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The 10 Uses of Sex

Humans are multi-functional beings. We eat food to satisfy hunger, calm us down and for enjoyment of taste. Clothes are used to display status, show personality and keep us warm. Sex is no different in the variety of uses we put it to and is the physiological equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife. Even better, several uses can be achieved in one go.

The following is taken from Desmond Morris' book 'The Human Zoo' in the chapter 'Sex and Super Sex'. It's an excellent book about how the progress of civilisation has out-striped our evolutionary development, so, like animals in a zoo, we have been taken out of our 'natural' habitat and put in city 'cages'. It's written for a general audience, not just academics, and is recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in this kind of stuff.

1) Procreation

There can be no argument that this is the most basic functional of sexual behaviour. It has sometimes been mistakenly argued that this is the only natural and, therefore, proper role. Paradoxically, some of the religious groups that claim this do not practice what they preach, monks, nuns and many priests denying themselves the very activity which they hold to be so uniquely natural.

An important point to be added here is that when a population becomes seriously overcrowded, the value of the procreative function of sex becomes greatly reduced. Eventually it becomes a nuisance. Instead of being a fundamental mechanism of survival, it changes into a potential mechanism of destruction. The happens occasionally with such species as lemmings which, when conditions are exceptionally lush, breed themselves up to such a density that their populations explode in chaos, with an enormous loss in lives. Overpopulation has become a world-wide problem and must be viewed as such. In this respect we are one vast, global lemming colony, and if the explosion comes it will affect us all. Indeed, it is already doing so.

A Lemming

Lemming societies, the furry threat (image from www.borealforest.org)

2) Pair-formation

The human animal is basically and biologically a pair-forming species. As the emotional relationship develops between a pair of potential mates it is aided by the sexual activities they share. The pair-formation function of sexual behaviour is so important for our species that nowhere outside the pairing phase do sexual activities regularly reach such a high intensity.

Even if Procreation Sex is successfully avoided and no fertilisation takes place, a pair-bond may still automatically start to form where none is intended. It is because of this that casual copulations [1960s speak for one-night-stands] frequently create so many problems.

3) Pair-maintenance

Once a pair-bond has been successfully formed, sexual activities still function to maintain and reinforce the bond. Although these activities may become more elaborate and extensive, they usually become less intensive than those of the pair-forming stage, because the pair-forming function is no longer operating.

This distinction between the pair-forming and pair-maintaining functions of sexual activity is clearly illustrated whenever the members of a long-established mated pair are separated from one another for a period of time by war, business or some other external demand. When they are reunited there is typically a resurgence of high sexual intensity on the first nights they are together again, as they go through a minor re-bonding process.

These first three categories—Procreation, Pair-formation and Pair-maintenance Sex—together make up the primary reproductive functions of human sexual behaviour. Some argue that there is no such thing as a biological pairing urge in the human species. 'Romantic love', as they prefer to call it, is looked upon as a recent and highly artificial invention of modern living. Man, they argue, is basically promiscuous, like so many of his monkey relatives. It is true that, in many cultures, the pair-forming bond has been interfered with, e.g. arranged marriages. But even where the interference of sexual pair-formation with these 'pseudo-bonds' has been rigorously suppressed with savage punishments, it always shows signs of reasserting itself. From ancient times, young lovers who have known that the law may demand no less than their lives if they are caught, have nevertheless found themselves driven to take the risk. Such is the power of this fundamental biological mechanism.

Though society would deny their love, Disney characters invariably risk everything for their mismatched partners (image copyright of Disney)

4) Physiological

In the healthy adult human male and female there is a basic physiological requirement for repeated sexual consummation. Without such consummation, a physiological tension builds up and eventually the body demands relief. Any sexual act that involves an orgasm provides the orgasmic individual with this relief. For an un-mated and otherwise sexually unsuccessful male [or female, equal opportunities and all that] a visit to a prostitute can serve this function. A more widespread solution is masturbation.

