It almost seems that reproduction is a nearly

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Unformatted text preview: de sex for food. De Waal recalls a time he spotted “a young female grinning and squealing during copulation with a male who held two oranges, one in each hand. The female had presented herself to him as soon as she noticed what he had. She walked away from the scene with one of the two fruits.” De Waal offers a few other thoughts about why it may be so important to bonobos and other primates that their interest in and availability for sex is not limited to periods of fertility, as it is in dogs and cats and horses and cows. Many primates—especially humans, bonobos, and chimps—are born nearly helpless. Survival to adulthood depends very much on the nuclear family—mothers and fathers nurse, care for, and protect the babies. The permanence of that family bond is essential to our survival. Perhaps bonobos’ and humans’ interest in sex also serves the purpose of gluing us to one another, of stabilizing the nuclear unit for the well-being of our babies. The Truth About human Sex? Sex as solution, greeting, diversion, alternative to aggression, appeasement, social currency, curiosity, collateral, welcome, wonder, and waltz—clearly, sexual relations play a rich and complex series of roles in bonobo society and raise important questions about our own views on the purpose of sex. It almost seems that reproduction is a nearly accidental by-product of all the other ways in which sex serves bonobos. Maybe among certain species, especially some primates, sex has evolved beyond its simple reproductive beginnings. Perhaps sex once served the sole purpose of reproduction, but over millions of years has evolved—just as eyes and ears and muscles and fingers evolved—to serve a multitude of more complex functions, only one of which still 46 Between XX and XY focuses on reproduction. We humans even go so far as to actively subvert the reproductive function of sex in favor of all the other things that sex does for us. If the sole purpose of sex were to reproduce ourselves, birth control would seem evolutionary heresy. Any species seeking to sate its desires, rework its social structure, and avoid confrontation would set itself on a path to oblivion if the sole purpose of sex were reproduction. The fact that we and the bonobos are still here is testament to the fact that as we evolved we co-opted the sexual urge for a multitude of other purposes—purposes essential to our past, our present, and our future. These purposes are essential to the growth and development of our children—purposes of peace, cooperation, entrepreneurship, pleasure, and promise. If that isn’t sufficient reason for all of us to reconsider how we think about ourselves and our sexes, then at the very least it should be cause for reflection on the value and judgments we place on people whose genitalia don’t obviously lend themselves to reproduction. 4 Where Our Sexes Come From: The Abridged Version “I am afraid we could lose them both,” the old doctor whispered through his clenched teeth as he pushed his hand through his thin hair and watched the woman writhing in pain. One of the baby’s shoulders was stuck inside the mother’s pelvic girdle. The doctor, an old-fashioned general practitioner, had no idea what to do next. He had never seen anything like this. As his ignorance enveloped him, he became a spectator. The father, a youngish man with dark black hair and fearful eyes, struggled to keep the ether-soaked cotton sponge near the mother’s nose—near enough to ease the pain, but not so close as to nudge her into unconsciousness. A petroleum engineer by trade, just now the father was an anesthesiologist. Half in and half out, the child gasped for breath as the contractions continued to rip through the mother’s womb. She groaned loudly with each new spasm. For another minute, which seemed like an hour, things stayed just as they were—baby stuck between worlds, mother in agony, and father and doctor fearing the worst. Then, with a deep shrug and a heavy sigh, I was abruptly spit into this world of light and cold and fear and beauty. I opened my eyes wide, took one long look at everything and everybody in that room, and screamed. 47 48 Between XX and XY My mother exhaled, my father dropped his ether rag, and a smile spread like a warm fire across the doctor’s face. “What is it?” my mother asked. “Why, it’s a boy,” the doctor said. My mother smiled broadly. She might have been less pleased had she known that the doctor based his statement on a surprisingly small amount of evidence—tiny bits of flesh that looked like penis and scrotum but could have been any number of other things. The doctor, with only one alternative, had simply settled with the only story he knew about life’s beginnings. As it turns out, the story of boy versus girl versus everything else is much more complicated than the doctor knew, more complicated than any of us knew, perhaps more complicated than any of us can know. The Story of Life and Sex W...
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