the response is also simple. As an illustration, I picked up one great example from the life of birds: A turkey in a nest behaves extremely aggressively and attacks everything that moves – except its own chickens. The question arises, how does she distinguish chickens from outsiders. The answer is: by squeak. Chickens squeak, and therefore the mother does not attack them. If the turkey is deaf, it will kill its own chicks immediately after they hatch from the eggs (see Konrad Lorenz, “Aggression” , chapter 7). All genetically determined reactions are arranged in approximately the same way – the genetic “program code” is formed under the influence of random mutations, therefore it can contain only the simplest conditions and the simplest reactions to them. It cannot cover all possible situations and extreme cases – it simply provides a response from the body that ensures better survival under certain conditions. Moreover, due to its simplicity, such a predetermined reaction often works even where it is inappropriate and brings negative results – the main thing is that the total amount of benefits and losses (taking into account the frequency of situations) is positive. In addition, the response is most often reduced to the release of certain hormones, i.e. often does not predetermine the behavior of the individual, but only provokes this or that behavior in the most general terms. Depending on the nature of the context, the emotional state of a person, his personal experience and many other factors, the same reaction can lead to different resultant actions – behavior is variable. We can only talk about the probabilities that a person will behave in one way or another.

Sexual strategies for men and women

Let’s move on from abstract reasoning to concrete ones, namely, we will try to understand what causes the difference in the sexual behavior of men and women. Most of the reasoning below comes from Sexually Explicit Media, Gender Differences, and Evolutionary Theory by Neil Malamute . Although the evolutionary goals of a person of any sex are the same – to survive and leave offspring – the possibilities of this very “leave offspring” are different for men and women. The number of potential offspring that a man can leave is virtually unlimited. Its costs for the birth of a new life are very small. The living conditions of our ancestors did not include child support. But the number of children that a woman can leave is directly limited. A 9-month pregnancy, subsequent feeding and upbringing, taking into account infant mortality, left a woman a few chances to inherit her genes. Obviously, in such conditions, women are obliged to be very critical in their choice of a sexual partner (there was no contraception either); a woman who is not extremely selective in sexual intercourse is likely not to pass her genes on to offspring. This poses for both sexes the problem of choosing the optimal breeding strategy – or rather, the optimal balance of breeding strategies. Let’s start with the men. In case of a successful combination of circumstances, the man leaves offspring without paying anything for it; it is natural that those men who in every possible way strive for casual sex, all other things being equal, will leave more offspring than sexually less active relatives. The prize – free transmission of genes by inheritance – in this case is so great (in fact, the maximum possible) that the selection pressure on men here is unprecedentedly great. A man should be ready for sex anytime, anywhere and constantly look for casual relationships – otherwise, he will most likely be uncompetitive. However, this is not the only possible strategy; casual sex costs nothing and does not guarantee anything. Under certain conditions, it may be more profitable to directly invest resources in guaranteed rearing of offspring (and hence in a partner or partners during pregnancy). Here, however, there is a certain problem – it is impossible to reliably determine whether this is your child; men have to show possessive instincts and protect their partners from the attention of other men – all other things being equal, a more jealous husband will leave more offspring. The first strategy is short-term, the second is long-term; it is impossible to guess which of them will be more promising. Therefore, in most situations, a combination of these two strategies is optimal for a man : on the one hand, to have one or more permanent partners and to invest in them and in his offspring as much resources as possible; on the other hand, actively seek and use opportunities for casual sex, preferably with healthy and young women (since healthy and young women are much more likely to successfully raise offspring without the support of a father). We carefully reread the previous paragraph. It’s a very accurate picture, isn’t it? Let’s move on to women’s strategy. Due to the exceptional severity of raising offspring alone, it is critically important for a woman to have a man (s) nearby who are ready to invest in them and their offspring resources. In the absence of alimony and even just money in general, the only link connecting a man and a woman is emotional attachment (lyrical digression: emotional attachment is characteristic not only of people, but also of many other animals, for more details see Lorenz), and in this context, it is important for a woman to make sure by any available means that the feelings of a man are mutual (including by checking the strength of feelings, as well as the requirement for a long period of courtship). That is why it is extremely important for a woman in a relationship to establish emotional contact before physical contact. Malamute points out here that there are situations where the optimal strategy for a woman is promiscuity, as well as for men; such situations are rare, but a certain – albeit much less than masculine – desire for casual sex is also part of a woman’s strategy. For example, the burden of responsibility for the genetic diversity of the population rests primarily on the woman, which in the conditions of small closed communities where all are relatives to each other, makes them seek sex with “random passers-by” and simply low-ranking men. We will venture to supplement the Malamute here and indicate two more variations of the female breeding strategy, which in certain situations may be reasonable. Firstly, although the presence of a loving and generous man is critically important, due to the impossibility of determining paternity, there is a certain point in deceiving a man, forcing him to raise other people’s children; indeed, such an “ideal” prince on a white horse implements a far from ideal breeding strategy (neglects other women) – therefore, he is a good candidate for the role of husband, but not father; the ideal candidates for fathers would be macho who implement more successful strategies. This fact, on the one hand, stimulates the tendency to adultery in women, and, on the other hand, the tightening of control (jealousy) on the part of men. Moreover, let us note that a man’s jealousy and suspicion do not in any way correlate with his own marital fidelity – it is evolutionarily beneficial to simultaneously be jealous and cheat on his wife right and left! In addition, there is another female strategy, which, however, cannot be combined with the standard one – to neglect to a certain extent the qualities of sexual partners and any romantic feelings, focusing on obtaining resources and investing them in their own offspring. This behavior is actually prostitution. So, using only the apparatus of evolutionary psychology, we have built strategies for the behavior of men and women, which should have been optimal a couple of tens of thousands of years ago. As we can see, the programs laid down a long time ago continue to act on us in the most direct way, when the context and meaning of their existence have long since changed beyond recognition. Indeed, in the modern world, strategies that were formed tens of thousands of years ago are simply ineffective, if not directly harmful. However, the genes do not know about it 🙂 and continue to cause the release of the “necessary” hormones at the “right” moments. It should be noted that breeding strategies are not the only factor that influences human sexual behavior. In the hierarchical systems of primates and humans, sex also plays the role of a tool for determining social status. In chimpanzee bonobos, in particular, sex is almost the main element of social relations. However, in humans, public sex is almost everywhere taboo (for many reasons, including the ones mentioned above, it is strategically beneficial for both men and women to hide their adventures; in addition, due to a number of circumstances that I will not cite here, sex is associated with submission), and therefore, “social” sex in humans is usually symbolic and thus does not have a serious impact on the processes we are studying.

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