I. Course Description and Rationale
This class provides an introduction to the SCIENTIFIC study of sexual behavior, mate choice, and reproduction in humans from the perspectives of evolutionary and comparative biology. In this course, we will examine a wide range of genetic, ecological, social, physiological, and behavioral aspects of human and nonhuman primate sexuality. Starting from basic principles of evolutionary theory, we consider a diverse range of basic questions about sex and sexuality: How is sex determined? Why did sexual reproduction evolve? How are males and females different biologically? What determines sexual orientation? We also look at the role of ecology and social life in shaping human mating patterns using a variety of ethnographic and cross- cultural materials. Do men and women differ in their sexual strategies and, if so, how and why? Why do people marry and form long-term pair-bonds? Why do we experience sexual jealousy? Finally, topics relevant to contemporary human sexuality will be also discussed, including rape, contraception, and the influence of sexually transmitted diseases on human evolution. Throughout, examples will be drawn primarily from traditional and modern human societies as well as from studies of our nonhuman primate relatives.
This course fits into the Department’s broader curriculum in biological anthropology by considering human sexual behavior in the context of comparative primate sexuality and reproduction and in demonstrating how evolutionary approaches can be used to make sense of the sexual behavior, mating patterns, and reproductive biology of the human species. It fits into the general anthropology curriculum in addressing important issues about human gender and sexuality from a combined biological and cultural perspective.
II. Course Aims and Objectives
The purpose of this course it to give students a solid foundation in evolutionary biology and adaptationist thinking as it is used in the anthropological sciences, with a specific focus on understanding aspects of human sexual anatomy, reproductive biology, sexual behavior, and cultural practices.
Specific Learning Objectives
When you have completed the course, you should be able to:
Summarize different adaptationist/evolutionary approaches to thinking about human
behavioral biology (e.g., evolutionary psychology, human behavioral ecology) and
distinguish among such approaches
Describe the fundamentals of human and mammalian sex determination systems,
including the physiological and genetic underpinnings of sexual differentiation
Describe the physiological and endocrine processes involved in female reproductive
cycling and in male spermatogenesis and how these change over the lifespan
Describe and contrast different hypotheses for the evolution of sexual reproduction
Discuss how human sexual anatomy, behavior, and mating practices are similar to and
differ from those of other primates and other mammals
Understand the comparative method and how it can applied to answer evolutionary
Articulate evolutionary hypothesis for a given pattern of human sexual behavior (e.g., mate choice) and design and critique tests of that hypotheses using logic and evidence
Read and critique research from the primary literature on human sexuality, including evaluating the strengths and weaknesses in the researchers methodology and interpretation
III. Format and Procedures
The course will be divided into four sections, each of which will involve a combination of lecture material and discussion/recitation during normal class time, both in small groups and as a class as a whole. In addition, students are expect to participate in and online collaborative project (the Sex and Human Nature weblog, see below). The following is an overview of the major topics we will cover in each part of the course:
Part I – Principles of Evolutionary Biology
• Approaches to the scientific study of human sexuality and sexual behavior. Levels of explanation in evolutionary biology. Fundamentals of evolutionary theory. The evolution of sexual reproduction.
Part II – Natural History of Sex: A Comparative Perspective
• Sex determination processes in animals. The role of sex hormones in sexual differentiation. Male and female reproductive anatomy and physiology. The physiology of sexual intercourse. Orgasm and its significance. Human sexuality in comparative perspective.
Part III – The Mating Game: Strategies of Human Mate Choice and Retention
Sexual selection theory: Evolution and biological basis of sex differences in mating strategies, mate choice and attraction.
Intrasexual competition, woman’s “extended” sexuality, and sperm competition. Human marriage and mating systems in cross-cultural perspective. Mate guarding, mate retention, and the role of sexual jealousy. Biocultural perspective on control of sexuality
Sexual orientation: Biological bases and cross-cultural overview.
Part IV – Sex in Our Lives
• Changes across the lifespan in human sexuality. Contraception and sexually transmitted disease and their evolutionary consequences. Sexual coercion: Unwanted attention, harassment, and rape. The future of human reproduction.