Evolutionary psychology explores an interesting question- how did we evolve the cognitive and behavioral mechanisms which govern our lives, from developing religion to forming languages to developing the family structure? But while the question of “how did we evolve this way” is appealing, one must be careful not to engage in the naturalistic fallacy when answering it. The naturalistic fallacy states that what is is what ought to be. When seeking to address how we evolved a certain way, it is tempting to slip into explaining what one finds in the natural world, e.g. a cultural practice, as existing because it is in some way beneficial and must have evolved to serve a purpose. In reality, natural selection allows for spandrels, bi-products of the evolutionary process; many things exist in nature which are not selected for.
We are particularly susceptible to faulty claims about what ought to be in when addressing the dynamics between men and women in contemporary society. The role of patriarchy and the pressures it places on us are often ignored. The particular dynamics that exist between men and women are taken at face value as something that evolved because they were the most adaptive. Take for example how women in most cultures around the world report that they prefer their mates to have money more than they prefer their mate to be attractive. Men, however, prefer the attractive mate. This leads to assumptions about how evolutionary pressures due to the cost of reproduction lead women to desire security for themselves and their offspring, whereas men desire signs of health and fertility in a mate. This ignores the culturally-bound pressures in which women are more likely to be constrained in their access to resources.
If women wanted to maximize resources for themselves and for their offspring, their best strategy would be to have multiple mates and have the father of their child be unknown, so that each of the men are investing as if the child is his. Indeed, children who are born into cultures which practice partible paternity (where it is believed that multiple men can be the father of a child) have multiple men investing in them and are more likely to live past childhood than children with only a single father.
Polygynous societies are worse for offspring’s wellness than traditional societies; there is a higher rate of childhood death among polygynous societies. However, while partible paternity is the most adaptive mating strategy in terms of securing resources and investing in offspring, it is the least common compared to a parental dyad or polygyny. The norm is a system in which women’s mating strategies are controlled by men, and this is rarely questioned as the best way for which a woman could secure a future for her offspring. The assumption is made that the current structure developed because of the pressures of natural selection rather than any pressures of human culture such as patriarchy.
The assumptions made about the evolution of female sexuality have negative consequences for women. One research article released in May of 2017 suggested that female same-sex attraction evolved because men find it sexually arousing. The lead researcher told Pink News “My argument in the paper is this: A considerable proportion of men desire same-sex attractions in women, and this is one possible reason why many women have such attractions.”
Almost twice as many women report same sex attraction as men (cultural pressures that may make men more reticent to report same-sex attraction are ignored), so the assumption is that same-sex attraction in women must have been selected for in some way. The researchers propose that a man serves to gain by his partner having occasional same-sex attraction because it would reduce the risk of cuckholdry and may allow him access to additional mates. It potentially reduces the risk of cuckholdry because a man can be assured if his partner is sleeping with another woman, that she will not get pregnant and have a child that is not his own. Therefore, it does not carry the same stress as if she were cheating with other men. His partner’s attraction may also allow him to gain access to other women because she may bring home other mates, or he can be assured that they will be satisfied with one another and not stray if he acquires more mates in a polygynous arrangement. This alone is quite the assumption that relies on “gay genes” that are selected for, but the methodology itself does not lend support for such an assumption.
As can be surmised by the heteronormative language used thus far, the study surveyed heterosexuals, regardless of their partnered status. Participants were asked a series of questions about how they would feel if their partner was interested in the same sex or found to be cheating with the same sex. Over 34% of the sample was single, thus they were answering about how they would feel in a hypothetical relationship. People are generally poor at emotional forecasting, but ask a single man what he would do if he caught his girlfriend cheating on him with another woman, and I’ll place a bet that his response will be influenced by his amount of pornography consumed due to the vast number of pornographic scenarios which start with precisely that premise. While women did not desire their partner to be attracted to the same sex, about 15% of men desired such a thing in a long-term relationship and 30% desired it if the hypothetical was a short-term relationship. The participants were not asked if they were imagining this attraction would lead into the possibility of a three-way. It was concluded that women’s experience of same-sex attraction may be selected for because men find it to be sexually arousing.
It’s striking that the researchers make note of culture in order to say that their data is limited to the culture in which it was tested (Cyprus) and might be influenced by how the sample is largely Christian, yet they don’t acknowledge the role of culture in other ways. For instance, the use of pornography could influence men’s forecast of how they believe they would feel in the particular scenario or would influence their desire for a three-way. However, the lead researcher told Pink News “I can’t really see how cultural factors would make some men be turned on when their partners tell them I want to have sex with another woman.”
The study fails in multiple respects, from the assumptions it makes to the design itself. Western men are also attracted to breasts, but no one is supposing that the mammary glands evolved in order to attract mates rather than to feed young. Many men report that choking during sex is a turn-on, but we would not report that violence evolved for the sake of procreation. There’s a failure to examine evolutionary history itself, the behaviors of other animals, failure to account for cultural effects, and a failure to study the direct experiences of the individual. The men surveyed were asked their feelings about a hypothetical same-sex attraction, but the reality is that men react poorly when their female partner comes out to them as attracted to other women. In studies of how men have reacted in real scenarios, it has not been received well, leading to feelings of sadness, pain, and anger rather than being turned on.
Lesbians struggle enough as it is to be taken seriously. Lesbian existence is met with violence since men are threatened by women who do not need men. The sort of story presented by this research gives “evidence” to comfort men that lesbians do, after all, exist for and were created by them. It’s lesbophobia and a porn-soaked narrative disguised as science.