The Human Animal: The Biology of Love

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Is love all biological?

The debate continues. Is is nurture which impacts our perceptions on what is a ‘normal’ gender identity or is it all really biological? To help answer such a controversial question I wanted to explore the potential that our judgments of gender are in fact all biological. I watched BBC documentary ‘The Biology of Love’ from Desmond Morris’s series ‘The Human Animal’.

Morris begins with the theory of evolution the process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth. Standing upright was a critical stage for humans in becoming modern man and advancing above other species. However, as a consequence of standing upright, suddenly genitalia were now frontally exposed in the male and the female, which has had a profound effect on human sexuality. Morris suggests that are whole lives are impacted by this one simple anatomical fact which differentiates us from all other species as well as ideas surrounding sexuality and love.

Morris proposes that with the human animal love is much more important than sex. But what is love? And is it really only exclusive to human beings? I’m sure I’ve seen a monkey cry! In the animal kingdom as you move group to group you find there are huge variations in the way sexual behaviour is organised. Some animals’ mate for life, some do not. In some species the males mate with as many females as possible, in others the females are in control of the time and place of mating. Some species indulge in elaborate courtship displays whereas in others there is no sense of courtship, such as our nearest relatives, the ape. In some species the males play a role in raising their young but in most species the offspring are raised with no paternal help.

In the 1950’s when Morris began his studies of chimpanzees at London Zoo, he became fascinated with the species. Chimpanzees are humans’ closest relatives. They are so close in fact that we share 98% of our genetic make-up with them. However, when it comes to mating and ‘love’ chimpanzees are drastically different in comparison. Female chimpanzees can mate with multiple males in one day. The mating itself lasts mere seconds and females appear remarkably unmoved by the experience. Chimpanzees don’t form long-lasting courtships and males have very little involvement in raising their offspring. Considering our genetic similarity, why are we humans so different when it comes to sex and relationships?

Morris begins to illustrate the very specifics, which make human sexuality differ from our animal relatives. Such differences are particularly evident in the human female. Females do not advertise when they’re fertile, indeed they may not even know when they are. As a result, females can be sexually active all the time and have sex even without the possibility of conceiving. Whereas female animals will come into heat for short periods of time, the human female has no sexual season. Females can remain reproductive and attractive throughout the year.

Even when females are pregnant they can still be sexually responsive and become sexually active again soon after birth. Females can be sexually active for a large period of their life, frequently for more than half a century. Human males reach a sexual climax similar to other primates. However, human females can also experience an intense climax. Human courtship and sex are far more elaborate and longer compared to that of our closest relatives. “This extended sexuality isn’t some sort of cultural decadence it’s a basic biological characteristic of our species”. But what made us humans stop mating like chimpanzees?

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