An American study [Kinsey's Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male/Female. See The Kinsey Scale] revealed that as many as 58% of females and 92% of males in that culture masturbate to orgasm at some point in their lives. Attempts have been made to suppress this at various times in the past, and all kinds of strange superstitions have grown up around it. The list of disasters that were supposed to threaten the masturbator included:

  • sterility
  • frigidity
  • jaundice [a liver disease]
  • cancer
  • blindness
  • death

[We now know all these things to be caused by any food you might ever eat]

If no active outlet is obtained, the body may take charge of the situation itself. Both male and female celibates are likely to undergo spontaneous orgasms while sleeping. Both sexes experience erotic dreams which may be accompanied by full orgasmic muscle responses. It would be wrong to give the impression, however, that orgasmic dreaming acts solely as a compensating device helping to keep up the sexual output when other more active outlets are missing. Some individuals, for example, show an increase in frequency of orgasmic dreaming during periods when they are experiencing an unusually high frequency of active copulation, on the hypersensitising principle of 'the more you get, the more you want'.

Physiological Sex can also be observed in other animal species, most readily encountered in zoos, rather than in the wild state. This is most commonly observed in captive monkeys and apes, but other masturbatory animals include elephants, lions and dolphins. Male porcupines have been observed to walk around on three legs, holding one forepaw on their genitals. Sex-dreaming also seems to occur in animals.

5) Exploratory

One of man's greatest qualities is his inventiveness. When our early ancestors took to hunting, they undoubtedly had to develop and strengthen this quality and magnify their basic urge to explore all the details of their environment. It is clear that exploration became an end in itself, leading man onto fresh pastures and achievements. So powerful did this urge become that it began to spread to other areas of behaviour.

In the sexual sphere, this trend led to a wide range of variations on the sexual theme. Ancient sexual writings record in detail the great diversity of novel sexual movements, pressures, sounds, contacts, scents and positions that were the subject of erotic experimentation. The significance of the development of exploratory sexual behaviour is that it aids the cementing of the pair-bond and subsequently strengthens the family unit. As I have already mentioned, the intensity of love-making of the couple during the pair-formation stage wanes slightly after the pair-bond is fully formed. The replacement of pair-forming intensiveness with exploratory extensiveness in later sexual activities is the ideal solution, and despite its repeated suppression it is still very much with us today.

However, the urge for novelty can be satisfied not only by exploring new patterns with a familiar partner, but also in exploring a new partner with familiar patterns. The development of the Exploratory Sex emerges, therefore, as a double-edged sword. Sexual experiments outside the pair bond have two dangers. They not only provoke powerful sexual jealousies, but they also encourage the accidental formation of new pair-bonds, to the long-lasting detriment of the offspring of the family units involved. Complex combinations and communes may have worked from time to time, but unqualified successes seem to have been isolated rarities.

6) Self-rewarding

It is impossible to draw up a complete list of the functions of sex without including a category based on the idea that there is such a thing as 'sex for sex's sake'; sexual behaviour, the performance of which brings about its own rewards, regardless of any other considerations. This function is closely related to the last one, but they are nevertheless distinct.

The relationship between Exploratory Sex and Self-rewarding Sex is rather like the relationship between exploring and playing a game in children. When children burst out into a new play environment, they usually start off with a great deal of erratic rushing about and investigating. As time goes by, this behaviour settles down into a game.

The parallel with Exploratory Sex and Self-rewarding Sex is obvious enough. Many highly satisfy copulatory incidents occur between members of a mated pair that are deliberately not aimed at pro-creation, are in excess of the demands of pair maintenance and do not involve novel experiments. They represent Self-rewarding Sex, or, if you prefer, pure eroticism.

7) Occupational

This is sex operating as an occupational therapy, or, if you prefer, as an anti-boredom device. It is closely related to the last category but can again be clearly distinguished from it. Self-rewarding Sex can occur as one of many ways of constructively utilising spare time, without signs of boredom on the horizon. Occupational Sex, by contrast, functions as a therapeutic remedy for the negative condition produced by a sterile and monotonous environment. Mild boredom produces listlessness and a lack of motivation. Intense boredom creates anxiety and agitation, irritative and eventually anger.

