Tag Archives: sexual promiscuity

DNA Testing, Family Secrets, And Revealing Truths About Infidelity

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What if you woke up one day and found out your father wasn’t actually your biological father?

What if you woke up one day and found out your kids weren’t actually your biological kids?

For a growing number of people, this isn’t just a distressing hypothetical. It’s a painfully real scenario. Secrets that were once easy to keep are now coming to light, thanks to a mix of curiosity, advancing technology, and simple economics. It’s causing a lot of distress for a lot of people, but the fact that it’s happening is somewhat telling.

To understand it, it’s necessary to understand just how unprecedented this situation is. Until very recently, getting a DNA test was exceedingly expensive. Go back 25 years when the Human Genome Project was just getting underway and just sequencing one person’s DNA cost millions. Then, thanks to advances in sequencing techniques and computing technology, the cost fell rapidly.

Today, sequencing your DNA costs less than $1,000. If you just want to test your ancestry, that’s even cheaper with kits costing around $100. You don’t need a court order or contacts at the FBI. You just need a spare $100 and a willingness to spit in a tube. It may not seem like much, but make no mistake. This is uncharted territory for our species and our society.

Ever since we structured our civilization around agriculture, passing down property through generations, and building more diverse societies, there has been a strong incentive to know that your children are biologically yours. This is where taboos surrounding virginity and female chastity come from. For centuries, the best way to assure your kids were yours was for your bride to be a virgin on her wedding night.

However, even in those limited circumstances, it was entirely possible to get around them. The traditional practices of testing young women for virginity are both invasive and prone to major error. If a woman is cunning enough, she can beat those tests and get away with lying about her sexual history. Men could be just as effective about hiding affairs that may have resulted in children with other women.

Now, hiding the truth isn’t just harder in the era of the internet and social media. Certain lies can no longer remain hidden. You can claim videos are deep fakes and that pictures had been Photoshopped. You can’t make those kinds of excuses when the truth is literally written in someone’s DNA.

Sometimes, the truth is just shocking. Take the story of Dani Shapiro, who found out that the man she’d loved and cherished as her father was not related to her. It wasn’t because of her mother’s infidelity, though. It was because her parents utilized an old infertility treatment that resulted in her being conceived with doner sperm instead of that of her surrogate father.

In other cases, the truth can be devastating, such as the case of Sarah Zhang, who found out that rumors of her mother having an affair with a restaurant owner were all too true. This revelation was heartbreaking. In an instant, her entire identity and sense of self had been uprooted. This is how she described the difficulty processing this information.

When I first found out the news, I considered taking a leave of absence from work, because I had difficulty focusing on anything else besides the revelation from 23andMe. On a hard day, I feel heartbroken about my mom’s secret. Her illness created an intimacy between us in the final months of her life and I felt that we were able to tell each other all the things in our heart. This news taints that memory and created a fresh bout of grieving about her death.

These stories are harrowing and they’re becoming increasingly common. There’s even a support group on Facebook for people who learn from these testing kits that their heritage isn’t what they’d previously thought. It’s hard to understand what these people are going through, living their whole lives thinking they know who their parents are, only to find out it wasn’t true.

As DNA testing kits continue to get cheaper and more prevalent, there’s a good chance there are plenty more cases like this just waiting to be uncovered. The fact that it seems to be happening so much says more about our species and our society than it does about the technology behind it.

Think, for a moment, about all the families who lived in the era before this technology became available. How many of those families had secrets like the ones Dani Shapiro and Sarah Zhang later uncovered? How many fathers unknowingly raised children that weren’t biologically theirs? How many mothers birthed children who were sired by someone other than their spouse?

It’s impossible to know for sure and the fact that it was impossible for most of human history might be just as telling as any family secret. I’ve mentioned before at how our notions of traditional romance and family have significant flaws. We value and idealize monogamy and fidelity, but the fact that we go to such extremes to favor it seems to imply that there’s something untenable about it.

Promiscuity and infidelity have existed in every human society. There’s a reason why even ancient civilizations had laws and traditions regulating marriage, adultery, and divorce. Even when there are serious consequences, people still did it. The fact that some of the punishments were so severe imply that a lot of people were getting away with it.

