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Jun 14, 2013

Sex, Drugs, and Evolution

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    John Sterling

    Last month on May 22 the NY Times ran an article in its Sunday magazine about a new pill being developed to increase women’s sex drive. Combining testosterone and a drug similar to Viagra, the pill, named Lybrido, demonstrated “very impressive” results in a recent clinical trial, according to its developer, Netherlands-based Emotional Brain, and could hit the market in three years.

    Despite the long-prevailing view that it is men who are more likely to bore of a current female sexual partner, turns out, according to the Times, that it is the XXers who are the first to consider bailing out of the love boat, usually within one to four years after the beginning of a relationship with a man. Excruciating boredom with monogamy seems to be a lust killer.

    Whether a pill will ultimately be the answer for this sense of sexual monotony remains to be seen, despite the drug manufacturer’s claim to the contrary. For most people, sex comes with an acquired set of cultural beliefs and emotional expectations, maybe more often the case for women than men. I’m not sure a pill is the “cure” here. News reports indicate that women still handle most of the home-related tasks, including cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the kids. More women are doing so in single-parent households, and a Pew Research Center study just reported that working mothers now serve as the sole breadwinners for 40% of all U.S. families. Seems to me like women are being stressed to the hilt. How do you use a pill to treat this as some type of disease?

    A paragraph in a story in London’s Daily Mail on the female sex pill also raises some reservations: “Some experts fear Lybrido will put women under pressure to perform, while others are skeptical about whether the pills can boost female sex drive. They point out that a tablet is not going to fix a broken relationship or ease the stresses of work and childcare.” Yep. Just what women need—more pressure.

    Another instance of received wisdom regarding the sexes appears to have been put to rest by the Times article. A main tenet of evolutionary psychology is that men are naturally more promiscuous than women because, acting primarily as sperm purveyors, men ordinarily do not have the same degree of vested interest in children as women do. Only women can become pregnant, and it is women who must deal with the time, energy, complications, and sometimes danger involved in carrying and giving birth to a baby. Thus, a corollary theory holds that women are genetically programmed for fidelity because the future of the human species lies largely in their bodies and behavior. The Times piece, however, casts doubt on the evolutionary psychological viewpoint:

    “In research published last year, Meredith Chivers, a psychologist at Queen’s University, played pornographic audiotapes for heterosexual women and compared, among other things, genital reactions to scenarios involving a handsome male stranger or a hunky male friend. The friends made the machine flatline. The strangers made it jump.”

    Indeed, old ideas die hard.


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