Under normal conditions of boredom the object most readily available for breaking the monotony is the subject's own body, e.g. biting nails. Since the goal is to produce the maximum amount of stimulation, sexual activities in this situation often become brutal, painful and sometimes even lead to sever mutilation or injury of the genitals.

Zoo animals kept in sterile cages exhibit similar responses. One male orang-utan living in an empty cage, when provided with a female, mated with her and embraced her so persistently that she temporarily lost the use of her arms and had to be removed.

8) Tranquillising

Just as the nervous system cannot tolerate gross inactivity, so it rebels against the strains of excessive over-activity. Tranquillising Sex is the other side of the coin from Occupational Sex. Instead of being anti-boredom, it is anti-turmoil. When faced with an overdose of strange, conflicting, unfamiliar or frightening stimuli, the individual seeks escape in the performance of friendly old familiar patterns that serve to calm shattered nerves. When the pressures of living are heavy, the stressed victim can tranquillising themselves with actions they know will bring satisfaction and reward. Trivial actions such as smoking a cigarette, chewing gum or taking a drink, help to pacify the anxious. Tranquillising Sex works in the same way.

Wrigley's—as good as sex (image from rankopedia.com)

9) Commercial

From the point of view of the prostitute, the function of copulation is primarily a straightforward financial transaction. Commercial Sex of a kind also figures as an important function in many marriage situations where a one-sided pair-bond exists: one partner simply provides a copulatory service for the other in exchange for money and shelter.

Commercial Sex appears to be rare in other species, but a form of 'prostitution' has been observed in certain primates. Female monkeys in captivity have been seen to offer themselves sexually to a male as a means of obtaining food morsels scattered on the ground, the sexual actions distracting the male from competing for food.

10) Status

Status sex is concerned with dominance, not with reproduction, and to understand how this link is forged we must consider the differing roles of the sexual female and the sexual male. Although the full expression of sexuality involves the active participation of both sexes, it can be suggested that, for the mammalian female, the sexual role is essentially submissive, and for the male essentially aggressive. This relationship is n integral part of the copulatory act. It is the male mammal who has to mount the female. It is he who has to penetrate and invade his partner's body. An over-submissive female and over-aggressive male are simply exaggerating their roles.

The sexual action of a female monkey is to 'present' herself to the male by turning her rump towards him, raising it up conspicuously and lowering the head. The sexual action of the male monkey is to mount the female and insert his penis. Because, in a sexual encounter, the female submits herself and the male imposes himself, these actions have been 'borrowed' for use in primarily non-sexual situations requiring more general signals of submissiveness and aggressiveness. A non-sexual female monkey can present her rump to a male as a sign she is not aggressive. In response, the male can mount her and make a few cursory pelvic thrusts, using these actions purely to display his dominant status.

This is only the beginning. The value of Status Sex is such that it has spread to cover virtually all forms of aggressive encounter within the [primate] group. If a weak male is threatened by a strong one, the underling can protect himself by behaving as a pseudo-female. His signifies his subordination by adopting the female sexual posture. The other male asserts with dominant status by mounting the weaker male, just as if he were dealing with a submissive female. Precisely the same interaction can be observed between two females.

There are some striking anatomical extensions of Status Sex we should examine before investigating the human condition. Many female monkeys possess a bright red patches of skin on the rump region. They are conspicuously displayed to the male during the sexual-rump presentation action, and also when the rump is displayed submissively during Status-Sex encounters. The males of some species have evolved mimics of these red patches on their rumps, as an enhancement of their submissive displays. For the female the patch serves a dual purpose, but for the males it is exclusively concerned with Status Sex.

The dominant motion involves the erection of the penis, and this too has been elaborated on. In a number of species the males possess bright red penises, often surrounded by a vivid blue patch of skin. This makes the male genitals as conspicuous as possible. In this way they can signal their high status without even moving. Some female South American monkeys have evolved an elongated clitoris, which has virtually become a pseudo penis. In certain species it is so similar in appearance to the male penis that it is hard to tell the two sexes apart. Other species use penis erection as a direct threat to a subordinate. In the case of the little squirrel monkey, when in a threatening mood a superior male approaches an inferior and obtrusively erects his penis in the inferior's face. In humans, the erect penis is also used as a threatening display of male dominance, although in recent times the symbols used are highly cryptic and and far removed from the original source. It also follows that the greater the erection, the greater the threat. Exaggerating the phallus still further, the body is omitted altogether.