Even so, this didn’t stop men from raising children as their own. It didn’t stop women from loving their children and their spouses all the same. The fact that it was so hard to determine someone’s heritage might have even helped our species from an evolutionary standpoint.

A big part of what makes humans such a successful species is our ability to form tribes, cooperate, and coordinate towards a common goal. In old hunter/gatherer societies, close-knit tribes weren’t quite as concerned about the paternity of their kids. They took a more communal approach to family. Logistically, they had to. They needed that level of cooperation to survive in a harsh, unforgiving world.

Given that humanity spent most of its history in this hunter/gatherer structure, the forces of evolution are already working against those seeking parental certainty. The rise of civilization complicated things, but not to an extent that people couldn’t get away with fooling around. The fact that the average number of sexual partners for people these days is more than one only reveals that the inclinations is definitely there.

That’s an important factor to remember because as DNA testing becomes easier and cheaper, it won’t be possible to avoid the implications. People cheat. People keep secrets. People lie to their kids, sometimes without knowing it. For the most part, it hasn’t affected our ability to function as families and a society. Whether the emerging truth written within our DNA changes that remains to be seen.

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Why Our Assumptions About Male And Female Promiscuity May Be (Very) Wrong

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When it comes to assumption, we tend not to question them, by default. That’s why they’re assumptions. It’s literally in the definition. It’s entirely natural to make assumptions, especially when they have some sort of inherent logic to them. It’s just how we, as a species, make sense of a chaotic world that we’re trying to survive.

The problem is, as I’ve pointed out many times before, our caveman brains aren’t wired logic. They’re wired primarily to help us survive and reproduce. That’s why our brains are so prone to all sorts of logical fallacies. That’s also why it’s hard to let go of assumptions, even when empirical data a very different story.

This brings me to our assumptions about sexual promiscuity. I’m hope I have your attention now because I knew a bland article about logical fallacies, caveman logic, and false assumption wasn’t going to get anyone excited. Put it in a context that’s both sexy and relevant, especially to an aspiring erotica/romance writer, and there’s much more appeal.

Sexy or not, the issue of assumptions in our sex lives are a lot more relevant in the era of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” These days, people are more likely to cling to their assumptions than ever before, even in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary. Hell, “South Park” even did an entire episode about this concept.

There are all sorts of complex psychological and social reasons for this, some of which I’ve covered before in other less sexy discussions. However, I’m not going to belabor those concepts. Most people know that humans can be exceedingly stubborn, even when faced with undeniable data that counters their assumptions.

That becomes a bigger problem, though, when you’re actually trying to make sense of something on an academic level. Our collective sexuality is one of those things that we try to study and understand, even if our efforts turn out to be disturbingly wrong. I like to think we’ve gotten better at it in the modern era, but sometimes fresh data reveals there’s still room for improvement.

This leads me to one of the most common assumptions about sexuality and the particulars of sexual promiscuity. You’ve probably heard it articulated at some point. It’s the basic structure surrounding male promiscuity versus female promiscuity. It goes like this:

  • Men are promiscuous because sperm production is cheap and there’s an biological incentive to have sex with multiple females in order to sire multiple offspring
  • Women are more selective about their sex partners because bearing children is risky and requires resources, which incentivizes securing men who will stick around to care for those children

There are all sorts of jokes and colloquialisms about this, men being dogs and women being angels. It’s also reflective of the most obvious double standards surrounding male and female sexuality and for most people, it makes sense.

A man can have sex with a thousand woman and, in theory, sire a thousand children. Ignoring the egregious child support payments this man would have to pay, it is consistent with the biological imperative to survive and reproduce.

Conversely, it makes just as much sense for a woman to secure a male partner who won’t just have children with her, but stay with her and invest in raising those children with her. This bears out in the many benefits ascribed to two-parent households.

However, if these assumptions were so logical and so biologically sound, then that would be reflected in the data we gather about our sexuality. Logic should be consistent with data, right? That’s the entire foundation of the scientific method, after all.

