If sex is not for reproduction what is it for

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In the preceding sections, I invested many words in an effort to convince the reader that questions like 'why?' and 'what for?' have no place in science. This truth has not changed, so the question posed in the title must be reformulated. One possible and entirely acceptable reformulation is: 'under which circumstances is sexual behavior activated and what are the consequences of executing the behavior?' We can immediately see that this question does not refer to function but to cause and consequence. Nevertheless, and as mentioned many times, it is undoubtedly so that fertilization is preceded by sexual behavior. No biologist, and I assume also no psychologist, would like to dispute that. However, even if this is perfectly true, it does not explain, in any way, the circumstances under which sexual behavior occurs, with whom it occurs, how intense the behavior is, or how frequently it is executed. Furthermore, and which has also been mentioned many times, there is no cause-effect relationship between sexual behavior and reproduction. If we are interested to know the mechanisms, behavioral and neural, that control this behavior, we must forget its biological function and start to look for events that activate the behavior. This assertion is not new or unusual in any way. Thirty years ago, the founder of behavioral neuroendocrinology and a giant in the study of sexual behavior, Frank Beach, wrote the following brilliant passage:

Since no animal mates in order to reproduce, but animals must mate in the service of species survival, we are faced with the problem of identifying the source of reward or positive reinforcement which impels individuals to copulate. The problem has scarcely been recognized as far as sexual activity is concerned (Beach, 1976, p. 471).

Frank Beach clearly took the position that sexual behavior cannot be understood through an analysis of its biological function. In other words, he rejected teleology. Moreover, he realized that sexual behavior is rewarding and reinforcing. This insight provides the basic clue for any serious effort to study sexual behavior. As we will see in Chapter 2, sex in itself is indeed a rewarding activity, just like eating or drinking. A determination of the circumstances, internal and external, under which the behavior occurs and reward is obtained is all we need in order for a complete understanding. In that endeavor, there is not the slightest need for any mention of function.

If individuals engage in sexual behavior not because they feel an urge to reproduce or to obey the religious principle of 'multiply' but because they want to experience the positive affect inherent in sexual activities, then sex ceases to be a reproductive activity and turns into a recreative activity like going to the theater, riding a roller coaster or playing bridge. This notion could have tremendous implications for society's views on sexuality but none for sexual behavior. In fact, humans and other animals have always had sex for the fun of it. Undoubtedly, many humans have made and make efforts to obey the many rules established by society, biology, and doctrines of faith, but they seem to be in a minority and their success is uncertain. Although the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic church does not accept contraception, a vast majority of Catholics use unauthorized methods to dissociate sex from reproduction. Although many Lutheran groups reject homosexuality, there is no indication that homosexuality is less frequent in countries where such groups are influential. While individual sexual behavior always seems to have been directed towards the obtention of positive affect, the norms supposedly controlling that behavior have established otherwise. One of the reasons for the excitement produced by the Kinsey reports (Kinsey et al., 1948, 1953) was, in fact, that they made evident the huge discrepancy between official norms and actual behavior.

The recognition of the fact that individuals engage in sexual activities for recreational purposes facilitates our understanding of sexual behavior in humans and other animals, but it has no necessary implications for society's views on sexuality. Most social rules have their origin in religious notions and such notions are not appropriate subjects for scientific analysis.

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