Priapus, god of fertility and protector of livestock (image from thetraveltart.com)

Khafre's large phallus-shaped tomb, second only in height to the large phallus-shaped tomb of his father (image from famouswonders.com)

Khafre's Pyramid, 4th

Berlusconi: Google's top image result for 'ancient penis statue'
(image from sbs.com.au)

We can find examples of various kinds of improvements in phallic symbols taking place almost as we watch. The design of sports cars illustrates this well. They have always radiated bold, aggressive masculinity and have been considerably aided by their phallic qualities. Like a baboon's penis, they stick out in front, they are long, smooth and shiny, they thrust forward with great vigour and they are frequently bright red in colour (the argument may be used that the shape of the sports car is controlled purely by the technical demands of streamlining, but the crowded traffic conditions of modern driving and the increasingly strict speed limits render this explanation nonsensical).

Verbal insults frequently take a phallic form. Almost all the really viscous swearwords we can use to hurl abuse at one another are sexual words. Their literal meanings relate to copulation or various parts of the genital anatomy, but are used predominately in moments of extreme aggression. This again is typical of Status Sex and demonstrates very clearly the way in which sex is borrowed for use in a dominance context.

Hostile gestures known as giving the 'phallic hand' have existed in various forms for at least two thousand years. One of the most ancient consists of aiming the middle finger, stiffly and fully extended, at the person being subjected to contempt. The rest of the fist is clenched. Symbolically this represents the penis and testicles.

The original, straightforward pattern of copulation is, for the male is, as I have already stressed, a fundamentally assertive and aggressive act of penetration. Under certain conditions it can therefore function as a Status Sex device. A male can copulate with a female primarily to boost his masculine ego, rather than to achieve any of the other nine sexual goals. In such cases he may speak of making a conquest a 'conquest', as if he has been fighting a battle rather than making love. Boasting to other males is an important part of the Status Sex victory. The details of pair-forming copulations are, by contrast, strictly private.

It is relevant here to mention the special attitude of heterosexual Status Sex devotees towards homosexual males. It is an attitude of increased hostility and contempt, caused by the unconscious realisation that 'if they won't join the game, they can't be beaten'. It then becomes necessary to beat him by ridicule.

If the modern Status Sex practitioner is unable to achieve real 'conquests', there are a number of alternatives available to him. Dirty jokes, prostitutes and strip tease all involve an element of aggressive assertiveness and/or submission. It is an unpalatable but obvious fact that the more drastic the need for male ego boosting, the more desperate the measures; the more degrading and violent the act the greater the boost. For the vast majority of males these extremes are unnecessary. The level of self-assertion achieved in ordinary social life is sufficiently rewarding. But for some, fantasies, research and acts of sadism are employed.

The most common form of sadism is rape. Perhaps the reason for this is that it is so exclusive an of the male that it expresses aggressive masculinity better than other types of sadistic activity [here I would like to mention that, contrary to common belief, the rape of a male by a female can and does happen, although it is rare]. An alternative form for meeker males is what might be described as 'visual rape'. Usually referred to as exhibitionism, this consists of suddenly exposing the genitals to a strange female. The aim is to produce shame and confusion on the part of the unwilling female, by presenting them with the most basic form of Status Sex threat display. Here we are right back to the penis threat of the little squirrel monkey.

One final point on Status Sex: it is intriguing to discover that certain individuals with a demonstrably vast lust for power suffered from physical sexual abnormalities. The autopsy on Hitler, for instance, revealed that he had only one testicle. The autopsy on Napoleon note the 'atrophied proportions' of his genitals. Being structurally sexually inferior, they were perhaps driven back on to more direct forms of aggressive expression. This is Status Sex full circle.

Morris, D. (1969). The Human Zoo. London: World Books

'The Human Zoo' can be bought on Amazon.

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