This is where the details get sketchy, but in a sexy sort of way. In an article from The Conversation, much of the biological data behind these assumptions about sexual promiscuity among men and women gets an added bit of scrutiny. In doing so, some revealing details emerge. Here is a brief excerpt that should raise a few eyebrows, among other body parts.

The common belief was that males and females were radically different. Moreover, attitudes about Victorian women influenced beliefs about nonhuman females. Males were considered to be active, combative, more variable, and more evolved and complex. Females were deemed to be passive, nurturing; less variable, with arrested development equivalent to that of a child. “True women” were expected to be pure, submissive to men, sexually restrained and uninterested in sex – and this representation was also seamlessly applied to female animals.

Although these ideas may now seem quaint, most scholars of the time embraced them as scientific truths. These stereotypes of men and women survived through the 20th century and influenced research on male-female sexual differences in animal behavior.

Unconscious biases and expectations can influence the questions scientists ask and also their interpretations of data. Behavioral biologist Marcy Lawton and colleagues describe a fascinating example. In 1992, eminent male scientists studying a species of bird wrote an excellent book on the species – but were mystified by the lack of aggression in males. They did report violent and frequent clashes among females, but dismissed their importance. These scientists expected males to be combative and females to be passive – when observations failed to meet their expectations, they were unable to envision alternative possibilities, or realize the potential significance of what they were seeing.

The same likely happened with regard to sexual behavior: Many scientists saw promiscuity in males and coyness in females because that is what they expected to see and what theory – and societal attitudes – told them they should see.

There’s much more to the article and I strongly recommend everyone take the time to read it, in full. It’s somewhat long because it references a lot of old research on animal behavior, as well as cultural attitudes towards sex and gender. However, the underlying theme is fairly clear.

The assumptions about coy, reserved females and aggressive, promiscuous males aren’t clearly reflected in the observed data. In fact, cultural attitudes going all the way back to the Victorian Era may have influenced our interpretation of the data, leading us to negate anything that countered those assumptions. That’s confirmation bias at its most basic.

This is similar to the message in the book, “Sex At Dawn,” which basically argues that our caveman ancestors had much better sex lives than we did. In that context, male and female promiscuity plays out in a very different way that also clashes with many of our assumptions.

In both “Sex At Dawn” and the article, the data seems to suggest that promiscuous females have higher rates of reproductive success. Biologically speaking, this makes sense because she’s getting a diverse sample of sperm and the higher quality material eventually finds a way to win out.

I’ll resist the urge to paint too crude a picture, although I will say that women pursuing a variety of men and attempting to weed out the best among them should not be too shocking. When you’re looking to find love and/or a baby daddy, you want quality and you can’t really be sure of that quality unless you find ways to test it. That’s not quite as dirty as it sounds, but it’s close.

With men, the data also clashes with the assumptions that men need only hump as many things with a pulse as possible. The article questions the idea that sperm is cheap and men’s contributions are purely resource-driven. The data actually suggests that men exercise a considerable degree of selection in choosing their partners. Just having a pulse and a vagina is not the only criteria.

As is now also well-documented, sperm production is limited and males can run out of sperm – what researchers term “sperm depletion.”

Consequently, we now know males may allocate more or less sperm to any given female, depending on her age, health or previous mated status. Such differential treatment among preferred and nonpreferred females is a form of male mate choice. In some species, males may even refuse to copulate with certain females. Indeed, male mate choice is now a particularly active field of study.

In essence, men are capable of being selective and downright loyal to their partners. Women are also just as capable of being sexually open, seeking out a variety of lovers in search of quality partners, both for social and reproductive success. In that sense, the promiscuous tendencies of both genders are a lot more level than any Victorian Era assumption would have us believe.

Add on top of this the documented health benefits of sexual promiscuity, as well as the sexual mores of our hunter/gatherer ancestors, and it’s increasingly clear that our assumptions about the sexual promiscuity are not consistent with biology, logic, or reality in general.

In a sense, our society already reflects this. The growing prevalence of blended families shows that the Victorian ideals that later played out in 1950s sitcoms aren’t accurate reflections of human nature. I doubt that this data will shatter the various assumptions that many still have on sexual promiscuity, but as with most excuses, they can only clash with reality so much.

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Filed under gender issues, polyamory, sex in society, sexuality