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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
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- Spring '14